Desire, sex, vocation

Batter my heart, three-personed God; for You
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, ‘and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town to’another due,
Labour to’admit You, but O, to no end.
Reason, Your viceroy in me, should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly;I love You, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto Your enemy;
Divorce me, ‘untie or break that knot again,
Take me to You, imprison me, for I,
Except You’enthral me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except You ravish me.

I’ve always had a fondness for John Donne, the ardent lover turned Anglican minister. And this, his Holy Sonnet 10 (XIV) is one of his more famous ones – and also one of the more weird. Or at least it seems weird on the outside. Donne’s positioning of himself as a bride waiting to be rescued by his one true love from a marriage to, um, Satan, draws upon a tradition that goes straight back to the Old Testament of God being a divine bridegroom seeking to marry humanity. Or, to put it in another way, human marriages are actually just a metaphor for this divine marriage (just as the relationship between parent and child is actually just a metaphor for the relationship of the Father and the Son)

Sex as metaphor doesn’t fully exhaust the Judeo-Christian understanding of sexuality, but in an odd way it does a good job of impressing on me why there are rules, man. I am just enough of pretentious aesthete to be less inclined towards doing something if I fear that it would be aesthetically incorrect. I think, in spite of all my philosophy-majoring, I still look at reality primarily in terms of storytelling and art as opposed to a priori and a posteriori.

All this is something of a preamble to saying that, while I affirm the Catholic teaching on homosexuality, how, exactly, I apply it to my understanding of my life has been a work in progress. I’ve only been doing this for about three years. So while I don’t mind thinking out loud like this, I’m loathe to present myself as an exemplar who has all the answers.

I’m particularly not satisfied with how my most recent post on this went, so I’m going to revisit that topic: if diddling other men is not a part of God’s plan for sex, then the desire to do so isn’t either. The question then is what we do with that – particularly with regard to people like me, for whom it is a desire deeply entrenched in our psyches.

As I have said before, I have no faith in the claims of orientation therapy. It seems that, to the extent it effects a change in people, it tends to be in areas other than same-sex desires as such – things like continence and so forth. Otherwise, I view it as a bit like gambling – a waste of time and money for a lot of people, and actually harmful for some. Some people do experience more fluidity in their sexual desires than others; it’s the idea that you can brute force this that I find unconvincing.

There may be, I suppose, some time in the future where we will have the tech and know-how to make the human psyche more plastic than it is now. And that as a result orientation change becomes more of a real thing. That seems to open an ethical can of worms in its own right: making personality malleable opens up the possibility of both cosmeticizing personality traits, and of putting it to the use of more creepily orwellian purposes. There seems to be an intrinsic violence in the idea that makes me wonder whether it would ever be prudent to put it into practice. But anyway, we don’t currently live in that world, so it is a moot point for the time being.

In short, I view the ex-gay approach as one that runs a high risk of despair, despair despair. And I also view the liberal approach of baptizing gay marriage as also involving despair, in that it involves active rebellion against the Church. And there is also the fact that I feel fairly comfortable in my own skin. Finding myself attracted to another guy isn’t something that grosses me out on some meta level, etc.

There is a good recent post at the blog, A Queer Calling, which touches on my complaint regarding the tendency to glue vocation and choice together:

This isn’t exactly the same as our reader’s question, but we believe it is related: an argument we hear from some Christians with a liberal sexual ethic goes something like, “No LGBT person can choose celibacy freely unless his/her Christian tradition also affirms gay marriage. If the celibate LGBT person belongs to a non-affirming tradition, a sense of calling doesn’t matter. If all vocation options aren’t open, the choice to pursue celibacy — the only option — is meaningless.” We do believe that people should be able to discover their vocations rather than experience vocation as a mandate. However, we are also aware that this belief is influenced by our modern context. Anyone who has basic familiarity with Church history should know that for the first several centuries of Christianity, most people had very little personal choice in the matter of whether they would marry or live as celibates. To say that celibacy doesn’t matter if it’s the only choice available is to declare that thousands of people’s life experiences were meaningless. To those making this argument we ask: are you willing to suggest that there was no meaning to the celibate life of Hildegard of Bingen because her parents — not she herself — decided that she would become a nun? Are you willing to assert that because Hildegard didn’t choose her own way of life, she never experienced a sense of call to monasticism?

This is spot on. The fact that my celibacy started out as a sort of “shotgun celibacy” doesn’t preclude the possibility of it turning out to be a genuine call, just as the fact that someone may be in an arranged marriage doesn’t mean that there is no possibility of genuine love and commitment developing. If I were to wake up 100% straight tomorrow, I have serious doubts that I’d throw myself onto the dating scene (what the hell even is the ‘dating scene).

As I have said elsewhere, I believe God has permitted same-sex attraction to happen in my life for various salutary purposes, and I am beginning to wonder whether one of those purposes is to get me to take a celibate vocation seriously. Or maybe I would have anyway, if it is my true calling. I dunno. The point is that I view my celibacy less in terms of avoiding vice and more as actually getting towards where I am understanding it much more positively.*

To explain a little bit: although my outward stoicism doesn’t really convey this, I have tended to have something of an erotic/romantic character. I don’t mean that in the sense of being very sexual, but rather that I am driven by feelings of passionate devotion, a strong aesthetic sensitivity, etc. (which is perhaps one of the reasons behind my dubious career choices). That this never  expressed itself in the form of romance with another person, in spite of my wanting it very badly to, was something I previously interpreted as a sign of emotional stuntedness on my part. But that it has translated itself quite well into religion does make me wonder whether there has been no romance simply because romance was just not part of the plan for my life.

Really, the times where I have been miserable and resentful over being single have been times where I did not have my shit together. A relationship would have been more of a band-aid than a vocation. There will always be loneliness, but I also have (I hope) been growing up and recognizing that loneliness is just part of the human condition, and that there is no real panacea for it on this side of the veil.

Having said all this, I recognize that a lot of people are just not in my position. Indeed, one thing that I do find disturbing is contemplating just how much hurt a lot of the people close to me would have to go through if they converted. And I don’t mean just with regard to gay stuff. The only person near and dear to my heart who reverted was someone who didn’t have much to loose anyway. I don’t blame people for not finding the Church to be a particularly appealing place to live in. There are times when I doubt and wonder whether it all makes sense.

But, well, this is my life; take it for what it is.

*I suppose the implicit question here is whether I am discerning a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. The short answer is no. I consider myself to be too much of a ‘young’ Catholic to want to seriously consider those as possibilities


About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
This entry was posted in Catholicism, Uncategorized, What Is This Beast Called Man and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Desire, sex, vocation

  1. qril says:

    As yet we don’t have a new body, only the old sinful ones, with all the problems that come along with it.

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