Saturday, December 22, 2012
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Hey all! Just throwing up a link to an article that I wrote for MercatorNet on California's law banning "conversion" therapies for minors. The law is to take effect January 1, and it basically says that sexual orientation change therapies will be prohibited for the under 18 crowd. Rick Fitzgibbons of NARTH has shown up to correct me for my errors...he repeatedly refers to me as "the author" which makes me want to lose my cool and shout "Hey! We've met. We've corresponded. We were on TV together. Call me by my name, dammit!" He also accuses me of trying to silence people who've had positive experiences of orientation change...
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
I'm temporarily breaking up my series of dialogues. I'm hoping to resume them shortly: the Kirkmans are celebrating Saturnalia this week-end and the climactic series of discussions is intended to coincide with that event. For the moment, however, I am in training to receive a service dog for my son, who is autistic, and my computer access is therefore limited.
I've been reading three books this week: Marshal McLuhan's Understanding Media, Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue, and Charles Taylor's The Malaise of Modernity. One theme that has emerged consistently in all three is the problem of postmodernity's relationship with history. I'd like to consider this particularly with respect to conservative thought.
Saturday, December 8, 2012
Saturday, December 1, 2012
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
(A Stoic, a Catholic, a Gay Guy and a Woman walked into a bar...)
Sunday, November 25, 2012
Friday, November 23, 2012
(As the day is growing long, Germanicus and Catullus have relocated from the coffee shop to a small pub further down the street. Catullus is drinking expensive scotch, neat, because he abhors girly cocktails. Germanicus is drinking vodka, because vodka clears you head and allows you to think straight – as every reader of Dostoyevski well knows.)
Thursday, November 22, 2012
(The story so far: Catullus and Germanicus, two brothers with oddly anachronistic names, are sitting in a coffee shop arguing about the nature of reality, the nature of man and his moral acts, and the nature of nature. Catullus has just graciously agreed to pretend that he believes in natural law in order to give rules to the game.)
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
A fight has broken out at the last chance cafe. Two interlocutors, brothers, sit opposite, staring one another down across a cozy little bistro style table. The first, Germanicus, sits sipping a cup of strong black coffee, back straight, jaw set. Across from him Catullus is leaned back in his chair, toying with an ironic smile as he nurses a creme brule latte. They are at war over the nature of the human person and the source of his moral ideas.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Okay. It seems that the votes are in. I will be doing NFP and Natural Law first, but fear not those of you who voted for Postmodernism – my vote was also for postmodernism, so I'll still cover that as well ;) There have been some recent complications with my health, but barring calamity I should be back blogging regularly by the end of the week.
On a not entirely unrelated note, I haven't really been able to work over the past month, and the Selmys family budget is starting to be stretched a little thin. If any of you happen to be feeling both rich and generous, my address is:
210 Queensborough Rd.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
You will, if you've been following recent developments, be aware that last month Papa Ben declared one of my all time favourite saints, Hildegard of Bingen, a doctor of the Church. In honour of that, this is your official Catholic trivia tip for the day: According to Hildegard, the cure for excessive menstrual bleeding is rest, sweets, beer and wine. On a not wholly unrelated note, I've spent most of the last month lying about in bed, eating mint chocolate, and imbibing mild intoxicants, which is why I haven't been blogging. Actually, I've been recovering from a miscarriage, which has taken a lot longer than I would have liked.
Saturday, September 15, 2012
So, what is authentic femininity?
In the Beginning, God contemplated the possibility of creating a world. A world of matter: mater, materia. There, below, lay the formless void: unformed but receptive. He withdrew into Himself and He asked what the purpose of this world would be. Would it just be a pretty artwork to delight the eyes of the angels? No. He had a greater purpose than that. He would create souls, capable of free will, capable of love. Souls in a somatic matrix that would raise this matter to communion with divinity. A new kind of being in His own image and likeness which He would introduce into His own self by taking on a body and becoming one of them.
Sunday, September 2, 2012
Hi all. I've been incommunicado for a bit. It's because I'm writing a three day novel, as part of the three day novel writing Labour Day weekend competition. It's something I've meant to do for several years, but this is the first time I haven't chickened out. It's now officially five and a half hours into my second day of writing. I've produced more than 25000 words. I'm kind of writing in a daze at this point, hoping that the Muse will see me through the end. I'm working down at my computer in the basement, which is this old, stone-walled, cavernous environment, with a deep window-well full of cobwebs and a skeleton incense burner reposing on the sill, with a burned stick of sandalwood stuck into his ribs. A perfect place for writing horror. Anyways, pray for me. I still have at least 25000 words to go...
Monday, August 13, 2012
I bring you now, the long awaited continuation of my twelve part series! [Cue fanfare]
People often ask me how my queer identity is going to affect my children. What will I tell them? How will I explain my past? What will they think about having a queer-identified mother?
Friday, August 10, 2012
Thursday, August 2, 2012
Irritatingly, blogger has once again upgraded its services for my convenience in such a way that it is not especially compatible with my system. In this case, I can no longer comment or reply to comments on my own blog.
I did, however, want to address the issues that were raised by Dan and Theresa on my previous post. Dan asked:
You speak about overcoming your natural reactions. This infers that you discovered that this reaction was either not good or not natural (some people may make a distinction between good and natural). I think that this is an important premise that others may not not have. What if they don't think that their reaction is un-natural or bad at all, but is just the way they are, and they see no need to change it.
Monday, July 30, 2012
I came home from the Courage conference super-stressed and exhausted. My brain is just starting to come back on line, but I'm still a little slow – I'm hoping to get around to the last parts of my series soon, but I'm not quite there yet.
In the meantime, I got a fascinating comment on “Forbidden Fruit, Hidden Lies,” which I would like to respond to. The relevant paragraph is here:
Savia: “Women experience a flood of oxytocin — the same hormone which they produce in labor and in nursing a baby. Oxytocin causes a woman to be forgetful, decreases her ability to think rationally — and causes an incredibly strong emotional attachment to form with the man she is with. Men also produce some oxytocin during sexual intercourse. But their bodies also produce a hormone called vasopressin. Vasopressin, called “the monogamy molecule,” kicks in after sexual activity, and its impact is to heighten a man’s sense of responsibility. It encourages that part of him which says, “My gosh, she may be carrying my child! I’d better get serious about life! I’ve got to get to work, to provide for this family!”
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
In the Beginning, “God created man in the image of himself...male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27) Male and female. Two genders. No queers.
That's the story, as it goes within mainstream Catholic discourse. I tried to live that story for twelve years. I figured that maybe if I just limped along for long enough, trying to strengthen my broken femininity, eventually it would completely heal. I would be whole again. Made in the image and likeness of God. As He intended, according to His authentic plan for human sexuality.
Then I was sitting there, in the middle of the winter, and I looked down at my body, and I realized that I didn't feel feminine. That I only rarely feel feminine. That my body image is more often than not male, and that in twelve years of trying to be the perfect woman, I'd only succeeded in fostering a deep strain of self-loathing, and a profound resentment for women to whom femininity comes easily.
Monday, June 18, 2012
When Chris first met me, I was in the closet, but obviously a dyke. I had short eggplant coloured hair, came to school dressed in a toga, and interacted with men as though I were a pugilistic brain-in-a-vat. I was not very much like the normal girls – and that's what's attracted him to me. I thought that gender was totally socially constructed, that complete autonomous independence was the ideal state for a fully realized human being, and that woman could be saved by reason alone. These were significant obstacles that lay in his way on the path to courting me, but he saw them more or less the way that a knight sees a dragon. From the earliest days of our friendship, he saw the person that I had the capacity to become. He draws an analogy to Michelangelo seeing the statue of David inside of a piece of marble: the statue was already there, complete and perfect, but there was an awful lot of chiseling that needed to be done in order to bring it into sharp relief. He got out his tools, and he got to work, chipping away at the hard exterior that I had built around my heart, slowly removing whatever would give until I started to resemble a woman more than an armoured tank.
During the early days of our courtship he wrote me a message reading “Shine on you crazy diamond,” and he has continued to use that phrase, and the song that it refers to, to exemplify the way that he sees me. A crazy diamond. A strange, multi-faceted, unique, rare and therefore valuable individual. A mad and wonderful one of a kind.
Friday, June 15, 2012
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Below is a post I wrote for Ethika Politika in response to their critique of my "Looking to Desire".
The editors have kindly invited me to engage with the criticisms of my work which they offered in their post “Is Homosexual Desire Basically Good?” The point of contention is whether or not Eve could have experienced disordered desire while in a state of innocence. It would seem to me that if we assume that a concupiscent or sinful desire can be experienced by innocent nature, then the original sin would not have been the taking and eating of the fruit, but rather the gaze which Eve turns towards it when she sees that it is “pleasing to the eye,” and so forth. According to such an account, she would commit the sin of covetousness the moment that she entertained a desire for the fruit, and the rest would be only a formality. Her nature would thus have fallen the moment that she perceived the fruit as desirable.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
When I first wrote Sexual Authenticity, I was hoping to be able to help fill what I saw as a hole in ministry to the homosexual person. Courage was there for people who were committed to Church teaching but struggling to live it out, and for those who were seeking to recover from sex-addiction. NARTH existed for those whose homosexuality was a source of such deep suffering that they were willing to make substantial financial and temporal commitments in order to completely uproot it through therapeutic means. Dignity catered to those who wanted to reject the Church's moral teachings and embrace homosexuality outright. What this left out was a means of reaching out to those who might be interested in adopting, or at least considering, the Church's teaching on the morality of homosexual acts, but who also wanted to embrace and celebrate the non-lustful aspects of the “gay” identity. I felt this gap, but I hadn't articulated it clearly in my mind – when I pitched the book to OSV, I billed it as a book that would try to reconcile the two “sides” of the Culture War, a book that would look at the issue of homosexuality from both angles. I deliberately decided that I was going to split my research resources in half: half of what I read would be from the Catholic/Christian “side” and half would be from the LGBTQ “side.” My goal was to take the first step towards framing a discourse that would bridge the seemingly impassible chasm between rainbow-land and Rome.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
The decision to see myself as queer is not something that happened overnight. There had been cracks opening up in the shell of my putative heterosexuality for some time, and I'd been increasingly frightened and conflicted about that. On the one hand, Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in,” on the other, accepting my own queerness meant relinquishing a comfortable position within the Culture War, it meant stepping out into the unknown, and it meant being really honest with myself in a way that was both humbling and scary.
I remember reading a post by Joshua Gonnerman about “owning” our Christianity; the idea that at some point we have to stop trying merely to conform to a simplistic cultural construct, a card-board cut out of sanctity, a stereotype of the “good Christian.” The teachings of the Church have to become real, they have to imprint themselves on the personality in such a way that they are intertwined with it, married to it, so that Christ becomes me and I become Christ but without losing my own identity.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Sorry...my series is on hold for another day or two. I'm not doing all that well, so I'm going to ask readers for prayers. I need to grow a thicker skin. A much thicker skin. Seriously. I don't know what made me think that it was a good idea to put myself this far out in the open, on-line, where anyone can come along and tear off a piece of my flesh at will. Anyways, Robert Sungenis has written a response to my "Looking To Desire" post. I'm not going to link to Sungenis' post. Please let me put in a very strong caveat lector for my same-sex attracted readers: don't hunt it down on-line and read it. It probably won't be as bad for you as it was for me, because the slanders, detractions and rash judgements will not be peppered with your name, but we all know that he's never actually met me, and that he's really just saying what he believes to be true of all of us. I thought that I would be okay, that I could take it like a man, and not let it get under my skin. I was wrong. My husband warned me that I probably didn't want to know, but I didn't believe him...I've still got that Stoic hangover and it often causes me to feel that I can be much more emotionally bullet-proof than I actually can.
Sunday, June 3, 2012
That was all fine and good in theory, and I made some half-hearted attempts to carry it out, but I was very good at making excuses. The women that I knew didn't pick up the phone. I didn't have anything to complain about. I had sisters to talk to. I didn't have time to get out of the house with all of those children to take care of, and I didn't have a driver's license, and I didn't know any people, and I'm totally socially inept. Those kind of excuses. My husband told me “If you really wanted to do this, you would get it done. The reason you have no friends is that you work on it for about ten minutes a month.” I really resented that, crossed my arms, pouted, and insisted that he didn't understand how hard this was for me, and how hard I was trying, and how it wasn't my fault.
Then, in the early part of this year, God decided to weigh in on the controversy. Due to an absolutely inconceivable set of blunders and miscommunications involving incompetence on a level that is normally impossible to people other than myself, my long-distance got cut off. The long-distance drought lasted for months, during which I whined to my husband about how lonely and isolated this was making me. He said, “You never tried to call those people when you had long-distance. Now you want to load six children into the car and drive ten minutes into town to use a payphone?” I girded my loins, grit my teeth, engaged my advanced emergency Stoic willpower, and decided to wait it out. I still had e-mail. I could still send people letters....you know, theoretically, if I wanted to. Then my phone line went down. Now I was stranded, without internet, without e-mail, without a driver's license, without a telephone, without, in short, any possible way of contacting the outside world.
Finally, after years of excuses, I hit my breaking point. I realized that I actually literally could not survive without significant contact with other human beings. Human beings outside of my family who would actually talk back – not just people who received my various missives into the darkness in the form of articles published in the Catholic press. When, after a couple of weeks, the phone finally came back on-line, I called people. I called one of my closest friends (admittedly, the wife of one of my male best-friends – but only because he went and married an old acquaintance of ours), and she said, “Did somebody die or something?” “No.” “Oh. I figured that something terrible must have happened, because you never call.”
Having made the leap into the unknown, I also followed up a second lead on human social interaction: I joined a blog community of other chaste same-sex attracted Christian intellectuals. I figured that I could complain with Mantis and Egypt about my kids, and my husband, and my various normal, straight-woman type problems, but I also needed people to talk to about this homosexuality thing. Mostly for research purposes, of course. Because I was different. I wasn't really gay. I was married with six kids, and hadn't deliberately entertained any lesbian fantasies in over thirteen years. So that meant I was straight. Right?
Within half an hour of being on-line, I realized that that was bullshit. It's hard to entirely describe the feeling that I had, reading what other people were posting, what they were thinking, how they were relating to their sexuality, to beauty, to their faith. There was no sense of horror at all, no sense of my worldview or self-concept crumbling, just an immense relief. I thought, “Here, at last, are people like me. I'm not completely alone in the world. I'm not just the really, really weird girl who doesn't think and feel and talk like other people. I'm not just strange and socially awkward and out of place. I'm queer.” That word fit so well. The lovely “q” sound, the euphonious Victorian twang, the fact that it was a pejorative that had been reclaimed in self-defence, that it described a state of sexual otherness which didn't necessarily connote any particular kind of sexual behaviour whatsoever. Queer. Other. Exile.
But an exile travelling towards the promised land – and no longer travelling alone.
(Part 6 of 12)
Saturday, June 2, 2012
The problem with Stoicism is that it works like magic...not like stage magic, but like the kind of magic where you sign away your soul on a dotted line. If you're any good at it, Stoicism pays massive dividends up front, but sooner or later the debt gets called in and it's bone crunching time.
I was very good at it.
For nearly ten years I stoically repressed my sexuality. Then, when I was pregnant with my sixth child, the collections officer came calling. I was trying as usual to be holy and heterosexual, but found that I was increasingly lonely, anxious and wound up instead.
Okay, lonely doesn't cover it. I wrote a novel in which the main character, Germanicus Kirkman, was a martyred, highly erotophobic Stoic trapped in the bottom of a malevolent supernatural Well which was outside of time, space, and existence. He was even lonelier than me, because he had no hope of any contact with people other than himself. Over the course of some hundred-thousand words, Germanicus became increasingly more and more insane, literally torturing himself within his own imagination as he tried to cling to virtue, to be perfect all on his own strength. He was ruthlessly rational, unable to be weak, trying to dominate every single one of his passions by the strength of his own will, unable to accept or forgive himself, unable to receive love.
I identified with him completely. For about six months, I could not stop writing this novel, every single night. It took over my life. I wrote it compulsively, and I could no more put it aside than you can escape from the logic of a dream. My subconscious had taken control of me, and it would not be silenced until it had spilled out every last drop of its complaint.
In some ways, living as Germanicus was wonderful. My pain threshold shot through the roof. All temptations save pride became laughable. I could look on my own sufferings with marvelous indifference. I could face insult and injury and be vexed with no man. I could be superhuman. Or inhuman. Depending on your point of view.
Only I couldn't get the novel to come to a proper resolution. I wanted Germanicus to triumph, to save himself, but every ending that I tried came out wooden or incoherent.
Finally, I showed the manuscript to my husband. He said, “You need to take this to a shrink, not an editor.” I was unbelievably angry with him about that, but slowly I began to realize that it was true. I wasn't writing about a character in a weird speculative horror situation. I was writing autobiography in archetypal guise.
(Part 5 of 12)
Friday, June 1, 2012
My father in law warned me. He said, with a wisdom that I couldn't recognize, “People are going to try to use your story for their political ends.” I was just so happy to be able to speak; it was part pride, I'll admit that. The pleasant vanity of hearing one's own voice on radio, of sitting in a television studio and talking about oneself. I was also terrified, paralyzed by stage fright. My husband wanted to discuss what I was going to say, how I was going to avoid sounding plastic or saccharine, but I just wanted to plug my book and get out alive.
When I went on Catholic radio for the first time the host, a well-meaning pious woman, cornered me. She said, “So you heard God speaking to you in your heart?” I fumbled. I stuttered. I said, “Yes. In a sense,” or something like that. When the interview was over, I hung up the phone and sat staring at the wall, wondering what had happened. My husband asked, “How did it go?” I said, “I told them that I heard God speaking to me in my heart. I gave a classic conversion testimonial. I didn't mean to.” He said, “Next time, we'll get you ready before you go on.”
My next radio interview was better, so I figured that I was okay when EWTN invited me down to appear on the Abundant Life. Then I got there, and I realized that I wasn't in Canada anymore. I was in Alabama. The women at the EWTN mass were all wearing pretty skirts, and many of them had their heads covered. Black people worked all of the service jobs, and they referred to me as “ma'am,” in this weird way, as if slavery had never really come to an end. People would ask me what I was there to do a show about, and I would say “homosexuality. I used to be a lesbian.” Then they would talk about the gay agenda, and Prop 8, and how the gays were taking over the schools. It was so strange, this presumption that since I had left my lesbian lover behind I would therefore look on homosexuality with fear and loathing. I smiled and nodded, because I didn't know what to say.
Eventually I got to the studio where I was greeted by Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a reparative therapist from NARTH who was to be appearing alongside me on the show. He was the expert, the doctor. I was automatically, in some way, cast in the role of the patient, the one who had been successfully treated and reformed. Only I had never been treated. I had never been to any therapy. I had never been repaired. There was a sort of awkwardness in that which got under my skin.
Then, at some point during filming when the camera was off, Dr. Fitzgibbons turned to me and in a hushed tone of voice that suggested he was sharing an appalling secret with me said something about “gay bowel syndrome” and rectal cancer. I was stunned. I didn't know how to react to that. Was I supposed to be horrified? Disgusted? Shocked? In disbelief? I was none of those things. I just sat there, waiting for Rod Sirling to pop out and explain how I'd gotten into the Twilight Zone.
I got another jolt of cognitive dissonance a little later in the program, when the host turned to me and enthused “You're so honest!” I was suffering from culture-shock and intimidation in the presence of an expert, and I was giving a really wooden, highly expurgated account of myself. I was behaving so artificially that when my husband later tried to watch the show on YouTube he couldn't make it through more than five painful minutes. I didn't resemble myself at all, yet I was being praised for heroic authenticity.
I felt like a fraud. I'd written a book about how the Culture Wars mentality was wrong, and suddenly I was in the thick of that war, an artillery piece in the battle against the Gay Agenda. Moreover, I knew that the politicization of my sexuality was an obstacle to the work that I actually wanted to be doing. I was producing the kind of ex-gay narrative that appeals to good Catholic mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers who dearly want their loved one's to be able to acheive a full, vibrant, healthy, happy heterosexuality – the kind of ex-gay narrative that has failed the LGBTQ community so badly because it falls afoul of the real experience of many people with SSA.
I was fast becoming the very stereotype that I had so pointedly criticized in the opening chapter of my book and I didn't know where I was going to find the courage to go back to being myself.
(part 4 of 12)
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Saturday, May 26, 2012
People who have read a lot of my stuff will know the narrative: my paternal grandmother had visited me several times over the course of my conversion, and had pointed me towards a shining figure of beautiful femininity: fair as the moon, bright as the sun, gentle as my grandmother herself – grandma, with her green peacock cookie bin always full of fresh-baked cookies, her quiet grace, her soft smell of make-up, cigarettes and hairspray. Through her intercession, I came to understand that the beautiful lady whom I was coming to adore was not a goddess, but a Virgin Mother, Mary, mother of Jesus Christ.
In the first few months following my decision to become a Catholic, my understanding of femininity started to radically shift. I'd never been much good at being feminine, not at being feminine by the standards of my culture in any case. I had never fit in with the girls, never liked make-up, bra shopping, or watching Thursday night drama's and romantic comedies. This feeling of alienation from other women led me to develop a severe sour-grapes complex. Femininity, I determined, was weakness, blathering superficiality, back-biting slanderousness, self-conscious promiscuity, a lack of self-respect, and a general willingness to lie down and let men take advantage of you. The entire notion of traditional femininity, I thought, had been constructed by men, for the benefit of men, in order to subordinate, subjugate and sexualize women. I wanted nothing to do with it.
My relationship with Mary changed this. I realized through her that many of the attributes of traditional femininity which I associated with weakness were actually manifestations of a deep interior strength. I realized that many aspects of women's subjugation were really manifestations of profound internal liberation. I realized that I had adopted a very masculine, misogynistic, dismissive and demeaning vision of the female sex – that I had allowed my desire to escape the jaws of patriarchy to lure me into an androcentric vision of womanhood which was even more insulting and constricting than the shallow, sexually saturated femininity that I had rejected in the first place.
This was an experience of profound liberation. Suddenly I was free to be a woman. To be truly woman. To be united to the archetype of womanhood, the New Eve, to become a daughter of God, and a Bride of Christ, and a tabernacle of the Spirit, radiant, resplendent, receptive and yet powerful, seductive and yet chaste, beautiful, beloved, fruitful, feminine. Amen.
Within a very short period of time, this re-envisioning of my femininity had born visible fruit. I found myself able to open wide the doors of my heart, to receive there a suitor, to accept the love of a man, not as a challenge, or a competition, or an imposition, or a threat, but as a gift. I was beloved not only of God, but of a particular human being, a man named Christian Selmys. His love invited me to explore my newfound femininity, to celebrate and rejoice in it, and very soon we were exploring the spousal meaning of the body together...admittedly not always in ways acceptable to the full meaning and purpose of human sexuality, but we were both recent converts, not especially well-catechized, fumbling towards Truth with all the zeal that we could muster, but with a certain amount of ignorance and human weakness getting in the way.
Eventually we married. We had children. I became a mother myself. Now, surely, I was on my way to a full realization of the complete glory of woman as she had been designed and created by God in the Beginning. I crucified my homosexuality. I crucified my feminism. I waited for the miracle: waited for God to send down a Blue Fairy of heterosexuality who would wave her magic wand over my game of dress-up, my playing house, my wooden womanhood, to turn me into a real girl at last.
(part 2, hopefully of 12)
Friday, May 25, 2012
Some people are not going to like what I say here. They're going to be quick to get up in the com-box and tell me that I'm deviating from the strict letter of Church teaching. I don't think I am, and I'll get to that in due course, but I am certainly deviating from the standard tropes for same-sex attracted Catholics. I'd like to point out that these tropes are not identical with Church teaching: the Church has always been very careful to state that the psychological genesis of homosexuality is unknown, so I think that it stands to reason that one need not conform to any particular psychogenetic theory in order to be orthodox. I would also like to suggest that the various pastoral approaches that have been developed out of the popular psychogenic tropes can also not be construed to be absolute Truth, applicable to all homosexual persons in all situations. This is not to say that these approaches are not valid, that they are not helpful, that they are evil, or misguided, or ineffectual – just that they do not work for me. Think, in this respect, about the difference between Jesuit spirituality and Franciscan spirituality, the spirituality of warriors and the spirituality of gardeners: there is more than one approach that leads to truth, and Rome has always encouraged a variety of spiritualities under the aegis of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I'm not seeking to spread disunity, but diversity. Those who've followed my previous writings on narrative will understand what I mean.
Finally, I'd like to defend this project on the grounds of authenticity. Ever since I was a teenager, I've believed several important things about truth:
1. It must be rational and coherent. 2. It must be possible to live as if it is true. 3. Truth is good for people; that which is not good for the human person is not true. 4. Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty 5. I will not believe in any philosophy that leads me to believe that suicide is my best option. 6. Authenticity is essential in the search for truth.
So I'm going to be honest here, authentic. I believe and hope and pray that Truth absolute will not in any way be obscured, dishonoured, or offended by my little truth. If I am in error, or if what I say is scandalous, please correct me: but please do so in the understanding that I'm familiar with the documents. Quotations alone will not suffice. All of the authoritative texts on this subject are open to multiple hermeneutics, and for me, the interpretation that I bring to them seems true because it is vouchsafed by my own experience, it resonates within my heart. The other hermeneutics do not resonate. They make me angry. Not angry with the people who tell me these things – I understand that those people are guided by genuine pastoral concern, by a desire to perform the spiritual work of mercy we call “fraternal correction,” by the desire to speak the truth out of love. Angry none the less. Angry because something which is utterly alien to my own heart, something which has caused me pain, is promulgated as though it were the immutable will of my God.
I can't believe that.
Let me explain.
Part 1, hopefully of 12
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Sungenis' vitriol is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be gay. Gayness is not reduceable to homosexual sex, or the desire to have homosexual sex. It is a way of relating to other people, a way of appreciating human beauty, and a way of relating to one's own gender. Most people who identify as chaste, gay Christians, are referring to involuntary currents of homoeroticism and gender-queerness that run through the personality. Sungenis appears to believe that these currents are so fundamentally disordered that the only proper response to them is one of outright warfare, that the personality must have surgery performed on it in order to eliminate every vestige of queerness in order that it might be rendered fit for salvation.
I think that there are two serious problems with this approach. First, people who engage in this kind of argument seem to think that the question of to be, or not to be same-sex attracted is an open question in the lives of gay people. This point is obvious to those of us with SSA, but apparently not to everyone else: for a homosexual person, same-sex attraction is a given. We can have a heated debate about whether or not people ought to have these attractions, just as we can have a lively argument about whether or not men ought to have spontaneous erections (a subject that has produced considerable discursive excitement over the centuries, mostly amongst ivory tower academics), but the fact is that for all practical purposes the question is settled – no amount of theological speculation has ever proved capable of preventing “concupiscent movements of the flesh,” nor can any amount of moralistic diatribe prevent homosexual persons from having homoerotic desires.
Secondly, hard-line traditionalists tend to assume that same-sex attraction is fundamentally objectively disordered in all of its aspects. The Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops, in their recent document on Youth with Same-Sex Attractions, were very careful to explicitly spell out the fact that homosexual inclinations are objectively disordered in so far as they concern the desire to have same-sex genital relations. That is, in so far as same-sex attractions are concupiscent, they are objectively disordered: a nice little tautology which only stands in need of clarification because it is counterintuitive to contemporary secular culture. What this means is that same-sex attractions, in so far as they are not concupiscent, are not disordered: another tautology, but one that is equally counterintuitive to many moral conservatives.
To understand the difference between concupiscent desire, and ordered desire, let's follow John Paul II's lead and return to the Beginning. I'd like to analyze, specifically, Genesis 3:6: “The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye, and that it was enticing for the wisdom that it could give.” Surely this is a case of disordered desire, right? Eve wants what she's not supposed to have, and as a result of that desire, she sins.
Sed contra, Eve at this moment is still in a state of Original Innocence. She does not have concupiscence clouding her judgement. What she sees at the moment is objectively true: the fruit really is good to eat, it really is pleasing to the eye, and it really is desirable for the wisdom that it could give. What is false is her conclusion, that because of these properties, it is justifiable for her to take and eat what has been denied to her by God.
I'd like to apply the same hermeneutic to same-sex attraction. When I look at a woman, and see that she is beautiful, that she is desirable, that she is enticing, I'm seeing something that is objectively true: she is objectively a manifestation of the imago dei, she is objectively attractive, and it is objectively legitimate for me to desire to be united with her in the vast communio personarum which is constituted by the Church and by the whole human race. My desire is not disordered in and of itself: it becomes disordered when I direct it, or allow it direct itself, towards something which is forbidden. If it leads me to fantasize about homosexual acts, or to think of the woman as a sex object, then it becomes disordered, that is ordered towards an end which is not in conformity with Truth and with the dignity of the person. But what if I make the act of will to redirect that desire, to use it as an opportunity to give glory to God for the beauty which He has made manifest in that particular woman? Or to meditate on my desire for the one-flesh union of the entire humanum in the Eucharist where there is neither Gentile nor Jew, slave nor free, woman nor man? Or as an opportunity to contemplate the relationship between the doctrines of the Communion of Saints and of the resurrection of the Body? What if, by an act of will, I take that desire and order it towards its proper end: towards the Good, the Beautiful and the True?
This is what I mean when I speak of sublimation, and it relates to what Joshua and other gay Christians mean when they speak of being both gay and chaste. It means that the word “gay” is being used to refer to the fact that some of us are more easily able to experience the goodness and beauty of the body in the bodies our own sex than we are in the bodies of the opposite sex. Obviously that leaves us open to homosexual temptation, just as the ability of most men and women to more easily appreciate bodily beauty in the opposite sex leaves them open to heterosexual temptations (to pre-marital sex, to adultery, to pornography, to sexual fantasy, etc.) Obviously in so far as it leads to homosexual temptation, it is disordered. But the word “gay” can refer to the orientation of that initial erotic impulse, irregardless of whether it develops towards disordered lust, or towards an appreciation of Christ playing “lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not His.” Which is why, in my submission, gay chastity is a calling, not a myth.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Point 1 is fairly straightforward. When most people talk about homosexuality as a sexual orientation they're talking experientially, not metaphysically. Unless you happen to be talking to a very committed gay philosopher who believes that his homosexuality forms the ontological matrix of his personhood, this argument commits a category error. The average gay, when he says “I'm homosexual,” means, “I experience predominate/exclusive sexual attraction for members of my own sex.” When he says “My homosexuality is innate,” he means, “I have had homosexual attractions for as long as I've had any attractions at all, and the tendency to have such attractions has probably been with me since birth.” The statement, “you are actually innately heterosexual” is meaningless in this context, because it has absolutely no referrent within his experience. It may be true, but it is true in a way that risks being alienating because it is not recognizable.
Truth should not be like that. Truth is effective when it is coupled with beauty in such a way that it resonates within the chambers of the heart. The heartstrings are plucked so that there is immediate recognition: Yes! That. Ita est. There is no need for a clever argument because it's obvious that the truth has been spoken, that the strings of my heart and the strings of the heart of the other are playing in tune. Christ's statements are always like that. He never argues. He just says things, and if your ears are open, and the heart is properly tuned, then it is obvious that what He's saying is True.
Which brings me to the second objection that I have with this argument. It states that the fundamental sexual orientation of the human person is heterosexual. I politely disagree. I think that the fundamental sexual orientation of the human person is Christological. All men are by nature designed to desire one flesh union with Christ, to be espoused to the Divine Bridegroom. All sexual attraction is merely a sign which points towards this. After the Resurrection of the Body there will be no human marriages – heterosexual marriage, for all of its dignity and loveliness, is a passing and ephemeral thing. The ethical dimension of heterosexuality therefore derives from its role as sign, from the fact that the spousal meaning of the human body points towards this ultimate meaning of human life.
For the majority of people, therefore, heterosexuality serves as a potentially ethical route for the expression of eros. It is not, however, essential. As John Paul II points out in Theology of the Body, eros has a multiplicity of meanings. It is in the Platonic definition that he sees a possible reconciliation between eros and ethos: “If we suppose that “eros” signifies the inner power that “attracts” man to the true, the good, and the beautiful, then we also see a road opening up within the sphere of this concept toward what Christ wanted to express in the Sermon on the Mount.” (TOB 47:5) This is a powerful idea, which suggests an alternative way forward for those who find the “straight” road impassible. Instead of trying to reorient homosexual desire towards heterosexual desire, it is possible to simply bypass heterosexuality and move directly towards Goodness, Beauty, Truth. This is the pathway which Socrates describes in the Symposium, a movement from the appreciation of the beauty of the beloved (in Socrates' account, a beautiful male youth), towards the appreciation of physical beauty in all of its forms, and from there an appreciation of the beauty of the mind, the beauty of institutions and laws, the beauty of the sciences and of knowledge, and finally “drawing towards and contemplating the vast sea of beauty, he will create many fair and noble thoughts and notions in boundless love of wisdom; until on that shore he grows and waxes strong, and at last the vision is revealed to him of a single science, which is the science of beauty everywhere,” and “when he comes towards the end will suddenly percieve a nature of wondrous beauty...beauty absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting, which without diminution and without increase, or any change, is imparted to the ever-growing and perishing beauties of all other things.”
Yes! That. Ita est.
Friday, April 20, 2012
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
I carried it back to the car in both hands, reconciling with its death. An accidental meeting of two bodies in space, a curious side-effect of my existence, had caused the death of this beautiful thing. I settled it on the seat next to me and drove home.
I have since identified my late-lamented feathered friend as a partridge. It wasn't until after I had plucked, drawn and hung it that my husband pointed out that a partridge is a Christological symbol: the “partridge in a pear tree” is Christ on the Cross. I then looked up. There it was, hanging above my kitchen sink, skewered cross-wise with its little wings outstretched, unmistakably cruciform.
I've been trying to formulate a way of putting into words everything that this means to me. I keep having that phrase, “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me...” running through my head, reminding me that Christ is my true love, and that I am the beloved to whom He gives the gift of Himself, in this case under the queer guise of roadkill. I suppose also that it conveys in some sense the sense of happy calamity, what Tolkien called eucatastrophe, which is so central to Easter: “O happy fault, o happy sin of Adam that has earned for us such a redeemer.” It reminds me that man lives by gift alone, that gifts lie entirely outside of anything that we can control or predict, that they are wild and improbable, serendipitous and synchronicitous, quotidian and yet infused with meaning. And it points towards the crazy good accident of being alive in the first place, the fragility which underwrites the beauty of existence, the strange and unpredictable chiarascuro brushstrokes by which we are painted into God's masterpeice.
Only God said it so much more eloquently, elegantly, in the crook of a broken neck and a warm breast cooling beneath my fingers.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
I'm not going to deny that there is animosity, but the animosity is not towards the model. I don't really have a problem with the idea that some gay men may have deep-seated problems which stem from their relationships with their fathers, and I see no reason why men in that situation wouldn't have recourse to psychological healing. Dan in Michigan is absolutely right when he says that just because something is subjective, that doesn't mean that it's made up. When I say that the psychological narratives are subjective, and that they are constructed, I don't mean that they bear no relationship to reality -- to be perfectly honest, I think that subjective reality is more real than objective reality because the objective material universe is transient, it is that which will pass away, whereas the heart of the human subject is eternal. The narratives that shape a human life are absolutely real and legitimate, they are the works of art which we make out of our experiences and which we will humbly submit to the Creator at the end of time in the hopes that He will accept our little stories for inclusion in His masterwork. They are, however, works in process: people constantly edit and revise these narratives, and rightly so, in order to polish and improve them. In that sense, they are less reliable, less "real" than say, a tree, which God has produced once and for all in its final form. In any case, my claim that narratives are subjective and constructed is not intended to be dismissive or belittling; it comes within the context of a general belief that the Enlightenment's idolatry of Objective Truth(TM) is hubristic and absurd.
That said, I also agree that there are real variations in parenting styles, that some mothers really do behave in ways which almost any child would perceive as smothering, and that some fathers really are absent a lot of the time. The emotional experiences in such cases are just reasonable reactions to the facts. So far, there is no narrative. Where this turns into a narrative is when the gay man says "My mother's overinvolvement during childhood has made me come to perceive the love of women as cloying and controlling, while my father's absence left me without adequate male role-models and damaged my male self-confidence. That's why I'm gay." The facts are objectively true, the emotional reaction to the facts is legitimate, the narrative, however, is a much more complicated beast: it's a story that weaves together these facts and interrelates them with the present in order to provide meaning and significance in an archetypally satisfying way. All of this is absolutely legitimate. It is not only the right, but also the obligation of every human person to order his or her experience towards goodness, beauty and truth, and this includes imbuing it with both rational and aesthetic value. If the smothering mother/distant father narrative has deep emotional meaning for a particular homosexual person, if it resonates with his experience, seems to be supported by the facts, and provides a rubric within which he can forgive and heal, then it is True. It corresponds to the kind of Truth which is also Beauty, and the embrace of this narrative, and of the demands which it makes on him as a person, will lead to Goodness.
So far, so good. Where the animosity comes in, is when people try to aggressively project such narratives onto others. It's one thing to say "My mother really was smothering, my father really was absent, and that really did leave me in a headspace where I feel driven to have sex with men in order to reconnect with my damaged masculinity," it's another thing to say, "That guy over there is just saying that he had a perfectly normal childhood because he's unwilling to confront the pain of the deep wounds which his parents left on his psyche." That guy over there has an absolute and inalienable right, for as long as he is alive, to wrestle with his own experience in his own way, to seek the Truth of it within himself, and to construct whatever narratives he requires to provide for his own spiritual and psychological needs. When he dies, God will have the right to judge the narratives that he's created, but until then that little square of headspace is his own, it is his most intimate and private property, and nobody has the right to tell him that he's narcissistic and immature because he refuses to accept the narratives that they want to impose on him.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
The simplest definition of a homosexual is a person who has attractions for members of his or her own sex: SSA. This is the meaning that the Vatican tends to use in Her documents on homosexuality, and it is the definition which most people assume when they hear the word. The word "homosexual" in this sense does present some problems: it assumes that people who engage in homosexuality have some sort of underlying sexual preference or inclination which directs their sexual behaviour. It assumes that a person who has gay sex does so because they are attracted to members of their own sex, and not for other reasons. The people of Sodom, for example, were probably not homosexual in this sense: their demand to have sex with the angels was probably not a manifestation of sexual attraction, but was more likely a form of ritual domination, or of politically organized violence designed to keep unwanted outsiders out of their city, to send a clear message to Abraham who was camped nearby with his men, and/or to exercise magical or religious power over potential enemies. Prison homosexuality, lesbianism in harems, and pederasty in single-sex boarding schools are other examples of homosexuality in which people are likely to practice homosexual sex without necessarily having any same-sex attraction. The term "homosexual" in this sense also tends to assume a bipolar sexuality in which people are either exclusively SSA, or exclusively OSA (opposite sex attracted), and it doesn't account for the fact that vast majority of SSA people have some degree of OSA as well.
A second possible definition, one that is fairly popular in contemporary discourse, is that a homosexual is a person who has an LGBTQ identity. A person who comes out of the closet as gay, is homosexual. That's straightforward enough. Certainly when studies or research into homosexuality are undertaken, the LGBTQ community is the primary focus -- both because it is incalculably easier to recruit people for studies when they are willing to identify themselves, and because people who identify as LGBTQ are more likely to access products and services which are directed towards a gay demographic. The problem with this definition is that it excludes all SSA people who, for one reason or another, do not want to identify themselves with the gay movement. Some people reject LGBTQ identities for religious or political reasons (Courage, Exodus and other Christian groups often explicitly discourage their members from identifying as gay, on the reasoning that it cements a link between personal identity and sexual sin, and that it may be a barrier to spiritual healing). Others reject LGBTQ identities because they reject gay culture, or because they have negative stereotypes associated with words like "gay" or "lesbian" that they feel do not apply to them. Still others reject an LGBTQ identity out of a feeling that labels are restrictive or artificial: they feel that their own sexuality cannot be adequately described or constrained by any of the available terms. Finally, SSA people may reject these identities because they want to keep their sexual preferences private, or because they don't feel that their sexual desires are an important part of their identity at all. On the other hand, people who are not SSA may identify as LGBTQ either because they wish to access gay culture and gay services, or because they feel non-sexual romantic attractions to members of their own sex, or because they experience some variant of gender-queerness without SSA, or because they routinely have sex with members of their own sex even though they do not have strong same-sex attractions. (This latter category might seem a bit bizarre, but think, for example, of the situation of an OSA woman who has been raped and is now too terrified to have sexual relationships with men, and who therefore seeks out lesbian encounters in which she employs heterosexual mental imagery during sex.)
Finally, a third definition of homosexual, also seemingly intuitive and straightforward, is "someone who has sexual relations with members of his/her own sex." The terms MSM (man who has sex with men) and WSW (woman who has sex with women) are often used in social studies research in order to precisely indicate this type of homosexual -- studies of HIV/AIDS, for example, will tend to focus on MSMs regardless of attractions or sexual identities because HIV is spread by behaviours, not by desires or labels. The problem with this definition is that it would exclude all successfully chaste SSA people from ministries directed at homosexuals, and it would exclude all non-sexually active (or exclusively heterosexually active) LGBTQ people from public services, anti-bullying strategies, political protections, etc. which are designed to help or protect sexual minorities. It also fails to address the problem, mentioned above, of opportunistic or ideologically motivated homosexual sex by heterosexual people.
The bottom line is that these three groups, SSA folks, LGBTQ people, and MSMs/WSWs, are all in some sense "homosexual," but they do not represent a homogeneous, or coterminous population. Any statement, study, or research about "homosexuals" must take this into account, it must resist the sloppy temptation to equivocate between these terms, to assume that statistical information or clinical observations of any one of these populations can be automatically applied to the others.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
I think the answer to this is pretty obvious. Most people who read Plato seem to read him as philosophy: that is to say, their reading focuses on the ideas put forward by Socrates and his interlocutors. I read Plato this way myself when I was reading him within the institutional setting of the university. The important thing was to know what Socrates had said, and to analyze his ideas as ideas. A particular set of mental tools are employed in this exercise. The mind seeks a certain level of coherence, it demands a high standard of evidence, and it parses text as a series of propositions, syllogisms, and conclusions which it judges according to the laws of logic. Fair enough. According to this sort of reading, the question of Socrates' sexuality is ambiguous. He certainly talks about homoeroticism: he describes how a young man should deal with the homoerotic advances of lovers, exhorting his listeners to Platonic friendship and to the contemplation of Beauty rather than the satisfaction of their libidinous desires. His second speech in the Phaedrus would seem to suggest that he had some personal stake in this discussion, but then it is in the context of a demonstration concerning the art of rhetoric, and Socrates himself seems to feel that the speech is somewhat fanciful when he is discussing its relative merits with Phaedrus. The Symposium presents a similar problem; Socrates criticizes the encomiums of the other attendees, and then goes on to present an argument which he claims to have had from a woman, Diotema. The fact that Socrates appears to have gone to this women in order to get spiritual advice, and that the advice given concerns the love of boys might not mean anything: perhaps he was simply styling his own discourse to the purposes of the gathering, which seemed to be primarily concerned with male love. Certainly, nothing is proved beyond a shadow of doubt. The question must remain open.
I'll grant this. From a purely philosophical point of view, acknowledging the risks of applying a modernistic hermeneutic to texts that are significantly culturally removed, and taking into account the inconclusiveness of the considerations outlined above, it is certainly possible, but by no means certain, that Socrates may have experienced some degree of same-sex attraction.
But there is another way of reading Plato: as literature. A literary reading of the Phaedrus and the Symposium leaves the question rather more settled. The literary reader does not merely ask “What did Socrates say?” She asks, “What sort of character is Socrates? What was Socrates like?” She naturally pays a great deal more attention to the bits of text that seem extraneous to a philosophical reader: the section of the Symposium where all of the other guests complain about Socrates' long-windedness, the bit where Alcibiades twits Socrates before he tells his story of the philosopher's marvelous sexual fortitude, the squabble with Phaedrus about whether Socrates will make a speech or not, and the part where he insists that they had better keep discoursing for fear that the grasshoppers will laugh at them if they take a nap. She tries to picture the attitudes, the characters, the personalities, the sarcasms, ironies, jokes and emotions of the various speakers. I would like to suggest that such a reading answers the question with a resounding affirmative: Socrates was not merely familiar with the attractions of homoeroticism, he was sooo gay. I invite you to try the experiment, and see if you do not come to the same conclusion. Indeed, this aspect of Socrates' personality seems to leap from the page with such vibrancy that one is forced to wonder why such a concerted effort has been made to argue that the matter is ambiguous. Why deny what seems the most reasonable, obvious and natural interpretation of the text?
Saturday, February 4, 2012
I loved this book, and would recommend it very highly – not just to people who are same-sex attracted. I think that if a lot more people in the conservative Christian crowd read this book it would massively enrich the quality of outreach to people with same-sex attractions. Although Wes doesn't shy away from the hard moral teachings (his approach is actually a lot more Biblically centred than my own, which isn't surprising – I camp out on Theology of the Body and lean a lot more on specifically Catholic teaching), he also does not shy away from the very real obstacles that present people who are trying to live out that teaching. Seeing a truly honest portrayal of the hardships that Christ demands of those who have exclusive same-sex attractions, and of the ways that God works in those lives, produces a sense of humility that is so often lacking in Christian preaching on homosexuality. It's the particular humility of recognizing that beneath the natural law arguments, and appeals to scripture, and the pat certainties that this is “The Truth,” we are asking people to shoulder a substantial Cross. As Wes makes clear, that doesn't mean that the Church should not make this demand of people, but rather that those who present that demand must be willing to actually give of themselves, to help carry the Cross along with their same-sex attracted brothers and sisters.
He also does a lovely job of discussing the role of the Church in the lives of Christians – not only Christians with same-sex attraction, but all of us. He points out that in the culture of the New Testament, marriage and the family are no longer the primary place in which human beings give, receive and exchange love. The Church is supposed to be truly One Body in One Lord, and the ambivalence with which Christ and St. Paul view marriage is placed in the context of the supremacy of the Body of Christ as the place where human beings encounter one another. Obviously, this highlights the need for Christian communities to truly function as places in which LGBTQ people can encounter this kind of love, a love which is emotional, spiritual and physical. A love sufficient to make life without a spouse bearable, and even joyful.
Finally, he conveys really powerfully what it is that LGBTQ people have to offer the Church. He shows that gay Christians are not merely dissidents, psychological wrecks or recovering addicts, that they are people with a deep spirituality that is relevant to the entire Church.
This is testimonial at its absolute best: not sentimental and formulaic, but realistic, tough and stunningly beautiful. It's a window into another person's experience, an icon of Divine Providence, and a work of marvelous hope.
Friday, January 27, 2012
First, family dynamic stories are not boring, reductive or unhip by nature. Tenessee Williams, Robertson Davies, David Foster Wallace and countless other writers have produced absolutely fabulous, gripping stories out of family conflicts. These narratives are not only valid, they elucidate the core of archetypal meaning which is to be found in human relationships. They are a revelation of a truth that is much deeper than mere fact. As James Joyce so eloquently showed us, when a person has an experience of conflict within the family, and especially of the resolution or forgiveness of that conflict, this can be an epic adventure equal to the Odyssey or The Lord of the Rings. So long as the narrative is genuine, so long as it arises from the true experience of the subject, it has the capacity to be a manifestation of truth. These stories only become dull and uninspiring when they are subjected to formulaic constraints – when they cease to be a genuine expression of the individual personality, and they become the psychological equivalent of predictable Hollywood schlock.
More fundamentally, though, I would like to emphasize that subjective realities are not delusional or “untrue.” One of the great errors promulgated by the Enlightenment is the privileging of objective truth to the denigration of subjectivity. This notion of objectivity, which is exemplified by the dogma that the Earth goes around the Sun and not visa versa, rests on the assumption that more distance you have from a thing, the more accurate, reliable, verifiable and therefore true, your observations about it will be. This distance can be achieved through physical removal, psychological disinterestedness, intellectual abstraction or conditional controls (think of the kind of detachment from real life implied by controlled laboratory conditions.) The artifacts of the human interior, because they cannot be subjected to external verification or objective study, become increasingly suspect in such a scheme. They are trusted only in so far as they can be abstracted by psychological metanarratives, rationalized by statistical data gathering, or otherwise placed under artificial surveillance.
This kind of objectivism produced a kind of scientific totalitarianism – not only in the political order but in the order of knowledge itself: a totalizing metanarrative founded on the presumed superiority of objective observation. This metanarrative, which has formed the intellectual substrata of Western thought throughout the modern era, is profoundly at odds with Christianity. When the Church fulminated against the Copernicans, it was not because She was insisting on an inaccurate way of looking at the universe, but rather because She was trying to preserve a worldview which placed personality, not impersonality, at the centre of Knowledge. She was attempting to preserve humanity from the inhuman excesses of humanism.
What Christians believe in is not objectivity, but absolutism. We believe that truth really is true, but that it is vouchsafed not by disinterested objectivity, but by a profoundly interested Divine personality. All of the objects of scientific inquiry will pass away, but the person, his soul, his experience, his loves, his interests and his subjectivity will persist. It is the subject that God loves, the subject that is made in the image and likeness of God. Absolute truth is not “out there” but in here: the “Kingdom of God,” which is “within.” Verily, verily, God Himself is not an objective, abstract deity, but a communion of persons: a triune intersubjectivity possessed of free will, capable of loving, and hating, and experiencing. This God is not watching us from a distance, He is watching us from the Centre of the World, the Cross, through the eyes of a body which is the Body of the whole human race in time and throughout eternity. This absolute personality includes and verifies all of our little subjectivities, not by getting outside of them, by seeing with a more objective eye, but by getting inside of them, by becoming united to them.
These subjective truths are not judged according to the logic of objective science, but rather according to the logic of narrative. The Saints have “Lives,” that is, they have stories which vouchsafe their sanctity. God does not decide who will get into heaven by taking a statistical survey of the opinions of the neighbours, nor by adding up a utilitarian calculation of goods and evils committed in this life, or even by asking whether a person performed any scientifically verifiable miracles, but rather by examining the interior logic of the personality: whether it produced a story-shaped life, and whether the story that was lived conformed to the True story of the person of Christ.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
UPDATE: This should be fixed now. Adding the html code seems to have worked.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Philosophers have long been wont to talk of these pleasures as the “higher,” or “nobler” pleasures. These terms have unfortunately come to take on the baggage of stuffy, pretentious, elitism. It would, I think, be more accurate today to speak of these as greater pleasures: that is they provide more avenues and possibilities for sustainable pleasure than can be found in the realms of sexuality or in other forms of purely sensual delight.
Greek philosophy acknowledged this. Socrates, in both the Symposium and the Phaedras, refers to an experience of the Beautiful which serves as a foundation for the love and pursuit and wisdom. This experience is so profound, and fills the soul with such joy, that anything else pales in comparison. Socrates, and others before and since, discovered that they could increase their access to these sublime pleasures by channeling the force of erotic desire, avoiding sexual fulfillment in order to fly up into the realms of heavenly contemplation. Eros, in this scheme, is not abandoned or repressed, but rather harnessed and sublimated for the sake of that greater pleasure.
The question is, why, if the pleasures of Truth, Goodness and Beauty are greater than the pleasures of sex, food and wine, do people so consistently opt for the latter? There are several reasons. The first is that the initial experience of the sublime – that experience which Christianity tends to refer to as “conversion” or “mystical experience” -- can come at any point in a human life. For some it seems to come later rather than sooner, and these people naturally find it difficult to appreciate that spiritual pleasures really could outshine worldly ones “as daylight doth a lamp.” The second is that the so-called “base” pleasures are easier to access. A chocolate eclair is pretty much plug and play: you stick it in your mouth, and you have instant pleasure. There's no delicate and sophisticated interior balance that must be struck, no training of the faculties, no slow expansion of the heart or arduous practice of virtue necessary to prepare to receive it. A third is that the pleasures of Beauty, Truth and Goodness are voluntary. Those who do not practice them will suffer, certainly, from various forms of spiritual malaise: depression, boredom, cynicism, anxiety, and a sense of meaninglessness. None the less, these forms of uneasiness don't immediately and obviously translate into a “hunger and thirst for righteousness” in the same way that sexual frustration translates into sexual desire and that nicotine addiction translates into tobacco cravings. The suffering that comes with the suppression of physical desires is more violent and more immediately recognizable than the suffering that comes from spiritual starvation, and so people are generally quicker to satisfy their physical cravings.
Finally, and this deserves a paragraph all its own, there is the problem of Jansenism. There is a tendency amongst those who have experienced the pleasures of the sublime to become proud of these pleasures. A rather silly form of Puritanism quickly comes to infect the soul, and the genuine, ecstatic and ultimately humbling pleasures of being in the presence of the Beautiful and the True is slowly replaced by the much uglier pleasure of feeling that you are better than other people because you have such rarefied tastes. This pleasurable pride, in its extreme, pretends to eschew pleasure altogether: it starts to make absurd claims about indifference, apathy and disinterestedness and lays claim to an inhuman and disembodied altruism from which it derives the terrible pleasure of diabolical self-congratulation. This tendency, which can be found in Socrates' disdain of sex as “that which the multitudes account blissful,” and which also too often infects Christian piety, is the very spiritual poison which causes the righteous to rank below the prostitutes and tax collectors in the queue for heavenly bliss. Such self-righteous pleasure is so evidently unappealing and manifestly disedifying that it often serves to alienate and repel people from the pursuit of spiritual joy.
* Socrates is sometimes a little sour-grapesy about sexual pleasure. He doesn't seem to have gotten much out of his marriage, and frankly I wouldn't be surprised if he was one of those gay men who is capable of paying the marriage debt but not capable of deriving much pleasure from the performance. As to his legendary ability to withstand homoerotic temptations, he's a bit of a show-off in a way that really impressed people like Plato, but you'll notice that most of the guests at the Symposium laugh and then traipse off after Alcibiades rather than lingering to listen to Socrates pontificate.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
What reparative therapy offers is an origin story, an etiological myth, to explain the genesis of homosexuality. The client accepts and internalizes this story and then resolves it: he moves through a series of interior confrontations with the father wound and the spectre of the overattached mother, he defeats these internal demons, and in doing so, he is healed.
This is a classic form of healing, found in all societies. A Magus figure, a shaman, guru, or psychologist (I think it's Peter Kreeft who points out that the latter are the Priest-class of scientific modernism) claims authority over the cause of illness. This illness may be psychological, physical or spiritual. The Magus tells a story which harkens back to The Beginning, and then symbolically moves the one in need of healing back into that time when the illness first came to be. There is then a confrontation, an interior struggle in which both the medicine man and the patient participate together by invoking the deity who has the power to overcome the ancient evil which is gnawing away at the patient's body or psyche. Through this confrontation, which may take the form of a rigorous psychological trial, the evil is defeated. Both the Magus and the patient return from the past-time and the patient is healed.
Now I personally like my etiological myths to be mythology flavoured: I prefer stories that go back to when the ancestors were wandering in the dream-time, or when the people used to be bears, or when Adam and Eve lived in a perfect garden from the centre of which flowed four rivers. Scientific materialism requires etiological myths that are somewhat less spectacular, that have the illusion of being “objective” and “verifiable.” Hence the reliance of traditional psychoanalysis on “family of origin” narratives to explain all sorts of psychological problems. The original family serves, in these stories, as The Beginning, the psychological beginning of the person's life, and the healing takes place by returning to that time and resolving conflicts there (religious anthropologist Mercea Eliade uses the lovely Latin phrase “in illo tempore” to refer to that special time in which etiological myths take place.)
Putting my personal tastes aside, however, the reparative therapy narrative does offer most of the essential features of a good medicine song. It goes back to The Beginning. In The Beginning, there are evils to be confronted. These evils are archetypally valid, and they exist in a valid archetypal relationship with the Magus figure who is leading the patient back into the past in order to bring him healing. The parasitic, overcontrolling mother is a classic figure in the “father quest,” that is in stories of self-discovery and identity creation. The distant father is an ambiguous figure, he could be a true Father, a Magus figure who the child rejects because he is too forbidding and austere, or he could be a disgraceful father who fails his children because he is too absorbed in himself. In any case, the child confronts these figures, throwing off the yoke of the overcontrolling mother and reconciling with the distant father. The reparative therapists themselves say that their methods are more effective than mere psychotherapy because they use Christian spirituality to bring about reconciliation. This is the invocation of the deity, another important element of true healing stories.
What this means, is that reparative therapy may be effective for some people, but its efficacy relies on the client's ability to buy into the narrative and accept the authority of the therapist. This is where the comment about family of origin stories being “boring and reductive” becomes an issue. If the story that the medicine man tells seems ridiculous, insufficient, or otherwise not compelling to the patient, then the medicine will not work. This, I think, is where reparative therapy suffers. The trope that's on offer is just too square. It's obviously the sort of thing that straight people would think up to explain homosexuality, but worse, it's the sort of thing that straight people would have thought up sixty years ago. It's in an outmoded, modernist, Freudian idiom that just seems weird and alienating to postmodern queerdom. It is, in short, tragically unhip.