Sunday, April 13, 2014

"You're Suffering from a Mental Illness, and Rationality Is Not Something That You Can Really Handle": Oh, and Happy Palm Sunday! — Catholics and the Intrinsic Disorder Thing

Some of you may have noticed an interesting subtext that developed in threads here in the past several days, as we discussed the story of Sister Jane Dominic Laurel and Charlotte Catholic High School. The subtext: more than one person leaving comments here decided kindly to inform yours truly that he isn't sane, and that his mental illness causes him to be rationality-challenged.

You're suffering from a mental illness, and rationality is not something that you can really handle. I recommend counselling first. once you get your emotional reactions normalized, you'll be better able to follow rational discourse.

As Steve's comments on the topic of homosexuality both here and in various places online indicate, of course, he regards homosexuality itself as a mental disorder, and he reads the Catholic magisterial teaching about homosexuality — the Catechism of the Catholic Church states flatly that the "condition" of homosexuality is "objectively disordered" (§ 2358) — to mean that those who are gay are ipso facto mentally disordered. As in not sane.

As in crazy and incapable of rationality.

And then National Catholic Reporter columnist Phyllis Zagano chose kindly to reiterate Steve Kellmeyer's insistence, by following his comments with the following observation:

The point is that rational discussion about the topic [of homosexuality] has disappeared, proven here and elsewhere by blog posts.

The condition of disorder leads to insanity leads to irrationality: as I say, there's a kind of common thread, a subtext, running through these comments, and I find it fascinating to note. In her article on the controversy at Charlotte Catholic High School to which I responded glancingly in the posting that Phyllis chose to characterize as irrational, Phyllis says the following,

Homosexual activity and inclination each fall into the church's wide "objectively disordered" net, meant here specifically for acts not directed at procreation. That does not mean the church calls homosexuals "disordered," as in off-the-rails crazy.

But then she goes on to note that Sister Jane Dominic did, in fact, intimate or even state outright that "homosexuals" are psychologically disordered. As this follow-up observation to her statement (a misleading one, in my view) that church teaching does not intend to imply psychological disorder when it speaks of gay folks as disordered suggests, for many Catholics who oppose respect for those who are gay, there is, indeed, a direct link between the magisterial teaching about intrinsic disorder and the conclusion that gay people are mentally ill.

Right-wing Catholics and their centrist enablers like to pretend that the magisterial teaching characterizing gay people as intrinsically disordered is about gay acts, and these folks commonly claim that Catholic magisterial teaching calls all kinds of other acts disordered, too. What they never choose to engage, however, is the plain, easily demonstrated fact that magisterial teaching does not characterize any other group of human beings — any group other than gay human beings — as intrinsically disordered, as disordered in their very natures, as suffering from a disordered "condition," on the basis of disordered acts in which they engage.

This distinction of calling a whole subset of the human community intrinsically disordered in their very natures because of their inclination to do disordered acts is reserved exclusively for those who are gay. And it seems clear to me that when Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict) first introduced this language in his 1986 letter to the bishops of the church on the "pastoral" care of those who are gay, he stated that not merely the acts that gay people do, but gay people themselves, are disordered precisely because he wanted to link homosexuality to mental disorder. 

The 1986 document, whose formulas about homosexuality were later incorporated into the Catechism of the Catholic church, states (§ 3), 

Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.

I'm pretty sure that the 1986 document chooses its language about objective disorder quite carefully to keep alive the suspicion or insinuation or flat assertion that those who are gay suffer from a disordered "condition," from a disordered "inclination," as a reaction to the monumental shift in the way in which psychological and medical professional associations were coming to view homosexuality in the period leading up to the 1986 document. The American Psychological Association had dropped homosexuality from its diagnostic list of mental disorders in 1973, and other similar professional bodies throughout the developed world had followed suit.

The magisterial language of disorder regarding those who are gay keeps alive the suspicion that gay people are defective human beings — that they are mentally ill human beings incapable of rationality. It's designed to do this.

It's designed to give aid and comfort to those, including some Catholics, who choose to inform their fellow human beings who happen to be born gay that they are insane and irrational. As today's full-page Palm Sunday ad in the New York Times by Faith in America and the Ali Forney Center for homeless LGBT youth tells Pope Francis,

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest and most influential Christian organization in the world. By teaching that homosexual conduct is a sin, and that the homosexual orientation is disordered, it influences countless parents and families in societies across the globe to reject their children. In the name of these children, and in light of the love and compassion at the heart of the message of Jesus, I ask that you end this teaching. 
Jesus Christ is never recorded as having said a word in judgment or condemnation of homosexuality or of LGBT people. He spoke of a loving, compassionate God, and commanded his followers to act with love and compassion. Jesus spoke of God as a loving parent who would never abandon his children.

And don't you hope that the pope will listen to this plea from the heart? I certainly do. 

I'm up in years now and my old shoulders have become fairly broad, so that when fellow Catholics like Mr. Kellmeyer and Ms. Zagano inform me that I'm not capable of rationality and/or am plain crazy — because I'm, you know, disordered — my broad old shoulders have learned to shrug. I laugh off the kindly meant therapeutic advice and tell myself, "They don't know the half of it!"

But I do worry, and intently so, about the many young people who have to deal with this crap as they are seeking to find out who they are, to make a way in the world. They don't deserve to be burdened with this toxic nonsense in the name of a religion that claims to be all about love, and coming from the lips of fellow Catholics who pat themselves on the back and reassure themselves that love is what they're all about as they diagnose anyone in the world who's gay as less sane than themselves, and present themselves as the model of rationality.

It surely would be nice if Francis chose to perk up his ears this Palm Sunday. Lots of human lives and yet-to-be-formed futures depend on his willingness to do so. (But I'm not holding my breath as I write these words, either.)

And I'll say it again: there's a reason the American public ranks the Catholic church as the religious body more unwelcoming and hostile to those who are gay than any other religious group in the country.

The graphic: "Jesus Enters Jerusalem," by Jean-Hyppolite Flandrin, church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris.

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