As part of my ongoing efforts to make this blog as uncomfortable to read as possible, I have decided to broach one of those obligatory touchy moral/social topics that people love to get shrill about when the discussion turns to Catholicism. You know the usual suspects: abortion, women, divorce, etc. Anyhow, as it is often more helpful (and interesting) to address the problems that you can’t just Thomas Aquinas away as an abstract datum I have decided to tackle the one that hits closest to home. For I do fall into that most odious, yet under-reported category: the celibate homosexual.
Now I am something of a closet prude, and even talk of the absence of sex is at times too salacious for me. Nevertheless honesty and a desire to shoot the elephant in the room before the tranquilizers wear off compels me to at least touch on it. Besides, it is disheartening to think about how many homos are condemned to an unchaste life simply because they have been convinced by others that there is simply no alternative for them (granted, heterosexuals don’t have it much better either these days). For whatever little it accomplishes, being able to throw my little voice against all the agitprop is worth whatever ire I provoke.
Still, it’s perhaps the case that my life is ultimately unhelpful as an example, because it is a bit of an odd case even in these limit situations. The harder lesson was perhaps not the “homosexual” aspect but more the “celibate”, since it gradually dawned on me as I matured that I just wasn’t the sort who gets smitten by others, does crazy things in the name of love, or otherwise entertains crushes. There is a dryness in that aspect of my personality which frightened me, and which I often tried to deny, because while you can certainly get away with being gay these days, the person who just isn’t interested in coupling up ha come to be seen as unhealthy, as a real pathological case. My high school loves were books. Most men are able to have their hearts pierced by a woman; I am evidently hard hearted enough to require a deity to do the same. So, the supposedly ‘strict’ Catholic teaching on sexual morality is paradoxically more liberating in its recognition of the validity of celibacy than anything found in our sexually liberated mores.
But it would be a lie to say that I am indifferent to sex, which leads to the other half of that phrase.
A few months back Marc Barnes of Bad Catholic eloquently underlined the important insight that when rebellious behaviour becomes de rigueur, it is either something you have to be responsible about (practice safe sex!) or a social formality that one observes; in other words, it becomes boring. I suspect that for my parents’ generation, being a teenager who smoked dope, partied, had sex and listened to rock and roll was a far more profoundly joyous affair than it is for my generation – because such stuff was actually genuinely rebellious. A university classmate of mine once mentioned that Jane Austen’s Emma was very close to the average high school experience, and there is a sense in which western adolescence has become calcified into a sort of crude and debauched Austen comedy over the decades.
Anyway, my teenage self was disturbed by how much our fresh, youthful selves showed such a callous indifference towards fun; how dour and rigid and disaffected even the wildest partying seemed. So I was in a desperate mood to find something that could provoke scandal, and wouldn’t you know it, it was also starting to dawn on me that I wasn’t quite developing the way my male peers were. Now among my circle, gayness was still fairly taboo, so I seized upon that identity as a means of bringing some transcendence back into rebellion. Naturally this was for me more of a literary and intellectual revolution than a practical one. But it did the job until university, where the taboo went out the window and the disappointment of rebellion actually fulfilled gradually disabused me of if it. Those often mendacious theorists and radicals who are all the rage are at least correct when they point out that the gradual assimilation of sodomy into acceptable bourgeois behaviour in some deep sense misses the point of it all.
Whatever humility I gained from being associated with a group that I too used to make fun of was overshadowed by the pleasure of transgressiveness at the time. Going further and finding myself becoming one of those chaste gay Christians was a bit more humbling. We can have gays who make an exemption for themselves when it comes to sexual morality; but the idea of one who actually tries to live out the demands of chastity is, when not seen as someone to be pitied, is often thought of as ridiculous, like a fat person wearing clothing that doesn’t fit them.
So be it – I am a ridiculous man.
The Catechism describes homosexual inclinations as “objectively disordered” (CCC 2358) and Scripture certainly has harsh words for those who act on them. We easily balk at this sort of language, but there is a sense in which finding this talk problematic about homosexuality is symptomatic of a greater, more general difficulty on our part, on what is one of the hardest edges of Christianity: No matter who you are, if you want to approach Christ, you have to approach Him as a sinner. If you think you’re just fine the way you are, then there is nothing He has to offer you. The human condition is a broken one. Exactly what form this brokenness takes differs from person to person, but is there in all of us. The popular approach is to deny the brokenness, and hence to deny Christ. Alcoholics, addicts, schizophrenics, sociopaths – these are perhaps broken people. The rest of us are basically OK, small problems aside. Christianity is a threat to that attitude, which is why Jesus found so much more acceptance among the prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, cripples and other flipped out freaks than among the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Now the Catechism, of course, does not go on to condemn homosexuals as somehow being mere puppets of their desires, calvinistically doomed to a life of sin, but instead claims they “can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.” (CCC 2359). And that is perhaps at least a little more dignified than the condescending patter that you’ll hear from the other side.
Edit: Gratias ago, Prof. Mondo.