Friday, December 23, 2016

On the "Incorrect" "Homosexual": The Catholic Magisterium, Father Dwight Longenecker, and Asking the Wrong Questions in the Age of Trump

I'd like to say a few more words about Father Dwight Longenecker's musings (see Peter Montgomery) on the recent document — endorsed by Pope Francis — reiterating the Vatican ban on allowing gay candidates for the priesthood to enter seminaries. Longenecker's analysis of the document zeroes in on its claim that gay priests are problematic because they cannot relate "correctly to men and women." I discussed this analysis glancingly in my last posting.

Anyone who has followed official Catholic discourse (and much popular Catholic discourse) about these issues for any length of time hears the dog whistles here: gay men, in particular, are problematic human beings, because they cannot relate "correctly" to women; the problem with the priesthood for some time now has been that it is filled with gay men whose homosexuality inhibits their ability to relate "correctly" to women, and so we've ended up with a conspicuously misogynistic institution run by men who hate women.

We can solve this problem by weeding gay men out of the priesthood and filling it with real men — of the ilk of, say, Cardinal Raymond Burke, who tells us that the solution to making the church more attractive to men is to emangelize it, populate its leadership structures with real men. Like himself, one must assume, since it would be passing strange, would it not, for a man who is not himself a "real" man to promote an emangelization program for the church, while he himself lives some variant of "real" and "correct" masculinity?

And therein lies the rub for these dog whistles: that little qualifier in my last sentence "would it not" is clearly the rub as we lay this anti-gay rhetoric bare and try to understand it by moving it from the level of airy discourse to the level of lived reality. There's the suspicion, isn't there, that very many of the men offering us this homophobic rhetoric of emangelization as the solution to the church's problems are not, well, themselves really quite the real kind of men they want us to imagine them to be? 

It's more than a little difficult, isn't it, to take seriously a call to emangelization issued by men wearing fetching big bonnets that put Grandmama's best Easter bonnet in the shade, gorgeous gloves, scads of lace and silk, and eye-popping red slippers? You see the problem here, don't you? It's a problem of counterintuitiveness: the claim that the leadership structures of the Catholic church are overrun by gay men who are unable to relate "correctly" to women, and that the church can solve its problem by barring such men from ministry and re-emangelizing itself, elides the reality of the very church structures offering this analysis.

The clerical sector of the Catholic church (and so its hierarchy) are chock-full of gay men. When we allow those very same gay men to conceal themselves while issuing ugly, counterfactual, anti-scientific attacks on other gay men, we participate in the promulgation of moral analysis that ties reality up into pretzel knots — something that viable moral analysis can never do if it expects to reach and persuade rational human beings with healthy consciences. 

When we offer people as moral analysis smokescreens and distorting mirrors that prescind from and occlude the factual realm, we offer them moral insubstantiality and moral bafflegab. When we offer people moral analysis in which poisonous lies are sweetened with dulcet concealing terms like "God" or "natural law," so that the lies go down all the more smoothly due to the sweetness that coats them, we turn what purports to be a moral enterprise into something quite the opposite — into something that does moral damage in the name of doing moral good.

For such moral enterprises, the most salubrious cure is our willing suspension of belief: it's the refusal to keep swallowing the lies, to keep winking at the talking head adorned by the gorgeous Easter bonnet as it solemnly declares that we must re-emangelize the church by excluding gay men from the priesthood. For moral enterprises premised on the pretzel-distortion of reality, in which rhetoric is allowed to mask reality in egregious ways, a healthy dose of undistorted reality — Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants — is the best cure of all.

For institutional Catholic rhetoric about gender and sexual orientation, which is twisted into knots because the men dispensing this rhetoric are themselves twisted into knots, the key question that must be asked over and over again is, "What on earth are we talking about?" What's the reality beyond the rhetoric? What's the reality concealed by the rhetoric?

If the clerical sector of the church (and thus its hierarchy) are, in fact, chock-full of gay men, what are we talking about when we say that gay men should be barred from the priesthood? If the men telling us we need to re-emangelize the church in order to save it are wearing Easter bonnets, scads of lace and silk, fetching gloves and scarlet slippers, then what are we really talking about, when we say that gays are the problem and real men are the solution?

Father Longenecker tries to untie the Gordian knot by accepting the claim the Vatican makes as church officials including Pope Francis reiterate their ban on admitting gay men to seminaries that gay men should be barred from the priesthood because they cannot relate "correctly" to "men and women." He backs up the Vatican claim by concluding flatly that "a homosexual's masculinity is incorrect and therefore his masculine-feminine relationships must also therefore, by definition, be distorted."

"A homosexual" is aberrant. His masculinity is "incorrect." And so he cannot, it goes without saying, relate properly to other human beings, because "distorted" people end up engaging in distorted relationships:

The key to the successful integration is for the Catholic homosexual to accept his tendencies as "intrinsically disordered." Only as he understands his attractions as inconsistent with the natural order of human sexuality will he be able to integrate them successfully and move beyond them.

There are several ways to point to what is outrageously wrong — what is morally filthy — about this kind of talk. One is, of course, to note that it peddles lies that have long since been exposed as lies by reputable therapeutic and scientific bodies throughout the developed world.

There's the lie that "a homosexual" is "incorrect," "disordered," or "distorted." That lie has long since been exposed as a toxic lie by medical science, which finds heterosexuality and homosexuality to be variant expressions of human sexual orientation — natural expressions found everywhere in the world and throughout history — and not hierarchically arranged expressions, with heterosexuality on top and homosexuality on bottom.

In continuing to peddle the lie of the "intrinsic disorder" of "a homosexual," the Catholic magisterium and men of the ilk of Dwight Longenecker commit themselves to the daring project of pretending that the consensus of modern science about these issues for decades now is incorrect and reversible. They commit themselves to combatting the sound findings of science itself in the name of religious belief. They commit themselves to a project mendaciously called "religious liberty" which is about seeking to suppress what science says about these matters and seeking to force people with good heads on their shoulders and clear, healthy consciences to abide by what is dictated to them by religious bodies — by religious bodies who once executed witches because the bible told them to do so.

It's also possible to approach what's morally filthy about the magisterial position (and Dwight Longenecker's) by noting that it peddles a toxic lie about the inability of gay men to relate positively to women — with the concomitant lie that "real" men, straight men like Raymond Burke or Dwight Longenecker, do know how to relate positively to women, and could teach gay men a trick or two in this regard. Most women who have gay male friends now laugh uproariously at such ludicrous claims, because their experience — reality, again — teaches them just how ludicrous they are. How the Catholic magisterium (and much popular Catholic rhetoric) imagines it can keep floating these counterfactual, destructively untrue claims without being resoundingly ridiculed is difficult for me to understand.

As I say, it's possible to approach what's morally filthy about magisterial analysis of these matters and Longenecker's iteration of that analysis by pointing to the obtrusively obvious ways in which this analysis contravenes what reasonable, informed people now know about these matters. What I'd like to point to, instead, is another question that flows from the framing question I'm asking here, "What on earth are we talking about?"

The important question I think we must ask about this analysis is, "What kind of institution, claiming to be a moral agency, produces people who think at the moral level of a Dwight Longenecker — a moral level that can be characterized charitably as misshapen at best, as disordered at worst, and as embarrassingly puerile?" What kind of institution produces as its best and most exemplary moral thinkers people who offer us their own way of being in the world as a template by which the humanity of other human beings is to be judged defective?

What kind of institution purporting to form upright moral agents leads a straight male to imagine that he is cut to the jib of the divine — a privileged little god representing the big straight man in the sky who is made in his image— in a way that sets him above all the rest of creation, so that he has the right to lord it over other human beings, over "a homosexual" and women, while never turning the focus of critical thinking and incisive moral insight on himself? For God's sake . . . . 

These are questions we absolutely must ask in the age of Donald Trump. An age into which 3 in 5 white Catholics have willingly led us . . . . An age in which we're about to see, many of us feel in our bones, conspicuous harm done to the whole planet by a plethora of straight white men now empowered more than ever by the votes of 4 in 5 white evangelicals and 3 in 5 white Catholics and Mormons to act like little demigods . . . . 

In such an age, the kinds of questions the Catholic magisterium and Dwight Longenecker are asking about gender and sexual orientation would seem to be conspicuously beside the moral point, would they not? That is, if the Catholic magisterium and Father Longenecker are really pro-life  . . . .

Little gods who represent the big straight man in the sky, and who establish "order" by which the rest of us are to be measured "disordered" and "incorrect"? Little straight male demigods who portend pro-life blessing for the world, as they establish "order" and show us the "correct" way to live our human lives? Forgive me for having strong reservations about such claims as I look at Mr. Trump and the other little straight male gods with whom he has surrounded himself.

(I highly recommend Michael Boyle's valuable analysis of Longenecker's comments, as well as Larry Motuz's valuable analysis in a comment here yesterday.)

Please see the continuation of this posting in the subsequent posting — here.

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