Elizabeth Scalia and “Intrinsic Disorder”

I think Elizabeth Scalia is a particularly gifted and insightful writer.  She’s the sort of writer who eloquently says the sorts of things that I tend to agree with, but perhaps never thought about in the way she writes about them.  I think this is one of the gifts of each of us being unique and unrepeatable image bearers of God: seeing God and the world in a way that the world has never seen or will see.  Good writers like Scalia are able to share their particular angle of looking at God with others, which is why I tend to enjoy and appreciate her writing.

That being said, I have disagreed with some of the things Elizabeth Scalia has written about homosexuality in the past.  For example, I don’t like her notion of someone like me exhibiting an “exceptional otherness.”  In her recent piece, however, I really like what she wrote about the term that so many people have found so offensive in the Catholic doctrine about same sex attraction:  intrinsically disordered.

What she wrote here about her love of food is the same reason I don’t take any offense at the use of the phrase intrinsically disordered about my desires, and rather find in the phrase freedom:

We are told that the phrase “intrinsically disordered” is hurtful or hateful, and yet I find the words ironically healing; they give me precisely the hook into that transcendent understanding (and into notions of original sin and even idolatry) that I have been missing. Far from taking any offense at the idea that I am “intrinsically disordered,” I am actually consoled.

For Scalia, her “intrinsic disorder” is a love of food.  For me, it’s same sex attraction–plus a love for food too.  But of course, the difference between the two is important, I think.  One must eat, and so our passion for food can become ordered rightly through the virtue of temperance.  Same sex attraction doesn’t have an outlet that is proper and good for man–it can never become rightly ordered, thus the need for the label “intrinsic.”

I left this in response:

Fantastic stuff.  It resonates with my experience living with same sex attraction.  Because of this in my life, I have a keen and daily awareness of my need for God.  I cling to a phrase of Blessed Columba Marmion who wrote, “Jesus is our holiness.”  I now have come to thank God I live with this particularly intrinsic disorder, because I know he’s allowed it for my good and for my sanctification, and it leads me to the humble reality that apart from Christ, I can do nothing.  The battles and defeats aren’t viewed in terms of shame by me–though I am certainly saddened when they occur.  I do view them as a weakness in me, but this becomes Christ revealing his strength in my life, in ways similar to Wesley Hill’s views of the subject.

The following from Blessed Columba Marmion’s is an example of how this sort of thinking has helped make sense of my same sex attraction, (as well as my inordinate love for dessert!):

“Let us no longer be disheartened by our miseries, by the imperfections we deplore.  They do not impede the flowering of grace, for God knows of what mud we are formed, He ‘knows what we are made of’, and our miseries and imperfections are the price to be paid for our human nature and are a fruitful root of humility.  Let us have patience with ourselves in this search for perfection, unending though it may be.  The Christian life has about it nothing of the fretful or anxious; its development within us is perfectly reconcilable with our miseries, our servitudes, our weaknesses.  For it is in the midst of those weaknesses that we feel dwelling within us the triumphant strength of Christ: ‘that the power of Christ may dwell in me.’”

One important caveat, however to Scalia’s post:  none of us are intrinsically disordered, so I it’s false to say, as she said about herself, “I am ‘intrinsically disordered'”.  Too often the critics of Catholic teaching on homosexuality conflate the Catechism’s description of the desire as being intrinsically disordered with the person being disordered, which is usually where the offense takes place and why it is seen as hateful and hurtful.


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