Monday, March 05, 2007

Pro-Con in The Tablet

The latest issue of the British Catholic journal The Tablet has a point-counterpoint debate on the Archdiocese of Westminster's gay outreach Mass, which I blogged about down below. I quickly took sides between the participants. Three guesses which. Two don't count.

Here is one of the essays from John Haldane (yay!!!). He takes an even more skeptical view of "gay Masses" than I do, essentially taking for granted that the Soho Masses Pastoral Council is made up of people who "seem to me to be participating in the sacramental life of the Church on their own terms and not in respectful fidelity to its teachings." And thus these Masses would be futile and dangerous. Which, based on the facts on the ground, might be the more reasonable judgment of this case (and I'm not in a particular position to say otherwise).

Besides Haldane's named endorsement of Courage and Encourage (that's both the British equivalent to Courage; and a Courage-partner US ministry to families of SSA Catholics), this seems like the most important part of his essay:
It is said by internal critics of church teaching that there is a diversity of theological reflection on the matter of human sexuality, in particular in relation to sexually expressed same-sex attraction. It is also said that the authority of church teaching depends on its reception and on the sensus fidelium. These claims seem often to be advanced either in ignorance or with the intention of undermining traditional understandings.
From the Council of Jerusalem, the Church has promulgated essentially the same teaching on matters of sexual practice, and there simply is no other body of conciliar, catechetical or magisterial teaching at odds with this (see the historical references to the Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, 1975). Also the sensus and consensus fidelium are not like the responses to a political opinion poll or social survey trend. They presuppose faithful participation in the life of the Church and have to be considered not in one time and place but across all times and all places.
The question, therefore, is not "what do secularised Catholics living in Britain or Western Europe, and deeply immersed in its values, think?" but "what have the faithful over the centuries and across the continents thought and lived?". Some of the recent critical commentary cites the name of Newman as if in support of change, but this only shows their ignorance of what Newman said and wrote (most relevantly in On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine).
The parallels with the Anglican Communion would be almost uncanny were they not essentially the same thing -- some in the rich West (the Establishment in the AC; a few dissenters in the RCC) mistaking their zeitgeist with the sensus fidelium.

And here is the other essay, from James Alison (sssss ... booooo!!!). In an essay riddled with bad arguments, here are the three central ones:
I think this has come about because church authority has become aware that the advent of "matters gay" in recent years may not primarily centre on sexual ethics at all. Rather it concerns an emerging anthropological truth about a regular, normal and non-pathological variant within the human condition.
The problems here are legion.
  • there is, as a category matter, no emerging anthropological truth that could moralize (make moral) sex outside marriage, any more than one could moralize murder, theft or any other sin;
  • the fact of homosexuality is not anything "emerging" -- it was quite well known in the ancient world (hence "greeking");
  • social acceptance of same-sex sex is also not anything "emerging" (ditto the Greeks);
  • the very category "sin" is as much a regular and normal feature of the human condition as anything else is (one might even call it "original"). So on this logic, even sin itself ceases to be sin;
  • it's not clear what "emerging" evidence, especially since the "emergence" of AIDS, shows that same-sex sex is nonpathological. And if all he means is that large numbers have convinced themselves it's loving or psychologically healthy -- well, as I said below, all psychologies become true for those who believe them, so on these grounds, no sin is left invulnerable to worldly rationalization by those who commit it.
Then there's this:
And of course it is proper to the Catholic faith, where Creation and Salvation are never to be completely separated, that it takes very seriously "what is" as informing "what should be" rather than trying to force "what is" to fit into an understanding of "what should be" derived from other sources.
In two words and a symbol: "informing" =/= "determining."

The Church is and should be completely open to the facts on the properly scientific matters in re homosexuality (and any other subject). And these facts may have some implications for certain things about the Church. For example, I would certainly agree that over the past 40 years, Church pastoral practice has changed in re homosexuality to better fit the times. It has acknowledged that there does seem to be some number of persons definitively attracted to the same sex, and has developed ministries and approaches that spell out how they should try to live and love. And theoretically, though I severely doubt it, research into the causes of homosexuality might develop a silver bullet "cure" (the gay activists who get all huffy at the mere use of that word indicate that the notion that "what should be" determines "what is" gets around a bit).

But no "fact" about a sin can make it not a sin. Not if we take seriously the notion of the Church as Teacher, or Revelation as a source of morals. And if sodomy and nonmarital sex is Revealed as a sin and constantly taught such for 2,000 years (and that is the case), no garlanding with the baubles of "relationships" or pretend-"marriages" can change that. There is no precedent in all the Church's history of a scientific discovery making a sin not a sin. Not even the standard examples of usury and slavery.

But how seriously Alison takes the Church can be seen here:
The first time a football player picked up a ball and ran with it, we were clearly talking about a disobedient football player, since it is intrinsic to football that only the goalie under tightly regulated circumstances can handle the ball. But over time it did become possible to talk about the game of rugby as something where the overall purposes of sports playing, shared with football, are faithfully maintained within a different set of practices. My point is that for the referee to blow the whistle on a ball-handler in a football game is very proper. And for as long as it is clear that there is only football, he is right. However, as it becomes clear that there may also be a game called rugby, he must learn to be very careful indeed, since attempting to referee a rugby match as though it were football being played by perverse rule breakers would degenerate into insanity.
The flipness of the analogy absolutely beggars belief. How does one quench the indignation? Is that this man's idea of morality -- as conventional, arbitrary, meaningless and stakes-free as a sporting contest? Yes, rugby developed from soccer ("football" in The Tablet's Britspeak). But it's not as though the entire Judeo-Christian tradition had ever taught that "one shall not pick up the ball as one kicks it, for that is an abomination" or that "those who pick up the ball shall not inherit the Kingdom of God." Or that the Church hadn't always condemned rugby. (Again, his history is simply wrong -- there is no "new game" being developed now that wasn't being played throughout the ancient Mediterranean world.)

With this analogy Alison simply casually fiats away any notion that morality is in any way normative on any subject whatsoever, because rugby and soccer are completely arbitrary preferences. One may prefer one sport to the other, or be better physically equipped to play one or the other. But nobody in his right mind thinks there is any moral content to this, any "should" involved in any of those things. So all you need to do to justify an act is define it as a different game, where the outmoded rules of soccer don't apply. (Try ... just try ... getting away with this argument in re, say, racism or ... gawd forbid ... "homophobia.") Whenever "modernity was a mistake from the getgo"-type Traditionalists (which I am very much not) call our times nihilistic and amoral -- this "reasoning" (sic) is what they have in mind. How cheap. How hollow.


rleehistory said...

James Allison, like Andrew Sullivan, is a perfect example of what happens when defending your passions becomes the prime motivating force behind the exercise of the intellectual life. I was introduced to Allison's writings years ago because he is a disciple of Rene Girard, whom I revere. Alison wrote a couple of brilliant books reinterpreting the doctrine of the Atonement from a Girardian perspective. I was actually hopeful when he first came out, that finally a gay Catholic intellectual was going to be deal honestly (and affirmatively) with the problems of being gay and Catholic. (I was, and for that matter remain, an ambivalent conservative Christian homosexual.) But everything Allison has written since "coming out" has been trash, the most shocking betrayal of his intellectual gifts. Like most gay apologists he writes about homosexuality as if it were an intellectual abstraction, saying nothing about the sordid reality of gay life for most gay men. I e-mailed once, asking him point blank if the reason he wrote as he did was because he had been luckier than me at finding moral health on the other side of the closet door. He wrote back that in fact he had not. It sounded as if his life were every bit as sordid and disillusioning as mine, but he remained hopeful. Apparently, he is still hopeful. But I wouldn't bet the farm that his life is any less sordid, because he still writes about homosexuality as if it were an intellectual abstraction, like the Categorical Imperative, and not a moral cesspit that consumes the lives of thousands of real men and women.

CourageMan said...

THAT was an essay by a disciple of Rene Girard?!?!

As you say, it's so bloodless and clean-scrubbed that I can only -- gape and gasp in astonishment. I know "The Tablet" and this topic is not exactly the place to describe the psychology of perversion and perversity. But still? That essay wouldn't have raised the eyebrows on my Aunt Hattie, to steal a Paglia-line.

Particularly since, if ever there was a man whose theories could make sense and do justice to destructive and self-destructive behavior, from barebacking to backrooms, it would be Girard (and therefore by extension his disciples). Apparently not.

benfan said...

Well done, a wonderful piece of surgery exposing the festering tumor of blindness inherent in Mr Alison's position. Well done too for coming home, it's a delight to have you. You have been graced, but there are many who are being lost so keep up your good work.