Thursday, November 3, 2011

Boston Catholic Newspaper Links Gays and the Devil (Then Retracts)

Okay.  So when the oldest Catholic newspaper in the United States decides to retract a column it's published stating that gays are the spawn of the devil, that's good news, right?  But isn't the bad news that one of the world's major Christian religious groups has now reached a point at which it's producing powerful official spokesmen who are willing, without turning a hair, to talk about the idea that gays are in cahoots with the devil, as if this is a mainstream idea?

The column did get published, after all, in the Catholic archdiocese of Boston's official newspaper The Pilot.  And it was written by Daniel Avila, an associate director for policy and research for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Let me repeat that: an associate director for policy and research for the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference believes, and is willing to write about and publish an article stating, "[T]he scientific evidence of how same-sex attraction most likely may be created provides a credible basis for a spiritual explanation that indicts the devil."

To unravel Avila's theologically surprising and exceptionally murky argument: since we Catholics use natural law as our frame for understanding human sexuality, and the theory of natural law claims to be rooted in at least quasi-scientific observation of how nature works, nature shows us that there are people with more or less fixed same-sex attraction that appears to be either innate or fixed very early in their course of human development so that they could not have chosen this attraction.  

But since we Catholics have arbitrarily determined that when nature works in some way we don't want to recognize as morally licit, we'll need a theological tool to get around the testimony of nature, when that testimony is inconvenient for us.  And so we  decide to import some bizarre theological explanation for what happens when nature goes awry.  Enter the devil.  

With the gays.  The gays and the devil.

That's the kind of equation we Catholics intend to make as the 21st century dawns, and as one gay teenager after another is killing herself or himself in despair, and as one gay man after another is being beaten within an inch of his life and/or set on fire in places around the world.  The gays and the devil.

And when there's a furor about our casual linkage of those two terms--a casual linkage made in a published article in the nation's oldest Catholic newspaper, an article written by an associate director for policy and research for the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference--the best we can say is that we've made a little "theological error" in what we've just blurted out?!

We can't and won't say that we are deeply sorry that we've just exposed yet more mothers' and fathers' gay children to serious danger, and yet more gay adults.  Because talking about a whole class of human beings as in league with the devil is and always has been throughout Christian history a precursor to setting in motion ugly violence against that group of human beings.  Christians have beaten, hanged,  tortured, dunked and drowned, and burned at the stake fellow human beings whom they've chosen, at given points in Christian history, to regard as friends of the devil.

Fellow human beings whom Christians have dehumanized by equating those fellow human beings' God-given human nature with the diabolical, giving a strong signal to the world at large (since those using this toxic rhetoric, after all, represent the moral voice of a religious tradition) that violence towards this dehumanized group of people is not merely legitimate but even morally warranted.

This is sick, folks.  And it's being brought to you--this needs to be said again--by the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference.  Who have, as Erica Keppler points out in her recent article "The Desperate Catholic Clerical War on Gays," zealously committed time and resources to an all-out war on their gay brothers and sisters that goes way beyond the usual attempts of the USCCB to influence public policy, public opinion, and  laws in most other areas.*

And who have said not a single word about the alarming rate of suicides of gay or gender-questioning teens, even when that rate spikes in recent years.

If we want to talk seriously about where the devil may be doing his dirty work these days, we might want to start by asking who's inciting diabolical religiously inspired violence against whom.  But if we ask that question, we'd better be prepared to hear some answers about who's really in league with the devil that might surprise some of us who keep heading off to Mass and dropping our pennies in the collection baskets.

(For a follow-up to this article, with theological sources and further documentation, see this posting of 4 November.)

*H/t to Michael Ferri for bringing Keppler's article to my attention.

The photograph is of Stuart Walker, an openly gay man who was beaten and burned alive on 22 October in Cumnock, Scotland. For further information about this story, see the link above to the latest in a series of postings Jayden Cameron has made about it at his Gay Mystic blog.

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