Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Terry Weldon on Catholic Magisterial Teaching about Human Sexuality: Animal Considerations

Terry Weldon has a brilliant posting up right now at his Queering the Church website.*  It notes that, by reducing the analysis of human sexuality to the level of acts, Catholic magisterial teaching insults not only those who are gay (and who are the primary and usual target of that teaching these days).

It also insults everyone who has lived in or lives in a committed intimate relationship.  It insults heterosexual Catholics along with homosexual ones by implying that, when all is said and done, the meaning of human sexuality is summed up by animal behavior.  

And not by the relational context in which intimate acts occur. Not by the myriad, manifold ways in which we enact relational intimacy on a daily basis in the context of our intimate relationships.  It's all about being in bed together and measuring what happens in sexual acts, for Catholic magisterial teaching.

It's not about cooking together, doing the dishes together, watching television together, gathering with friends for an evening out to share a drink and catch up on the latest local news.

And--here's the brilliant twist Terry makes with the magisterial argument--the Catholic magisterial teaching about sexual ethics insults even the animals it implicitly uses as its yardstick as it measures the meaning of human sexuality.  Even animals (especially animals?) are often surprisingly far more relational than the reductionistic, animalistic magisterial approach to sexual ethics seems to imagine.

A point Terry makes even more brilliantly by his choice of a graphic--the one I've lifted from his posting and put at the top of this one.

This is something about which I've been thinking lately--the surprising generosity and surprising relationally of many animals of the "lower" rungs of creation.  The ones we Christians and Jews have long thought of as "lower" because we have read the dominion imperative of the Genesis narratives in a way that creates such a hierarchy in the created world--with ourselves at the top of the ladder.

I alluded to some of my recent reflections about these matters on Sunday, when I posted about Will Doig's painful analysis of what is happening to feral dogs and cats in many parts of the world today.  The inhumanity of what humans frequently do to the "lower" orders of the animal world, contrasted with the humanity some of those "lower" orders exhibit towards us, was fresh on my mind when I read Doig's article, because Steve and I had just watched Jon Turteltaub's 1999 movie "Instinct," which has Anthony Hopkins playing an anthropologist who has, quite literally, gone native--as in living with and finding great apes in Africa more humane by far, in some instances, than his fellow humans.  "Instinct" is loosely based on Daniel Quinn's 1992 novel Ishmael.

The reverend fathers in the Vatican and the episcopal palaces of the world, and all the rest of us, might have something of value to learn from Brother and Sister Ape?  I, for one, think this is entirely possible.  

(Perhaps how to be a little more human/humane?)

*As T. Weldon notes in a comment below, he developed his posting on this topic in response to the valuable insights of Jennifer Hynes on the topic of magisterial Catholic sexual ethics--and I hadn't noted that when I posted earlier today on the topic.  I do think Terry deserves credit for adding the bit about animals, and it was to that bit that I was referring when I noted the brilliance of his posting (and his use of the picture above).  I surely didn't intend to overlook Jennifer Hynes and her quotation, however, and want to credit her for the insight that magisterial teaching is insulting to heterosexual as well as homosexual couples in its lack of regard for the relational dimension.

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