Of Snails and Bishops

I keep running across things in Eve Tushnet’s new book that cause me to scratch my head. This passage is one of them:

I feel very lucky to have entered the Church with a high level of anti-clericalism and cynicism about the clergy. When bishops to something right for once I can be grateful, and when they act like bureaucrats at best, I am not surprised.

Nonetheless, I’ve experienced the anger and resentment toward the Church and its representatives that most gay people grapple with at some point. I’ve been furious with bishops who say dumb things about gay people, and felt intense frustration with Catholic leaders who stand in the way of efforts to reach out to gay young people.

Much of this anger is justified. I know people who have been denied jobs by Catholic institutions because they are open about their sexual orientation–and also open about their fidelity to Church teaching on chastity. The Catechism prohibits “unjust discrimination” against people who are same-sex attracted; if that language covers anything, I think it covers firing someone for telling you why he’s celibate. Moreover, Catholic schools and dioceses typically have no programs or guidance for gay teens.

There’s just so much callousness–often provoked by fear–and so much wincing hypercaution. And meanwhile kids are killing themselves because of our indifference. Anger can sometimes fuel our passion for justice; it can give us the urgency we need to overcome our own fears and exhaustion.

She then makes suggestions of how to deal with the sort of anger she feels. First, she suggests praying to St. Joan of Arc and St. Catherine of Siena who both “clashed with the Church authorities of their time,” then proposes another remedy: disco.

No problem here–though I’m no fan of disco, I understand how music can tame the savage beast of anger.

What is an absolute stunner, however, is how she describes how she really views things the bishops say. I mean, really, it completely stunned me, and stopped me in my tracks.

[W]hen I’m angry, I listen to disco. The bishops put out some kind of statement on homosexuality, asymptotically approaching understanding at the speed of a dying snail, and I throw on a Pet Shop Boys album.

I suspect most readers will have to look up “asymptotically,” like I did, unless they’re mathematicians. From what I gather, it’s a line that approaches a curve on a graph…but often never touches it. Regardless, the meaning is clear with the phrase “approaching understanding at the speed of a dying snail.”

This saddens me tremendously. I grieves me that we live in an age of cynicism towards our clergy, and I can’t understand anyone “being grateful” for that. As one who is humbled every time I meet a bishop, knowing the hands that anointed him into the bishopric have themselves been anointed by hands stretching back in a chain crossing the centuries to the hands of the Apostles themselves, the line about “dying snails” feels like a desecration to me. I remember the one time the Eucharist dropped onto the floor after the priest put it in my open hand. I was absolutely horrified that Jesus himself dropped to the floor, and I didn’t know quite what to do.

I felt a similar horror at reading this section from Eve’s book. I have a very different take on things: I always am anxious to hear what the bishops have to say, since I love and value so much the Apostolic succession that comes from the laying on of hands. Yes, there are horrible bishops, and the sex abuse scandal reveals how weak so many of them have been. When they speak as one voice, as teachers, however, this is where I want to listen, especially on the areas which most intersect my life.

The bottom line for me is this: the bishops know more of the truth concerning homosexuality and sexuality than Eve or I know. We’re the ones living in the subjective world of homosexuality–they’re the ones outside, who can look at humanity with the objectivity and wisdom of 2000 years of teaching and thinking. As Blessed Pope Paul VI said, “The Church is an expert on humanity.”

That’s why I came into the Church. I came into the Church because it knows me better than I know myself, and for that reason it is a harbor for me from in the chaos of this world. I don’t understand why Eve doesn’t see that.

I suppose that’s something worth praying about.

It’s Time To Get Writing

I’m a bit over halfway through Eve Tushnet’s new book, called “Gay and Catholic.”

This about sums up how I feel:

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I should have an official review published soon, and I suspect I’ll add more reflections here. More than anything, however, reading it has convinced me that I need to finish my book and get the thing out there. There’s just such strange thinking out there in the whole “gay but chaste” world that needs to be countered with some good old fashioned Catholic anthropology.

Here’s a good way to get me all excited to write: labeling the 1986 Letter On The Pastoral Care Of The Homosexual Person in the way Eve does:

This statement is not a jewel in the Church’s crown, I’m sorry to say.

Contra Tushnet, I can’t think of a more gleaming gem than this one, since it’s the one document of the Vatican that impacts my life most personally. In fact, I’ve written that this document makes me wish I could head on over to Rome and give a big bear hug to Papa Benedetto before he leaves this earth for his eternal reward. And I suspect he’ll be getting a jewel in HIS crown for having written such a remarkable document as the 1986 Letter.

Tiara

I’m always suspicious when people read a Church document that intersects their lives more intimately than most other documents, and they then find a lot that they disagree with. If you contracept, and you say, for example, that Humanae Vitae isn’t a jewel in the Church’s crown, well, I don’t think the problem is with the document.

Nearly on every page, I find myself saying, “Eve! You just need to go further into the church you’ve fallen in love with. You’re still on the periphery! Go further up and further in!”

More on the book later–there is good stuff there, and I’ll be sure to write about that, but goodness gracious, how differently do I view the world than does Eve Tushnet!

All that to say, I need to finish my book.

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Link: What the Church really needs to do about the “homosexual problem”

I stumbled on this article today on the interwebs. The article speaks about the great service the Church can provide to the world. I think it’s worth reading. The author begins with the subject most dear to my heart: the question of man’s sexual identity:

For far too long, there has been widespread confusion on what it is to be human. Without a solid foundation in what true humanity really is, people are left to flounder on this question. With 2000 years of philosophy and theology under its belt, the Catholic Church is certainly in a position to shed some light on the subject. One need not go deep into the bible to find the most basic answer. In the first pages of the first book of the Bible, we read that God created humanity, and he did so “in his image.” The human person is created by God, in the image of God. Just a few pages further into we read “man and woman he created them.” There you go. When it comes to sexual identity, there is only one distinction. You can either be a male human or a female human. Even when sexual disorders of the body are present, there is never a human being that is not either male or female. Every human person is either a male or a female. This sums up the entirety of sexual identity.

As males and females, human beings have sexual inclinations towards other human beings. These attractions, however, are not what constitute the identity of the males or females who feel them. They are feelings. Deep as they may be, they do not constitute the identity of a person any more than any other feeling can.

Gnosticism and the Language of Sexual Identity

Recently I was listening to the Teresa Tomeo Show and heard an interview with Dr. Monica Miller, professor at Madonna University. Something she said about sexuality was illuminating to me and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

You can hear the interview here. Dr. Miller’s segment begins at 17:00. Most of the interview deals with the sacramental role of women in the Church, but something she said concerning sexuality and sexual identity has relevance to the things I discuss on this blog.

The fatal flaw of the alphabet soup of sexual identity is that it ignores the truths revealed to us by our bodies: we are men made for fatherhood, and women made for motherhood. Dr. Miller expounds on this, explaining that this doesn’t mean merely biological motherhood or fatherhood:

The highest office of any man or woman is to be a mother or a father. . . That also means spiritual fatherhood and spiritual motherhood. If there’s anything that the Catholic Church has really gotten down, really well, is what it means to be spiritually a father and spiritually a mother, and to live out that truth according to the meaning of our human sexuality.

I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Miller’s assessment, when she said, “we live our human sexuality to the fullest within the Christian faith.”

Then Dr. Miller drops a bombshell of clarity that helped me make sense of why I have such an issue with the language of sexual identity, and why I’m convinced Pope Benedict XVI spoke so often of the problems of gender ideology, and why Pope Francis has said that the concepts of gender ideology are demonic.

Dr. Miller began by speaking of the value of Saint Pope John Paul II and his Theology of the Body which she said “has done a great service in terms of . . . making it much more explicit in terms of what it means to be an embodied persons.”

The next portion of her interview provided an epiphany for me:

There’s so much more that needs to be done because our culture is so opposite all of this, that sex is basically just a functional thing, sexuality [is viewed] almost as if it’s a costume, it doesn’t really make you who you are, the real person–when all is said and done, Teresa, we’re still a bunch of Gnostics. We still have this thing about spirit is “the thing” and the body doesn’t matter. That is so non-Christian. And if there ever was a cultural corrective going back to the early Church, that was it: that the human body matters, and the female human body matters, and that was an idea that exploded the ancient world, and in some ways, we need to recapture that.

This is where the language of sexual identity has its roots: in the Gnostic heresy. The body no longer matters, it’s the “spirit” that’s the thing. I still recall when the daughter of Sonny and Cher, Chastity Bono, decided to become Chaz, and seek sexual reassignment surgery. She famously went on to Good Morning America and said, “gender isn’t what’s between your legs, it’s what’s between your ears.”

Spirit’s the thing, and the body doesn’t matter.

This is leading to chaos, and away from human fulfillment.

I stumbled upon a confirmation of my thinking yesterday when I found this article by Dr. Benjamin Wiker, called “The New Gnosticism.”

In it, he writes:

But such defects aren’t the only target of Gnostic techno-manipulation. We cannot understand much of our contemporary social and political situation unless we grasp, deeply and thoroughly, one very important point: the natural distinction of male and female is one more natural limitation that the new Gnostic seeks to remove. Again, in ancient Gnosticism, some women were given a place of precedence, not because they were women, but because Gnostics considered the pure spirit trapped in the body to be androgynous, or better, to be like the angels, neither male nor female. Gnosticism provided an escape from the confines of gender.

In the same way, the new Gnostic drive for equality assumes that the fundamental sexual distinction and its effects on the ordering of social and moral life are ultimately accidents of evolutionary history that can be repaired and superseded. Technology embodies the knowledge and power to eliminate the sexual and bodily distinctions, so that male and female can slowly fade and then disappear in a final utopian world of asexual “individuals.” To cite an obvious example, the great energy put into “alternative reproduction technologies” is really, at heart, directed to the elimination of the fundamental reason for the natural division between male and female.

But the essential biological distinction between male and female has obvious moral and social effects, and the new Gnostic is bent on eliminating the effects of gender using a thorough moral and societal reconstruction. Obvious examples abound: the redefinition of sexuality in terms of pleasure (which is common to both sexes) rather than procreation (where the contributions of each are quite different); following upon this, the advocacy of contraception and abortion so that both men and woman are equally removed from the connection between sexuality and childbearing; the redefinition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman to mean nearly any association, including its opposite, homosexual marriage; the notion that being a wife and mother is a kind of biological punishment or inferior vocation from which technology and politics must help women escape, rather than (as Christianity maintains) a noble vocation essential to our natural good; the notion that father and mother are not unique aspects of the natural family but can be replaced by the gender-indifferent “parent” or “caregiver.”

I suggest you read the whole thing. And pray for those blinded by this form of Gnosticism, especially those within the Church who are trapped in the thinking of gender ideology.

An Article On Identity

This article is well worth reading. It’s written by my friend Andrew, who’s a member of Courage. Good stuff here.

Here’s just a taste:

Who Do You Say I Am?

Countless people (yes, even Catholics) try to impose the “gay” identity onto me. They feel that if I want to be honest with myself, I should describe and define myself in that way. Many are quite frank in expressing that if I don’t embrace that identity label, then I must be self-hating, delusional, in denial, mired in shame, and so forth (and really, it’s gettin’ kinda old).

This way of thinking reflects the deeply entrenched (and false) idea that “being gay” or “being straight” is “who we are.” Perhaps this is why people think I must embrace the “gay” identity label in order to live a joyful and fulfilling life. They cannot comprehend that there is another way—a way that I joyfully embrace.

I’m with him: these boxes are gettin’ kinda old. And it’s so doggone patronizing.

The Pernicious Lie: “Coming Out” Is Freedom

The wisest decision I ever made about living with an attraction to men was never broadcasting it to the world by following the ritual of “coming out.”

As time passes I become more convinced that the wisest course of action for anyone who lives with same sex attraction is to keep this information limited to a very small number of close confidants. Unless someone likes boxes placed around them which have very little to do with reality.

Boxed In

Obviously, I’ve written publicly about all of this. I’ve been on television, I’ve been on the radio, and I’m even in a film about it all. Eventually I knew that all of this would trickle down into my day to day life in a rather organic manner. I knew that all of my colleagues would know about this, and that they might find it strange, or surprising, or shocking—or something. And I knew they would have their own views on the subject, and probably think that I’m repressed, or backwards in my thinking, or perhaps “finally discovering who I truly am.” I didn’t know exactly, but I prepared for whatever might come as best as I could.

I couldn’t really prepare fully for the way some have responded. I wouldn’t change what I’ve done, but their responses to me have convinced me even more strongly of the need to discourage anyone from ever publicly disclosing their attractions to the same sex.

Here are a few of the more irksome moments I’ve encountered:

At a bonfire with many people I work with, a fellow who has been with another man for a long time made it clear that he had become aware of my writings on homosexuality. The way in which he did it was very silly to me. I was pointing out to him someone on Facebook that I thought he might know. He indicated that he knew the family, and that he thought all of the men in the family were cute. Turning to me with a mischievous look, he said to me, “you do too, don’t you?”

“Well, no,” was what I wanted to say, but I responded instead by saying, “Oh. So I guess you’ve found some of my writing online?”

I have always wondered what my friends and colleagues who’ve chosen to live with a same sex partner might think of my writing. It has troubled me, since I have wanted to make it clear that my choices are the choices I’ve made, and that I haven’t written publicly about any of this out of judgment of them and their lives.

So I decided that perhaps this night provided a chance to make this clear to my friend. I suggested we take a walk.

We talked for a long time. He was concerned that I stood in judgment of him and his partner, and I assured him that this was a choice I made–for me. I care about this fellow, and I wanted him to know that just because I chose to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church, that didn’t mean that I stand in judgment of him.

It was a good conversation, and eventually we meandered back to the bonfire.

Later I heard that when we left the bonfire there was joking that took place among some who were there that, “oh, I bet they’re going out there to make out/mess around/do something.”

Really?

The box both he and I were put in was this one: we’re both “gay” in their mind, and apparently in that box, “gay guys” take any opportunity to have some sort of physical/sexual encounter.

What kind of dignity do they think it’s possible for “gay men” to have, if they think that two men walking alone, away from a bonfire, are going to have some sort of tryst? It’s horrible for me to contemplate that this is the box they seem to have placed me in now.

That was the last thing on my mind when I walked away from the light of the bonfire. I was concerned about my friend, and concerned that my writing might have hurt him. And it hurts me that we became the butt of some sort of joke. And here, in the midst of writing this post, where the phrase “butt of some sort of joke” flowed naturally in my reflections, I’m thinking of the sophomoric world in which we live and how I suppose that’s a phrase I should avoid now.

That’s maddening to me.

Here are a few of the other random comments that well-meaning friends and colleagues have made that reveal they have placed me into a box:

Any relationship I had with a woman in the past will apparently now be construed as me “exploring my sexuality.” Never mind the fact that I fell madly in love with a woman who I hoped to marry, and was devastated when it didn’t happen. That part of my life is now neatly packaged, filed away on a shelf with the label: Dan’s Sexual Exploration.  I suspect too the reason they’ll say that it didn’t work out is because of the box they’ve put me in as being a gay man. “Of course it didn’t work out—how could he? He’s a gay guy, and he couldn’t even acknowledge it to himself back then.”

Ugh.

One friend told me that as she looked back on my past relationships with women, she seemed to believe that I was always attracted to masculine or androgynous/boyish looking women.

Really? I think the women I dated would find that offensive. And it’s demonstrably false.

Yet another example of rewriting my life story though the lens of “Dan the Gay Man.”

Other friends seem to think that all of this is me trying to reconcile my faith with “my sexuality.”

What they don’t understand is that I came BACK to my faith, in large part because of the truth of sexuality. I was very content to leave behind my faith—I routinely flipped off a Church in town, every time I drove by it, but eventually I found the truth about my sexuality where I least expected it to be. Though I know they believe this is me merely clinging to superstitious beliefs I need to get rid of, if I want to truly be set free. One more box. It’s all so patronizing.

Another person seems to think that I’m just the sort of person who “wants to live a single life, regardless.”

Yet another box I’ve been placed in.

Here’s another box: if I’m striving for chastity, it must mean that “I’m not interested in sex.” The logic here seems to be this: anyone who is consciously choosing to live a chaste life must not really enjoy sex.

This couldn’t be further from the truth for me. Is it so hard to conceive of a human person who might enjoy something immensely, and yet decide not to fulfill those desires out of a desire for a greater goal he has in mind? We see it in physical fitness, or in dieting, or in sacrifices people make for pursuing a career. Why not with chastity too? If I could have the world revolve around my particular desires and proclivities, my days would start and end with a roll in the hay. But that would be a very inhuman way to live, and a life of complete and total self-indulgence.

When I think of chastity, this line from St. Pope John Paul II pretty much sums up my life:

An exuberant and readily roused sensuality is the stuff from which a rich—if difficult—personal life may be made.

I’m not an asexual creature. I’m not someone who just has always wanted to be a bachelor. I’ve been madly in love with a woman. And I’ve been madly in love with a man too. So who am I?

According to a lot of my friends and colleagues, they’ve conveniently pigeon-holed me wherever they seem to think I fit best.

I hate that. I really, really do.

Who am I, truly? Who is anyone, truly?

I am a man, made in the image and likeness of God. That’s who I am—I’m not a “gay man,” and I’m not a “bisexual man,” and I’m certainly not a man who looks at a bonfire as a way to find some guy to make out with or have a sexual tryst with. I know who I am, and I know who I am, sexually. That truth comes from the truth of my body. I am a man, made for sexual union with women, and the only sane–and rational place–for that sexual union to take place is inside of marriage that is open to the possibility of life. And that’s the reason I have chosen to pursue chastity.

One of my great missions in life is to tell young people to avoid the rather boring and insipid boxes of sexual identity that our culture likes to create for us. Don’t come out. It won’t bring you freedom. You’re not “coming out” into freedom and truth. Rather, you’re being boxed in to lies and misconceptions. “Coming out” to the world isn’t liberating at all. Unless you find chains and labels liberating.

The Bishops had it right. Share this with some close intimates. Share this with your parents, your priest, your family, and a few close and select friends. But don’t share it with the world. They are the ones who truly love us, who are our Shepherds, guided as they are by the Paraclete. Listen to them, and be free. Don’t be enslaved by the appearance of freedom or liberating that supposedly will be yours by “coming out.” Hear their words, and be guided into the path that is safe:

For some persons, revealing their homosexual tendencies to certain close friends, family members, a spiritual director, confessor, or members of a Church support group may provide some spiritual and emotional help and aid them in their growth in the Christian life. In the context of parish life, however, general public self- disclosures are not helpful and should not be encouraged.

EWTN Appearance

I’ll be on EWTN this coming Wednesday evening, the first part of two interviews I did with Teresa Tomeo for the program she is on called the Catholic View for Women.

Here’s a link to the episode page

From the blurb:

Topic: WHO AM I TO JUDGE, PT. 2. Dan Mattson of the Courage Ministry joins the trio as he gives his testimony of living a chaste life now.

Airing Days and Times: Wednesday, September 24th at 11:00 pm and Friday, September 26th at 10:30 a.m.