Friday, November 4, 2011

The Gays + the Devil: More Resources about Boston Catholic Controversy (with Theological Reflections)

After I posted yesterday about the kerfuffle over Daniel Avila's recent gays + devil column in the Boston Catholic archdiocesan paper The Pilot, I found a lot of additional commentary on this story online, which I'd now like to recommend to readers.*  My first inkling of this story was from Dennis Coday's "Morning Briefing" column at National Catholic Reporter yesterday. This had disappeared from the NCR homepage by the time I posted my piece, and I couldn't locate it as I posted, so I didn't provide the link I've just given you crediting his column with bringing this story to my attention.

I now find from my reading yesterday that John Becker of Truth Wins Out had actually commented on the Avila story on 1 Nov.  Becker then followed up the following day with a story noting the retraction of Avila's column, and noting the role Truth Wins Out played in "outing" the bigotry of Avila's published statements linking gay persons to the devil.

Other valuable discussions of the Avila story I ran across yesterday are at Phil Ewing's Blue Eyed Ennis blog, Thom Curnutte's Faith in the 21st Century site, Terry Weldon's Queering the Church blog, Austin Fleming's A Concord Pastor Comments, and Greg Kandra's Deacon's Bench site (thanks to a link in Phil's posting).

I should also mention that Michael Bayly's Wild Reed blog has good commentary on the Erica Keppler article to which my previous posting about the Avila story links.  And there's a very valuable thread at the Commonweal  blog site now mulling over a posting of Grant Gallicho yesterday about the Avila story.

A few additional reflections I have to offer about this story today: to begin with, I find Daniel Avila listed at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) website as a staff member for the new Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.  And that interests me for a number of reasons.

First, it underscores the point I made in my posting yesterday: the toxic nonsense he published recently linking gay persons--in their very nature and creation!--to the devil is toxic nonsense being published (retracted, yes: but initially published) by an advisor to the USCCB.  Daniel Avila is a USCCB insider.  He holds a position of some official importance with the USCCB, on a new committee that was explicitly designed by the U.S. bishops to put pressure on governing bodies to promote "the" Catholic position on matters sexual and on marriage, as marriage equality is increasingly discussed in the U.S.

Second, the chair of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage is Oakland bishop Salvatore Cordileone.  And that's interesting, as well, for the light it casts on Avila's views about the gays + the devil.

As I noted back in April, not only is Cordileone on record boasting about the prominent role he played in removing the right of civil marriage from the gay citizens of California, but he, too, has made statements linking the gays to the devil.  If Chris Thompson is accurately reporting Cordileone's views in the article to which I've just linked (and I've never seen a statement from Cordileone challenging Thompson's reporting here), Cordileone thinks that gay marriage is "nothing less than an assault by the forces of postmodernism and the devil upon God's most critical moral foundation."

And so what might seem to be an extreme, marginal, theologically dangerous position represented by Avila as an advisor to the committee Cordileone heads is evidently not far from the thinking of the committee head himself--and, one must wonder, not far from the thinking of Cordileone's brother bishops who have given him this power seat and who keep him in that seat?  Gays + devil: a theological branding brought to you by the USCCB, which the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church in the U.S. now wish to implant in the American psyche.

I should also note that, if anyone is in doubt about the anti-gay prejudice and discrimination the USCCB is actively seeking to promote and enshrine in American laws, another member of the committee headed by Cordileone is Timothy Broglio, the top Catholic U.S. military chaplain, who fought hard to keep discrimination (and here) against gays in place in the military during the DADT debate, and who has compared gays to alcoholics.  And yet another member of this committee is William Lori, who heads the new "religious freedom" initiative of the USCCB, and whose positions and activities I've discussed in numerous postings on this blog.  Click on his name in the labels below if you want further information about him.

The second point I want to note today about the toxic nonsense Daniel Avila published in The Pilot: the attempt to argue that the devil somehow interferes in the process of creation to produce aberrant human offspring (aberrant because they are homosexual and not heterosexual) harks back to some of the most pernicious and often condemned heresies of early Christianity, which placed God and Satan on an equal footing, and saw human beings as playthings caught helpless between two equal and countervailing forces of good and evil in the world.  The early church rejected this dualistic notion because it denied that the redemption Christ wrought by his death and resurrection definitively overpowered the evil principalities of the world.

The notion that human beings are relatively powerless playthings with which God and Satan alternatively toy--both wielding equal power over the human will and mind--also decimates the notion of human free will.  It implies that innocent human beings can be minding their own business, carrying on their everyday affairs, and, with no invitation at all to the demonic to enter into and overtake their lives, they can suddenly find themselves controlled by the devil.

What else can one conclude, I wonder, than the following after reading Avila: he is arguing that creation goes awry in the making of a gay human being, and it goes awry due to demonic influence.  The implication of this toxic, indeed heretical, understanding of natural law is that parents can in all innocence produce a child that, in the normal course of development, will turn out heterosexual, but whose nature is suddenly twisted in the womb by demonic forces, such that it turns out abnormal--without any involvement of the will of either the parents or the child itself.  This is akin to the Aristotelian notion (later echoed by Aquinas) that women are misbegotten males that result from some abnormality in the process of fetal development, since that process should "normally" produce male offspring.

Obviously, the theological issue with which Avila and other Catholics intent on keeping homophobia alive are struggling is this: there's growing recognition that gay human beings are made gay by God, and this recognition is not likely to wane in our culture.  To the contrary.

And because Catholic sexual ethics is heavily grounded in the theory of natural law, the more apparent it becomes that gay folks do not choose their sexual orientation but receive this orientation as a given from the Creator, the more pronounced and vexatious the problem of homosexuality becomes for Catholic moral theology.  Precisely because its notions about sexuality are grounded in natural law theory and in claims about respect for scientific evidence, since the God who makes truth accessible to us by divine revelation is the same God who reveals truth in the natural world, which is accessible to us by scientific research and through reason.

Avila's strange theology appears to make a perfunctory nod in the direction of scientific findings and natural law by speaking of gay persons as created, but then it makes a totally unexpected turn away from science to theological claptrap with its claim that "evidence" "indicts the devil" for the creation of a gay human being! This is a theologically preposterous attempt to maintain natural law theology, with its respect for science and reason, while introducing a diabolus ex machina to explain results of nature and creation of which we do not approve and which we do not intend to accept.  Because we imagine that our faith commands us to reject these particular results of nature and of the process of divine creation . . . .

This use of the diabolus ex machina to explain homosexuality is not something novel or uniquely Catholic in contemporary American culture.  It's a growing meme of the religious right.  And it goes hand in hand with the religious and political right's refusal to accept all sorts of scientific findings these movements find inconvenient for ideological reasons--whether about the strong evidence for human-induced global climate change, for evolution, or for the cultural determination and fluidity of gender roles.

Among the many reasons that American culture is in serious crisis today is that the religious and political right have deliberately, callously dumbed down the American people, in the area of scientific research and scientific knowledge.  Catholics have historically resisted the kinds of know-nothing movements that have long been endemic to American culture, which have been defiantly proud of American ignorance.

And so it's grievous to find not only mainstream Catholics but highly placed ones like Avila now colluding with  movements that feed on and exploit outright ignorance--with movements whose historical roots comprise many previous attempts to feed ignorance about Catholics themselves, and to fuel ignorance-based attacks on Catholics.  But this is one of the prices the U.S. Catholic bishops appear perfectly willing to pay now for their political partnership with the religious right.

And in my view, things are only going to get worse, until the majority of American Catholics who are embarrassed by these developments and who recognize and lament the terrible damage being done to their gay brothers and sisters say that enough is enough, and do something concrete to stop the toxic nonsense. Toxic nonsense that has real-life effects for gay human beings, which are seriously harmful and have no business at all being promoted by a religion that claims to be all about love . . . .

The graphic is from David Badash's article at the New Civil Rights Movement website yesterday, profiling Avila.  It shows Avila speaking recently at the Values Voters Summit sponsored by the Family Research Council, a group the Southern Poverty Law Center last year classified as a hate group due to its anti-gay rhetoric.

*And just as I post this piece and turn to various websites, I'm seeing more material coming online about this story--articles I haven't yet read.  If readers want to post links in the comments section to statements you've found, please feel free to do so.  I'll keep reading and will try to compile a list of new sources, as they become available.  This is a story eliciting a lot of attention, and that gives me hope: maybe lay Catholics are finally getting their fill of this kind of ugly, dangerous stuff coming out of the mouth of church leaders, and intend to do something about it.  I hope.

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