Language, the Person, and the “Identity Problem”

Matthew Schmitz’s recent post on First Thoughts (“Evangelicals Oppose Gay Marriage, Now More than Ever”, Wednesday, July 10, 2013) noted that First Things has become the venue of choice for discussion of the pastoral issues concerning celibate gay Christians, one which has now (happily) come to include a first-person perspective.  The exploration of the terminology used by the Church about the personal status of homosexuality has formed a major thread in this discussion, and has brought forth many articles.  On the one hand, Daniel Mattson has written some pointed pieces arguing that the Church condemns describing a person as ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ (e.g. “Why I Don’t Call Myself a Gay Christian,” “Homosexual Orientation, or Disorientation?” and “In Defense of the Church’s Challenging Language on Homosexuality“). On the other hand, Joshua Gonnerman has written an explanation of how the omission of a word from the original Latin has led to a misreading of the English text of Homosexualitatis Problema.  This would form what one might call the “general argument about identity terms.”

This exchange, and the public comments that surround it, has served to exhibit that there is a great ambiguity of understanding in the public sphere concerning the stratification of the different “identifiers” people use to describe themselves.  For example, Mattson seems to be advancing the position that even the use of the word “gay” to describe oneself is an act of disobedience to Church teaching about the person. He claims that to use the word is not to support those who have same-sex attractions in their life in Christ, but to endorse those things to which those inclinations point.  On the other hand, many of the other authors (Ron Belgau, Joshua Gonnerman, Aaron Taylor, Melinda Selmys, Wesley Hill) have noted that the term ‘gay’ is itself a much more nuanced term, that does not necessarily imply homosexual action or even a determination of will towards that action, and as such deserves no moral censure in some prudent uses.

Much of the discussion has been with regard to the meaning of the word ‘gay’, but some should be given to the contextual meaning of all “identifiers.”  Frequently, when speaking about the topic with those from groups like Courage, I have heard a sort of shorthand used to distinguish between different sorts of identifiers.  Some are “primary,” and some are “secondary.”  Without clarifying what these mean (and their meaning is not often clarified) one might think that some words (‘gay’, ‘Catholic’, ‘Protestant’) are essentially primary identifiers and some (‘musical’, ‘healthy’, ‘grammatical’) are secondary, being more distant from the core character or lifestyle of the person identified.  In this case, primary and secondary are matters of degree: I am more primarily Catholic than I am Irish, because sometimes I am not recognizable as Irish, but everything I do is conditioned by my Catholicism.  One can see elements of this in the discussion of how Catholicism affects the expression and reception of one’s sexuality.  If this is the case, then it makes some sense to outlaw those “primary identifiers” which connote a subordination of the person to their inclinations.  Thus, if one’s lifestyle is actually dedicated to the seeking-out of homosexual actions, such an identifier in its primacy would be parallel to defining oneself as an alcoholic. Yet the difficulty for this position is that this is not the meaning of primary or secondary, nor does this speak to the stratification of personal identity.

The Thomistic tradition on personhood can clarify the matter.  The form of our descriptive language must match the form of the being described, or our language fails, since language is a likeness of our knowing and knowing a likeness of the known.  Therefore, our language, insofar as some uses of it are “primary” and some are “secondary”, must match the way these things described are primary or secondary in the human person.  This appears to be more complicated than the mere matter of degree described above. As Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange notes in his Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought, personhood is a positive substantial mode of the union between essence and existence, meaning that it is prior to all finite attributes of the thing.  Everything that “is”, “is” in some particular way by which we talk about it, and these particular ways we call “ontological determinations.”  The attributes we describe with identifiers (“black”, “brown”, “athletic”) are physical identifiers, modes of ontological determination of a pre-existing person based on the intrinsically purposed (“teleological”) character (or “nature”) of that person, according to which those physical determinations can come to pass.  But the personhood, that by which a person is a person, is prior to all natural developments of that person, which is why the Church can make a claim as profound as “human life begins at conception” alongside the more contested claim that “all human beings are persons.”

Robert Spaemann supports this in his Persons: The Difference Between ‘Someone’ and ‘Something’; the human subject is “self-differentiated” from, and primary with regard to, everything that might be true “about” him or her.  If I were to say “I am a person”, that would be primary with respect to everything else.  If I were then to say “I am an Irishman”, that would be secondary, because it depends, like everything else, upon my (primary) personhood.  Thus if someone says “I am a Catholic who accepts the Church’s teaching, and I am gay,” they can be using the identifier ‘gay’ in a secondary, but still an important and arguably more descriptive manner.  And in this situation, all it need connote (to speak technically) is an “objective disorder.”

This has the effect of changing the picture we have of “primary” and “secondary.”  Suppose we adopted the idea that a “primary identifier” is a word set in stone, which can mean only one thing.  In order to say this, we would have to make the claim, at the same time, that every person who refers to their own self as “gay” must mean this to have the same profundity, the same ontological depth, as they understood “human being” or “person” to have.  This would indeed be overkill, since to be homosexual OR heterosexual, or indeed, to be sexual at all, is a property of the human person and thus logically secondary to the person.  It would be to deny one’s own personhood.  I do not think, based upon the discussion so far, that such a use is at all universal.  I do not even think it is common, except to those who are profoundly psychosexually immature, on the level of those abused in their childhood, endlessly replaying the pain of abuse in their mind.

But adopting the second understanding, the understanding behind the use of “gay” as a secondary identifier that is nevertheless powerfully connected with personal identity, seems to be the most obvious way to understand the objections made by the “chaste gay Catholic” community, here at Spiritual Friendship especially.  In the second scheme, one is a person first, and however-sexual second, but that sexuality, as John Paul II understood in his Theology of the Body, is intimately and powerfully connected (materially) to the growth of the human person into their personhood.  This matches the stratification of the person and his or her inclinations much more precisely.  Thus, for example, a Catholic is a “person” primarily, and “fallen” secondarily.  Is it unimportant that we are subject to original sin?  By no means; it is quite important.  Is it our fault that we are subject to it?  Again, by no means; yet we undergo it.

Now, no Catholic has ever been prohibited, even pastorally, from saying “I am a fallen human person.”  ‘Human person’ is the primary identifier; ‘fallen’ the secondary circumstance and an objective disorder.  If we cannot admit this by word or deed in public or even to ourselves, we cannot seek aid in our fallen state.  We could not begin to rise.  But our fallen state is conditioned by our knowledge of the Cross, which we express by our primary identifier “Christian”; by our baptism, we are changed radically and metaphysically.  If all should be allowed to admit our fallenness without moral censure for being so, can it be logical or pastoral to prohibit admitting the ways in which people are “objectively”, but not “morally”, disordered, seemingly by no fault of their own, as part of the history of their relationship with Christ?  We gain nothing morally from prohibiting this, except a mere political expediency, and at the cost of so many souls.

Tom SundaramTom Sundaram is a Master’s student at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, with a background in the study of the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition.

51 thoughts on “Language, the Person, and the “Identity Problem”

  1. I think that Mattson’s point is not about the meaning that is intended by the use of the term “gay Christian”, but rather the meaning that is culturally understood. For better or worse, many gay people place their homosexual attractions at the very center of their identity. This error has become culturally inscribed, so that “openly gay” and “celibate” seem to be contradictory.

    Of course, this is part of the reason why “celibate gay Christian” is such a “lightning rod” term, and part of the reason why I find this blog so intriguing. I like the idea of engaging the culture by seizing on a word describing a particular brokenness, and adopting that word as an acknowledgement of that brokenness. This could challenge people in the gay community, by helping them see that openness and psychological health are possible without sexual activity.

    Nevertheless, I do understand the issue that Mattson raises. Think of more extreme examples. Surely God has mercy on those who desire — but don’t act on — a temptation to rape other people. But it would be very strange and unhelpful if they started calling themselves “rape-inclined Christians”. So the burden of the “celibate gay Christian” cadre is to explain why homosexuality is the kind of temptation that merits this kind of adjective. Is it simply because homosexuality is widely accepted in society, and thus using the adjective is evangelistically advantageous? Or is there some benefit to the same-sex attracted person himself which accrues on him calling himself a gay Christian?

    • Very few gay people “place their homosexual attractions at the very center of their identity”. Of course, gay people are a tiny minority so if they don’t pick a name for themselves, others will choose one for them. Historically all of the names applied to gay people have been insults (or clinical terms like “homosexual”). Minorities cannot avoid being labelled. That’s simply the way the world works. I generally don’t think of myself as British until I leave England and it’s pointed out to me that I have an British accent (“Really, I have an accent?”)

      In this world everyone is expected to find a partner. If I don’t have one, I’m expected to explain why I’m single and not interested in dating someone of the opposite sex. Saying “I’m gay” cuts out a lot evasive chit chat. Celibate gay Christian would do the same thing if other Christians realised that it is a compound noun – meaning celibate + gay + Christian. The gay part isn’t meant to modify the Christian part. I recently read an article where a preacher referred to himself as a black American Christian. I don’t think he meant to imply that his Christianity was especially black or American.

      • ‘Very few gay people “place their homosexual attractions at the very center of their identity”.’

        I simply don’t agree. I think that there are certainly many gay people who don’t consider being gay a central aspect of their lives, but there are many more who do. Heck, I’m a man who’s attracted to both men and women, and married to a woman, but I would say that I myself place my same-sex attraction in a pretty central place in my life. I don’t think I should, but I do.

        Mind you, I agree that “gay” doesn’t modify Christian; it modifies “person”. And I’m not really attacking using the word. I just think that, if we say that homosexual activity is a sin, we need to be clear on whether we are using the word “gay” as a self-descriptor out of a desire to evangelize, or whether we think that it names some deeper reality about gay people, some reality which is not merely a temptation to a particular sin.

        Personally, despite being attracted to men and women, I don’t normally call myself bisexual. I *sometimes* do, however, if I feel that it will help me bring someone into a relationship with Christ.

  2. Before I say this next part, I should clarify that I am straight, because the combination of being gay and what I’ll say next tends to worry people.

    I was a seminarian last year, with the Dominican Order, and one thing that struck me was part of Dominican spirituality, where as the Order of Preachers, everything the Dominican does must be subordinated to their preaching. Do I call myself “straight” or “heterosexual”? Only if it will help my preaching, either by making me a better preacher myself or by making my preaching amenable to someone else, like above – saying it there prevents scandal, because it clarifies something about me.

    There are some people who, if you will, say that using the word “gay” doesn’t help their preaching, either for themselves or for others. There are some who say the same thing about “having SSA.” Just like you said, Daniel:

    “Personally, despite being attracted to men and women, I don’t normally call myself bisexual. I *sometimes* do, however, if I feel that it will help me bring someone into a relationship with Christ.”

    Then, too, you even provided a reason it could help people’s preaching of the way Christ has helped them:

    “This could challenge people in the gay community, by helping them see that openness and psychological health are possible without sexual activity.”

    But you ask a very reasonable question:

    “Is it simply because homosexuality is widely accepted in society, and thus using the adjective is evangelistically advantageous? Or is there some benefit to the same-sex attracted person himself which accrues on him calling himself a gay Christian?”

    I think the obvious answer to the latter is yes. It isn’t that one wishes to broadcast one’s personal sexual preferences, and I think there are plenty of folks on this blog that would militate forcefully against the idea that saying you are gay means you have to either have a silly character or be “camp.” I believe (and this is why my good friend Joshua first posted his first article, which sparked this whole exchange) it has far more to do with being able to accept the circumstances of our brothers in charity, rather than just sweeping it under the rug; and also with our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who seek to keep the Church’s teaching being able to find and support one another. There are times when I really think we have forgotten that salvation is in a sense communal, that without supporting and being supported by our brothers and sisters, we cannot rise. How can we do it if we don’t know who they are, and they refuse to take ownership of their own situations?

    Now, of course, one could say that “I have SSA” is enough to cover this. But I think enough people have said that and why this makes them uncomfortable to make the problem clear, which is that unlike the desire for alcohol or any other thing of that sort, your sexuality is not separable from you, there are always occasions for it, and it is meant to be a part of your life even if its expression cannot be. Your inclinations do condition you, as surely as your expressions, and perhaps more. To say “I have SSA” thus sounds to many like saying “I have humanity”; it’s talking about one aspect of an inseparable thing as though it is something entirely extraneous, like a zit. If that understandably makes some people who are mature enough to understand what’s behind this article uncomfortable, then I wouldn’t say that they have to use it.

    • Thomas,

      Gee, thanks for giving me a lot to think about!

      “…it has far more to do with being able to accept the circumstances of our brothers in charity, rather than just sweeping it under the rug; and also with our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who seek to keep the Church’s teaching being able to find and support one another. There are times when I really think we have forgotten that salvation is in a sense communal, that without supporting and being supported by our brothers and sisters, we cannot rise. How can we do it if we don’t know who they are, and they refuse to take ownership of their own situations?”

      I certainly appreciate these goals, and they are the reason that I’ve felt that groups like Exodus and Courage have been rather mistaken in their emphases. I agree that labels matter, and you need some label that a person can say “Gee, that’s me” to. But you also want a label that upholds the full dignity of the human being as independent from his or her temptations. I’m not saying “gay” doesn’t, but that is the worry.

      Consider “Side B”. I think this is an AWESOME label, because it turns around the way we look at things. Culturally, being actively gay is supposed to be progressive, and being chaste is supposed to be repressive. But “Side B” turns that around. The term is edgy and trendy. To those who understand it, it indicates everything you need to know.

      In fact, I think that “Side B” indicates something that is (in a theological sense) a sexuality, not simply a disposition toward certain sexual actions. A sexuality involves the wholeness of the person. This is why I wouldn’t call myself a “heterosexual”, even if I were one. :p Heterosexual just doesn’t have any richness to it, as a word. In contrast, “husband” does. In the same way, “monk” or “consecrated virgin” captures the wholeness of a person, with regard to his or her sexuality.

      “Now, of course, one could say that “I have SSA” is enough to cover this.”

      Oh, I certainly agree that “I have SSA” doesn’t capture anything, and it’s a rather unhelpful term. I use it regularly and cringe half the time.

      “But I think enough people have said that and why this makes them uncomfortable to make the problem clear, which is that unlike the desire for alcohol or any other thing of that sort, your sexuality is not separable from you, there are always occasions for it, and it is meant to be a part of your life even if its expression cannot be.”

      And this is precisely what Mattson denies — rightly or wrongly, I don’t know. This issue is a very personal one for me: I need to know whether my attraction toward men is something God wants me to accept and identify with, or whether that attraction is something God wants me to deal with as a thorn in the flesh. Theologically, I am certain that God does not want us to identify with thorns, even though thorns can help bring us closer to Him.

      You say that homosexuality is “meant” to be a part of a person’s life. I wonder what you mean by that, in theological terms. Certainly, God allows many people to have persistent and deep attractions to people of the same sex. But does God desire that for the person *for its own sake*? That’s where I pause, because temptations are only instrumentally good, not intrinsically good. But if there IS something intrinsically good about being homosexual, that’s the sort of thing that would justify using the term “gay” as a self-descriptor, in my mind.

      • Daniel,

        I am also attracted to both sexes, albeit single and abstinent. I do tend to use “bisexual” these days when talking about my sexuality. It’s not like I randomly bring up my sexuality when I first meet someone (unless I know them through a connection related to sexuality) or anything like that.

        There are a few posts on other blogs that I think address some of what you’re trying to get at and say it better than I could without a lot of editing.

        http://logikyle.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/sexual-orientation-and-sinful-desires-an-important-distinction/

        http://universityideas.wordpress.com/2013/07/07/a-theory-of-sexual-attraction-part-1/
        http://universityideas.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/a-theory-of-sexual-attraction-part-2/

        http://sexualauthenticity.blogspot.com/2012/05/looking-to-desire.html

      • Daniel P, this is not rocket science. I do not say “I am Bipolar.” I say, “I have Bipolar Disorder.”

        I also have autism. I also have lyme disease. I am none of those things. They are disordered.

        I am a Passionist. I am a Catholic. The Passionists and “Catholic” are not disordered, so it is healthy for me to find my identity in those things.

        There are some women with children who seem to think they “have motherhood” and they are not happy with that. I say, “I am a mom” and it’s a good thing.

        This thinking applies to everything we may deal with in life. As Fr. Barron recently said, what we find our identity in is what we worship in life.

      • Daniel P wrote: How about “I am sick” or “I am tall”. Are these statements of my identity?

        I reply: We would not hesitate to correct someone who said “I am sickness.” Below is a quote from the Pope’s theologian recently which addresses how “I am gay” is used in America. You may not be demanding any special privileges in civil law, but you ARE demanding “social” acceptance for the statement “I am gay” and the Church cannot give you that because the Church wants you to see yourself as who you really are in God’s eyes. Homosexuality is objectively disordered. Saying “I am gay” is equivalent to saying “I am sickness.”

        “…in the American language you have a distinction between the word ‘homosexual’ and ‘gay’. A homosexual is a person who has, to some extent, this homosexual condition. Somebody may have this difficulty, and his friends, his neighbors will not know about this. He’s dealing with this in cooperation with the grace of God and may come out of this difficulty and come back to normal human relationships. Sometimes adolescents, at the moment when their sexual sensibility is appearing, if they have been distorted by others they go through a phase of difficulty in this field. But as they mature they will grow out of it. Whereas a ‘gay’ is somebody who says, ‘I am like this, I will be like this, I want to be treated like this, and I want special privileges because I am like this.’ Now if somebody is not only homosexual, but a gay, declaring, ‘This is how I am, and I want this to be respected legally, socially and so on’ – such a person will never come out of the difficulty.”

      • Thanks for the links, Jeremy! They do help, but I’m still not sure I understand. I guess ignorance is a terminal condition, though. 🙂

      • Lisa,

        “Gay” is an adjective; “sickness” is a noun. The proper comparison is to “I am sick”, which ascribes an adjectival property to me, not “I am sickness”, which is a bizarre statement of identity between two nouns. No one says “I am gayness.”

        Second, a correction about my goals here. I do not want to say “I am gay” about myself, nor am I even sure that anybody should call themselves gay — if you notice, I have challenged Mr. Sundaram on this point. However, I feel like you don’t understand the view Thomas and others are espousing, so I’m trying to clarify that view.

        As for the papal theologian saying that homosexuality is a phase, I agree with him that homosexuals must be open to God’s changing their desires, must even want this to happen. But I don’t see much evidence that homosexuality is a phase. Not even “ex-gays” talk about it this way. It is a deep-seated tendency, sometimes even as deep-seated as something like colorblindness. Plenty of men — and I think this is more common in Europe — go through phases of having sex with men. But it’s much more rare to deal with continual sexual, romantic, and interpersonal attractions toward men, over a long period of time. I don’t know of people “growing out” of this, though some claim to have been healed from it.

      • Daniel P writes: “Gay” is an adjective; “sickness” is a noun.

        I reply: We both know that to say “I am gay” is not to say that you are happy. It is to claim an identity in homosexuality, something that is specifically prohibited by the catechism.

        Daniel P writes: But I don’t see much evidence that homosexuality is a phase. Not even “ex-gays” talk about it this way. It is a deep-seated tendency, sometimes even as deep-seated as something like colorblindness.

        I reply: Color-blindness is not a moral problem. Homosexuality is a moral problem. If it is as deep-seated as you describe, then it is a delusion. In that case, it is a mental illness. I have explained already why I do not say “I am Bipolar.” I am not a disease. I am a Passionist. I am a Catholic. I have Bipolar Disorder. I also have autism and Lyme Disease. I never say that I “am” these things because to do so is really to deny who I am in God’s eyes. As the Pope’s theologian said, people who cling to this identity at all costs have no hope of coming out of it. Perhaps that is why it is compared to things that people clearly have no control over. It is, to be blunt, an excuse.

  3. “I need to know whether my attraction toward men is something God wants me to accept and identify with, or whether that attraction is something God wants me to deal with as a thorn in the flesh. Theologically, I am certain that God does not want us to identify with thorns, even though thorns can help bring us closer to Him.”

    There is a way in which you are right, and a way in which I think I could clarify it a wee bit. Paul was asked to accept his thorn, that it would not be taken from him in this life, because “power is made manifest in weakness.” Now, even if the human person were given every natural and preternatural gift, all the gifts in the world would not make them unable to sin because of their own finitude, except sanctity, which works in and through that finitude. So we are always in that sense weak. Finitude itself is a thorn in our side; we are meant to be in a super-marital union with God. And we have to accept our finitude.

    I think the key is that while we cannot accept our SINS as part of us, we MUST accept our temptations as a real situation of our nature that are, at least in one way of speaking, not our fault, but are rather opportunities for grace by which God puts us to the test, as gold in the furnace being purified. And what does it mean NOT to accept such inclinations as part of us? Are they happening to someone else? Did God not intend them to be opportunities for grace? Are they just meaningless happenings in an otherwise perfect Divine Plan? I do not think a theologian can say this.

    I should note that to identify oneself as “one for whom Christ died”, it is logically necessary that we first identify ourselves as those who did something that needed redeeming in the first place.

    • Thanks, Thomas. I definitely think a number of the things you say are helpful, and I think your original post was very correct to distinguish primary and secondary identifiers, and insist that “gay” is secondary. And I guess I should hasten to say that, if I were not (a) also attracted to women, and (b) happily married to one, I would probably not be inclined to nitpick. I would probably call myself gay, and I hope I would have the courage to do what you and others are doing here.

      But I think that the experiences of people like me are worth considering, when it comes to understanding what sexuality is. It’s just inaccurate to say that I’m a gay man married to a woman. And to say that I’m a bisexual man married to a woman seems off, as well. As I said above, I will sometimes identify as bisexual, if this is evangelistically profitable. But I don’t think that there is anything important that the word “bisexual” says about me. And if I want to say that I’m attracted to men, I’ll just say that, in so many words.

      Oh, and the stakes are high for me in a way they are not for celibates. If I were to start calling myself a bisexual Christian, I would literally be accused of harming my children, since I have discovered that people think it would seriously scar children to learn that their father is even the slightest bit attracted to men. (I think people are wrong about this, but whatever.) Not that I think that it’s easy for a man to call himself a gay celibate Christian. But it’s probably harder to a man to call himself a bisexual married Christian.

      “There is a way in which you are right, and a way in which I think I could clarify it a wee bit. Paul was asked to accept his thorn, that it would not be taken from him in this life, because “power is made manifest in weakness.” ”

      Paul accepted his thorn, but he didn’t describe himself as a thorn-afflicted person. Look, I certainly agree that we need to accept persistent temptations and not be ashamed of them. I also think we should ask that ANY temptation be taken away. I’m not convinced that all there is to homosexuality is temptation, but I haven’t really seen any other proposals. I do know that there are lots of good characteristics that seem to be more prevalent among gay people, but this correlation isn’t necessarily causation.

      “I think the key is that while we cannot accept our SINS as part of us, we MUST accept our temptations as a real situation of our nature that are, at least in one way of speaking, not our fault, but are rather opportunities for grace by which God puts us to the test, as gold in the furnace being purified. And what does it mean NOT to accept such inclinations as part of us?”

      Hmmm. Imagine that someone, from a rather young age, experienced an attraction to children, and that this attraction persisted into adulthood. This person never acts on it. Surely we should say that, among other things, this person experiences a temptation. Should this person therefore identify themselves (internally if not publicly) as a pedophile? I think not.

      I agree, of course, that there are certain characteristic ways that fallenness expresses itself in different people. And that we should admit these ways to ourselves. But we should admit them in a way that keeps them external. When I am purified, I will not desire to have sex with men. In the Middle Ages, people might say that they had certain familiar spirits that visited them. I don’t know if their ontology was right, but the idea was that “this is something external, and I’m really chummy with it, but it’s not good for me.” This idea seems to capture my relationship with my desire for men.

      “I should note that to identify oneself as “one for whom Christ died”, it is logically necessary that we first identify ourselves as those who did something that needed redeeming in the first place.”

      But this is certainly different, since we “did something” to redeem. This is identifying myself by my sins. I should do this. Suppose I kill an innocent. I should admit that I am a murderer. But then, I should surrender my sinful identity up to Christ, and He will cleanse me of blood-guilt, and I will be a murderer no more. “And this is what you were, but you were washed…”

      “Namely, that EVERYTHING, even our gifts and talents, are only instrumentally good, which is why the Scriptures will say, and Augustine will remind us, and Aquinas will agree, that “God alone is good.””

      I think I would read these authors differently. At the very least Augustine, since he is roughly a Platonist, would say that in comparison with God, nothing else is strictly good, but surely other things merit the name good because of their *formal* participation with God, not because of the fact that they are instruments of obtaining union with God. Is a person’s temptation to cheat on a test good in the same way that a person’s desire to grow in friendship is good? I don’t think so. I mean, even though a desire to grow in friendship can be corrupted by pride, as you say, it still seems to be good not simply because it can draw the person to Christ, but because Christ’s love is made manifest by that desire.

      I hope my comments aren’t too strongly stated; this topic probably strikes home for both of us. I think it is a really important question to think about, so I’m glad you brought it up.

  4. (I would just edit this into the last comment but it’s not allowed on WP.)

    Given that everything we are is for the sake of the perfect union with God, and ONLY for that union (cf. Aquinas on the one and not two ultimate ends of man, contra Dante, whom I love but who is sort of kind of wrong) and not for any lesser natural happiness, I have something to say about this:

    “But does God desire that for the person *for its own sake*? That’s where I pause, because temptations are only instrumentally good, not intrinsically good.”

    Namely, that EVERYTHING, even our gifts and talents, are only instrumentally good, which is why the Scriptures will say, and Augustine will remind us, and Aquinas will agree, that “God alone is good.” We are only good by a likeness to the Divine Goodness (cf, Prima Pars Q5 Article 4 I think) and that likeness is primarily determined based on how we order our own secondary goods TO the direct and immediate participation in that Goodness in the Beatific Vision.

    A sign of this is the fact that even the GOOD things about us can be corrupted by pride, except faith, hope, and charity, all of which are participations in the Divine life of Christ through supernatural grace, and which pride cannot pervert, properly speaking, because they are freedom from pride.

    • Hi Lisa!

      Does the Catechism make clear what it means by “sexual identity”? Couldn’t it simply mean “being a man” or “being a woman”?

      • The catechism is very clear that to be a “man” or a “woman” is a matter of what is physical, moral and spiritual.

        “CCC 2333 – Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out.”

        Identifying as “gay” is a failure to acknowledge your sexual identity. The distinctions between men and women are not only physical. They are also moral and spiritual. Men and women complement each other. Rejection of your sexual identity (physically, morally OR spiritually) is an affront to harmony between couples and in society as a whole. Any Catholic who tells you “it is okay to identify as gay” is not following the clear teaching of the Church which is for your good.

      • I’m not sure that I understand how saying you’re gay means that you don’t accept that you’re a man or a woman. It’s true that men and women complement one another, but I don’t think gay celibates are saying that they are looking for that complementarity elsewhere.

        Personally, I accept that I’m a man and I accept that I’m attracted to other men, though I’d be happy for God to remove that attraction. I assume that you will believe me that I embrace my identity as a man. Then what is the difference between calling oneself gay and accepting one’s manhood, and accepting one’s attraction to men and accepting one’s manhood?

    • As you say, Lisa, everyone should acknowledge and accept his (or her) sexual identity. I agree wholeheartedly! In fact, part of the problem with priestly formation for the past 40 years, according to Fr. Benedict Groeschel, is that priests were taught to ignore their particular sexual situations and have a notion that they were to imitate the angels. That, according to the entire teaching of the Church, angels are not in fact embodied beings did not faze these folks promoting this agenda, who were ALSO trying to suggest that Catholics who had psychological issues should not seek psychological help but rather attempt to live in denial thereof.

      The result was the recent sex scandal, according to Fr. Benedict in his followups to his “The Courage to be Chaste”, which was required reading in the seminary. Similar to this problem, and very related, is the issue of demanding that Catholics who do not and cannot have the psychosexual attitude of a born heterosexual conform themselves to a cookie-cutter idea of what they should be, based upon what is healthy for their friends, who do not have the same problems or situations with which to struggle. Accordingly, the Church makes it clear that, as you say, the nature of “physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity” must govern our identity.

      But here’s the thing: Contrary to what seems like popular belief, and I apologize if this sounds crass, “physical” means more than “you have or do not have a penis.” The Church is and MUST BE there for the biologically hermaphroditic person as much as for the biologically male or female person. And in many cases, this is a matter of the missing PHYSICAL inclinations. From our response to those, we get the moral and spiritual dimensions, which is why it is WRONG for a homosexual person with no desire for the opposite sex to marry somebody in a foolish effort to conform, a violation of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and an offense against the Truth Who died for us.

      So while you are right about the words the Catechism uses, I have trouble agreeing with the idea that they object to what I say. Moral theology is an interest of mine, being a major focus of my two Master’s programs in Philosophy and Theology, and I do not think those words mean only what you think they mean.

      • To accept your sexual identity is to accept that if you are male, you are supposed to be attracted to women or have no sexual attraction at all and to identify yourself in a manner that is consistent with that. That is accepting your sexual identity. When you insist that your identity is different from that, you are only hurting yourself. Your identity is objectively not “gay.”

  5. Lisa:

    It is ordinary courtesy, when engaging in discussion on a blog, to make minimal engagement with the argument under discussion. Thomas’s article makes a clear distinction between two different ways of saying, “I’m gay.” That is the central point of his post. Your reply completely ignores that.

    In future comments, as common courtesy to the author you are commenting on, please take time to understand the point of the post you are responding to before you respond.

    We are trying to build a friendly community of discussion here. I don’t want to exclude you from that, but in order to be a participant, you need to take time to listen. If you understand the point of the post and disagree with Thomas’s argument, then feel free to express your reasons for doing so. But here, you haven’t listened to Thomas and tried to offer a different perspective. You’ve just ignored what he said and announced what you think. Since he’s offered an argument for why your position represents a misunderstanding of Church teaching, this is not only impolite, it also makes it difficult for me to take your position very seriously.

    If you want to persuade people, you need to listen to the preceding discussion, and offer feedback that actually responds to the points at hand. Just dropping in to express your opinion will not persuade anyone, nor will it offer a particularly attractive witness to our shared faith.

      • But I’ve been disagreeing with the original post, too, Lisa. So I don’t think the goal is to squelch all disagreement.

      • No, I’m not saying disagreement is not allowed. But for disagreement to be productive, it has to involve actual engagement with the position you’re disagreeing with. As far as I can tell, you don’t even understand the point that the original article makes. You disagree with the conclusion, but you don’t understand the argument that gets there.

        Your response is on topic in so far as it disagrees with the conclusion. But it isn’t relevant, because you are just ignoring the argument.

        It’s also rude, because you’re objecting to the conclusion as if the author is just ignoring Church teaching. In fact, the author is arguing, based on extremely Catholic theological sources, that we need to distinguish between two ways of saying, “I’m X,” where X is some description. Your whole reply presumes that “I’m gay” means something that Thomas has been at pains to explain that it need not.

        If disagreement were not allowed, your comment would not be here on the thread. I have allowed you to disagree with Thomas’s post. I then disagreed with what you said, and gave reasons. Disagreeing with your disagreement is not the same thing as saying “disagreement isn’t allowed.”

      • Ron, if I’m saying something that is against Church teaching, I don’t much care who informs me or how. I used to believe the death penalty is okay. I know better now because I sincerely sought to understand what the Church is saying to me, and I asked the Holy Spirit to please help me to understand what the Church is saying. If you truly want to understand what you’re talking about, the place to go is to the Church. I learned this on a very personal level with the death penalty issue.

    • Ron, I did not think Lisa’s comment was off topic. Its one thing for someone to be using profanity or engaging in verbal abuse and so censure. Its another to start trying to control everyone’s discussion if it doesn’t closely align to how your mind works when reading something. Lisa read the post and that was what came to her mind in reading it. I have to say given this and recent exchanges with you elsewhere that I am disturbed by your very authoritarian demeanor these days.

      • Daniel P writes: “Then what is the difference between calling oneself gay and accepting one’s manhood, and accepting one’s attraction to men and accepting one’s manhood?”

        Because to be a man is to be attracted to women or to have no sexual attraction. I have been celibate since my divorce eight years ago. I had a very active sexual life with my husband before our divorce. We had four children together. After 8 years of celibacy, and committing my life to Jesus Christ with the Passionists, my sexual attractions have gone away.

      • Karen: In Ron’s defense, I would say that some of it is in response to the increasingly anti-dialogue responses that have come about on this issue since the first broaching of the topic on First Things, which, as a Catholic, disturbed me enough to make me start investigating it myself, despite the fact that I am straight and did not HAVE to get involved. From what I can tell, Ron’s intent is to facilitate discussion, and one cannot have a discussion with a loudspeaker or a broken record. And as a moderator, though everything ought to be a matter of review, he does have the prerogative to say whether something fits the tone of discussion which SF is supposed to promote. We are welcome to disagree with his exercise of this judgment, but there might be some very good reason for it, no?

        Personally, I am not convinced that Lisa understands my argument either, though I hope she will not take my saying so personally. For example:

        “To accept your sexual identity is to accept that if you are male, you are supposed to be attracted to women or have no sexual attraction at all and to identify yourself in a manner that is consistent with that.”

        Sure. We’re fallen and sometimes that disorders our inclination. By nature and our first creation we were to be ordered to the perfection of marriage and whatnot. We were NEVER designed, however, to have no sexual attraction at all; that is false; nobody has ever said that in the history of the Church, except the Albigensians, and they were purveyors of a foul heresy. The fact that gay people HAVE sexual inclinations towards others is actually, according to Aquinas, BETTER for them than to have, for example, only inclinations towards oneself or none at all. Homosexual action is a common other-directed sexual sin, but masturbation, according to Aquinas, is “the unnatural vice” because it is not directed to the good of another person at all, sex notwithstanding. And one can be a heterosexual masturbator! Now no more of such crassness.

        Then, too, gay people are not AT FAULT for not being attracted to the opposite sex, OR for being attracted to the same sex, unless they chose to have their inclinations simply. And the Church Does. Not. Teach. This. And. It. Has. Not. Ever. Just to make that clear. If she admits it as a possibility, it is an admission borne of not knowing the explicit truth of the matter, because the Church is not in possession of the answer to all the mysteries of biology. So telling them that they are at moral fault somehow for accepting that these inclinations are part of their human material totality and not going “nyaah, I’m not listening” to their biological and unavoidable urges is absolutely hateful, and while I have a lot of patience for people struggling to deal with this situation, I have none for this idea. To try and identify yourself as “heterosexual” or asexual when one is in fact NEITHER is a lie, and to force a child of God to do such a thing is spiritual child abuse.

      • Thomas, I am a celibate gay Christians so I sympathize with your efforts. I too have been very frustrated with responses to certain articles on First Things because of people’s inability to understand what we are trying to convey. I have commented on those articles not infrequently. However, if we want to do more than preach to the choir, then we have to continue to be patient and to thoughtfully engage with people who do not understand. Shutting people down in paternalistic fashion because they are irritating does nothing to help our cause. It only causes more of a divide. More entrenchment in particular positions. I find that a Socratic approach can be very helpful in assisting people with exploring their thinking and see their gaps. If Lisa does not understand the argument, then perhaps you and I and Ron need to do a better job of making our arguments accessible to the very people whose minds we hope to change. Otherwise, what is the point?

  6. To Daniel P, I have Bipolar Disorder. If I believe that I am my disorder, I will commit suicide. The Church teaches that homosexuality is objectively disordered. If we find our identity in disorder, we deny who we are in Christ and it leads us down the path of destruction. I come at this from the perspective of someone with Bipolar Disorder. Those who insist that it is okay to find your identity in disorder are contributing to suicide among people like me. Further, they are contributing to suicide among teens who are confused about identity on any matter, including sexuality. There is life in Christ. There is only destruction everywhere else.

    • “If I believe that I am my disorder, I will commit suicide. The Church teaches that homosexuality is objectively disordered. If we find our identity in disorder, we deny who we are in Christ and it leads us down the path of destruction. I come at this from the perspective of someone with Bipolar Disorder. Those who insist that it is okay to find your identity in disorder are contributing to suicide among people like me. Further, they are contributing to suicide among teens who are confused about identity on any matter, including sexuality. There is life in Christ. There is only destruction everywhere else.”

      With due respect to you as a person, especially one struggling with bipolar disorder (and your struggle is in my prayers, as I hope I am in yours!) nothing you could have written could more powerfully demonstrate that you did not understand the point of my article. The whole point of making the distinction between primary and secondary identifiers was to note that the sense you are talking about is the “primary” sense, and the use of ‘gay’ used at SF was the “secondary” sense, and the whole article was written to explain the difference. In other words, Ron was right to call into question your understanding of what I wrote.

    • Lisa, I assure you that Thomas and gang are not encouraging people to believe that their disorders define them. But I want you to imagine what homosexuality is like, for a person growing up today. They are told by the culture that sexual desires MUST be expressed, but then they are told by the Church that THEIR sexual desires cannot be expressed. Result: they feel terribly, terribly guilty about their desires, *and yet* they also feel like they are being false to themselves in some way by repressing these desires.

      The “Spiritual Friendship” folks believe, if I follow them, that there is a way to be true to oneself and yet not feel guilty — without buying into the sexual revolution. The theological reasoning might go something like this: if God allows someone to have a fixed disposition to something, then there is probably some natural good to be found in the pursuit of that thing. (I don’t know of many natural dispositions that aren’t good). But concupisence perverts our good natural dispositions. So a natural good — a predisposition for deep and meaningful friendships with people of the same sex — gets turned into lust.

      If this story is right, then I understand the motivation behind self-identifying as “gay”. I’m not sure that we ought not create a new term, however (“Side B”), to indicate that the gay movement at large is getting the theology wrong. And I’m not sure that the theology outlined in the previous paragraph is any good.

      (Moreover, I’m not sure that I’m getting the view right. That’s why I’m looking for more explanations from Joshua et. al. about how homosexuality could be intrinsically good in some way).

      It comes down to whether “homosexual desire is objectively disordered” means “desire for one man to have sex with another is objectively disordered.” I think we all agree that a man is not the proper object of another man’s sexual activity. But “homosexual desire is objectively disordered” might also mean that “all desires stemming from a homosexual disposition are objectively disordered.” I’m not sure that the church means to teach this latter interpretation, however.

      • Two of my comments have still not been published, as I write this, while the comments of others are not being approved. Am I being intentionally taken out of context?

        Daniel P writes: “they feel terribly, terribly guilty”

        I reply: I have Bipolar Disorder. Telling people to listen to their bad emotions instead of to the Church is what leads to suicide. Get over it. It’s not about how you “feel.” If it’s about how people “feel” then I should go ahead and shoot myself instead of listening to what the Church says.

      • “Homosexual desire is objectively disordered” means that it is not debatable as to whether it is disordered. Because it is disordered, you need to seek what is healthy, and what is healthy is true celibacy. As I stated earlier, I know from personal experience that sexual urges go away if you commit to Jesus completely in a celibate life. St. Gemma is an excellent patron saint for people who want to embrace celibacy for Christ. When your cross is a heavy one, if Jesus is not all to you, your life is going to be miserable indeed. http://youtu.be/WMErmLaqcxY

      • This is the bottom line. I know Jesus. I am a Passionist and I offer my sufferings for the intentions of the Passionist Nuns, so I know that they are holy intentions and not mixed up with any delusion that I may have. Jesus is PURE. He had no sexual urges. If you unite all of the cross you bear with Jesus, just as St. Gemma did, you will find that He will not return to you a love that is fallen, but a love that is pure. You will learn this because it is WHO Jesus is. Learn to love Jesus as St. Gemma did and you will find that His love for you is THE PASSION and has nothing to do with sex. You will find what it is to know the truest love of all, the love that bears spiritual children through the fruits of a relationship with Jesus Christ. As the celibate nuns in the Passionist Monastery “give birth” to spiritual children through their marriage to Christ, so can you know the purest love of all in the cross you bear, provided that you united it with His. No one can love you as Jesus can. No one. http://youtu.be/WMErmLaqcxY

      • “Jesus is PURE. He had no sexual urges.”

        Is this your definition of pure? If so, I think this is a theological error. To be pure is not to be lacking in temptation, but rather to resist temptation. If Jesus had not been tempted, He could not have redeemed those who are tempted. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4).

      • Daniel P, sexual urges come via concupiscence, a result of the fallen state of man. We have sexual urges because we are fallen. Jesus had no concupiscence. It is because we become more like Christ when we unite ourselves with Him in His Cross, and when we are celibate, that our sexual urges go away.

      • Catholic Encyclopedia: “In its widest acceptation, concupiscence is any yearning of the soul for good; in its strict and specific acceptation, a desire of the lower appetite contrary to reason.”

        When we say that Jesus had no concupiscence, this means he had no desire of the lower appetite contrary to reason. What evidence do you have that sexual desire is a desire of the lower appetite which is contrary to reason? My sexual desire for my wife is not contrary to reason in the least, nor was my desire for her when we were dating. But at that point, it was often a temptation. So sexual temptations are not simply manifestations of concupiscence.

        And how exactly do you read the Hebrews passage? How could Christ be tempted in every way like we are, and yet never experience sexual temptation?

    • While I am familiar with Paul Halsall’s excellent work in collecting sources for Aquinas’ thought, Lisa, I am not entirely sure that one can simply leave out the Aquinas that explicitly disagrees with us:

      http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1098.htm#article1

      It is INCREDIBLY difficult for me to believe that you are accurate about Aquinas, given that in the Summa he says that in fact there WOULD have been generation before the Fall (i.e. before original sin and therefore concupiscence) and that this would have occurred, not without coition, but in fact, through it. Now, it is an Aristotelian and Thomistic principle that God does not give us a nature without, in principle if not always in practice, the normal pleasure we ought to have for following its urges. Consequently, since Adam and Eve were perfect according to nature, with no flaw, they would have had pleasure in coition and the inclination to that pleasure.

      Therefore, unless you want to make the ALBIGENSIAN error of denying the good of sexuality and even of sexual urges, an error which I should hope the DOMINICAN Thomas Aquinas was trying to avoid (reminder: the Dominican Order was founded by Dominic explicityly to combat Albigensianism, which denied the goodness of sex and of the body in general) and which would be farthest from his thought, you will cease declaring that according to Aquinas, sex and sexual urges are a result of the Fall. Many things here might SOUND heretical, but that is unambiguously heresy.

      “Daniel P, sexual urges come via concupiscence, a result of the fallen state of man. We have sexual urges because we are fallen. Jesus had no concupiscence. It is because we become more like Christ when we unite ourselves with Him in His Cross, and when we are celibate, that our sexual urges go away.”

      If Fr. Benedict Groeschel is to be considered a good authority on the formation of priests, this and statements like this are Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.

  7. Masturbation is also intrinsically disordered. There is no word comparable to “gay” that can describe someone who struggles with the desire to masturbate. There is still enough public disapproval of masturbation that people would be ASHAMED to ID that way. Shame can be spiritually healthy. Daniel said earlier that people should not be made to “feel guilty.” What he is saying, whether he means to or not, is that there is something wrong about feeling shame about things that the Papal theologian has explained holy people are ashamed of.

    I am ashamed that Bipolar Disorder causes me to think of suicide because I am ashamed that such thoughts ever even enter my head, even though it is not my fault that they do. When there is no shame about bad things, it leads people away from God and prevents even the faithful who suffer from those things from having a full relationship with God. God wants me to feel shame about suicidal thoughts so that I will try to find healing from them. If you have no shame, you cannot find healing. This is what the Pope’s theologian was explaining.

  8. Additionally, with regard to everyone dragging Fr. Giertych (the Papal Theologian) out on this issue just because of what was really an out-of-context off-the-cuff remark he made that didn’t even apply to the SF crowd, what Lisa is saying is actually directly opposed to the entire substance of two talks about inclinations and the moral life (among other things) which he delivered at Thomas Aquinas College and the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology just two years back.

    http://www.dspt.edu/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&ModuleInstanceID=139&ViewID=7b97f7ed-8e5e-4120-848f-a8b4987d588f&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=148&PageID=239

    I highly recommend the talk, given that all that people have heard Fr. Giertych say about ANYTHING AT ALL was the one remark, whereas I have actually met, had lunch with, and spoken with him in person! And I am profoundly disgusted with the fact that all people really know about him is the remark that was misinterpreted as applying here, by supposedly devout Catholics who really were just waiting for a scandal-icious remark to give them an excuse to engage in ignorant hate speech.

  9. Pingback: Q&A: What does it mean to say you are gay? | derek taylor scott

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