Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Other Side of the Coin

I'm going to do something here that Catholics do all too seldom: I am going to speak out condemning a piece of legislation that opposes the practice of homosexuality.
The bill probably doesn't directly concern you and I but it highlights the need for Catholics to uphold both sides of the Church's teaching on homosexuality.
The proposed bill would provide increased penalties for homosexual behaviour in Uganda (gay sex is already illegal in Uganda) including the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" (i.e. homosexual relations with a person under eighteen, homosexual relations with a disabled person, any homosexual relations if the accused is HIV positive, and "serial" offenses.) It also provides substantial penalties for any group or organization that promotes homosexuality, and for any authority who fails to report known violations of the act.
It is an interesting piece of legislation, because it is one in which the spirit is -- in many respects -- quite laudable, but the letter is dangerous and unjust. The goals, outlined in the early portion of the bill, are to safeguard the traditional family, to protect the culture and values of Uganda, and to safeguard people (particularly children) from pro-gay propaganda flowing in alongside Western aid. So far, so good. Another obvious, but not explicitly outlined goal is clearly the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS through homosexual relations -- this is a particular concern in Africa because same-sex attracted people do not generally gay-identify or live a gay lifestyle; most same-sex attracted Africans are married, which means that if they contract HIV homosexually, they may infect their wife/children.
The moral difficulties, from a Catholic perspective, lie with the application of the death penalty, and the idea of a penalty for people who fail to inform on others whom they know to be guilty. It is here that we arrive at the other side of Catholic teaching on homosexuality: the teaching that while homosexual sex is intrinsically immoral, homosexual persons "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." (CCC 2358)
It is important, if Catholics are going to bring the Gospel into the lives of homosexuals, that this second part of our teaching be upheld and proclaimed just as vociferously as the condemnation of homosexual relations. It is because we too often fail in this respect that we are painted as homophobic. The proposed Ugandan legislation not only represents unjust discrimination, it would also -- by virtue of its provision that authorities must report or face fines and imprisonment -- make it even more difficult for Ugandans dealing with same-sex attractions to seek out spiritual advice and counsel from their priests and pastors. Increased fear of persecution isolates those who are most in need of support, it drives homosexuality underground and prevents people with homosexual desires from being able to deal with their temptations within the context of a supportive, moral, Christian community.

Monday, October 26, 2009


My little sister had a tattoo. It was in elvish, as conceptualized by J.R.R. Tolkien, and it read "daughter." It referred to two things: the importance of her family in her life (Kristen was one of six daughters in the Robinson clan) and her relationship to God.
I have been thinking a lot about my daughterhood in the past month -- what it means to be God's daughter, and what it means for Him to be my father. I have, as anyone who follows this blog will know, been out of communication for the past month and a half. This is on account of a family crisis, which I am not going to describe in any detail right now (maybe later -- the fog of paranoia is still a little too thick for me to say anything of substance in a public forum). The point is that it has been very difficult, and that a lot of family relationships have shifted: those that were already weakened have become more strained, those that were already strong have become stronger. There is something in trial that separates these things out clearly; suddenly you know exactly who you really trust -- not just because those whom you can't trust abandon you, but because you start looking around for the clearest steps forward, the firm ground where you know you will be able to find footing, and you can see exactly where it is.
Strangely enough, God comes under this heading as well. Not that God is not firm ground, or that He is not trustworthy, but there is something in the human heart that doesn't quite trust. When things are going well, good enough. We can raise up our hands and sing out hallelujahs and cry "Praise to the Lord of Hosts!" Amen. It is easy to speak casually about God the Father in such times, because you are thinking of a father as someone that you see on Sunday for dinner, someone to whom you tell jokes as worn-out and comfortable as old socks, someone that you can build a shed with on a lazy autumn afternoon. When things are bad it is a different matter, because suddenly God must be not merely a father, but a Father who simultaneously has the power to rescue you from whatever is happening, and a Magus who has made the decision to pose you a very difficult and painful riddle. This is when it becomes necessary not merely to love, but to love with faith, to trust, which is much more difficult. To say, "Lord, you have allowed all of this to happen, and I don't understand why, and now I want you to get me out of it." But at the back of your head you're always thinking, "But if you let it happen in the first place, then why should I think you're going to help me now..." Which is why we return to daughterhood, to a trust that has to sink deeper than just the belief in some sort of magician who will rescue you, deus ex machina style, from all your woes, to a trust that God is not merely going to save us in the future, but is saving us now. That it is all an expression of his Fatherly love for us.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sodomy laws and billy clubs

I'm in the middle of working on a book about post-modernism, and one of the ideas that I'm necessarily dealing with in the process is the notion of pluralism. Those who have read Sexual Authenticity will know that I'm not a big fan of state interference in the private lives of citizens -- my belief in Catholic sexual morality does not lead me to believe in sodomy laws, for example. I think that there is an on-going tendency for people to believe that somehow public legislation will be able to cure private vice, that you will be able to help people to shake off the shackles of sin by throwing them into prison, torturing, interrogating, intimidating, etc. This kind of love wears a uniform and carries a billy-club (or, in contemporary society, a taser). This is not to say that I don't believe in the rule of law, but rather that I don't believe that the rule of law has any right to intervene in private life. I think it makes sense to illegalize drug trafficking, for the same reason that it makes sense to legally control or prevent the sale of any dangerous substance, but that it does not make sense to criminalize drug addiction. That it makes sense to prosecute pimps, but not to prosecute prostitutes (nor, for that matter, to prosecute men who resort to prostitutes.) That producing and marketing pornography should be illegal, but that using it should not be.
The difference has to do with the kinds of offenses being committed, and the purposes for legislation. If someone is committing a sin because he/she is hoping to make money off the deal, then legislation makes sense: provided you impose stiff enough penalties that a cost-benefit analysis will lead people to choose a more productive lifestyle, you will probably convince at least the more rational members of society to behave themselves. Sins of weakness, on the other hand, are a completely different matter. People do not, for the most part, frequent prostitutes, view pornography, have gay sex or abuse drugs because they have sat down and made a utilitarian calculation, and have come to the conclusion that when all is said and done the pain-pleasure balance comes down in favour or their addiction. Stiffer penalties, jail-time, fines, crack-downs and so forth will not change people's behaviours in these cases, on the contrary, I think that usually they will end up having the opposite effect: a person who is using some sort of addictive behaviour in order to deal with stress, loneliness, fear, etc. will find that the ever penetrating eye of big-brotherly social concern produces greater paranoia, greater fear, greater loneliness, greater stress -- and the vicious circle will tighten itself predictably around their throat. Real methods of helping people in these situations involve much more delicate instruments than those available to the state (even in its most paternalistic, soft-pedaled, compassionate-society forms). Real relationships, trust, support, understanding, genuine personal compassion, and the deep humility necessary for us to understand that we are not helping from a position of superiority, but as fellow sinners; these are required in order to lead people out of private vice. They are necessary to penetrate the barriers of secrecy without violating the sanctity of personal privacy. They are the responsibility of every Christian, and it is a responsibility that cannot be fobbed off on police and government.