Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Heteronormativity and the Challenge of Creating Welcoming Communities: The Problem of Cognitive Dissonance Confronting the Catholic Church Today

Here's the message that the Catholic church gives its gay and lesbian members, including gay and lesbian youth, according to Michael O'Loughlin in the America posting I cited yesterday:
“Something is wrong with you.”
Showing affection to the person you love is a grave sin, perhaps evil.”
“You are unworthy of a lifetime commitment with the person you love.”
“You are unworthy of employment with your church.”
You are unworthy to be a parent.”
“You are unworthy of receiving the Eucharist.”
“You are unworthy of heaven.”
“You are unworthy to be a priest.”
“You are a threat to human existence.”
I encourage readers to go to Michael O'Loughlin's posting and read his reasons for claiming that this is the message the church gives to many young gay and lesbian Catholics today.  He documents his claim in each case very succinctly.

And I try to imagine any Christian community that gives a message like this to a segment of its members, including vulnerable young people who belong to that group, trying simultaneously to claim that it is a loving and welcoming community.  That it defends the human dignity and human rights of all.

That it looks to Jesus as its founder.

But this is precisely what many Catholics continue to try to do, as they use the invidious love-the-sinner, hate-the-sin rubric to justify the preceding list of attacks on the human dignity of those who are gay and lesbian as loving approaches to their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

Or, in the conversations in which I've been involved  on Catholic blogs in recent days, apologists for the current state of affairs in the church when it comes to gay people and gay lives try a number of other dishonest tactics.  They try to argue that the magisterial teaching doesn't say what it does actually say. that its definition of gay and lesbian human beings as disordered in their very personhood and nature applies to every member of the church. Or they try to argue, astonishingly, that quoting magisterial teaching to them, when they want to disguise maleficent teaching as something benevolent, is anti-Catholic!

I've blogged about these tactics repeatedly (e.g., here and here), and shown that they distorts the data in front of us, when it comes to  the assessing what the Catholic church actually teaches about homosexuality: the Catholic church has never concluded that every heterosexual person is intrinsically disordered because heterosexuals are capable of disordered sexual acts like masturbation or use of contraceptives.  But it does come to that conclusion about every gay and lesbian person.

It doesn't advance the conversation to deny this.

Particularly when those denying the plain sense of magisterial teaching also want to deny that the teaching of the magisterium has ever changed in the past and can change in the present--as many of those seeking to shield magisterial teaching about homosexuality from critical inspection are attempting to do, while they argue that the teaching really doesn't say and do what it says and does.

The Catholic church has a huge problem on its hands.  It is a problem of demonstrating how anything it says about love and welcome can have any credibility at all, in any area of Catholic life and thought, given what it continues to do to its gay and lesbian  members.  Including its young gay and lesbian members.

It also has the problem of dealing not only with the effects of a magisterial teaching that demeans a whole segment of human beings and attacks their human dignity.  It has, as well, the bigger problem of trying to deal with the other effect of the teaching that gays and lesbians are intrinsically disordered.

This effect is the  unmerited power and privilege that this teaching gives to heterosexuals, merely because they are heterosexual.  When men like Carl Paladino, Newt Gingrich, or David Vitter appeal to Catholic teaching to imply that their lives are, ipso facto, more morally exemplary than the lives of any human being born gay or lesbian, merely because they have been born heterosexual, something is radically awry.  When men such as these occupy the center of Catholic moral discourse and implicitly present themselves as the norm to which everyone ought to aspire, while all gay and lesbian persons are by birth and nature unqualified to stand in that center and represent their lives as normative, something is awry.

The teaching of the Catholic church about those who are gay and lesbian gives unmerited  right to anyone who happens to be born heterosexual, to claim that his life represents a norm to which everyone else should aspire, while all those born gay and lesbian are incapable of meeting that norm.  Simply because of who they are, because of who God has made them to be.

The discrepancy between the lives we can see some members of the church who appeal to its teaching to justify their heteronormativity leading, and everything else we know to be the case about moral ideals and the moral life, is glaring.  And it's increasingly problematic.

It's creating increasing cognitive dissonance for many Catholics and many people of good will outside the church.  The cognitive dissonance grows as more and more Catholics and members of the population at large know real flesh-and-blood human beings who happen to be gay and lesbian, and find it exceedingly difficult to fit those flesh-and-blood human beings into the ugly stereotypical categories designed for them by the Catholic teaching about disorder.

The cognitive dissonance grows as more and more people know someone who is gay and lesbian, and as they then compare the real lives of those real gay and lesbian people with the real lives of people like Mr. Paladino, Mr. Gingrich, or Mr. Vitter--who rightly claim that the church views their lives as more normative, when it comes to morality, than the lives of every gay and lesbian person in the world.  Simply because they happen to be heterosexual.

Something has to give, when a religious system enshrines such rottenness in its very core, in its most fundamental teachings about who exemplifies or does not exemplify the moral standards to which we all should aspire.    It has to give, that is, if the religious system expects to have any kind of promising future, or to be credible as a moral teacher.
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