Friday, February 29, 2008

And a moment of amusement ...

To Mick Blattberg, who sent me a bulk email from the address Mick-onologic@BAYLEYS.CO.NZ ...

You might do better in soliciting your pills to men like myself with a Subject Line other than "Click here for chicks!"

Friendly advice.

"Queering" the church registry

One of Fort Worth's most prominent Baptist churches engaged in an anti-Solomon decision last week, deciding to cut the baby in half by not printing any family photos in its directory rather than printing those of homosexual couples. From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (HT to Mark):
FORT WORTH -- Broadway Baptist Church voted Sunday to publish a 125th anniversary directory without individual or family portraits after some members of the congregation opposed allowing gay couples' portraits to appear in the publication.
In a compromise recommended by the church's board of deacons, the directory will show members in candid snapshots of small and large groups. The group pictures will identify people by name, and every effort will be made to include all of the church's members.
Church leaders said this approach provides the photographs needed by members to identify each other and follows church bylaws to treat all members equally. It also avoids making any statement regarding Scriptural interpretations regarding homosexuality.
The headline writer said "Neither side wins on gay couples in directory." Which rather presupposes a lot, in my opinion -- namely that there are in fact "two sides." And I wonder (actually, I don't wonder) why the Star-Telegram writer laid the blame for the decision on the theological conservatives, saying the decision was made "after some members of the congregation opposed allowing gay couples' portraits to appear in the publication" rather than "after some gay couples demanded to have their portraits appear in the publication."

There's a couple of other things I'm curious about.

First of all, what has these gay couples' self-presentation been? The Star-Telegram report reads as if the three pairs in question already had been attending the church openly and "as a couple." On the assumption that this is correct (I grant a secular media outlet is unreliable on the point), then I think the gay couples have a legitimate request. And Broadway Baptist made its own bed long ago.

If one has been attending a church under a certain public persona and holding yourself out in a certain way, I find it hard to see why this public persona doesn't belong in the yearbook. You can't really object to a photo, as one person in this Star-Telegram story does, on "having to explain it to the kids" grounds. Not if those children are already seeing a same-sex couple at Sunday services, presumably holding hands or other PDAs of the kind considered acceptable for married-or-dating couples. And how would the so-called compromise -- candid snapshots that attempt to cover everyone -- fix that. Are the children not supposed to realize that Adam and Steve were together at all the church picnic photos too? And even if the two are in a portrait-type situation, as the gays wanted, couldn't a parent just as convincingly say to a curious girl [boy] "it's like when you and your sister [brother] had your photo taken together."

As it happens, I know two same-sex-attracted men who live together and go to the same parish. They are ex-lovers but are now Catholics, sleeping in separate bedrooms and committed to chastity, which they have broken once in more than a decade. Never would they either commit a PDA that might scandalize others nor (and here's where I'm guessing) would they insist on being a couple in the parish directory. They are both in it as individuals.

But second, in what meaningful sense is this decision, whatever one thinks of it in the sense of "agree-disagree" or "good-bad," not a "statement about Scriptural interpretations regarding homosexuality," which the Star-Telegram report says it was crafted not to be. Even a decision not to say something says something -- namely that this congregation can't say anything about the morality of homosexuality and therefore this very public matter is one of religious liberty. Or, to use the formulation of St. Augustine, who knew a thing or two about sexual immorality, that homosexuality is one of those "dubiis" in which there should be "libertas." Which is of course a substantive teaching -- that homosexuality is one of those "doubtful things" and is not one of those "necessariis" that call for "unitas." Which does, of course, marginalize and exclude those who believe sexual conduct is a "necessary thing" that requires "unity."

Thus this quarrel underlines something I'm confident I've said more than once. "What a group of people are disputing and why" is a far more telling fact about the world than "how that dispute is decided substantively."

The fact that any Baptist church is even debating whether to put pictures of openly-gay couples in its yearbook tells us how far the gay agenda has wormed its way into the body of Christ. That they decided not to may be a good or bad thing. But more revealing than even the fact of a debate is that the only way the church could "refuse" was not "just say no" but a "compromise" on having no family photos at all. And more revealing still is the fact that the church called in "New Testament experts."
"The New Testament experts [sic] made it clear that thoughtful, intelligent Christians disagree on what the Bible says about homosexuality," [Senior Pastor Brett Younger] said. "Many realized that Christians can hold different opinions on this without letting it divide the church."
Not really. Or rather, there is no disagreement among thoughtful intelligent Christians who hold that the Bible is normative and inspired about what it says on homosexuality. The only way a thoughtful, intelligent person can hold that the Bible does not condemn homosexual acts is by starting from the presupposed worldview (i.e., before any actual engagement with the text) that the Bible is not normative and is not inspired — that it is merely the product of men and thus can be superceded absolutely ("there is no binding magisterium" also has to be smuggled in somewhere or thus inferred).

Lest I come across as an anti-intellectual, let me say that there is nothing wrong with these two (or three) worldview premises for certain purposes, primarily scholarly ones. That the Bible is a historical text written by men is, in a certain sense, undeniable and for some historical, sociological or philological work, whether it's the inspired word of God binding for all time and what that means¹ is a question that can be set aside. But ... that does not in any way shape or form make such scholars "experts" in any normative sense or especially competent to testify on doctrine, either on faith or morals. Their expertise explicitly excludes them from such a self-presentation.

So the question becomes, can there be a religion that includes people who do believe the Bible inspired and binding and those who do not. One guess what I think, but the fact is that this Fort Worth congregation has no way to answer that question definitively, in no small part because of the congregationalist structure that is a Baptist pillar. Instead, they worship the One True god ... Diversity:
"This has been a difficult decision for our congregation," said Kathy Madeja, chairman of the deacon board. "Our members continue to have diverse opinions, but we are still a church family and we will continue to struggle with how to honor our diversity," she said. ... (CM: how about honoring God??)
"Broadway will continue as a congregation in which diversity is embraced," [Senior Pastor Brett Younger] said. (CM: how about embracing the Cross??)
And ultimately this is why Episcopalians are in a necessary internal schism over Bishop Gene Robinson. It's not the sin of sodomy per se, but the questions of biblical authority. Robinson's consecration and the defenses of it proved to conservatives that liberal "wetness" went all the way down, with no limits. The two groups do not worship the same god and thus do not belong in the same church, as St. Paul taught. Schism simply objectively was and the so-called acts of schism in the last few years by individual parishes and dioceses in the US and by the African and South American bishops are mere recognitions of that fact.

The Episcopalians may be in the infirmary right now (actually hospice care, I'd say), but this Fort Worth church shows that the rest of mainline Protestantism is starting to call in sick as well.
¹ However that formulation shakes out in the details, about which there are legitimately held differences among Christians and Christian bodies.

CM at others' comboxes -- 3

Jay Anderson recently fisked Barack Obama's pledging his soul to Planned Barrenhood, which, combined with his saying during Tuesday's debate that his vote to save Terri Schiavo was his greatest mistake, makes him the Official Candidate of the Culture of Death™.

Anyhoo, Jay left out one point in Obama's speech as reported. My rebuttal to that point (which Jay later highlighted ... thanks) follows, with only minor edits for clarity. The first paragraph is Obama, criticizing the Supreme Court's decision upholding the ban on partial-birth abortion:
"For the first time, the Court’s endorsed an abortion restriction without an exception for women’s health. The decision presumed that the health of women is best protected by the Court—not by doctors and not by the woman herself. That presumption is wrong."
Since when, exactly, has a core principle of the Democratic Party been Ayn-Rand-ism in matters of regulating health care?

Every drug has to win state approval to be sold; every person needs some sort of state license to practice medicine at any level (doctor, nurse, aide, pharmacist); every medical procedure needs to have approval of the state or some quasi-state board to be performed; the state holds liable all practice of medicine of which it doesn't approve.

All these decisions -- all of them made a part of the medical landscape by the Democratic Party -- presume EXACTLY that the health of persons of both sexes is best protected by the state, and not by doctors and not by patients themselves. Saying "that presumption is wrong" is deeply dishonest for all non-Libertarians.

If abortion were treated by the state as merely one more medical procedure among others, Planned Parenthood, Obama, et al would be having fits. Parental consent? Clinic rules? Pre- and post-care standards? The train left long ago on the matter of whether the state should regulate medicine or interfere in the doctor-patient relationship, and none of us this side of Ayn Rand want that Express back.

CM at others' comboxes -- 2

At Rich Leonardi's site, he blogged about a recent survey of American religiosity that his city's paper (the Cincinnati Enquirer) had localized, with comment from people there who had left the Catholic Church. Here is one excerpt:
Reasons for leaving vary. Janet Steele of Springfield Township cites the priest sex abuse scandal and the [C]hurch's teachings on birth control among the reasons she's no longer Catholic. Her family joined Forest Chapel United Methodist Church in Forest Park, where she is now lay leader.
My response follows:

I maybe shouldn't say this given some of my own struggles, but ...

I will never understand leaving the Catholic Church for some other Christian body over the teaching on contraception. Not because the teaching is objectively correct and you'd have to be ill-willed or stupid to think otherwise; I can well imagine being unpersuaded by the church's teaching on any particular matter.

It's that, if you have any faith to begin with, it just seems so petulant ... jeopardizing your soul over a matter that, while not trivial, is not life-or-death either. And it occurs in that field of human activity where ... to put it delicately ... the human capacity for self-delusion, selfishness, rationalization and being-guided-by-passion are at their greatest.

I mean ... what's the worst thing that can happen if you obey the teaching: (1) you might not have as much sex as you'd like; or (2) you might have more children than you thought ideal when you first married.

(1) can be a painful PAINFUL sacrifice but, at the end of the day, hardly seems worth damnation. As for (2), ditto the first part, but, at the end of the day, I don't know too many parents who seriously, existentially regretted having a particular child, once born.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Response to Michael Bayly

My last post on an 8-year-old "transgendered" boy in Colorado excited responses from a frequent visitor to my site Michael Bayly (StatCounter doesn't lie, dude), who is executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities.

His latest response was initially posted here and I'm bringing it out and up, because I want to respond in detail, an exercise I think worthy because so much of the basis for his scandalous counterwitness is so common. His words are in italics and block quotes, with my responses on each point following.
You seem to be conflating issues of gender and sexuality. Just because a child (or anyone, for that matter) identifies with the opposite gender doesn't mean they want to be sexually active.
It may not. My point is not about the particulars of what this child wants but his general competence to speak on sexual matters. I repeat my unanswered question ... if an 8-year-old is competent to decide “gender identification” (which, while not the same thing as sexual behavior, is inextricable from it) as you seem to think, Mr. Bayly, why is he not competent to decide whether to be sexually active. It doesn’t matter what said decision of this 8-year-old or any particular one may be. “Age of consent” laws rest on the assumption of incompetence and inagency, not an empirical matter of whether a competent agent actually wants to.

Further, what harm is done, exactly, by parents and schools here doing what they traditionally would have done, which is to chalk this boy's feelings up to a phase and wait till he grows out of it. If it is just a phase or an excessive imagination or curiosity, you've spared him years of humiliation and steered him away from a self-fulfilling prophecy (i.e., he would **come** to see himself that way by everybody else indulging himself). And if it isn't a phase, if there really is such a thing as a "transgendered person" (which I doubt, but I'll stipulate for the moment) and he is an example of that ... he'll still be a "transgendered person" when he turns 18 or 21 or some such age when he can then act accordingly -- snip it off, cram hormones, wear dresses, change his name, etc. The only possible harm I can see is "repression" as an adolescent, though in this day and age I see that as a positive good.

I mean ... I hope you DO realize that (1) kids have phases that are mostly meaningless and (2) that a child should not get everything he wants and/or his wanting something is not a moral warrant. (Actually, I'm pretty confident you realize (1); not so much (2).)
So your mentioning of NAMBLA is misleading and, quite frankly, rather bizarre. Then again, perhaps it's an attempt to demonize and silence any opposing viewpoints. "Oh, you watched that film ["Ma Vie en Rose"] so you must be supportive or aligned in some way with NAMBLA!"
Given that I said I saw the film myself, I rather doubt that’s a reasonable reading.

What I do think does associate you with NAMBLA is your apparent assumption, correct me if you don’t hold it (though it certainly seemed to be your point in citing it) that “Ma Vie en Rose” tells us some great truth about the human person that our Courage group meetings could profit from. One might enjoy (parts of) "Ma Vie en Rose" as a kind of fairy-tale movie, but you brought it up in the context of this real-life Colorado case, which rather suggests you think it insightful. And yes, if a boy of 7 or 8 is a sexual agent competent to decide his/her/its/their “gender identity,” then NAMBLA is correct and our current taboo on "intergenerational love" (that's what it will be called, BTW ... and what DO you have against love, Mr. Bayly) is every bit as irrational as you think past taboos against "same-sex love" were.
Sorry, but that's a ridiculous and false assertion, and I for one won't be cowered by it.
Just to avoid a potential misunderstanding (and one that I'm sensitive to regarding men like us) I’m not saying that you diddle 7-year-old boys or have any desire to, or that your homosexual attractions per se either incline you that way or are evidence that you secretly may be doing so.

Nor am I saying that "diddling 7-year-old boys is good" is a thought you hold self-consciously. But I am saying, and I will stand by this, that "diddling 7-year-old boys is good" is the endgame logic of ideas that you DO consciously hold and practices like the Colorado parents and school-district's that you DO consciously defend (that's how cultural degradation advances ... like warming up the water in a lobster-pot).
And what am I closed-minded about exactly?
Three things I can think of quickly, that I'll phrase in the form of things you closed-mindedly deny ... that same-sex sex and all other sex outside marriage is wrong; that sexual desires do not definitively type the human person; that the Church has a real teaching office.
I fully support you in living a life of celibacy if that's how you feel called. Yet you can't say to me that you support me in building and sustaining a loving and committed relationship with another man. Why is that?
I rather doubt your "support" given some of the picketing you've done.

But to avoid the personal stuff ... the problem is in your usage “feel called.” No ... it’s what I **am** called to. I can pretty much assure you that I often DON’T “feel” called. And if I were married and Sophia Loren¹ were to come and whisper sweet nothings in my ear, at that moment, I wouldn't "feel called" to marital fidelity either. Feelings simply do not create moral warrants or obligations (this is another thing on which I don't know whether you are closed-minded or simply haven't thought it through).

Anyway, I don’t have any problem with anybody having a “loving, committed relationship,” properly understood. But if same-sex sex is always immoral (it all does eventually come back to that), then engaging in it is not “loving.” I well understand that same-sex sex feels good (there’s that verb again) and can be enjoyable. But “feels good” and “enjoy” are not the same things as “loving” though; and attempts to derive “loving” from those unquestionable facts are ... well, it’s "Katie, bar the door" time on just about anything (NAMBLA actually would be a minor issue).

I’ll even say the following. Any sin can be aggravated, and therefore “not aggravated” and thus (speaking strictly relatively) less bad. So, there are aggravated and not-so-aggravated ways of living the gay lifestyle. And perhaps over time, a legitimate friendship can grow and fucking can leave the picture. Suffice to say though that this is extremely rare and certainly not the desired eschaton of Dignity, et al.
Similarly, I'm fine for Courage to exist and help people. Yet you can't seem to say the same thing about Dignity. So who's really being closed-minded here?
I freely admit to being closed-minded about certain matters, including matters that the Church has definitively taught. Anyway, open-mindedness is not a virtue that anyone seriously holds; it's merely a holding strategy for debunking morals one thinks wrong.
As to my "questions and issues" not being compatible with scripture, tradition, and right reason, that's very much open to discussion and debate. Do we really know exactly what scripture is condemning with regard same-sex relations?

In part because Tradition always read it that way, including in times when they were far closer to the social context than we could ever be. I must say I find it darkly humorous that people dismiss the Greek-speaking Church Fathers of the 2nd-4th centuries as having a poor or at best irrelevant understanding of the subtleties and cultural shadings of the text (which pro-gay apologists must say, if they are to dismiss their unanimous teaching on sodomy), but think Mel White or John Spong have a good one.

In part because Scripture has a broader, normative vision of what sexuality in general is, one that is not reducible to issues of Koine translation on the two or three New Testament proof texts on homosexuality². For example, and Pope John Paul begins "Theology of the Body" with these passages, the Church teaching reflects Our Lord's words on divorce and His citing of Genesis 2-3, and what it says about embodied sexual complementarity as part of our nature, created as good in the beginning. Homosexual acts do not, by their nature, meet that broad normative understanding.
Most reputable biblical scholars would say that its exploitive sex that, more often than not, is being condemned. And rightly so.
Dale somewhat beat me to the punch ... and given what counts as reputation-enhancing in the American academy, the more “reputed” a Biblical scholar is, the less likely I am to believe him. (Puts on Joe Piscopo-in-"Johnny Dangerously" voice) I read Bart Ehrman once. Once.
But what about loving and committed [homosexual] relationships? Where are they condemned?
Scripture also doesn’t mention 4-sided triangles or male pregnancy or nonviolent boxing because everyone simply understood that these things were as oxymoronic as gay “marriage.”
As for tradition, that's a living thing
No, not Tradition with a capital-T in the Catholic sense of that word, which always has to take account what went before and whether any new statements are compatible with what went before. What you’re describing is democracy, or, at best, a radically congregationalist, and thus un-Catholic, understanding of sensus fidelium.

I also should add that I find it darkly humorous that everyone who says "tradition is a living thing" becomes a fire-breathing proof-texting fundamentalist when one of their pet teachings is trampled on -- "you know, my conscience tells me that homosexual persons should be the object of violent malice in speech and action" (which actually is a proposition that would find more proof-text support in the writings of more Church authorities than "same-sex sex is good" would).
and accordingly should be informed and shaped by new insights and knowledge - including insights and knowledge related to human sexuality.
What “new insights and knowledge” might you be referring to? It cannot be the fact of homosexual acts, which were quite well known in the Hellenized Mediterranean world. Nor the fact that certain people may develop habits, which was just as well understood. Nor psychology, which is largely self-fulfilling prophecy about how people feel, not knowledge of how things are. And certainly not genetics, which has definitively refuted radical-biologism as the genesis of homosexuality (a deterministic cause might, strictly in principle, have provided the kind of serious “new knowledge” that would require doctrine to develop; but it isn’t true, as experience long ago told us and modern science merely confirms on a new basis).

No ... the only “new insights and knowledge” here is that a small group of people have chosen to define themselves according to a sinful act and accordingly warped their souls into moral blindness.
That's not happening in the Roman Catholic Church.
Actually, that’s not true. The Church’s pastoral understanding has developed a great deal on this subject, and for the better, in the last 40 years ... and that’s OK because pastoral practice has much more to do with the social particulars than moral truth does. A non-condemnatory support group like Courage (or Project Rachel to give an example of a pastoral response to a degraded cultural fact other than homosexuality) would have been unthinkable 50 or 100 years ago. Then, a man like myself probably would have been encouraged to “deal with it” by marrying. And more likely than not, damaged some woman and probably some children in the process. Now, the Church discourages marriage as cure-seeking.
Accordingly, to suggest that the Church's sexual theology is supported by "right reason" is a joke, and the vast majority of Catholics - gay or straight - know it.
I repeat what I said about “democracy.” The Church is not, and cannot be, a democracy (nor can even a secularized understanding of "reason" be either). So the fact you cite, true enough though it probably is, is of no moral weight whatever.

And frankly, in the current social environment of ill-formation, secularization, poor catechesis, dissent-worship, faithlessness, authority-phobia, a pornified public space and self-worshiping individualism -- it would be more surprising if most Catholics did think reason supports Church teaching. That doesn't make the teaching untrue. Or optional. Or not binding.
¹ The photo is because I have to give the heterosexuals some reason to come here and there was too much text with no art otherwise.
² None of which BTW feature much "discussion" of the subject per se but usually only mention a condemnation en passant in service of some other point. Which indicates (1) that St. Paul can assume the reader's assent as one of his minor premises, and relatedly (2) that there was no issue of overturning the unanimous inherited Jewish tradition on the matter, as Scripture records that there was on diet and circumcision.

Monday, February 18, 2008

At 8, I couldn't even spell "transgendered"

On the "WTF Is The World Coming To" front ... an elementary school in Colorado is planning on accommodating an 8-year-old boy who says he's "transgendered."
He's an 8-year-old boy who wants to attend second grade here in the Douglas County Public Schools, but with an unusual stipulation: He wants to go to class as a girl.
That means wearing girls' clothing if he likes, being addressed by his teacher with a girl's name, and using the school's two unisex, family bathrooms instead of the boys' room.
School district officials are preparing to accommodate the transgender child and his family, but not without public fuss.
Other parents at the school have gone public with their objections, citing concerns about exposing their own children to the sensitive subjects of sex and gender identification, and questioning the wisdom of the school's accommodation of the boy.
"I don't think a [second-grader] does have the rationale to decide this life-altering choice," said Dave M., who told Denver's KUSA-TV that his daughter will be in the same class as the transgendered boy.
I distinctly remember being 8 years old and ... the very concepts "transgendered" and "transsexual" would have been absolutely beyond me. And not because they would have been beyond my comprehension (I was pretty smart as a boy ... and I probably could have spelled them, the 5-time School Spelling Bee champ says). And not because I didn't know, at some pre-sexual level, that I didn't "fit in" amongst the other boys. But who knows what I might have thought at that time had I had "Comprehensive Sex Education" or otherwise had my mind fucked with by the sexual revolution and the sensitivity police.

This is a large part of what we opponents of sexual revolution mean when we say it is corrupting. Where, in the name of Whatever, could an 8-year-old even get the notion that he's "really" a girl or should be called by a girl's name? What competence does he have to even decide on the matter? I should note that I'm really not commenting exactly on moral matters per se. I could very well believe ... this is experience talking ... that an 8-year-old boy might have some latent issues and they might later morph into full-blown same-sex-attraction ... and, if so, his post-pubescent body will tell him that in about 5 or 6 years. And when he's an adult, he might be competent to decide what to make of such a fact. It is actually possible (gay men assure us repeatedly) to believe that homosexuality be moral and that there's no need to prematurely sexualize children.

And why the hell are his parents accommodating what would once have been understood as simple malingering, childishness (in an 8-year-old ... imagine that) or an excessive fantasy life? An 8-year-old might not even have made his first confession yet and certainly doesn't even have his adult voice yet, and his parents are going along with some declaration on a lifelong matter like "gender identity"? Children have no attention span and no concept of time or lifespan. I remember wanting to change my name when I was 10 ... it lasted a day. The fewer adult concepts you introduce into a child's head, the less chance he has to screw up.

As our Courage chaplain once wrote (keep in mind that he's writing explicitly about high-schoolers, but that was back in the Dark Ages, the Unenlightened Era of 2005. We've made so much progress among the youth since.):
Rather than struggle through the difficulties of adolescence, a high-school freshman or sophomore can now, with official support, profess to be gay—and he instantly has an identity and a group. Now he belongs. He knows who he is. Gone is the possibility that adolescents might be confused, perhaps even wrong. Adults typically display a wise reserve about the self-discoveries of high-school students: they know adolescents are still figuring things out, and they recognize their responsibility to help sort through the confusion. So why is all this natural wisdom somehow abandoned these days—in the most confused and confusing area of adolescent sexuality?
Of course, the phrases are tempting because of their convenience and efficiency. They are common, close at hand, and make quick work of a difficult issue. But they also identify an individual person with his homosexual inclinations. They presume that a person is his inclinations or attractions; he is a “gay” or is a “homosexual.” At some point adults have to admit that a fifteen-year-old who claims to be “a questioning transgendered bisexual” is really just confused.
In fact, it used to be the case that we believed an 8-year-old was not competent to make decisions on sexuality, whatever they may be -- that's the presupposition of all age of consent laws. And that analogy goes to the heart of what is evil, not just laughable, about this Colorado case. By giving an 8-year-old his way on this matter, and trying to make others accommodate him using the power of the state, this boy's parents and the school district are treating him as a sexual agent. This undermines the "age of consent" presupposition and thus does something as violating, as evil as anything NAMBLA does, even though nobody is being touched or fondled or "messed with." We used to understand the difference between adults and children. I don't think we do any more. In this case, both because a child is trying to be too adult and adults are succeeding in acting like children.

Pretty soon, this won't be satire ...