Religion and sexuality

Although the topic of “religion and homosexuality” seems to come up fairly frequently (especially at this time of the year), I think many people fail to see the issue as more than black-and-white. People speak about “religion” as if it were the “problem,” forgetting both that there is no such thing as universal religion, and that the reason various traditions are problematic is because homosexual people love them and see them as opportunities rather than obstacles.

Others treat homosexuality as if it were a disease that only affected “outsiders,” even when they explicitly deny this position. Additionally, identity politics seems to turn what could be interesting discussions into ridiculous volleys (“You’re a conservative.” Oh yeah, well, you’re a liberal!”) that leave no place for thinking. We are left with people who can only justify their views by relying on doctrinal or emotional infallibilism. I’d like to make some biased but hopefully thoughtful comments on homosexuality within the Catholic Christian tradition.

It seems to me that being gay is strikingly like being Christian. “Coming out” as either takes a good deal of courage, patience and willingness to face societal rejection. Many people “tolerate” both (tolerance: now there’s the bottom of the virtue barrel) as long as those that hold these unfortunate positions don’t have the audacity to actually apply them to their lives. Furthermore, while I am more than willing to talk about both of these as constructed in history, it is history that enables rather than denies their truth.

As a gay Christian, I hold positions in two communities of people engaged in the unfinished task of working out their salvation. I cannot seriously imagine ceasing to he held by these identities, and so to deny either would be the most extreme possible relativism. When I have tried to act as other than gay or Catholic, I have only lived a lie. Reflective experience rather than naïveté has shown me that I can deny neither my desire for prayer and sacraments nor my attraction to men. I give much credence to theories that interrupt my self-centered individuality, whether they posit Original Sin or the Unconscious, but I cannot ignore the call of the Other within myself.

Many allege that Christianity is anti-sex, but I have found no more solid basis for living out my sexuality than the Christian tradition. Certainly secular sexual culture offers little temptation.

It reduces love and sexuality into something you make, and the sexiest language it seems capable of mustering centers on the word safety (yeah, that’s erotic). For this culture, it is all right, and in fact healthy, to have sex whenever you feel like, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody or make them uncomfortable, and as long as it is “your choice” (sexuality apparently should be free from social determination).

Lots of sex will unite us all and make us comfortable with our bodies (and I thought I was naïve!), and yet it is not important enough for us to be an acceptable subject of social discourse. Certainly, this description is a caricature, but I think it betrays something of the thinness of our supposedly “Enlightened” views of sex. My dreams of love remain somehow unsatisfied by flavored condom-grams and consent forms.

For Christians, sexuality is situated in the context of a Love that is begotten, not made. It is a gift from God, and thus shares in God’s grandeur. It cannot be reduced to genital actions because it colors all of our lives and evokes a love that is both unifying and creative. In Christian theology at its best (e.g. Augustine, Aquinas, Bernard, and Teresa of Ã?vila), eroticism, love and charity converge as desire. God’s desire for us is multiplied and created in our desire for God, which ultimately is the same as our desire for human fulfillment. Sexuality is powerful and impossible to ignore.

Because of its power, Christians think it concerns the community, and therefore create around it a discursive morality that is much more than a resolute ‘No,’ but rather a matrix that sustains it imaginatively.

Sex, in turn, is not some cubic zirconium we can mass-produce, but a diamond that all should nurture and value. Although the Church has had an unfortunate tendency to treat homosexuality as reductively as everybody else, it is only through the Church that I have come to love it. Priests and saints, perhaps because of their own status as sexual minorities, have taught me to appreciate my sexuality as partaking in the divine.

I have not “solved” every problem. I have given only faint hints of how to address the questions of dissent and ecclesiastical unity, of nature and natural law, and of the relationship between Tradition (the goods) and traditions.

Furthermore, I will not have convinced either militant Catholics or militant homosexuals that I am anything but a traitor, and those who suffer from liberal paternalism will wonder why I don’t just stop hating myself. What I hope to have done instead is to outline an anthropology that grows towards, rather than wilts before, the bright lights of theology.