Tuesday, August 27, 2013

First Things Responds to Joseph Bottum: Homosexuality Is "An Image of Transgression . . . Giving Room for Our Own Transgressive Desires"

R.R. Reno

One of the most seriously destructive, the most vicious, things that those mounting war against their fellow human beings who happen to be born gay have done over the years is to suggest that homosexuality is the issue on which all sexual morality rises and falls. It's the issue on which civilization itself rises and falls. 

Let the gays gain a foothold, the argument suggests, and heterosexual people will go hog wild in their sexual practices. Why, they'll even start having sex for reasons other than procreation, just for the fun of it. They'll start contracepting, for God's sake--as Mr. Peasley points out to Commonweal readers in a citation I highlighted Sunday (which, thankfully, Commonweal's editors have now deleted from the site).

And when homosexual people make fine, upstanding heterosexual people go hog wild like this, civilization will fall to pieces.

The price of civilization is, don't you see, repressing homosexuals. For their sake and for ours. Because who knows what we might do if they managed to scrabble out of their dark closets. Any sane, morally sound human being knows the score about these matters. The price of homosexual repression has to be paid by sane societies (read: by homosexuals) because homosexuals represent disease. They carry disease. They are disease. 

They pretend to be just like us, so they're insidious insiders. Their goal, as they worm their way inside healthy, moral societies, is to infect the rest of us. And to seize our children. 

It doesn't appear to matter much at all to those mounting these invidious arguments, which call for the vilification and repression of an entire segment of human beings as the price for civilization and social order, that the very same arguments have been mounted in the past, as various civilizations have sought to contain, marginalize, or even destroy a targeted minority group in order to assert the purity of the society behaving this way. These very same arguments about the dirty, diseased presence that worms its way inside the pure society, threatening children and spreading illness, have long been old hat in how Christian cultures have treated the Jewish people.

Homosexual people are, the important American Catholic moral theologian Lisa Sowle Cahill proposes in a 1980 essay entitled "Moral Methodology: A Case Study," a unique sign of the brokenness of postlapsarian creation (the essay is in Chicago Studies 19, pp. 171-87). Since they're broken in their very nature, who gay people are and what gay people do points in a crystal-clear way to brokenness--to the brokenness of all of us after Adam's Fall.

Cahill's point is to suggest that there's a reason to understand and offer compassion to broken gay human beings, since "we" ourselves are broken. But the price she asks gay folks to pay as she makes that point is exceptionally high, isn't it? It's the price of agreeing to function as shorthand for the brokenness of everyone, of the entire world. This is an exceedingly steep price for any group of people to pay. This reduction of human beings to the level of a thing, a unique cipher, an object, in social debates that aren't even really about those human beings themselves, but about "us," the normal people who run things, and who are afraid that our sexuality will run amok if we let "them" out of the closet . . . .

My God, we may even begin to contracept if the gays are given rights! We might even begin having sex for some reason other than procreation. Imagine the social chaos that might ensue then.

As Peter Steinfels points out in his book A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2003), 

In many respects, the society’s anxieties surrounding homosexuality are really only a projection of issues surrounding heterosexuality—once the tight link between sex and procreation is broken. Homosexuality becomes the obvious battleground for addressing questions about nonprocreative heterosexuality. The relatively small gay and lesbian portion of the population bears the brunt of unresolved moral and cultural questions facing the more than 90 percent that is heterosexual (p. 273).

Clearly, Steinfels is absolutely correct in this analysis. One has only to look at the thread of comments that have flowed at Commonweal in response to Joseph Bottum's essay admitting defeat about marriage equality, to which the link in the first paragraph here points, to see how right Steinfels is, to see how persistent one Catholic after another, including Mr. Peasley, continues to be about using the gays as a unique cipher for the brokenness of civilization, as a threat to the stability of Christian civilization, because, my God, who knows how we--the heterosexuals, the normal people--might get out of control, if we allowed them to enjoy the same rights and privileges we enjoy?!

And guess how one R.R. Reno chooses to respond yesterday at First Things, the journal Joseph Bottum formerly edited, to Bottum's essay admitting defeat about marriage equality? Here's Reno (who was formerly a theology professor at Creighton University and is now editor at First Things) on the real danger that tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality pose to civilization:

It’s an image of transgression, and to affirm it relieves moral pressure, giving room for our own transgressive desires. If two men can have sex, then surely there are no traditional limits on what men and women can do.

Sound familiar? It's about us, the normal people. The heterosexual ones. The Catholics. Catholic = heterosexual ≠ homosexual.

Let the homosexuals transgress, and we--the normal people, the heterosexual ones, the Catholics--might transgress, in turn. We might give room to "our own transgressive desires." If you permit two men to have sex, all limits will have vanished on what you might do in your own bedrooms.

You normal people. You heterosexual people. You Catholics.

My God, you might even contracept.

Does anything about this argument, which is now as drab and flat as an open bottle of tepid day-old beer, strike you, as it does me, as more than a little bit unfair? As atrociously unfair, perhaps? 

This continued choice--a cruel one, since gay people have long since demanded that social and religious groups stop using us in this egregiously unfair way, and so the choice is not unconscious--to turn a targeted minority of human beings into a cipher for the brokenness of everyone . . . ? This scapegoating, since it blames my sins on you, with blithe, unreflective convenience, permitting me never to examine my own behavior and intentions . . . ?

And never to examine my own unmerited power and privilege, which allow me, in the first place, to use another group of my fellow human beings with such breathtaking arrogance, with impunity, turning them into a thing designed to serve my own malicious needs . . . . These arguments are the very definition of discrimination, and if anyone is still seeking to understand precisely what energizes LGBTI human beings today in our quest to kick down closet doors and secure human rights, I suggest that they look carefully at these gross arguments and try to imagine, if only for a moment, what it might feel like to be used repeatedly in this way by fellow human beings who sincerely imagine that such behavior demonstrates moral superiority, and not its precise opposite.

Stand up and spit in their face, and God love and protect you, indeed.

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