The curious incident of the celibate gay

Nooo....not the soapbox again...anything but that!

Nooo….not the soapbox again…anything but that!

One of the things I have increasingly noticed is a convergence between liberals and conservatives over a particular sort of logic regarding same-sex attraction.

It goes something like this: if gay sex is wrong, then the desire for it is indicative of a moral flaw in the character of the person experiencing it. Successful annihilation of its presence in the your psychic makeup is a necessary prerequisite for holiness.

Conservatives will accept this logic and advocate orientation therapy as your only shot at salvation. Liberals will also accept it, but say this is just another good reason for throwing out the taboo against same-sex relations. Both agree that someone who just lives with same-sex attraction but refrains from sexually expressing it is just engaged in some serious cognitive dissonance.

First of all, I can’t help but feel a somewhat Pelagian undercurrent here – that we can, with effort on our part, effectively shape ourselves into the kind of person God wants us to be. There isn’t much talk about the necessity and sufficiency of grace. The disagreement is over where it is reasonable to put the moral bar. To quote St. Paul,

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)

Chastity should be primarily understood in terms of sacrifice and self-surrender to God, rather than as a matter of fine-tuning your sexuality. Human sexuality in all states of life is something that needs to be redeemed. The question of molding your desires into a particular form or other seems to me to be a secondary question of prudence. While it is perhaps worth asking, the moment it displaces questions of grace and redemption is where things get problematic.

And this is tied to a tendency of us to want to avoid the tragic, and to explain away the tragic in terms of moral failure. It is the case of Job’s friends, who accuse him of sin on account of his sufferings.

I suppose a rebuttal that could be given is that Job’s sufferings were just things that happened to him – he didn’t suffer from desiring to do wicked things.

Desire is something of a tricky word. In a weak sense, people tend to apply it to all sorts of feelings and longings, but my understanding of its proper sense as an orientation of the will – to desire something is to consciously will for it to be yours, even if that desire is never actually consummated – and it is that desire which is appropriately open to moral praise and blame.

It also goes without saying that it does not conceptually make sense to ascribe moral praise or blame to something that we do not freely choose and cannot freely do away with. And I think a good amount of what constitutes our personality falls into that category. We make minor tweaks and sandpaper the rough edges, but from very early on the mold is cast.

It is in that sense that having a case of teh gays is something that just happened to me. In a perfect world, it wouldn’t be there, but, well, there it is. Anyway, it is something of a failure of imagination to be unable to see a personality trait as potentially being a cross rather than a moral failure. Perhaps because it also implies that we have to be more forgiving of the people who do things that piss us off, because we can’t really judge what they’re internally going through.

People sometimes change in weird and unexpected ways. But the idea that we can expect them to and hold them accountable when they don’t strikes me as irrational.

More peculiar to the liberal Christian side is the notion of choice. It is all well and fine, they say, for a gay Christian to discern a vocation to celibacy and freely choose it. But to have it forced upon her by the circumstances of her life is unfair.

But are vocations really best thought of as a choice? In the case of the man who discerns a vocation to the priesthood, my guess is that it is less a matter of, “this looks like a nice career path” and more of “this is the path that God walks me to walk, and it will cost me dearly to go down it, but I know deep down that I will not truly be joyful if I run away from it.” And, well, life isn’t fair dammit.

With regard to the question of vocation in my own life, my thinking seems to have shifted. A year ago I probably would have said that my vocation was to marriage and that it was just incredibly unlikely that that would ever come about. But now, abstracting from same-sex attractions and all that, I do wonder whether my vocation always was to celibacy – that it is just part of God’s plan to just try to live out that divine-human marriage in this life and eschew a human spouse.

It’s all rather heady, and uncomfortable to think about. Because I have gotten a bit used to my mediocre spiritual life.

About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
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5 Responses to The curious incident of the celibate gay

  1. Pingback: Desire, sex, vocation | Res Studiorum et Ludorum

  2. Pingback: Desire, sex, vocation | Res Studiorum et Ludorum

  3. The curious thing about vocation is that the Church used to speak in terms of vocation and avocation. Vocation pertains to holiness, while avocation is a state of life to which we are called. (Now, the Church calls vocation the universal call to holiness, while referring to the four paths in life as the four vocations.) In general, one’s avocation ought to benefit one’s vocation, and the avocation might be treated more as an invitation than as an ultimatum. Everyone is born single, and the other vocations (priestly, religious, married) add an additional burden to life, but people often pick up these new crosses and are made the better for it–either through the mutual support one finds in marriage or the new closeness to the Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of the spiritual life, in the cases of the priestly or religious vocation.

    But these burdens are burdens. In general, most people find marriage the easiest burden to bear because the union is natural and because of the mutual support in marriage. But to choose the vocations of either priesthood or religious life is to embrace a greater cross which requires supernatural assistance–hence, the extreme importance of the Eucharist and the fact that most people are not called to these two vocations.

    Having said that, it would be wrong for a homosexual to think that religious or priestly life is pointed out to them because they are not attracted to the opposite sex. If holiness concerns the integrity of the person, it would seem that homosexuality marks a problem in that person following the universal vocation–that they do not feel complete integrity as a man or a woman. After all, it might add a whole level of dissatisfaction with both God and oneself to enter priestly or religious life due to one feeling that they are entering this vocation because they judge themselves abnormal!

    • Josh W says:

      Basically I agree. I don’t think holy orders/religious life should be viewed as “consolation vocations”, which is another one of the reasons I’ve been hesitant to consider them myself.

      • But, by all means take a look at them! They are both very noble vocations. You might fall in love with the thought of serving God’s people as a parish priest or the mission and self-sacrifice of a religious order.

        Looking is not the same thing as committing. I myself at one point very ardently wished to join the Carthusians. Now, I can thoroughly understand why I wished to join that austere order, but I cannot imagine myself as ever having been suited.

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