Saturday, December 8, 2012
Black and White
(It is morning. Light spills through a salvaged stained-glass window onto the floor or a well-furnished sitting room. Jeremiah, a man in his mid-sixties, is sitting next to the fireplace flipping through a sketchbook while Catullus sips a cup of coffee.)
Jeremiah: Yes, Catullus.
Catullus: Do you honestly believe that what we do is wrong?
Jeremiah: I assume you mean the sex? Yes, I think it's wrong...
Jeremiah: We've discussed this before. It never goes anywhere, so unless something has changed I don't see what you're hoping to gain.
Catullus: It's just something Germanicus said. He accused me of seducing you. Not in those words, of course, Germanicus is one of those charmingly inept people who never really understand what they're saying. That's why it bothers me, because it's not really his sort of thought – which means that probably some god or other put it into his mouth.
Jeremiah: I see. I've always assumed that when you seduce me you're aware that that's what you're doing.
Catullus: Of course I'm aware of it...but...he said it like it's not a game. Like I'm violating your conscience and undermining your free will or something.
Jeremiah: And you want me to mollify your conscience by explaining why I think homosexual sex is wrong so that you can shoot my arguments full of holes and feel justified in continuing as you were.
Catullus: No. I actually intend to listen this time. I'm going to try to seriously understand your point of view. Promise.
Jeremiah: Well it's a sin.
Catullus: Simple as that?
Jeremiah: Simple as that. Either you can accept it on my authority, or you can wait and find out for yourself.
Catullus: That's completely unfair and no kind of argument. You're older, so you're right. Well I can find old people who agree with me too you know.
Jeremiah: Catullus, I can give you proper arguments if you want them. Maybe they'll work for you, but I doubt it.
Catullus: Why's that?
Jeremiah: Because they didn't work for me, and I was a lot more committed to making them work...I spent eighteen and a half years trying to make them work, and I've got nothing to show for it but an annulment and a son who won't even use my last name. That's why I don't think they'll help. I can still run through them if you like.
Catullus: Can you give me a list of titles to see if any of them interest me?
Jeremiah: There's the complementarity argument. The argument from aesthetics. The argument from St. Paul. The argument from the Church fathers. The argument from the obligation to perpetuate the species. The argument from the irrationality of lust. The argument from slavery to the passions. The argument from the interior logic of sexuality. The argument from the good of the society --
Catullus: I've heard all those. They're the arguments that I shot down last time.
Jeremiah: I've got one I made up myself based on McLuhan's theory of media. It has to do with the person becoming a servomechanism of his sexuality. The idea is that when sex as a medium reverses its donative and procreative potentials, it becomes rapacious and destructive. Instead of the person being an end in himself and sex being a medium for the creation of ends in themselves, sex becomes an end in itself and consequently a medium for the destruction of the person... I think I kept my marriage going a full extra year with that one.
Catullus: (Golf clap) Very clever, Miah. You're right, it doesn't help.
Jeremiah: The reason the arguments don't help is that they're mostly arguments in favour of the beauty and goodness of heterosexual marriage. But if you're married to a woman who won't sleep with you because she thinks you're a disgusting pervert, and if it's hard to argue with her because the truth is you can't sleep with her without imagining that she's a boy, then there's really no theological abstraction that's got a chance.
Catullus: Yes, I can see that without having to put myself and some poor woman through 18 years of hell. But given that that is your experience, why on earth do you think that homosexuality is wrong? You have to have a reason. It can't be just...because.
Jeremiah: Catullus, it's a sin, and it's punishable by death. God knows why. I don't claim to know.
Catullus: AIDS is not a punishment for homosexuality. If God is trying to say anything with it – which I think is a dubious proposition – it's that people shouldn't be recklessly promiscuous.
Jeremiah: Well it's certainly a sin for me to place your life at risk.
Catullus: “As though to breathe were life.”
Jeremiah: “Life piled on life is all too little and as one to me.” Yes, I know. But your life is not just your own.
Catullus: Yes, I realize. “It belongs to God.”
Jeremiah: I mean it also belongs to your father, and to your siblings, and to posterity. If you die young because of me, I have no doubt that I will be held accountable for all of of the works of art that you could have produced if I'd kept my pants on.
Catullus: Jeremiah, if you had kept your pants, I would have been left to learn art from Ms. Macintire. Assuming I'd survived the ordeal, I'd probably be staging non-object non-event works for the Ontario Arts Council or producing animated goddesses to sell tampons.
Jeremiah: I would have taken you on as my apprentice even if you hadn't seduced me you know.
Catullus: No you wouldn't have. You were terrified. I was an occasion of sin. An occasion, in fact, of the precise sin that destroyed your marriage. A beautiful boy, a student, a constant source of temptation, and if you got caught, probably a lawsuit and jail time. I wasn't worth it.
Jeremiah: You were worth it. That's why you're still here.
Catullus: I know I was, but you did need convincing. You were worth it too, so let's drop all of this nonsense about how much harm you've done me and how you're going to have to account to the Creator for it. Without you I was a lonely teenager with loads of talent, no skill, and a morbid fascination with the possibility of self-slaughter. Without me you were a miserable old sodomite who had lost his faith in God, humanity, and beauty, who produced commercial bullshit in order to pay for the pleasures that kept him numb. I would add that you got that way by trying to do what your church told you to.
Jeremiah: Not exactly. You have to understand, Catullus, I didn't end up there by being a good Catholic. I became that way by trying to be a good legalist. There's a difference. You can't please God simply by following rules anymore than you can make a masterpeice by doing a paint-by-number.
Catullus: That's my argument! You can't steal it!
Jeremiah: Really? I thought I heard it in a sermon.
Catullus: No. You heard it from me the last time we had this fight.
Jeremiah: Well, then it was a more productive fight than I thought. I've since considered what you said about legalism, and it makes sense out of a great many things that I found it impossible to forgive God for.
Catullus: I didn't think men were supposed to 'forgive' God. I thought we were supposed to grovel in humble supplication, beat our breasts and cry “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!”
Jeremiah: Mmm. But it's impossible to really recognize your own fault in something until you've forgiven the other party. For example, until recently I found it impossible to forgive the Church for giving Dorothea her annulment. I felt like they'd put the rubber stamp on her unforgiveness and declared all of my best efforts to be null. I still went through the charade of feeling guilty, but really I felt like I'd done everything possible and God was being unfair. That made it impossible to repent.
Catullus: But Jeremiah, the church is being unfair. You did do everything possible, and the reason that you failed was that the standard was utterly unreasonable.
Jeremiah: You can never acheive anything great unless you're striving towards an impossible standard.
Catullus: I have no problem with that, provided it's understood that the impossible standard is an ideal. The problem with Catholic sexual morality is that you have to be a Saint just to get a passing grade.
Jeremiah: No. You just have to be ready to admit that you're not a Saint.
Catullus: Yes, but what's the point in it? You strive towards the standard, you discover it's impossible, and then you despair. Where do you go from there?
Jeremiah: You only despair if you're more concerned with following the rules than with trying to have a relationship with God. I've had students like that...only interested in their grades, not in the work. You can't learn anything that way.
Catullus: No...I see that. I suppose it's really that the standard isn't just unreasonable, it's insane. It's not even possible to imagine your marriage as anything other than a travesty. It was clearly ill-conceived from the beginning.
Jeremiah: Yes...that's true. Probably that's why they annulled it. I'd never thought of it that way.
Catullus: So even your church acknowledges that your marriage was a sham, but you still think that homosexuality is a sin. Where does that leave us? What is this golden ideal that we're supposed to be chasing in order to acheive great things?
(End of Part VII)