Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Further Pontifications from the Pope about Gays as Threat to World Ecology

I had a teacher in college, a brilliant, multi-lingual Jesuit, who once told my class about a stunning poem he had written. He had awakened in the night with the poem complete in his head, Athena springing full-clad from Zeus’s brow. He wrote the poem down and went back to sleep satisfied that he’d captured a dazzling insight that would surely change the course of history.

Then he got up in the morning. He read what he’d written in the night and found it was total gibberish—a mix of six or seven different languages that didn’t make a whit of sense in any or all of them. The lesson our teacher told us he drew from this experience: be careful about those stunning inspirations that promise to cap every argument, explain everything for everybody, or provide the singular key that unlocks all mystery.

And I’m thinking of this story today as I read that yet again, Pope Benedict has linked same-sex marriage to destruction (and here) of the environment. He did so this morning in an address he gave about the global ecological crisis to world diplomats.

It appears that those of us born gay, who want to want to live in stable, legally recognized public relationships, pose a very serious threat to the world and its ecological structures: we “strike at biological difference”—and the world falls apart, without that difference.

In his address to diplomats, the pope notes,

Creatures differ from one another and can be protected, or endangered, in different ways, as we know from daily experience. One such attack comes from laws or proposals which, in the name of fighting discrimination, strike at the biological basis of the difference between the sexes.

Everything hinges on biology, you see. Though reasonable people have long since given up the argument that women are made biologically weaker than men, and that everything hinges on recognizing this biological fact and on the subordination of the weaker sex to the stronger, when it comes to same-sex marriage, everything still hinges on biology.

The world will fall apart—literally, ecologically—if men marry men or women tie the knot with women.

We’ve long since rejected the spurious biologistic argument that people of color are less advanced on the evolutionary scale than white people are, and so they need the helping hand (aka colonial captivity and enslavement) of the white races to “advance.” But when it comes to sexual morality, the Catholic church is intent on holding a line that its leaders alone see clearly, even when vast numbers of the faithful have long since crossed that line: every sexual act is gravely disordered and intrinsically evil if it is not open to the possibility of procreation.

I thought, maybe, that when Benedict first offered the world this stunning pearl of wisdom—gays are a singular hazard to the environment—at Christmas time 2008, he’d learn something useful from the negative response his wisdom elicited. I thought, sadly, that he might choose his words with more care in the future, be less quick to make a correlation that appears to reasonable observers downright silly, and to many of us, downright noxious.

But I thought wrong. A year later, and we hear the same nonsense all over again. I have to suspect that (with his advisers) His Holiness believes he’s latched onto a brilliant argument here, one that stops all other arguments about homosexuality.

Who can argue with biological imperatives, after all? And who can argue with biological imperatives on which the whole of creation rests? That’s the “logic” this argument wishes to push, and if a whole segment of humanity happens to get in the way as it’s pushed, then too bad: biology must rule, after all.

I suspect those advising Benedict to push this argument are bishops listening to folks like Robert P. George, the grave guru of American Catholic neocons, who believes he has the gays-and-reason argument all wrapped up, with his insistence that the sustenance of the cosmos hinges on recognizing that men are men and women are women. Just as those trying to stop the movement of women’s rights once argued that the world revolves around women’s subordination to men, or as those seeking to halt the progress of civil rights maintained that everything depends on the domination of people of color by white people.

As Geoff Farrow notes in an incisive posting about George today, George’s “reason” selectively focuses on hot-button issues like same-sex marriage, while ignoring the much more pressing moral issues of exploitation of the poor by the rich or the lack of health coverage for million of citizens of the U.S. It is, in fact, a quasi-rational cover for neoconservative economic and political tenets that are exceptionally difficult to rationalize in the Catholic worldview. The obsessive focus on gay lives and gay relationships diverts attention from the strongly critical focus that Catholic social teaching brings to bear on unfettered free-market capitalism which ignores the effects of laissez-faire capitalism on the poor.

What Benedict wishes to keep saying about gay lives and gay relationships puts him in very strange company, indeed—if he’s really as concerned about the environment as he claims to be. If he’s really interested in addressing the ecological challenge, he’d surely be well-advised to turn his obsessive focus away from gay people as a threat, and to those economic forces and interest groups that Robert P. George and his rhetoric about “reason” and “nature” are designed to protect.

Those are the real threats to the world’s ecological balance. Not gay men and lesbian women in loving, generative relationships. This pope’s strange, seemingly personal and fanatical, focus on “objectively disordered” gay people and gay relationships as threats to the environment is as nonsensical as the multilingual gibberish my wise Jesuit professor wrote down one dream-haunted night when he convinced himself he had captured an insight that would alter the course of human history and save humanity from itself.