Nathan O’Halloran has an interesting article over at Vox Nova on the “richness of homosexual relationality.”
O’Halloran points out something I’ve highlighted before, which is that when the Church speaks negatively about “homosexuality,” it is not talking about the same thing we generally mean by “being gay.” When the Catechism speaks about “homosexuality,” it doesn’t even mean the same thing we mean by “homosexuality” in everyday speech (as opposed to its meaning within the technical discourse of Catholic moral theology). The teaching of the Church against homosexuality, as O’Halloran notes, “extends only to same-sex genital acts and does not refer to the sexuality as a whole.” The Bishops of England and Wales make this very clear in their pastoral letter Cherishing Life:
In so far as the homosexual orientation can lead to sexual activity which excludes openness to the generation of new human life … it is, in this particular and precise sense only, objectively disordered. However, it must be quite clear that a homosexual orientation must never be considered sinful or evil in itself.
Being gay is obviously about much more than a desire for “sexual activity which excludes openness to the generation of new human life.” It is possible, after all, to be gay without being particularly interested in homosexual sex, and it is also possible to engage in homosexual sex whilst not being gay, as indeed some straight people do. As Melinda Selmys pointed out yesterday:
Being gay is not reducible to having, or desiring to have, homosexual sex. It is a way of relating to other people, a way of appreciating human beauty, and a way of relating to one’s own gender.
If, as O’Halloran argues, “sexuality is primarily about relationship,” then there may be “many other aspects of homosexual sexuality” that are “very rich in their manifestations.” He speaks about the particular richness of “homosexual expressions of spirituality” and about the way in which “friendships with those who have same-sex attractions grow and develop richly as a result of those attractions and not despite them.”
Thinking along these lines, I’d like to speak a little about same-sex eros.
For some moral conservatives, the very idea that there could be any chaste manifestations of same-sex eroticism is scandalous. They argue that erotic love is, by definition, ordered toward genital expression, and therefore cannot occur “chastely” in any context besides marriage.
But is eros ordered solely toward genital expression? In his encyclical on Christian love, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI had the following to say:
God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creation—the Logos, primordial reason—is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love. Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape. We can thus see how the reception of the Song of Songs in the canon of sacred Scripture was soon explained by the idea that these love songs ultimately describe God’s relation to man and man’s relation to God. Thus the Song of Songs became, both in Christian and Jewish literature, a source of mystical knowledge and experience, an expression of the essence of biblical faith: that man can indeed enter into union with God—his primordial aspiration.
Because God is Love, and eros is love, eros must find its source and origin in God. It is true that conjugal love—the “gift of love between a man and a woman”—is a manifestation of eros. But eros cannot be reduced to conjugal love, since conjugal love is sexual, and God, whose Being defines what eros is, is not sexual. Even the voluptuous celebrations of sexual love in the Song of Songs, while they should not be prudishly ignored or explained away, “ultimately describe God’s relation to man and man’s relation to God” according to Christian Tradition.
John Paul II once said that, among its multiple meanings, eros “signifies the interior power that attracts man to the true, the good, and the beautiful.” This is clearly not compatible with the conservative reduction of eros to its conjugal manifestation unless one identifies conjugal intercourse as the totality of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty—a view which is obviously irreconcilable with Christianity and probably irreconcilable with all religions except a few ancient pagan fertility cults.
In her recent (and, I think, excellent) book, Sexual Authenticity: More Reflections, Melinda Selmys notes that the idea of eros outlined by Benedict “is heavily at odds with Socrates’ argument that there can be no Eros, no desire, in God because God is already perfect and therefore could want for nothing.”
Whereas Socrates understood erotic desire in terms of a lack or need, Christian love understands eros as desire for the other for the sake of the other, and not simply to complete what is lacking in oneself. This is why Christianity can present us with an image of a God who lacks nothing in Himself, and yet “whose perfection includes a desire for His people.”
We see here how the conservative objection to homoeroticism is more Socratic than Christian. Conservatives argue that women should desire men because masculinity is something that a woman “lacks,” and vice versa, men ought to desire women because femininity completes a lack in masculine nature. Homosexuality, therefore, is often described by conservative Christians as “narcissistic” because the homosexual desires something he or she already has.
This makes sense if, and only if, eros is seen in the Socratic sense as a desire to complete what is lacking in one’s own self. If a man desiring another man is making a statement about his own lack of masculinity, the desire would be wrong, even if not expressed sexually. It would be a kind of lie about human nature.
But if we’re talking about Christian eros—a love that desires the other simply for the other’s sake, the objection disappears. The masculinity of every man, and the femininity of every woman, is a lovable thing in itself, regardless of whether it completes any kind of “lack” in the desiring person.
Speaking about chaste homoeroticism is particularly difficult in our current cultural and ecclesial context. In such a sexually-charged society, it is difficult for people to imagine what chaste erotic love that is not genital-bound might look like, let alone imagine what such love might look like between people of the same sex.
Two cautions are in order, I think, regarding what we do not mean when we talk about homoeroticism as a potential value within a Christian view of human flourishing.
The first is that “homoerotic” should not be taken to denote a special and separate category of relationships—some kind of gay relationship distinct from ordinary same-sex friendship on the one hand and opposite-sex marriage on the other. As Michael Hannon noted in a recent article:
Because our post-Freudian world associates all physical attraction and interpersonal affection with genital erotic desire, intimate same-sex friendship and a chaste appreciation for the beauty of one’s own sex have become all but impossible to achieve….
For “heterosexuals” in particular, getting close to a friend of the same sex ends up seeming perverse, and being moved by his or her beauty feels queer. To avoid being mistaken for gay, these days many self-proclaimed straight people—men especially—settle for superficial associations with their comrades and reserve the sort of costly intimacy that once characterized such chaste same-sex relationships for their romantic partners alone. Their ostensibly normal sexual orientation cheats them out of an essential aspect of human flourishing: deep friendship.
The second, and therefore related, caution is that “homoerotic” should not be taken as referring only to an experience that pertains solely to gays and lesbians.
The example of David and Jonathan is instructive here. If any relationship depicted in Scripture was homoerotic, it was theirs. Their souls were “knit” together, and each one loved the other “as his own soul” (1 Sam 18:1). They loved one another with a “pleasant” love greater than the “love of women” (2 Sam 1:26) and “kissed one another, and wept one with another” (1 Sam 20:41).
Yet there is no evidence that either David or Jonathan were “homosexual” in the sense the Catechism speaks of (i.e., inclined to the act of homosexual sex). David in particular had a rapacious appetite for sex with women (2 Sam 11). So the point is not that David and Jonathan were “gay.” Nor is it that they enjoyed some kind of special gay type of homoerotic relationship. The point is that their ordinary same-sex friendship had a homoerotic dimension—it actualized erotic possibilities latent within same-sex friendship as such, possibilities which are ignored or suppressed by contemporary Western culture.
Of course, the fact that these erotic potentialities exist, and that they have been actualized at other times and in other cultures, doesn’t mean it is at all possible to actualize them now. It might be. But it might also be that the narrow heteronormativity of the modern West has destroyed beyond all hope of repair our ability to grasp the kind of homoeroticism that Socrates spoke about in the Symposium, or the impulse that inspired Michaelangelo to produce some of the most glorious painted and sculpted depictions of the male body in history—the same impulse that led him to write longingly to Tommasso dei Cavalieri about “a face where eyes see plain the heaven’s own light,” and which led Gerard Manley Hopkins to see Christ playing “lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his.”
If this is the case, however, then our relationships—along with our art, literature, music, culture, and religious experience—will be much the poorer for it.
Aaron Taylor is a Ph.D. student in Ethics at Boston College. He previously studied at the Universities of London and Oxford, and worked for a London-based research institute dedicated to raising the quality of thinking about public policy in civil society. He may be followed on Twitter: @AyTay86.
Leviticus 19:18: “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”
This is the kind of love that 1 Samuel says David and Jonathan had for each other–each loved the other “as himself.”
This is also the kind of love that Jesus says we are all called to.
This is agape. It is not eros. The love between David and Jonathan that David said was more “precious” than David’s experience of love “for women” (which was *definitely* eros) was agape.
Have you read Theology of the Body? It’s not clear to me that you understand the way John Paul II uses the word “eros.” It sounds to me that you are interpreting “eros” in the sense that John Paul II excludes.
Theology of the what??? (he joked)
JPII never uses the term “eros” (nor does Benedict XVI) to refer to love between a man and a man or love between a woman and a woman.
But more to the point, I’m interested in how writers of the Old Testament use the language of love, relative to David and Jonathan. In context, it’s simply gratuitous to assert something “homoerotic” in the texts describing them.
I didn’t claim that either Benedict or JPII had ever used the term “eros” to refer to same-sex love. Rather, I said that the some of the ways in which they defined “eros” would obviously include it.
JPII calls “eros” the inner power that attracts us to goodness, truth, and beauty. Maleness, for example, is obviously “good.” So when Jack is attracted to James, even on account of James’s maleness, that attraction is good. It shows that something is going right with eros, not that it is wrong. If, however, Jack wanted to sodomize James, that would be wrong, not because maleness is bad, or same-sex attraction is bad, but because sodomy is bad.
John Paul II and Benedict XVI also do not use “eros” to refer exclusively to the love of a man and a woman, nor to love which is directed toward sexual activity. John Paul II explicitly distinguishes the meaning that associates eros with sexual activity from the meaning of eros which Aaron cites from TOB 47.
Hi, Aaron–my papal mention was in response to Ron.
Goodness, truth, and beauty are qualities of the Divine–creaturely possession of these qualities is a reflection of the “imago Dei”.
Sexual attraction toward someone of the same sex is most assuredly, in Catholic teaching on human sexuality, viewed as objectively disordered. “Homo-eros” is objectively disordered. There is simply nothing in magisterial teaching to suggest otherwise. JPII refers to attraction to the sexual values of another person, in themselves, as something objectifying and reductive rather than something good in itself.
Ron–regarding TOB 47 and “eros,” the fundamental problem remains that JPII *never* conflates the Platonic nuance of meaning of “eros” with the sexual dimension of eros that corresponds to the complementarity of man and woman. One cannot appeal to JPII to support “eros” expressed sexually between two men or two women. It’s not there. What *is* there is the principle that Benedict XVI articulates so beautifully in Deus Caritas Est–that there is a *Divine* dimension of eros *and* a human dimension. The human dimension is based on complementary sexual values. The “Platonic” nuance is all about Divine attributes–truth, goodness, beauty. It is a mistake to conclude that same-sex sexual attractions are somehow “good” simply because sexual values are inherently good in themselves. In its human dimension, Eros-as-love is *always* properly expressed via complementarity: man to woman, woman to man, or human person to Divine Person (and vice versa).
Jim, would you say that something like Michaelangelo’s statuary should be destroyed?
If it is the fruit of a *wholly* disordered eros, then surely it should?
In TOB 47, John Paul II explicitly defines “eros” to mean something other than sexual attraction. Your comment to Aaron is based on assuming that eros means sexual attraction. Given that Aaron explicitly quoted John Paul II’s definition, which is not about sexual attraction, your argument against sexual attraction to the same sex represents a simple failure to understand the argument Aaron is making.
Ron wrote:*** In TOB 47, John Paul II explicitly defines “eros” to mean something other than sexual attraction. Your comment to Aaron is based on assuming that eros has that meaning.***
JPII does not merely define eros in the manner you assert. Rather, he *states* how *Plato* defined eros and then *contrasts* this definition with the “common meaning” associated with the reciprocal attraction of man and woman. He goes on to say that eros “has many semantic nuances” and says that “It seems in fact possible that in the sphere of the concept of ‘eros’–keeping its Platonic meaning in mind–one can find room for that ethos, for those ethical and indirectly also theological contents that have been drawn in the course of our analyses from Christ’s appeal to the human heart in the Sermon on the Mount.”
In context, JPII is making room for the “ethos of redemption” of Mt 5 by acknowledging the *both/and* of understanding eros “platonically” *and* in accord with its proper dimension in sexual attraction.
He never conflates the two, and he never contradicts the meaning of Benedict’s definition of eros as “the gift of love between a man and a woman.”
Jim, in para. 5, JPII himself specifically goes on to define “eros” in *exactly* the same manner he had attributed to Plato in para. 2: “Se ammettiamo che l’”eros” significa la forza interiore che “attira” l’uomo verso il vero, il buono e il bello.”
Michelangelo’s statues? Eros is *love*–love requires a communion of *persons*. Not sure what statues have to do with this….
Jim, as we (or rather, JPII), has already established, eros is (inter alia), “the interior power that attracts man to the true, the good, and the beautiful.”
If you think Michaelangelo’s statuary had nothing to do with his attraction to the beauty of the male body, you are either very naive or have never seen Michaelangelo’s statuary?
Since you apparently assert that such attraction is “disordered” even when not directed toward sodomy, presumably you would want Michaelangelo’s statues (not to mention the Sistine Chapel ceiling) destroyed? After all, are they not merely the wicked fruits of a diseased eros?
That is correct as far as it goes. But it doesn’t provide a basis for rejecting the argument that Aaron is making, or for saying that Aaron is using eros to mean sexual desire for the same sex.
You’re getting closer to the nuances of JPII’s argument, but not yet even beginning to address the way that your response misunderstands Aaron’s argument.
I have never never never heard the word “erotic” used as you are using it. And I consider myself a fairly educated person. However, I just heard Dr. N.T. Wright speak about Paul and first century Jewish thought. He emphasized the importance of really understanding Paul’s worldview before attempting to exegete the text. I learned a lot from Dr. Wright in his lecture which did make me think how many things…particularly words…I probably have misunderstood because of our current culture. Therefore, I’m looking forward to doing some reading along the lines that you mention. Your article is very interesting and definitely has made me curious. Thanks for posting!
Aaron, overall I really liked this piece! I have one minor quibble though:
You say, ‘Yet there is no evidence that either David or Jonathan were “homosexual” in the sense the Catechism speaks of (i.e., inclined to the act of homosexual sex). David in particular had a rapacious appetite for sex with women (2 Sam 11). So the point is not that David and Jonathan were “gay.”’
By appealing to David’s “rapacious appetite for sex with women” to try to indicate that they were never incline to the act of homosexual sex contradicts point that you made earlier in the piece, e.g. ‘It is possible, after all, to be gay without being particularly interested in homosexual sex, and it is also possible to engage in homosexual sex whilst not being gay, as indeed some straight people do’.
Anyway, from the information we’re provided with, we cannot really say whether or not they were sexually active with one another. The question, in some ways, is pointless given our lack of data. Personally, I don’t think heterosexual, nor homosexuality, (as they are generally currently defined) existed in the ancient world, so to say, ‘David is straight’, for example, or ‘Jonathan is gay’ is meaningless.
Anyway, great post. Much food for thought.
Wes, if you read this, I’d love to know your thoughts about how you think sexual difference and Christian marriage being a desire for the Other (Gen., Matt., Eph. etc.) square up with Aaron’s point contained in the following section: ‘Whereas Socrates understood … the desiring person.’ It seems to me that it would have implications for your line(s) of thought, no?
Thanks, @ladenheart. That’s a fair point.
The Catechism speaks of homosexuals as those “who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex.” I think David’s appetite for opposite-sex relations is a counter-indication that he was a homosexual in the sense the Catechism speaks of. You’re right, however, that it isn’t proof, which is why I didn’t say they weren’t homosexual, but only that there is no evidence that they were (and indeed, the question isn’t that important). I probably could have made that clearer. Thank you for raising the point.
Thank you for writing this! This articulates a lot of things that I have been thinking for a while but couldn’t get out, and expands them rather further than I’d thought. Erudite and edifying.
This is a lovely article, so thank you.
What I find fascinating (and, I admit, a little baffling) is that the experience of sublimated homoeroticism you describe–and that Melinda Selmys described in her post two days ago–is very similar to the experience I have had as a straight woman. I am, so far as I can tell, only ever sexually attracted to men. And I am attracted to them enough that chastity is sometimes difficult–and only difficult when I think of men–a fact I would not share except to prove that I’m not indulging in wishful thinking when I call myself straight.
And yet I often find myself regarding the women whom I know and love with a sort of dazzled adoration–because their beauty (both of body and spirit) seems like such a miraculous gift to the world that I could never thank God enough for letting me witness it. To me, my friends are Christ “lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his”–there are absolutely no other words to describe this experience.
I don’t know what, exactly, that data point means, but I thought I would share it.
It is a miraculous gift to the world. Thank you for sharing!
Ron says: “In TOB 47, John Paul II explicitly defines ‘eros’ to mean something other than sexual attraction.”
But this is not true.
Aaron says: “I didn’t claim that either Benedict or JPII had ever used the term ‘eros’ to refer to same-sex love. Rather, I said that the some of the ways in which they defined ‘eros’ would obviously include it.”
And this is not true.
In order to get to the truth of what JPII is saying, one needs to begin with TOB 22 and its footnote 35, which makes clear that JPII does *not* find the Platonic concept of “eros” sufficient, nor does he find the later development of hedonistic “eros” sufficient. That’s his whole point in discussing this. The Biblical texts being analyzed require *more* meaning than either of these two extreme versions of “eros” can provide. The biblical texts require an “ethos” that makes real sense of “eros.”
What you both are concluding is that Plato’s “non-sexual-attraction” version of eros somehow “obviously includes” same-sex attraction (!) as something true-good-beautiful. But what JPII says about eros in footnote 35 is that Plato’s meaning is utterly *dualistic*–thirsting precisely for “eternal” and the “divine” and the “transcendent” “on the flight away from matter”. JPII makes clear that Platonic eros means a “dualism of spirit and matter” with a “specific hostility toward matter.”
And what is same-sex attraction? An attraction to the specific “matter” that comprises the sexual values of someone of the same sex. Platonic eros cannot, by definition, apply solely to what is humanly “somatic” according to JPII. Rather, he says, this dualism of the “Platonic concept goes beyond the biblical range of ‘knowledge.’ ”
He then contrasts this with the “contemporary concept” (hedonistic eros devoid of ethos) which he says is too *restricted*.
JPII is looking for the fullness of the meaning of eros—and he finds *both* the Platonic and contemporary versions sorely lacking.
The Biblical term “knowledge,” by contrast, gets it *right*–here we have a balance of eros and ethos that “is a fully human act consciously directed toward procreation and also the expression of interpersonal love.”
This thinking in TOB 22 necessarily sets the stage for what is said in TOB 47 about eros and ethos in the context of the question of whether the human heart is merely “accused” (hedonistic eros) or also “called” (eros *and* ethos). JPII says in TOB 22 that “we are dealing here with two conceptual spheres, with two languages: biblical and Platonic; only with great caution can they be interpreted by each other.” And that’s what JPII does in TOB 47—cautiously interprets both Platonic eros and contemporary eros such that elements from both combine to form a *complete* eros-ethos concept that makes sense of the Biblical texts he’s exploring both in Genesis and in Matthew. Regarding Matthew 5, JPII concludes that Jesus is indeed both “accusing” (prohibiting concupiscent eros) and “calling” (inviting us back to the “eros” that existed “from the beginning.”)
And what “eros” existed in “the beginning”? Homo-eros? I don’t think so.
Jim, I can see you are deploying your familiar tactic here of neglecting to make any real argument, but instead seizing upon some extremely marginal point, and then using it to try to drag your interlocutor down a philosophical rabbit-hole into a weird and wonderful world where concepts with a rich and varied history have actually only one extremely narrow and technical meaning which just so happens to be the narrow and technical meaning they would have if you were right.
I pointed out that in one particular General Audience, John Paul II gives a particular definition of eros (which, granted, sits alongside other views) that is broader than the one twenty-first century puritanical American conservatives (not to be confused with orthodox Catholics!) usually give. As you would have seen if you read the post, the quote is just window-dressing. I could have taken out the quote from JPII and replaced it with something from Plato, or simply left it out altogether, and it wouldn’t make any difference to the structure of the argument, which is an argument about the difference between a) a view of erotic “desire” as desire for the good under the aspect of something the desiring subject lacks, and therefore really a desire to remedy a deficiency within the desiring subject’s self, or b) desire for the good qua good.
In your argument that all same-sex attraction (even when not directed toward sodomy) is evil, you are, it seems to me simply *asserting* the truth of (a). But you can’t assert (a) since (a) is what is in question.
Besides which, we’re not going to argue endlessly about TOTB footnotes, because I have never claimed that what I am doing has anything to do with the TOTB project.
By all means, please let’s leave JPII and TOB out of it altogether. Ron opted to bring it up, not me. I focused on your erroneous assertion regarding David and Jonathan in Scripture. Further, I would have argued strenuously against your claim regarding what the Bishops of England and Wales had to say–but, given that you have accused me of arguing that all same-sex attraction is “evil,” which is utterly false, I don’t see the point in continuing.
You claimed earlier that “homo-eros” per se (and not the desire for sodomy) is objectively disordered (i.e., evil), hence why I took you to be claiming that all same-sex attraction (qua *same-sex*) is evil.
Regarding the English bishops, they simply said what they said. You are of course free to disagree with them. But it’s clearly a legitimate reading of the Catholic Tradition.
Aaron—are you really unclear about the difference between “objectively disordered” and “evil”? Ironically, the *complete* quote from the English/Welsh bishops (including the part on complementarity which you omitted by ellipsis above) touches on this very distinction:
*** “In so far as the homosexual orientation can lead to sexual activity which excludes openness to the generation of new human life and the essential sexual complementarity of man and woman, it is, in this particular and precise sense only, objectively disordered. However, it must be quite clear that a homosexual orientation must never be considered sinful or evil in itself.”***
Two important things here: First, the same bishops you have quoted above state here that something that is “objectively disordered” (in this case the homosexual orientation) is NOT to be considered sinful or evil. And they’re right. Disordered inclinations, appetites, impulses, desires, passions—they’re *disordered*, not evil.
Second, by using an ellipsis to omit the phrase “and the essential sexual complementarity of man and woman,” you are masking the full breadth of what the bishops say is to be included in the “particular and precise sense” in which the homosexual “orientation” is “objectively disordered.”
What is meant by “sexual activity” here? “Activity” of a “sexual” nature is not merely “genital.” Rather, in context, any sexual “activity” in response to the same-sex attraction which excludes the “essential sexual complementarity of man and woman” is particularly and precisely objectively disordered.
Far from reducing the objective disorder to genital sex acts, even this quote (itself from a non-magisterial, non-authoritative source: a bishops conference) is not leaving room for an “ordered” form of same-sex attraction existing alongside a “disordered” form. It simply doesn’t say that.
The bottom line on “homo-eros” is actually this: eros in the Catholic sphere is always defined as a love that desires to possess. When one desires to receive that which one *already* possesses—in this case the sexual values that constitute the “spousal meaning of the body” meant to be complementarily given and received by man and woman—one is experiencing a disordered form of “eros.”
All acts that are objectively disordered are, by that very definition, objectively evil, since for an act to be disordered in relation to its end is by definition for that act to be evil. There may also be evil actions whose disorder is subjective/extrinsic rather than “objective,” and therefore “evil” is a broader category than “objectively disordered,” but that does not change the fact that *everything* which is objectively disordered is evil by definition, and if you call something “objectively disordered” (which, in the case of same-sex attraction, you did), you are calling it evil.
Regarding the English bishops, the document says that sexual activity is objectively disordered when, and only when, it “excludes openness to the generation of new human life AND the essential sexual complementarity of man and woman.” In other words, the act in question has to violate BOTH values (that’s the meaning of “and”), and given that “and” it’s very obvious that the bishops are talking about *sodomy*, which is why I made the ellipsis – not to “mask the full breadth” of what the bishops are saying, but to reduce word count. Given that the “and” establishes an inherent connection to sexual activities open to the generation of new human life, it’s obvious that the “complementarity” the bishops are referring to it is the physiological complementarity between male and female required to complete the generative act. Your attempt to broaden the category of “sexual activity” to include all sorts of things that aren’t in fact sexual actually dilutes the force of the Church’s teaching against sodomy, and does violence to the clear meaning of what the bishops are saying. In order to make the text fit what you are saying we would have to change the word “and” to read “or,” and then insert an “either,” so that the text would read thus: “In so far as the homosexual orientation can lead to sexual activity which excludes EITHER openness to the generation of new human life OR the essential sexual complementarity of man and woman, it is, in this particular and precise sense only, objectively disordered.” But that is not what the bishops said.
Moreover, to claim that the teaching of the Bishops of England and Wales is “non-magisterial” and “non-authoritative” without any further explanation or qualification is false and *highly* misleading. Bishops are the successors of the Apostles, as the Second Vatican Council teaches:
“Bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, as shepherds of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ.” (Lumen Gentium, 20)
Bishops share in Christ’s authority as teacher (LG, 21; 23). They are part of the Magisterium (which, after all comprises the *bishops* in communion with the Roman Pontiff) and they have authority to teach the faith within their dioceses. It’s true, of course, that since you personally are not English, you are obviously not really bound to pay any attention to the teaching of the English bishops (just as I am not really bound to pay much attention to the USCCB), but to dismiss what they say as “non-authoritative” *without any further qualification* is just wrong.
Aaron wrote: *** “All acts that are objectively disordered are,…”
Ah, well, that’s the point on which you are unclear, then—you’re treating an *impulse* or an inclination which is NOT willed as an “act” that is deliberate. No, you’re wrong on this point. The very reason the Church speaks of “disorder” rather than “evil” is because *unwilled* impulses that direct a subject toward an intrinsic evil are not in themselves moral evil but instead are disordered.
You wrote: ***Regarding the English bishops, the document says that sexual activity is objectively disordered when, and only when, it “excludes openness to the generation of new human life AND the essential sexual complementarity of man and woman.”***
Glad you agree that *both* are essential (but then omitting one of the “essentials” for the sake of space was probably not a good choice). For example, two same-sex attracted men who act upon the impulse of sexual attraction toward each other by holding hands or kissing are engaging in a sexual activity that is neither open to generation of human life nor in keeping with the essential sexual complementarity of man and woman—therefore it is by the bishops’ definition objectively disordered. Right? It seems we would agree on that much.
You wrote: ***Moreover, to claim that the teaching of the Bishops of England and Wales is “non-magisterial” and “non-authoritative” without any further explanation or qualification is false and *highly* misleading.***
Point conceded—as I did not really intend to suggest a bishops’ conference *never* exercises magisterial authority. It can under some very specific circumstances for those under its jurisdiction, but not for the universal Church. They certainly cannot promulgate new doctrine or contradict the teaching of the universal magisterium. What they have said regarding the nature of the objective disorder of same-sex attraction ought to be construed to be identical to what has *already* been taught universally in the Church. And your interpretation of what is being taught in that document doesn’t comport with what the Church universally teaches regarding the necessity for male-female *complementarity* in both a properly ordered “eros” and in properly ordered sexual attraction.
Jim, you’re dead wrong about some very basic issues here. “Evil” (Latin: malum) is simply a privation of a good that ought to exist. The privation may be deliberately willed by an agent capable of volition but not necessarily so, and it is still evil even if it occurs without volition. You are confusing “evil” (malum) with deliberate sin (culpam). But deliberate sin is an *instance* of the broader category of evil – all “culpam” is firstly a “malum,” because to will something immoral is by definition to will something deficient with respect to the good (i.e., an evil). If it isn’t “malum” it couldn’t possibly be “culpam” to will it! For example, if I shoot someone deliberately, that is “culpam.” But if my rifle goes off and accidentally kills someone because of a technical fault over which I had no control, that is not a sin, but it is still “evil” (malum) – it’s still a privation of a good (human life), just not a privation for which any particular human agent bears moral responsibility.
On the English bishops, I don’t think you understand my point. My contention is that, given the context of the remark, it’s obvious that the “complementarity” the bishops are speaking about is *physiological* (that’s why they call it “sexual”). Saying that “sexual activity” must respect this complementarity is simply another way of saying that it must be an instance of the *kind* of sexual activity that is open to/apt for “the generation of new human life” (i.e., conjugal intercourse). They are saying simply that sodomy is wrong, and insofar as someone might have an inclination toward it, that inclination is disordered.
Your attempt to expand the meaning of “sexual activity” to include things like “holding hands” strikes me as disturbing and bizarre. Yes, we live in a society that likes to sexualize everything. But I don’t think you or I ought to buy into that as Catholics, and I can’t wrap my mind around thinking about holding hands as a “sex act.”
It would simply be laughable to claim that two men holding hands are committing a mortal sin and will therefore burn in hell for all eternity even when they are in every other respect exemplarily chaste. And before you say, “I didn’t say that,” the fact is that it is the inescapable implication of what you did say – if holding hands is a form of sexual activity, and if there is no parvity of matter in sexual sins (and there isn’t), then surely according to you hand-holders are bound for hell, “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43)? No wonder Jesus said the gate to eternal life was narrow, eh?
Jim, if “holding hands” is a “sexual act” closed to the generation of new life…then that would apply when a man and woman hold hands too. Yet I doubt you want to start claiming that heterosexual hand-holding is a contraceptive act. As Aaron points out, your argument only works if there were an “or.” But there wasn’t an or, there was an and. And with that, the context is blatantly obvious that they are talking about sodomitical sex acts and not some new species of “non-genital homoromantic acts” that have never before been identified as a species of sin in Catholic theology.
No, Aaron, it’s not dead wrong to distinguish objective disorder from evil. Please listen to your *own* bishops on this point when they tell you that something objectively disordered “must never be considered sinful or evil in itself.”
As to your bishops’ quote meaning merely that “sodomy is wrong” and that this is the *only* “sexual activity” the bishops say is objectively disordered? Seriously? You seem to think the more mild examples of “activity” inspired by same-sex attraction are “disturbing and bizarre.” Yet you leave my question unaddressed and instead pursue whether “holding hands” will send you to hell (surely you can give me credit for a little common sense such that I know that holding hands is not always a sign of sexual attraction—but sometimes it clearly is). What about some activities that are less mild but fall short of “sodomy”? Do you think your bishops conclude that, say, the “sexual activity” of two sexually attracted men stripping each other naked might be objectively disordered, or not? Do we really need to count the ways that two sexually attracted men might be “sexually active” *without* sodomy? Are all these somehow properly “ordered”???
No Jim, it is dead wrong. The argument from authority, as Aquinas reminds us, is the weakest form of argument. Simply appealing to what “my bishops say” wouldn’t make them right if they had in fact tried to claim that something can be objectively disordered without at the same time being objectively evil. It would be a flat contradiction of the entire Tradition of the Catholic Church. What the bishops in fact said is that a homosexual orientation is not evil/disordered except in cases where it leads to sodomy.
As for “sexual activity,” I should point out that I’m using “sodomy” in the classical sense to refer to all non-procreative “sexual activity.” There is really no need for us to “count the ways” that this can occur, and I’m not going to enter into salacious discussions with you about men kissing and “stripping each other naked,” however much you might want to discuss it. *All* directly voluntary venereal pleasure outside lawful wedlock between a man and a woman is mortally sinful. Period. There’s no need for us to “count the ways” this aspect of the moral law can regrettably be broken in such a public forum,
Now, I will grant you that human sexuality is in a broken state in our post-lapsarian world, and it is theoretically possible for people to derive illicit venereal pleasure from just about anything. Of course, it is theoretically possible that someone, whether gay or straight, could derive venereal pleasure from something as innocent in itself as holding another person’s hand, whether of the same or the opposite sex, in which case it would be a sin for that particular person if they can reasonably avoid doing so. But that doesn’t make holding hands a “sex act.” Someone with a foot fetish might derive venereal pleasure from looking at shoes in a shoe store, but that doesn’t mean that shopping for a new pair of sneakers is a “sex act.” We don’t go around telling people never to look at feet just because some people have a foot fetish. Nor should we go around saying it’s a sin for people to hold hands and it’s a “sex act” just because a few hyper-sensitive people might get turned on by it.
People know what sexual arousal is, Jim. What lust is. And it is clear to most people that all attraction to this or that sex is not arousal, is not venereal pleasure, is not lust. Otherwise there would be no room for premarital heterosexual courtship or for heterosexual crushes and falling in love PREceding marriage (it would have to be all arranged marriages with any affection or attraction developing afterwards!)
The “bright red line” in Catholic sexual moral tradition has always been marriage. Period. There are things allowed only after marriage. Then there is everything else. The “everything else” (ie, those things allowed to the unmarried) are not further subdivided in any traditional moral taxonomy into “those allowed for heterosexual couples but not same-sex pairs” as if the moral law cares who you dance with at your high school prom. The only “natural institution” at stake is marriage. Prom is not a natural institution, dancing there is something allowed for the unmarried assuming no lust, and hence it is allowed to any of the unmarried as lust is the only thing that could make it objectionable for any of them.
Most heterosexuals date a series of members of the opposite sex before settling down. You seem to be saying that what they do is okay or well ordered simply on account of the fact that these partners are opposite sex. But that directly contradicts what JPII says in TOTB about marriage and chastity being not about “the opposite sex” but about “this particular person” of the opposite sex. By basing the legitimacy of “dating” activity with several people prior to marriage on the “generic” fact of their opposite-sex…you are committing exactly the fallacy JPII warned against. “Heterosexuality” does not justify anything morally (especially not among the unmarried). Marriage, the choice of a particular person to become one flesh with (as only opposite sex pairs can)…is what “legitimizes” certain things morally. Heterosexuality in the abstract or in general is neither here nor there.
At most, it is an accidental distinction. Aquinas lumps masturbation, heterosexual contraceptive acts, homo-sodomy, and bestiality…all in the species of “unnatural vice.” Within that species, he ranks them in that order on account of deviating more or less from the core essence of the marital act (of which, indeed, sex as well as human species are obviously not irrelevant!) But he doesn’t see it as speciating a new species of sin worthy of any particular separate analysis. It’s all “unnatural vice” because it’s all closed to life.
The other distinctions only become relevant AFTER assuming that we’re talking about an act of venereal pleasure closed-to-life. Masturbation, for example, is described as deficient “for lacking a partner,” but lacking a partner is not universally an immoral quality, only for genital acts. Likewise, heterosexual contraception is a deficit in “manner” of act. Yet lots of acts heterosexual couples do are not vaginal sex (dancing, washing dishes together, etc). “Not being vaginal” isn’t a universally immoral quality, only for genital acts. Bestiality is condemned for being “wrong species,” yet again that only is morally relevant assuming we’re ALREADY talking about a genital act. Petting your dog is not immoral. And likewise for sodomy in Aquinas’s logic. The “homosexuality” of it is disordered ONLY inasmuch as we assume that it is already a genital act that we’re talking about. There is no indication anywhere that if we weren’t ALREADY within the category of “unnatural vice” that homosexuality independent of that would constitute some sort of morally relevant axis or distinction even among non-venereal acts.
Your talk of “sexual values” is strange. Eros does desire to possess, as it were, but there are a variety of ways to possess. One of them, the most basic really, is LOOKING. What do we desire of the beautiful, often, other than to SEE it? You seem to be saying that “Men already possess male ‘sexual values’ so to be attracted to them in anyone else is redundant and therefore disordered” but that’s Aaron’s whole point in this post. The Christian conception of love isn’t about “getting what we lack,” but about appreciating God’s Creation in itself, as all Good (and thus, in some sense, all desirable). Sure I may already have a male body, but when one is attracted to another person, one is not attracted to their “maleness or femaleness in general in the abstract” (JPII warns against this! As it is a trend of our pornographying culture). We are attracted to their maleness or femaleness as one trait (among others) incarnated in a PARTICULAR PERSON. And I certainly don’t “already possess” another male’s PARTICULAR manifestation of maleness, not until I behold it in some form.
So let me get this straight (pun intended–I’m straight and don’t have personal experience of–strong–homoerotic feeling). If two gay men hold hands and feel no sexual arousal, that is non sinful. But if they hold hands and get aroused, which I define as (at the risk of being what you call salacious–but one has to be specific at some point or we will never be sure what each other is saying) getting erections, that is sinful? I suppose you might say that if they knew they would get aroused and still held hands, that would be the sin. Or are erections ok if one doesn’t go on to sodomy? Anyway, however those questions are answered, let me express my amazement that two people who are sexually attracted to each other and hold hands are not going to feel aroused. I sure did when I held the hand of a man I was attracted to. And since demographically, men (especially young ones) are far more easily sexually arousable than women as a group, I wonder about these hand holding non aroused gay males. Do they really exist? Do they just hold hands of men who are “not their type” and eschew the hands of the ones they find beautiful?
Readers: Sorry for the repeats. I thought the moderator had censored the first two so I kept rewriting hoping to get my question through–not realizing they had gone through.
If sexual arousal is the result of hand holding (and no, I don’t think it’s reducible to erections but to a certain state of excitement that people know intuitively that’s part mental, part physiological) then unmarried straight couples shouldn’t be doing it either and certainly not in front of children. (And whole regions of Arabia should be censored!)
The whole “getting an erection is lustful” thing is a little out of date. Venereal response, as such, doesn’t necessarily have any moral standing. I used to know a woman who got sexually excited, sometimes to the point of orgasm, when she painted. It was because of a medical condition (I don’t want to go into details, but there was a clear biological explanation for what was going on.) It had nothing to do with lust — she wasn’t painting sexually suggestive subjects — it was just something that got triggered by that natural shivery feeling that we all get in response to intense beauty. It would have been ridiculous to tell her that she wasn’t allowed to enjoy beauty anymore because her body had an involuntary response that is usually associated with sexuality. (There are apparently similar things that can happen to men who are recovering from heroine addiction — we would have to conclude that any number of normal daily activities are “sexual” for such men if we defined “sexual” as “producing a strong venereal reaction.”) In any case, mere venereal response — up to and including biological orgasm — is only lustful if there is a correspondingly sexual act of the will involved. This is why, for example, sexual dreaming is not sinful even if orgasm occurs.
From what I’ve seen, Jim, I think Homer is fundamentally correct that you appear to be innovating here, creating a “new species of ‘non-genital homoromantic acts’ that have never before been identified as a species of sin in Catholic theology.”
Can you cite even one authoritative text that *unambiguously* identifies, say, hand-holding between men, or a man dreamily gazing into another man’s eyes, or indeed *any* non-venereal but clearly homo-romantic act, as a sin against chastity?
I suspect if the answer to that question were “yes,” you would have enthusiastically quoted that text at every opportunity, rather than subjecting us to tortuous interpretations of obscure footnotes in papal allocutions that don’t even mention homosexuality.
Aaron—you’ve skidded off the rails regarding objective disorder and evil. Since you insist on concluding that “objectively disordered” and “evil” are the same thing, then *please* go ahead and identify which *category* of evil an objectively disordered sexual attraction would fall into. Is it a moral evil? Is it a physical evil? Is it a metaphysical evil? Those are the only three possibilities.
As to your accusation that I’m creating a “new species” of sin by asserting that same-sex attraction is wholly objectively disordered, the honest truth is that it is you who is attempting to carve out a non-disordered niche for same-sex attraction that literally and decisively appears *nowhere* in 2000 years of magisterial teaching on human sexuality.
In contrast, the Church’s teaching is utterly shot through with the understanding that the sexual urge and “eros” are intended in God’s plan to be for man and woman exclusively and *not* man and man or woman and woman. Seeking to rip a page out of the Platonic playbook and force-fitting it to carnal humanity is hardly adequate support for your claims, at least in a Catholic context. And merely resorting to *marginalizing* the work of the papal magisterium via JPII and Benedict while trumpeting one paragraph from a local bishops’ conference document does you no favors.
I will be happy, of course, to privately converse with you in great detail—detail well beyond the scope of a combox—to help express the fullness of Church teaching in this area. Just e-mail me.
Jim, as I suspected, you are unable to cite even a single authoritative text that unambiguously identifies some non-venereal but clearly homo-romantic act,as a sin against chastity.
As Scripture says: “what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops” (Matt 10:27). If you’re so knowledgeable about “the fullness of Church teaching” why not just tell us all what you know instead of offering to email me privately? Is there some secret Church teaching that only you are privy to, and that you are not allowed to tell everyone, but you have secret permission to share with me privately?
One nice thing about being Catholic is that we have a Magisterium that teaches us clearly about right and wrong. Homo-romanticism has been around for as long as the Church and I think we can rest secure in the knowledge that if homo-romanticism were sinful the Magisterium would have *clearly* and *unambiguously* taught that it was sinful and warned the faithful against it somewhere, at some point, during the last 2,000 years.
Aaron–then by all means we will continue a public and detailed exchange. Previously at SF I have been told that it’s more prudent to plumb the theological depths of these issues privately. But I’m happy to maintain combox dialogue.
You wrote: ***Jim, as I suspected, you are unable to cite even a single authoritative text that unambiguously identifies some non-venereal but clearly homo-romantic act,as a sin against chastity.***
Actually, we can start with CCC 2337: “Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman. The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrity of the gift.”
Of course you’ll say this is “ambiguous” and then I’ll say that you likewise cannot point to “even a single authoritative text that unambiguously identifies some non-venereal but clearly homo-romantic act as being in *accord* with chastity.”
But why pretend? Look at the CCC quote: our sexuality becomes personal and truly human when integrated in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman. Are we *really* surprised to learn that our sexuality is for *marriage*???
Do you deny that the Church teaches the “spousal meaning of the body”?
And, please, I really am requesting a *direct* response from you regarding what category of “evil” we’re supposed to place the objective disorder associated with same-sex attraction. Moral, physical, or metaphysical?
Jim, the passage you quote is neither “clear” nor “unambiguous.” It doesn’t even mention homosexuality, homoeroticism, or “homo”-anything.
I don’t need to cite authorities to back up my claims about “homo-romantic acts.” Firstly, because I am not advocating any such “act” or “acts.” I’m dealing with affect, not act. You were the one who tried to turn the discussion on to kissing and holding hands. Insofar as I’ve been responding to your claims, my *sole* assertion is that the moral law does not forbid such acts when they are not concupiscent.
You seem to think that you can just name something as a sin, and then demand that your interlocutor prove that it is not. That’s not how it works. Surely you are aware of the basic principle of Catholic moral theology: “lex dubium non obligat”? If you want to make up a new sin, you need to prove your case beyond doubt (“dubium”). Since you are the one claiming that the moral law forbids two men holding hands, you are the one who needs to offer proof for that claim. I no more need to prove the truth of my claim that such an act is not a sin, than I would need to “prove” to you that it is not a sin for me to wear a blue t-shirt or to eat a bag of potato chips, if you suddenly got it into your head to declare those things sinful and to anathematize blue t-shirt-wearers or potato chip-eaters.
Re: the disorder/evil thingy: for something to be “dis”-ordered is by definition for that thing to suffer a privation with respect to the good of due order. Provided it is not willed the evil is of course non-moral.
Jim: do you admit that what opposite sex couples dating (who may never marry!) share is “Eros”?
If so, your argument totally falls apart. There is no “dating” in the Deposit of Faith either.
The truth is, I don’t think the concept of “Eros” in the CS Lewis “four loves” sense has been an object of Catholic teaching throughout history. Marriage has. And genital desire specifically has (ie, what Lewis calls “Venus” to distinguish it from Eros). And the relation of those two has been clearly delineated: Venus is ok only in marriage, outside that it is lust.
You are trying to use footnotes from TOTB from only 40 years ago to introduce a new moral distinction in Catholic moral theology. To make the object of analysis Eros (and not just Venus) and to make the distinguishing line the heterosexual composition of the pair rather than marriage.
This is novel and foreign to Catholic theology. It is, additionally, actually against TOTB inasmuch as it fetishizes “sexual complementarity” as something apart from the question of marriage or procreation.
By which I mean, the whole mystery of marriage in Catholic theology is about choosing this PARTICULAR person to actualize all the relevant values of that ultimate union, the one flesh union. Procreation and sexual complementarity here are inseparably bound.
What your line of thought implies, on the contrary, is something like this: that there are two questions in marriage, the genitality and the romance, and that the former is justified by the value of openness to life but that the latter is justified by “sexual complementarity” conceived of in some abstract sense of “obtaining sexual values you lack.”
But this sort of separation is impermissible to any true Catholic understanding of marriage. First, if it were true that “romance” were a category of moral analysis separate from procreation or marriage (“as long as it is sexually complementary”)…then this would likewise destroy the necessity of genital activity being only within marriage “as long as it was open to life.” But open to life fornication is still a sin. “Open to life” is not a value that can justify anything separated from the whole complex of values known as the marital relationship. Likewise, “sexual complementarity” is a value that only applies to marriage, by which I mean that one cannot argue that anything outside of marriage is justified by sexual conplementarity’s value WITHIN marriage.
Again: procreativity and sexual complementarity are values inseparable from the whole complex of marriage. They assume the commitment to a particular and specific person FIRST. They have no value PRIOR to that commitment (not even with a sort of anticipatory reference to it).
I’d go so far as to say something like: being “open to life” is not a morally justifying value. “Being open to life with my wife Roberta” is. But that assumes marriage FIRST, obviously. Likewise with “sexual complementarity.” If you are using it as a moral justification prior to the context of marriage in which it becomes relevant (as you seem to be doing for premarital romance and dating)…then you are separating this value from its organic marital complex and are treating it as a value “in general” when really it is only justifying assuming that we’re talking about a commitment to someone’s particular personhood FIRST.
Catholic moral theology really leaves you only two choices, Jim: either declare that Eros (like Venus) is one of those things restricted to marriage ONLY, or else admit that it cannot be judged premaritally by values that are ordered only within marriage.
You can’t remove procreativity from marriage to justify open-to-life fornication (not even “in anticipation of” marriage, as some have proposed)…the value is simply incomplete without the rest of the marital complex.
Likewise, you can’t remove “sexual complementarity” from its marital complex (not even “by anticipation” or remote preparation) without sin. If you think that some separate value of “sexual complementarity” is being actualized in premarital heterosexual relationships…then this would be sinful, by Catholic logic, because the values of Marriage are “sides of the same coin” and it is unnatural to “abstract” any one of them and actualize it apart from the whole (this is why mere procreativity doesn’t justify fornication; there is still sin there because the value is lacking without the rest of its marital complex).
So again: your options are to either admit that (if Eros truly does tend towards “sexual complementarity”) to admit that it can it licitly occur within the gestalt marital complex…or to admit that “sexual complementarity” is NOT what is at stake within Eros.
The latter is really the only one that makes sense. Traditional catholic moral thought sees life working like this: we are attracted to people. We are attracted to the good traits in them God had created, including their manifestation of sex. The man may be drawn to female expression in many women in his life (and indeed maleness in men). But at some point some people make a choice, based on that drawing-towards (and other factors of decision I’m sure) to unite in marriage with a particular person. It is only AFTER that commitment that any question of exchanging sexual values in a dynamic of complementarity makes any sense (or can be moral), just like it is only in that context that any question of exchanging fertility makes any moral sense.
Sexual “complementarity,” like fertility, are morally complete AFTER the particular commitment of marriage. Before that, certainly, attraction may play a role in attracting us to this or that particular person in order to make that specific commitment, but then it might also lead us to a lot of decisions that are not marriage (various forms of non- marital friendship).
Attraction is about relationality. We are attracted to particular persons, and that attraction draws us to a particular sort of friendship with them. With one special person (necessarily of the opposite sex) one might choose to make the commitment of the marital union. But in most other cases both same and opposite sex we are drawn to a non marital friendship. Within this drawing-towards, there is no distinction. A person can not be “dissected” into their “sexual values” vs their “intellectual values.” No, all their values appeal to us and the mix AS A WHOLE personhood either attracts us or it doesn’t. There is nothing in Catholic thought saying “sexual values may only contribute to a male/female chemistry that may or may not lead to marriage.” Not all interpersonal attractions involve sex specifically (just like not all involve intellect and not all involve shared hobbies or sense of humor), but when they do…it’s perfectly fine and doesn’t necessarily need to have anything to do with marriage. We’re attracted to a particular person first in a gestalt way. And one should choose marriage with a member of the opposite sex for that reason too; not because they’re opposite sex in some manner that abstracts that fact from the whole, but because you love them so much as an individual person first (and marriage happens to be an option with them since they do happen to be opposite sex). Only after that commitment can there be any question of exchange of fertility or sexual complementarity.
Let me rephrase the question I asked you above using your terminology so I can understand better what you mean. Is it possible for something to be homo-romantic (or hetero romantic, for that matter) and be non venereal in two physically healthy young people?
I covered this above but perhaps if I use your terminology I will better understand what you’re sayin. Can there be homo romantic acts like hand holding and gazing that are not venereal? Speaking from experience–mine and others–hetero romantic acts are almost always venereal, in physically healthy, (young, especially) people. Are homosexuals wired that differently from heterosexuals?
To moderator: This is different from my above comment because it uses different terminology to clarify meaning. Aaron, I’d like to rephrase my above questions using your terminology , so I can be sure I understand what you are saying. Can there be homo romantic activity like holding hands without it becoming predictably and quickly venereal? I know from experience–mine and others–that such hetero romantic acts quickly become venereal– at least in youngish, healthy people. Are homosexuals wired so differently from heterosexuals.
See my apology for the repetitions and the reason for it above–way above.
Hypatia, thanks for your questions.
I don’t think that holding hands could ever be considered, in and of itself, a sexual sin simply because it is not a form of sexual activity. Unlike, say, french kissing, holding hands is an activity that can and does occur frequently in all kinds of contexts that aren’t sexual.
Would you call depictions of hand holding pornography??
In reply to your question Mr. Sanders: No, I do not see depictions of hand holding as pornographic. I have seen hand holding in erotica, however–pictures, poetry, love songs. ( I hope this posts in the correct sequence.)
Come to think of it, I don’t see much discussion of erotica on this post–and at what point people think it turns into pornography. I think some of JM Hopkins and Michaelangelo’s poems (as well as the Song of Songs) to be erotica. How do side B gay people handle such?
Hypatia, I think part of the problem here is that when most people today talk about “erotica,” they generally mean something that has a quasi-pornographic character. “Erotica” is more sophisticated and subtle but I think most people today would think of erotica and pornography as having the same purpose — to sexually excite.
In this sense, Michaelangelo’s poetry is not erotica — even though, in a Platonic sense, it does meditate on “eros.”
The Song of Songs it seems to me is in a different category to Michaelangelo or G M Hopkins because the Song of Songs is meditating on actual sex.
Sorry bout the grammar above.
The Song of Songs is “erotica”??? Well, then erotica obviously does-not-equal pornography.
So if straight “erotica” is fine, but gay is not…then we seem to be talking about some new sin you’re proposing. Unless you think only married couples may read the Somg of Songs??
Homer Jones–seems you’re going a looong way to address some things I’ve never asserted. I recommend you read Karol Wojtyla’s “Love and Responsibility”–it will help clear up some of the misconceptions that I think are implicit in your comments.
No Jim, I think that it actually supports my point. The Church’s teaching about sexuality in the sense that you’re describing and which the catechism quote refers to is all about MARRIAGE.
You’re trying to take an aspect of the Church’s teaching about the meaning and dynamics of Marriage and apply it selectively outside that context to pre- or non-marital romance/attraction-in-which-gender-is-a-feature (as long as it’s a heterosexual pairing!)
But that’s gravely abusing both TOTB and Church teaching which are all about marriage. There is no moral category in Church thought of “premarital sexuality” that nevertheless still has to be bound by [some of] the logic and values of marriage. There’s simply no there there.
You challenge Aaron constantly to “find a concrete example where Eros was referred to two men or two women” yet you shirk the corresponding request: show us a case where your moral logic about complementarity was applied morally to unmarried straight couples rather than to the concept or assumption of Marriage itself.
***”But that’s gravely abusing both TOTB and Church teaching which are all about marriage.”***
On this you could not be more wrong–TOB is not merely “all about marriage”. It’s about *human love* in the Divine Plan. You might want to read JPII’s section in TOB on Continence for the Sake of the Kingdom…
****The Church’s teaching about sexuality in the sense that you’re describing and which the catechism quote refers to is all about MARRIAGE.*****
No–it’s about “the vocation to *chastity*”–not merely “marriage” as a concrete experience of every person. Rather the point is that *sexuality* is all about God’s plan for human love that either leads *to* openness to marriage or to the renunciation *of* marriage for the sake of the kingdom.
You’re being nitpicky, Jim, as “married or celibate” are not the only choices given that the unmarried are not yet married and yet are not celibates (abstinent for the time being, maybe, but not any committed renunciation). And the questions here revolve around sexuality in that situation. People dating are not in a pseudo-marriage (there’s no such thing; it’s either marriage or it’s not), but they’re not under the logic of a celibate either.
Jim, you seem to be under the impression that the moral logic WITHIN marriage can be applied mutatis mutandis to non-marital relationships (such as dating for example).
But that seems to fundamentally misunderstand the radical transformation the Church sees as taking place at marriage. There is no “mutatis mutandis” between marriage and other relationships (romantic or otherwise) as if heterosexual “dating” is just some sort of proto-marriage that isn’t authorized to have sex yet but otherwise is to be modeled morally on marriage to the degree it approximates it.
No, there is no such approximations of marriage bound by “approaching” it like an asymptote. There is no mutatis mutandis comparison you can make. Marriage is simply radically different from the moment it is ratified and is sui generis in its moral logic. You cannot extrapolate its logic (which is the only subject of the Church’s teaching on sexuality; in Church teaching there is only Marriage, there is no theology of “sexuality apart from marriage”) and act as if you can apply it pro rata to other relationships to the degree to which they do or do not approach marriage. There is simply no such continuum in Catholic thought. That sort of “romantic cursus honorem” idea where marriage is simply the end point of a naturally escalating process that is at all points nevertheless directed to that goal…is a secular and naturalistic view that totally misses the radical nature of marriage and the commitment therein made as a leap, a rupturing discontinuity that makes all equivalencies impossible.
Your logic essentially supports the idea of dating as a “trial marriage” (albeit without genital acts).
Not so, Robert–I’m saying the purpose of sexual attraction and “eros” should be abundantly obvious in God’s plan for us–it is designed to lead us to openness to marriage as a lived experience that is a temporal sign of the eternal communion God calls us to, *or* to lead us to a deliberate *sacrifice* of saying “no” to a participation in that sign by saying “yes” to continence for the sake of the kingdom. All claims that sexual attraction is *also* supposed to lead us to *non-sexual* union with members of the *same* sex are not only self-contradictory but also morally dangerous….
Outside of “Venus,” there is no special appetite of “sexual attraction.”
Rather, there is attraction to the good and the beautiful. And the male sex is good and beautiful.
Sure the sexes don’t exist simply to be appreciated as beautiful; they exist to enable reproduction and marriage. But once they DO exist, they are creations of God and can be appreciated as such. And different people will have different emphases in taste.
Your logic leads to the sort of response that would say “apples are for eating! How dare you paint a still-life of one! Especially since you’re allergic to apples! You can’t eat one, so it’s just perverse to appreciate the beauty of its existence as such!! (Visually). Sure it’s red and shiny and shapely, but that’s to make it appetizing to eat! If you can’t eat it, it’s disordered to entertain its beauty like that, you’ll just be languishing after what is, to you, a poison!”
To which the sane people of the world would reply “Psh!”
Robert–for some reason I can’t find the term “Venus” at the Vatican web site. As I am speaking from the perspective of Catholic teaching, which makes the claim that eros is “the gift of love between a man and a woman” (which one *does* find at the Vatican web site), I’m not sure the “Venus” reference applies.
The Catholic view is that God’s plan for sexual attraction means that “homo-eros” is not ordered toward the good, the true, and the beautiful. Homo-eros is objectively disordered….
Venus is from Lewis, not the Vatican. Still, it’s a useful distinction here:
***Aaron wrote: Jim, the passage you quote is neither “clear” nor “unambiguous.” It doesn’t even mention homosexuality, homoeroticism, or “homo”-anything.***
Aaron–Glad you noticed it doesn’t mention “homo-anything”—the CCC quote is about the vocation of chastity and God’s plan for sexuality. Same-sex attraction falls outside of God’s plan for sexuality, which is why the Church teaches it’s objectively disordered and why it doesn’t get a mention in the passage I cited. Rather, homosexuality and chastity is treated separately in the CCC…
*** Insofar as I’ve been responding to your claims, my *sole* assertion is that the moral law does not forbid such acts when they are not concupiscent.***
Right, and the moral law does not forbid adultery as long as the act is not adulterous….Aaron, your claim is both baseless and senseless, particularly as you make it with *no* demonstrable magisterial evidence that can withstand the least scrutiny. Rather, if you were actually correct in your claim, we could only conclude just how *careless* the magisterium of the last 40 years has been to not spell out clearly that the *only* dimension of same-sex attraction that’s disordered is genital sexual behavior. If being “homo-romantic” is absolutely okay while “sodomy” is not, it sure would’ve been simpler for us all if the magisterium had simply extolled the potential *virtue* of homo-romanticism while condemning what can only be viewed as its fundamental “finality”—what you call “sodomy”….
***You seem to think that you can just name something as a sin…***
No—at issue is the objective *disorder* of same-sex attraction that can lead to sin. You seem to think you can absolve same-sex attraction by truncating the spectrum of that attraction to merely exclude “sodomy”. But that’s not what the Catholic Church teaches.
***Re: the disorder/evil thingy: for something to be “dis”-ordered is by definition for that thing to suffer a privation with respect to the good of due order. Provided it is not willed the evil is of course non-moral.***
So your claim is that the “objective disorder” of same-sex attraction can’t be considered a *moral* evil. Then you are one-third correct. So, which “evil” is it then? Physical or metaphysical? You’re gradually (and correctly) eliminating the candidates—if you follow through on this, you will eventually admit that, no, the Church does *not* teach that a disordered pre-volitional sexual attraction is an *evil*. And neither do I.
I’ve asked previously—do you deny that the magisterium of the Church teaches “the spousal meaning of the body”? Your response to this seems pretty important.
Jim, I don’t think the Magisterium has been “careless.” I doubt the Magisterium ever considered that someone would be puritanical enough to condemn two men holding hands as a sodomitical sex act, for the simple reason that it is not.
Your claim that I’m trying to “absolve” homosexual attraction of sin seems a little silly when you are the one going to great lengths to argue that such attractions are “not evil.” I, on the other hand, have been crystal clear about the evil of the act sodomy, and the evil of the inclination towards it, throughout this entire discussion.
And no, I never denied the “spousal meaning of the body.”
I haven’t sought to “condemn” anyone, Aaron. You’ve opted to fixate on the “hand-holding” thing for some reason, but I’ve merely pointed out that your claims are not supported by Catholic teaching on chastity, marriage, human sexuality, and homosexuality.
And, really, there’s nothing “silly” about being precise about what the Church has to say about objectively disordered sexual attraction. You have accused me of believing that same-sex attraction is “evil,” and I don’t believe that. You’ve said the *Church* says such disorders are “evil” and it doesn’t. All day I’ve asked you to clarify your stance by stating which kind of “evil” it is, and you have chosen not to, which seems demonstrative of the emptiness of your claim.
And so I ask you to please retract your claim that when I speak of same-sex attractions as being “objectively disordered,” I really mean they are “evil.” I don’t, because that’s not what the Church teaches.
Thanks Jim. I understand you are not claiming that homosexual attractions are evil. I had originally thought that you were since you claimed they were disordered, and, as I pointed out, in mainstream Catholic philosophy everything that is disordered would be considered evil because evil is a privation of good and what is disordered suffers privation with respect to the good of correct order. You’ve failed to *explain* how something can be disordered and not at the same time be evil, however, I understand and accept that this is in fact what you are *asserting*, even though I think it makes no sense and you have provided neither an internal rational argument nor an external authority to bolster your assertion.
As for my failure to place the evil in question within one of the categories you mentioned (moral, metaphysical, or physical), it doesn’t demonstrate the “emptiness of my claim” but the inadequacy of the defunct categories you are employing which seem to have just been copied and pasted from the famous 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia. For example, modern theologians avoid talking about “metaphysical evil” for various philosophical reasons I won’t go into here but suffice it to say that unlike “moral evil” and “physical evil” it does not appear in the contemporary Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Now, *if*, as a sort of thought experiment, you want me to place the evil in question within one of the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia’s categories, then, provided it is pre- or non-volitional it would obviously go in to the category of “physical evil” since the editors of the Encyclopedia include within this category anything that directly thwarts the “natural desires” pertaining to human nature as such (among which Aquinas lists the inclination to reproduce the species) or that prevents “the full development” of human faculties (including, obviously, the sexual faculty). However, this is irrelevant since the particular categorical framework you are employing is, as I pointed out, defunct.
It’s doubly irrelevant because this whole question of the distinction between “evil” and “disorder” is mere philosophizing which is only related to the topic in hand very, very, very remotely.
I’d politely ask that you keep further comments on this thread *on topic*, i.e., something directly related to the questions raised by the article. Thank you very much.
Yeah I was going to say, Jim, “disorder” implies physical evil. May not be a culpable act of personal sin, but if it’s disordered it is the physical evil of lacking order. As you imply, disordered would seem to imply “cannot be celebrated in itself” or “should not be encouraged or cultivated.”
This was a great piece. I agree on the value of what Hannon was trying to accomplish in his article that appeared in FT a few weeks ago. I think we’d be in a much better place in all this if not for 150 years of enslavement to modernist pseudo-science.
In Reformed Protestant circles where I find myself, however, I’ve noticed that folks either love the Hannon thesis or hate it. The pietistic types (e.g., Matthew Anderson, Acts 29 folks, Southern Presbyterians, etc.) loathe it, and are quick to assume that heteronormativity is important, if not implicit within the Biblical text. In contrast, the non-pietistic types are pretty welcoming of it.
Over the course of the past month, I’ve engaged with a number of folks in the pietist camp, but still can’t understand why deconstructing heteronormativity seems so subversive to them. They don’t even seem to be able to explain their own fears, except to take refuge in unwarranted conclusory assertions.
I’ve wondered whether it may have something to do with the Culture Wars. The pietists are largely supportive of such efforts, especially when it comes to opposing civil same-sex marriage. By contrast, most of the non-pietists take a rather agnostic approach to the whole affair.
Anyway, I was curious as to what your thoughts may be. I’m someone new to this, having just come out of the closet last November as a celibate gay Christian.
Thanks, good question! I’m not sure I’m really the right person to answer it, because I’m not American, and I’ve never been a Presbyterian, so I’m not familiar with the difference you’re talking about between pietistic and non-pietistic Reformed folk. Can anyone else chime in?
My suspicion would be that you’re right in thinking it has a lot to do with the American culture wars. Back home (England), conservative Christianity is heteronormative of course but I think that’s only because most people can’t imagine things any other way. Back home I don’t see the same sort of visceral defense of a narrow heteronormativity coupled with the visceral dislike of homosexuality that I see here in America, which makes me think this is a cultural issue rather than a religious one (insofar as those can really be separated, I guess — American culture has historically been profoundly influenced by very different types of Christianity to English culture and so maybe it has something to do with the Puritan heritage, I’m not sure, just thinking out loud … ).
I’m actually a little wary about the Hannon thesis myself (though Michael is a friend of mine). Not because I want to defend heteronormativity at all. And I do agree with what he says about friendship. But I think Hannon’s project doesn’t respect how embedded we are within our cultural narratives about sexuality and has some unintended consequences. I wrote a little about it here, if you are interested: http://ethikapolitika.org/2013/10/18/whose-gayness-homosexuality/
Thanks. I had the same misgivings as you about his article. I do think he tends to be a bit too unappreciative of the way that negative cultural narratives can be an impediment. Still, I felt that he had a lot of useful things to say. And, in the US context, it’s the useful stuff that seems to be generating the uproar.
Oh I agree very much. When First Things are publishing a Foucauldian critique of heteronormativity, I don’t think we can deny things are moving in the right direction!
Jim, maybe I’m reading you wrong, but by continually insisting that something “disordered” is not “evil” I’m not sure what you’re getting at.
If you mean the Church doesn’t believe something involuntary is a culpable personal sin…yes, I think we all know this.
But I feel like you’re saying more than this, like you’re trying to introduce a new category of “disorder” to moral philosophy that isn’t in itself directly a question of morals but a question of normativity.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but the sense I’m getting from your “evil vs disordered” distinction is that you are almost invoking a sort of psychological or psychiatric notion of disordered. For example, I could imagine someone similarly claiming “Wearing a tinfoil hat isn’t evil, but it is disordered” or “Eating sand, as in pica, isn’t evil (assuming no self-injury), but it is disordered” or “Tapping on the door seven times obsessive-compulsively isn’t evil, but it is disordered.” Or “Autistic neural processing isn’t evil, but it is disordered.”
You seem to be rendering homoeroticism’s alleged “disorder” according to a similar paradigm?
And then “sneaking” this paradigm into the Catholic moral paradigm “through the back door” through some notion like “disorder of this sort may not be evil in itself, but it’s disordered, and entertaining or celebrating disorder IS wrong because the proper response is to minimize or alleviate disorder in the human psyche. It may not be the realm of sin and vice, but it is a value judgment, and it’s up to the Church to dictate all values.”
However, I’d argue that this is a rather sinister operation you’ve preformed. Catholic moral thought leaves psychiatry to the psychiatrists, just like it leaves the question of illness to physicians. The Church does not, in fact, claim for herself some sort of totalizing power over the value judgments of all arenas of life. Catholic moral thought addresses moral or spiritual disorder. Of course there can be overlap sometimes (I think of drug addiction), and of course a general moral principle of benevolence will lead us to try to minimize suffering and maximize “health” when possible…but the Church is not in the business of defining psychiatric disorder nor does she concern herself directly with trying to achieve “psychological order” as if she’s the arbiter of that or if she has her own standards of psychological normativity that she’s trying to achieve, just like the Church’s general support of Truth doesn’t mean she’s the arbiter of specific truth-judgments in the sphere of science or history.
No, Her goals are spiritual and regard the concepts of sin and virtue, and this is the only sort of “disorder” that could possibly be meant. So when you call homoeroticism disordered based on the catechism’s statement (which I think, Aaron is right, only applies in a very specific and limited sense to lust-for-sodomy)…you can only be meaning that it is a vice, a vicious habit. And isn’t vice evil? Any meaning of “disordered” beyond this is not within the Church’s sphere of concern.
That’s a good point, Plot.
While, as you say, Christians should not cause physical or mental illness deliberately, and even have an obligation to be compassionate on it and relieve suffering where possible (weighing all the pros and cons, including spiritually)…there is nothing like an absolute requirement to fight or even “frown at” such disorder in the word.
Indeed, many Saints were clearly quite neurotic individuals. Yet they were still Holy, and indeed their neuroses seem to have often been a PART of their holy character (the Eastern concept of the “fools for Christ” and “crazy saints” comes to mind). The Church is not in the business of seeking “psychological normativity” or psyches “clear of neuroticism,” though it certainly has compassion on those “afflicted” and supports efforts to relieve suffering to the degree that it might be spiritually beneficial (and sometimes it is, but sometimes it isn’t.)
But combine that with the fact that most psychiatric authorities will tell you that a homosexual disposition or constitution is just a normal variation, and that (apart from moral questions about particular act-expressions) there is nothing particularly limiting or dysfunctional or inherently unhealthy about same-sex loving relationships…it becomes even hard to maintain this “other category” of “disorder” aside from lust specifically. If anything, it is the stigma and social constraints and arbitrary cultural values which have caused dysfunction among homosexuals in the past, and seeing that lifted is a good thing.
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Perhaps it’s because I’ve never read Theology of the Body, Earthen Vessels or even The Four Loves, but I found most of the discussion here (most of which I read or skimmed) really, really confusing. I think that was in part because it felt as though no one properly defined or adequately described eros. My attempts to follow the discussion have left me with two challenges posing as more-than-two questions for you, Aaron.
Firstly, what do you think is the relationship between sex and eros? Is conjugal love just “a manifestation of eros”? Can agape and philia and eros not be distinguished from each other on the basis of their (proper?) relations to sex?
My second challenge is based on the definition/description of eros that you gave in your original post. There you said, “Christian love understands eros as desire for the other for the sake of the other, and not simply to complete what is lacking in oneself.”
What does it mean to desire another for his/her sake? What does that look like? You argue that it’s okay for a man to desire (and nurture and live out his desire for) his male friend for his own sake. Is it okay for a mother to actively desire her son for his own sake? Or a woman her husband’s brother (for her own sake)? What would those look like? And if sex can be as neatly divorced from eros as I understand you as arguing, where is the wrong — if there is one — in these things?
I was a bit confused as well. I came to view eros as sort of romantic affectation or romantic love in the contest of conversation. I could be wrong. If I am not wrong, the relationship between sex and eros can be divorced, easily enough, as one can exist without the other. For example, a rapist can rape without feeling romantic attraction to his victim. Two lovers can spend the weekend cuddling without any sexual stuff involved.
As for the last bit, I think that romantic aspect is what separates it out from the familial love you mention. If the only thing separating your love of your mother from your love of your wife is that you don’t have sex with your mother then you either have a dysfunctional relationship with your mother or a very cold relationship with your wife (I would never kiss my mother as I did a significant other – not wife since I am gay, but even with another guy the thought is revolting – totally different feel). Could be wrong again though.
Nathaniel, I agree, of course, that people can have sex without eros and have eros without sex. I’m not suggesting that either requires the other. I’m asking if there is some relation between sex and eros — perhaps some ideal or proper relation — that is useful or necessary in defining eros, and/or that is useful or necessary in distinguishing eros on one hand from agape and philia (and whatever other forms of love there are, the Greeks being useful but not particularly exhaustive or authoritative on this issue) on the other hand.
Regarding the second bit, I suppose my second set of questions there aren’t far from, If non-sexual romance between two men can be fine, can non-sexual romance between a mother and her son, or between a man and his wife’s sister also be fine?
My question is very close to Perceivence’s second. I could see two potential meanings for “loving the other simply for the sake of the other.” The first: loving the other in order to confer benefits upon the other (i.e., an altruistic love). The second: loving the other due to the virtues inherent in the other (i.e., a love triggered by the inherent lovability of the object).
I suspect that the second is closer to Aaron’s usage. But if I’ve got that right, then how is this different from loving out of a desire to fill in a lack? Anytime I’m impelled by beauty to seek out a person (or a work of art, or whatever), isn’t it because I don’t have that particular kind of beauty in myself? To me, this still seems like a kind of hunger.
I read the quoted text as implying both. Also, I wouldn’t call the second by itself love, personally. It is purely possessive. I certainly didn’t get that perspective while reading this (eg that he was implying that one). What caused you to think he was leaning more towards meaning “loving the other due to the virtues inherent in the other (i.e., a love triggered by the inherent lovability of the object)” rather than the former, out of curiosity?
In my view, I see sex as a separate thing from love, entirely, though associated with the more eros side of it (but not always). As such I would say it is not a very good indicator of differentiating the types of love. Never cared for the Greek definitions so I will give my three to illustrate (I have four in all, but the fourth is unnecessary for the conversation – never read CS Lewis but likely similar with less flowery language).
They are companion love, familial love, and romantic love. I love my friends in such a way that I would do anything for them, I enjoy their company, and will trust them in many important matters to some degree. This would be companion love. Similar to this but stronger is familial love, separated from companion love by mutual familiarity and time I have spent with my family. My mother, for example, raised me from the time I was an infant, which strengthens those bonds with her above and beyond those of my friends (though they are, functionally, similar). Then there is romantic love. This is divorced from the others in motivation, as the drive in this love is to become one with the other I love. Functionally, this will be a bridge of familial love, companion love, and my fourth type in many regards but the drive is to fulfill that need to push myself within the heart and soul of another while swallowing them up into me, in turn.
I think that is a natural sort of drive for human beings and I don’t think I am the only one that sees this drive. Catholicism, for example, teaches something akin to this for husband and wife, except it is married to the concept of reproduction. Where I differ is I think, beyond the profanity of flesh, there is a spiritual drive to become one with another that supersedes mere meat making (eg joining in spirit as one being). I have fallen in love with a man in this sense as well and, while we never really got together, I married myself to him to some small degree in spirit. I pray for him, my mind wanders to him in worry, and so on.
As an aside, I can see why this sort of love is so often married to sex in these conversations. Sex can be a physical manifestation of what the spirit longs to do and I can see the parallels.
As for your last point, to be blunt, non-sexual romantic love between family members can’t exist, as I define love. It can’t exist in the same sense that love between a man and a body pillow with a female cartoon character printed upon it can’t exist. Such a love is predicated on the subversion of a familial bond for sex (or in the case of your hypothetical, for merely filling emotional needs) or, alternately, the result of damage to the familial bond and the psychology of both involved (eg when a daughter and a father, separated at birth, feel infatuation for each other due to the damaging of that bond from absence; there is a psychological name for this but the name for it eludes me and I am not sure how to Google it).
I can experience selfless love with another man as easily as a heteroromantic male might experience it with a woman but I don’t see a scenario where such a thing is possible with family members, animals, children, objects, or the various other possible unions involved. Even when you schism away the sex, the spiritual side of the equation in all the other cases are skewed towards selfishness, depravity, or co-morbidity with some other mental/emotional/environmental condition. Quite a lot of text but hope that was a good answer since (I assume) that second reply was directed at me.
Nathaniel, I think you’re going where I’m going with this, where I think most people would go with it, where I think you don’t really want to go with it, and where I think Aaron is trying hard to not go with it. You say of romantic love, “This is divorced from the others in motivation, as the drive in this love is to become one with the other I love“, “I think, beyond the profanity of flesh, there is a spiritual drive to become one with another that supersedes mere meat making (eg joining in spirit as one being)” and “As an aside, I can see why this sort of love is so often married to sex in these conversations. Sex can be a physical manifestation of what the spirit longs to do and I can see the parallels.”
Behind my challenges-as-questions to Aaron is the idea, not that “erotic love is, by definition, ordered towards genital expression” (where I take “A is ordered towards B” to mean that “A exists for B”, “the chief point of A is B”, or “B is A’s final cause”) nor that eros is reducible to conjugal love. It is the idea that sex consummates eros — that sex is properly one of the things that makes complete romance between two people. (I suppose you could say this means that eros is ordered towards sex in a weaker sense of “ordered towards” since its flourishing into maturity properly lead towards sex.)
This fits, I think, with your idea that romantic love is about becoming one with another person. We Christians tend to believe that’s a really important part of what sex is (about). (“Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”” – 1 Corinthians 6: 16 [ESV].) Like everyone else here I’m still thinking about this all, but it seems to me that what I know of orthodox Christian teaching on God’s affirmation of the material world, sexual ethics, and the theology of marriage all fit together to affirm the importance of sex in union with another — the kind of union which, I think, is a chief aim of eros. And the sex’s importance in union with another is also, of course, one of the things on which Biblical ethics and orthodox Christian theology agree with much of contemporary (Western) human experience and reason.
Given that relation between sex and eros — that is, given something like the idea that sex properly makes eros complete — I think there may be a fairly strong argument against your and Aaron’s position. And that’s this.
Now let’s say we’re unsure as to the status of romantic homosexual relationships, but we accept the orthodox Christian teaching on the wrongness of homosexual (or I suppose homogenital, to be more precise) acts in any context. It seems to me that if we also believe that homosexual sex consummates homosexual romance, then we must also believe that homosexual romance is wrong. Because it seems to me — and I claim no water-tight logical principle here, but rather the strength of intuition, a vague appeal to what it means for an act to consummate a relationship or state of affairs, and my inability to come up with any counter-examples over the last few days — that if 1) an act Ex consummates a relation or state Wai, and 2) that act Ex is believed to be wrong, then 3) Wai must also be believed wrong as well.
I suspect you’ll deny my alleged relation between homosexual sex and homosexual romance. And maybe you’re right. But I don’t think anything in your comments or Aaron’s original post — not his treatment of God and eros, not his comparison of Socratic and Christian eros, and not his appeal to a particular sense of eros mentioned by John Paul II — succeeds in divorcing sex from eros…at least insofar as eros isn’t defined in such a way that it becomes barely recognisable in romance.
That’s exactly what I would deny: that “homosexual sex consummates homosexual romance.”
Sodomy undermines and vitiates friendship (regardless of whether the friendship is “romantic” or not) of any sort between people of the same-sex.
Is that because you deny that sex consummates eros?
The question doesn’t really compute with me, so I guess I’d have to deny it. And it doesn’t compute for two reasons, viz.
1) I’m not sure whether you’re asking whether I’m denying that sex *can* consummate eros (which I might affirm) or whether I’m denying that *only* sex consummates eros (which I wouldn’t affirm).
2) The language of “consummation” seems to subordinate love to some end or telos beyond love itself, which doesn’t immediately make sense to me.
I’m thinking of it as sex being required to consummate eros, that no eros — at least between two humans — is complete without sex. That’s by virtue of eros being in chief part directed towards a kind of unity with and possession of another that, for humans, can only be completed with sex. The language of consummation is most used for marriage and romance and sex, but I think in the sense I’m using it it can also be applied to other actions in love (and other things) that are required to make it complete, such as meeting and sharing minds (conversations etc) and sharing experiences.
The language of consummation doesn’t (necessarily) subordinate love. The way I’m using it is to identify practices (and perhaps also attitudes, dispositions and beliefs, but I’m focussing on practices) that are required for love to be fully and truly love. It’s merely a partial description of what this love is — the nature of love and what love ideally or properly is within its own logic, though tragically or, perhaps in this case, fortunately not what it always is. That is, at least, what I’m aiming at.
I’m not sure of any of this, but it seems to me to be a better account of what people mean and understand by eros or romance than the one you’ve given. It’s hard for me to say that, though, because I still feel as though you spent a lot of time defending your conclusion that same-sex romance is sometimes good without adequately describing what you mean by same-sex romance. I’m still curious, for example, to hear what you think the general (or normative?) relation between sex and eros is, and how that relation compares to sex’s relation to agape, philia, storge, etc.
I’m not even sure I’d agree that sex consummates eros at all. I would definitely disagree that sex is required to consummate eros.
The idea of marital “consummation” in the Church’s doctrine simply means that first sex is the moment at which the marital contract becomes indissoluble. It certainly does not mean that sex per se is or ought to be some kind of cosmic experience of unity.
[I am going to Reply to my own comment since I can no longer reply to yours. Hopefully this will show up as a response to you since the reply button vanishes on WordPress when a conversation continues for too long. My responses will be paragraph for paragraph, starting with your second paragraph, for sake of determining how to tell what I am responding to. Also, for the sake of understanding my position, know that I subscribe to a degree of the Dualist heresy – I schism flesh from spirit and apply little worth to flesh. If I speak firmly against the flesh, this would be why]
I can see the view of sex consummating marriage, but not so much eros itself. If love is the pushing of two spirits to become one then sex is our means of showing it while trapped in these vessels of ichor and ash. That said, I am not sure I would agree that sex is the requirement to complete eros/romantic love. Put simply, I don’t see the connection to where sex goes from being a way the spirit expresses its wishes in the flesh to sex being a requirement for said love to actually exist at all, if that makes sense.
Corinthians 6:16 is one of those bits of wisdom that holds much meaning in this day and age despite being from a much older time. Friends with benefits, while a popular modern fiction, always ends poorly because one develops feelings for the other. I grant you that; the flesh misused can inadvertently bind the spirit and those of the past clearly saw this happening. But is it a requirement or an ultimate end? I think that is a leap. When I speak of becoming one, I mean becoming one in spirit only. Body is another matter. A lesser matter, in my eyes. God affirms the material world by calling it “Good”. Based on my own research, this translates out to mean “functional”, in Hebrew. This would fit with the sexual ethics too (interestingly, the word “abomination” means “not functional” from what I read). Even the theology of marriage, according to the Jews then and the Church now is a pact made to bring people into the world and raise them to adulthood, is it not? These are functional and my relationships would be non-functional in that sense (or sterile). I admit this.
Simply put, I think you have married the concept of romantic love or eros to the contract of marriage. While sex completes a marriage, it does not need to be present for romantic love to exist or to be fulfilled in itself because love is the want for what is best in another and sex may not always be what is best for the one you love. When I fell in love with another man, I wasn’t interested in consuming his best features and taking them for myself, I was interested in helping him become the best he could be and giving myself to him in turn, trusting him to support me in the same fashion to be the best I could be. I wanted to wrap myself around him and feel him against me. To protect him, care for him, and be near and within him at once. This doesn’t necessitate erotic expression (though can lead to it, most certainly). Even if we went from the orthodox Christian perspective, I feel you have made a leap in connecting romantic love to marriage, inexorably, to such an extent that they are the same. Would you shackle the spirit to the heart so readily?
[Out of curiosity, what would you say my motives are for arguing for this division in the understanding of eros if you were to wager a guess at them? What do I gain if I am right? What do I lose if you are right? I ask this because you argue with a passion for the material and am curious what you suspect my motivation to disagree with you on it is.]
Nathaniel, yeah, I don’t know why WordPress doesn’t allow for deeper nesting of comments (or why it makes it so hard to put things like <b>bold</b> and <i>italcs</i> into comments, or why it doesn’t allow people to edit their comments). Replying to your own comment worked as you intended it to, though; I got a notification and everything.
I suspect that your confessed Dualist (would Docetist be more precise?) heresy is enough to explain why you don’t find my argument persuasive. It seems to me that most of your reply follows in that vein, at least. I suspect my argument would be more persuasive to someone who puts at least as much importance in the material world as Christians usually take the Incarnation as having affirmed. Though, truthfully, I may well not be surprised if such a person rejected my argument — I mean, I don’t think it’s a knock-down argument — but I’d be interested in hearing why s/he thinks that.
From your description of your love for that man, my guess is that it would’ve led to (if it wasn’t already) the kind of love that seeks completion in sex because, as I’ve argued, that kind of love is about a sort of unity with and possession of another of which sex (ideally) is one of its consummating forms and expressions.
I’d make two guesses at your motives. One is that your experience has been different from mine and different from what I think is generally the case for human persons. The other is that you see much good in homosexual eros/romance — good that’s particular to it and not just the good that it shares with other forms of love, friendship, companionship etc. — and so you think it should be permissible (or laudable) even if homosexual sex is wrong.
(Thanks for the compliment re my argumentation, btw! I’ve enjoyed our exchange here.)
I suppose you are right and I don’t think that your argument is without merit. It seems to me that many see sex as a much more powerful and, perhaps, inherently positive thing than I do. This is most likely a situation where my own experience is aberrant even among my brethren on the LGBT side of things. It is nice to get some perspective on the motivations of others and a picture into how they work so I do thank you for that. I will have to do more research and discover more before I attempt to make any argument on behalf of my perspective again since I wouldn’t want to be arguing something that would only work for me yet be harmful to others based off the false premise that others experience the world as I do.
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Wow, this has produced a lot of comment. I haven’t read it all but will. I would just suggest there is a syllogism that is perhaps a necessity at the core of the argument that is not true.
“Because God is Love, and eros is love, eros must find its source and origin in God”
The difficulty is that the verse in 1 John that says God is love uses the Greek Agape. In the Greek is doesn’t say God is Eros. It says God is Agape. The entire premise of the article lies on a false premise. The kind of eros experienced by Gay men toward each other I can testify by talking to hundreds of them and by having lived it is nothing like Agape. It is profoundly selfish and self serving and comes entirely from the body and from projections and transferences of perceived lack in myself, from internalized shame, not from God. This is the core problem with the eros of homosexuality and why it is disordered at its core, because it proceeds from shame.
Thanks for your comment. I didn’t quote 1 John so I’m not sure why you bring it up … The only biblical book I referenced was Song of Songs, which is quite clearly about eros, and which Tradition (at least Catholic Tradition) was generally read as being ultimately about the love between *God* and the soul, or God and His people. You’re right, of course, that the New Testament also depicts God’s love as agapic, but if one wishes to paint OT and NT images of God as mutually excluding one another it would seem one has not merely put yourself at the top of a slippery slope that leads to the heresy of Marcionism, but is hurtling down the slope at breakneck pace.
And yes, there are a lot of gay people that feel an immense amount of shame. It’s little wonder when they have people telling them they are “profoundly selfish and self serving.”
Perhaps this was your experience of love. I won’t deny you that. I have met a number of men who use sex as a means of hurting themselves and hurting others. As a way to keep people away or as a sort of drug to escape their feelings of vulnerability. I can’t deny that either. That said, your experiences and their experiences aren’t mine or the experiences of those like me.
I found out I was gay by way of falling on love with another man I met online who was my writing buddy, of sorts. We edited and wrote stories together. He was a good guy but hid his good beneath a shield of false vanity. His falling for me scared him and I never heard from him again when he realized it. I miss him but have come to understand why he had to leave too. We never had sex or even made a relationship out of it. I still worry about him. Still pray for him.
The reason I shared this was to reveal that your experience and mine are not the same. Shame and selfishness are not inherent to homosexuality itself. Part of my journey to learn about my romantic orientation is to learn what drove him away and what afflicts my brethren. To understand myself and learn to better protect them. I feel for you but don’t fall into the trap of believing your homosexuality to be the seed from which your own feelings of neediness and inadequacy sprout. That isn’t my experience.
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You guys go on and on and on trying to establish what is sin and what is not, but sin is of the heart and only the person experiencing it knows if holding hands is sin or is not sin. We know what is sin within us. Yes, some people have and overly acute concious and tend to assign sin where there is none but most of us just know when we are sining… The only thing I get from reading you all is a sense of confusion. Nothing else.
I tried discussing the ideas in this post with some friends, one of whom is very philosophically inclined, and was called gay. Needless to say I denied such thing and quickly changed the subject. These are dangerous questions!
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