Last time I talked about how the willingness to point out complications or problems about things can be taken as a sort of betrayal. Recently Rod Dreher made a similar point in reference to an article by Wesley Hill on the neverending tug of war over Christian sexual morality:
Agreed, on all of it. Speaking from the orthodox/traditionalist side, I think many of us hesitate to speak with full honesty about what we know we are asking of gay Christians, even if we would like to — this, because our opponents are so busy calling us bigots and crazy people that we fear, whether we are fully conscious of this or not, that to cede any ground is unwise. In other words, we are in such a defensive crouch that admitting to complexity and nuance is a sign of weakness. From my point of view, at least, most of the Christians on the other side proceed with a supremely confident self-righteousness about their position that they refuse to recognize the theological shakiness, or at least the utter novelty, in the sweep of Christian theology and tradition, of their claim. It’s as if they are terrified that to admit that they’re asking for — no, demanding — something unprecedented in 2000 years of Christian teaching and practice would make it less likely that they will get it.
There’s a Scylla and a Charybdis here: on the one hand, regardless of what your beliefs are, there’s a temptation to view their application in the abstract, to not particularly be concerned about what it means for the lives of actual people to adopt your attitudes. And that can have the effect of making you seem like a jerk, even if you aren’t. On the other hand, we can morally compromise ourselves by going too far in the other direction – we are often led into something that is intrinsically evil precisely because we are tempted by the potential good consequences, or, alternatively, the potential bad consequences of something good. “It’s complicated” is often an excuse for cowardice.
Both extremes seem to me to be a failure to accept the tragic aspect of human existence: that, given this fallen world and our fallen natures, following the moral law, the truth, can often be a sort of crucifixion. On the one hand, we have, “the reason for why it hurts is because you suck”, and on the other, “the reason for why it hurts is because morality sucks”. Oedipus unwittingly gets himself into a bad situation, and, rather than remain in blissful ignorance, pursues the truth to the point of wrecking his life.
Of course, I don’t view whatever sufferings I might face in this life to be the result of my frail human nature smashing against a cold and indifferent universe, but rather, in a mysterious fashion, as Christ’s Passion extending outwards into my own life, much like His life does in the Eucharist. Daniel Mattson put that idea in a fairly lucid fashion recently . He also touched on a related idea which is worth quoting:
In all of those past moments of wishing away my same-sex attraction, I slowly began to realize that I would be wishing not for more love, but for less. Now, I no longer hate my same-sex attraction and instead I’ve actually come to embrace it. Not because it is good, or because I desire to celebrate my “gayness.” No, I embrace it because I realize that it’s the most important and valuable tool God has used in creating the Divine work of art that (hopefully!) is my life. I think I’d be an intolerable person if it weren’t for the chiseling and softening effect that same-sex attraction has had in my life. I view same-sex attraction in the words of William Wordsworth from his poem, Nature and the Poet, where he says, “A deep distress hath humanized my soul.” The distress I’ve faced in living with same-sex attraction over the past three decades of my life has “humanized my soul” in ways that I’m convinced nothing else could. It’s a blessed and precious instrument in the hands of God, shaping me into the man God wants me to be. In that light, I view it as something that Lewis might call a “severe mercy,” and thankfully, in coming to that conclusion, it no longer is distressing to me as it once was.
But let me be clear: I don’t embrace it, for its own sake, as if my same-sex attraction is objectively a good because God brings good from it. No, it’s definitely a disturbance in my person, something that’s amiss within me, a weakness and a disability. In the hand of God, it becomes like a surgeon’s knife, where the pain that comes from it isn’t good, in and of itself. It’s the purpose behind its use, when used deftly by the Great Physician that brings good from it, and through it. The good is the result, not the instrument of transformation. Seen through that lens, I have come to embrace it, and wouldn’t rewrite it out of my life. In that sense, I view it in a similar way as Joseph the Patriarch viewed being sold into slavery by his brothers, when he told them in Egypt,
Joseph’s response to being sold into slavery reveals two important responses I need to have towards living with same-sex attraction. The first is the humility to realize that I am not God. I never would have planned to live with same-sex attraction, but again, in the words of C. S. Lewis, to write this out of my life, I would be wishing for not more, but less love. As God (sort of) said to Isaiah, “shall the clay say to the potter, you don’t know what the heck you’re doing up there? Make me, and shape me–just do it in the way I think you should shape and make me. Oh, and by the way–that tool you keep using to shape me into who you want me to be? Put that thing away, because frankly, I’m not a fan. It hurts, so lets ditch it and find something else a bit more pleasant, thank you very much.”
I’ve kinda come to a similar view of my own sexual/romantic problems in life: at least I think it’s had the effect of making me less of an asshole than I could have been. I mean, it’s also the case that since I have so many blessings in the other aspects of my life, and know people who have to deal with far worse crap than I do, bemoaning my current celibate state seems kind of petty at times.
Which brings me back to the question of how to avoid being a jerk without becoming a pushover. One of my biggest fears about Catholicism is the idea that, at the end of the day, I may only have allowed it to make me into a stubborn crank as opposed to a genuinely loving person. If that happens, it would be my fault, not the Church’s. I suppose the fact that I have that fear is healthy, although it also gives rise to, “it’s not even worth a damn, is it?” which is even more poisonous.
I really have no easy answers here. Well, I suppose the obvious answer is, “be humble”, although that is easier said than done. I’d like it if people who want, say, the Church to recant her teachings about homosexuality, birth control, abortion et al, would actually take the time to realize just what a radical change it would be in the Church’s self-understanding (well, it would effectively mean the definitive triumph of Protestantism over Catholic Christianity), and to perhaps consider whether their arguments might be slightly condescending to the faithful who deal with these issues in their lives. Vice versa the “lol stoopid libtards” approach might not be the most tactful way.