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.

A Few Sentences On Peace

The transformation of our situation isn’t what brings us peace and inner freedom. Only the transformation of our mind and thinking can bring us peace.

This is why Christ was at peace on the Cross, and why so many today find themselves unhappy, even when surrounded by all the wonders the world can provide.

I think of this often when I hear people describe the situation of the man or woman with same sex attraction who has chosen to follow the teachings of the Church. They’ll often say things like, “oh, you’ll just be stuck in a lonely, single life, for the rest of your life. How horrible your life will be if you make this choice!”

(I hate hearing that, by the way. Play the world’s smallest fiddle for me, why don’t ya?)

My answer is always this:

“How badly do you want to know the will of God in your life?”

Most people who are followers of Jesus want to know that more than anything else.

To them I then say that I know what God’s will is for me: to live a single life!

Thanks be to God–I KNOW!

Then the response is often, “but at least all of your other single friends have the hope of being married.”

That always seems silly to me.

Compared to all of my other single friends, who are “constantly living with the possibility of marriage,” I find my lot in life a lot easier. In large part, because I have consciously chosen to view it in that light. For me, I’d say it’s a heckuva lot easier to embrace the known future and make it a rich life, than it is to constantly be wondering if today, or tomorrow, or the next day I might meet my spouse–or perhaps never.

Peace comes from choosing that which we might not have consented to have chosen in the first place, and completely trusting God for our future and our happiness.

That, my friends, is the best path–and the only path–to peace there is.

Emails From the Past

I’ve been going through old journals and emails in order to glean a few things for a book I’m writing. Today, I stumbled on an email I wrote in 2000 to a guy I’ll call “Dave.” I met Dave through a mutual friend I’ll call “Jessica.” Jessica’s love for us each allowed us both to confide with her about our attractions for men during a time where neither of us felt comfortable sharing it with many people at all. Eventually she connected us together so that we could talk about our lives and our thoughts. The email below is one of the first emails I sent him.

Here’s the email–with a few thoughts as a follow up.

Hi Dave,

Thanks for writing, and feeling comfortable to do so, even though it is “a bit awkward.”  Like you, though, I too feel quite comfortable talking to you about this whole issue.  I remember when Jessica first told me that you were her “friend who struggles with this.”  I knew that I hoped at some point that we would have the chance to get together and talk about our similar issues.  (I find it strange talking about the whole topic–it inevitably ends up being referred to by using euphemisms:  issue, struggle, situation, etc.  I guess it works o.k.).  I have to admit I found it somewhat surreal that two of Jessica’s closest friends have dealt with the same issues.  Long ago I became aware of the realization that whenever I encounter someone who deals with same gender attraction (no euphemism!) there is an incredibly strong identification with that person, and in a way, a strong bond, even if I never actually become friends with them at all.

I have seen that in the music world so many times–knowing people struggle with the same thing I do–I feel connected to them in a very real way, even though I have, for the most part, hidden my own struggles from them.

The commonality that I saw between you and me after Jessica told me made that “identification” quite easy, and right away I hoped that somehow God would see fit for us to have a chance to talk about this whole thing.  I appreciate your desire and willingness to talk about it, Dave.

I really would like to know what life has been like for you.  I’ve reflected quite a bit about my time in high school, silently struggling with this, feeling there was no one to talk to.  I kept up the image of the perfect Christian guy, viewed as a “spiritual leader,” yet dealing with something which made life pretty hellish.  How many times did I sit in church, and hear the pastor talk about the “Christian life” and feel like dirt because I was turned on by the guy a couple pews ahead of me?

I really would like to have a chance to get together and just talk about this stuff and to know what your life dealing with this has been like. I’ve longed for years to be able to TELL someone about it, and in the past couple of years, I have been able to tell some people and finally talk about it, open and honestly.  I so often think back to my time in high school, and wonder what life would look like if there was an environment there which would have allowed me to talk to someone there, someone I could trust and who I knew would not reject me, but love me and help me deal with the issues head on. Hmm…perhaps that’s not fair of me.  I suppose someone like Mr. Q____ would have been a good person to talk to, though I don’t know.  But regardless, the common history we share, and the common friend we have in Jessica, definitely gives me reason to want to get together with you.  I do hope we can be of support to one another, and I have no doubt in my mind that God does desire his body to work in this area.  As I’ve reflected on it, I guess I feel that God has been at work in allowing us to connect through Jessica.  If there no other reason that we get together and talk besides simply being able to say to each other, fellow Christians, that we both struggle with the same thing, then I’ll be grateful to have the chance to talk with you. And it’s good to simply know we’re not alone.

I’ve been praying for you ever since Jessica told me.  I have to say I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with this in your life.  I suspect you’d say the same thing to me!  It is not easy, it’s been really hard for me, and it pretty much zaps a heck of a lot of joy out of life.  And here is where God, I think, desires to see his body work:  to journey together in the vagaries and struggles of life. C.S. Lewis spoke of friendships that begin with the phrase, “What?  You too?” I think God sees fit to bring people together who are hurting often in the same way, to allow them to help each other along the path.  “Bearing each other’s burdens” I think equals, or perhaps is the definition of, friendship.  Though I won’t be premature and presume on the future, I will express the desire, heartfelt, that we become friends, Dave.  Thanks again for writing me, and thanks for willingly allowing Jessica to tell me that it was you who struggles.

I look forward to having the chance to get together.

Dan

 

As I read this again, it brings back the memories of those difficult, lonely and isolated years I experienced for so long. I note how often I speak of “struggles.” It was a terribly difficult struggle to live with attractions that I didn’t want, didn’t ask for. It was a struggle living in the confused state of both wanting and not wanting to act on those attractions.

I can see the transformation of my thinking on sexual identity had already begun by this point. I think it was Andy Comiskey who first made the intellectual, theological and anthropological case of my sexual identity being soley as “male,” not “gay,” as I thought of myself often during my twenties. That transformation would be a topsy-turvy ride for a few years however.

I notice too how the terminology of 2000 was “same gender attraction,” but wisely, that term has faded into the background, in favor of the more anthropologically precise phrase “same sex attraction,” which springs from the acknowledgement that the concept of “gender” is flawed, as Pope Benedict XVI so wisely told us during his Pontificate.

Above all, however, I realize looking back on those years that it was no accident that Jessica was one of the first people I told about being attracted to men. I knew she loved me for me, unlike any other teacher I had ever had. She showed remarkable compassion in her life, and I think it was this part of her that opened the door more than any other. Over time, I learned that several others besides Dave and I had also confided in her about this most intimate of details. I know all of us who have confided things to Jessica over the years knew that she loved us, that she cared immensely about us, and that she was a safe person to talk about personal aspects of our lives. There was something tangible about her enthusiastic love for us that made us feel comfortable sharing things that were difficult to share with other people we knew. That is the kind of love our youth pastors, teachers and high school chaplains need to cultivate towards their students if they want to make an impact on their lives.

It took me until I was 28 to share this with Jessica, or anyone else for that matter, other than the people I talked to online about it. My counselor at the time was the first person I told, followed by my family. Soon after that I shared this with some of my oldest and closest friends, and since that point my life has been much better for it. But my life would have been easier if I had felt comfortable enough to share this back in high school with a teacher, or a high school counselor, or with my pastor and most of all, with my family.

The Church needs to create an environment where no child feels the burden of keeping their attractions a secret out of shame. In my email, I wrote the painful line of feeling “like dirt” in high school because of my attractions. The Church needs to create a safe environment where children can share this part of their lives and get the love and support they need, all the while proclaiming the good news of the truth of our true sexual identity as men and women.

In an ideal world, this should, and would happen in the family. The best people for kids to tell about this will be their parents. However, I’ve met and talked to a lot of children who don’t feel comfortable talking about this with their parents. These children range from 15 to people in their twenties. In these situations, the child will be looking for another outlet. We can’t control whether or not a child will tell his or her parents first, but we can control the sort of environment that exists within our Churches. We can control what environment and culture we create in our Catholic schools. Where the child doesn’t feel comfortable talking to parents, they will find the avenue that feels safest for them.

That can be the Church, or it can be someone online somewhere, telling the child things that are opposed to the truth, and opposed to human dignity. That’s where the Church can be, standing in the gap, loving the child who hasn’t yet found the courage to talk to his or her parents.

Then, with much compassion and tenderness, and with pastoral charity, the Church can bring the parents into the discussion, and together, minister towards, and love that child with the love that only parents and the Church can provide.