Wednesday, December 28, 2016

On the "Incorrect" "Homosexual": The Catholic Magisterium, Father Dwight Longenecker, and Asking the Wrong Questions in the Age of Trump (2)

There's a reason my previous posting built to a question about what kind of institution produces people who think about gender and sexual orientation at the puerile level of moral awareness exhibited by Catholic magisterial thought regarding these matters, especially when that institution professes to shape moral thinkers. My posting asked,

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?

In asking such questions, I'm challenging us to think about an entire system of moral thinking as opposed to the specific conclusions of this system — a system deeply embedded in a powerful clericalized, male-dominated institution that both shapes and reflects dominant cultural values regarding gender and sexual orientation. I want to move the discussion of the morality of homosexuality away from the embarrassing fixation of Catholic magisterial thought on penises and how they behave (magisterial teaching about sexuality is practically oblivious to women and female biology), into another, more relational, realm of thought that makes much more moral sense to thinking, morally aware, conscientious adults.

I'm challenging us to juxtapose the system of moral thinking employed by the Catholic magisterium and iterated by the Dwight Longeneckers of the world with other systems of moral thinking about matters of gender and sexual orientation that are, in the view of conscientious adults including many lay Catholic adults, far more morally astute, convincing, and mature than the system offered us by the magisterium. Along with many other moral theologians who have written about this topic for years now, I want us to move beyond the moral dead end created by the biologistic, "natural law" obsession of the magisterial approach, which is simply not persuasive for many morally aware adults, to a focus on aspects of moral thinking that are important to conscientious adults, but are flatly ignored by the magisterial approach to what Father Longenecker calls "a homosexual."

In the world in which we live today, we see the clash between such adult, morally compelling thinking about matters of gender and sexual orientation and the developmentally stunted approach of the magisterium and the Dwight Longeneckers of the world in an even starker way now that Donald Trump has been elected the American president. It is not, in my view, an overstatement to say that this clash has in fact now given us Donald Trump as toxic masculinity trashes the feminist and gay-rights movements— with the stamp of approval of three in five white American Catholics allied with four in five white evangelicals. And with the silent and not so silent complicity of the U.S. Catholic bishops who have created that alliance. And with the blessing of lay Catholic intellectual leaders who have helped pave the path to Trump (though they will not admit this) by doing everything in their power for years now to discipline and rule out of the Catholic theological conversation those to the left of the center as they wish to define it, while bending over backwards to validate and welcome the views of the hard right.

One effect of the obsession of Catholic magisterial thought with penises and how they behave, as it talks about issues of gender and sexual orientation, has been to distract us from the glaring shortcoming of this kind of moral discourse when it's viewed side by side with moral systems of thought that make sense to conscientious adults because they are far more well-balanced and respectful of a wide range of moral norms than is the magisterial approach to sexuality. The most significant shortcoming of magisterial thought about these issues is that it is almost completely silent about matters of justice and equity as it zeroes in on defining who "a homosexual" is and how he should be treated.

It is a sub-moral system of thinking — a frighteningly adolescent one, in its more or less exclusive focus on biology viewed in the crudest way possible as destiny — which ignores some of the weightiest moral matters of all taken into consideration by mature moral thinkers as they address issues of gender and sexual orientation. And isn't this grandly ironic, when one of the central pseudo-psychological claims that magisterial-cum-Longeneckerian explanations of "a homosexual" wish to peddle as a foundation for homophobic moral analysis is that "a homosexual" is an arrested adolescent who cannot relate correctly to women because he has not grown up?

What kind of moral system that hopes to claim the attention of mature, conscientious adults behaves this way, going on at length about how important a penis is to moral discussions of gender and sexual orientation, and about where the penis is situated when this or that sexual act takes place, while no attention at all is paid to female biology or female sexuality or female sexual orientation? What kind of moral system behaves this way while completely ignoring questions like whether "a homosexual" is every bit as human as the heterosexual male (or heterosexual-posturing male) who assumes his humanity to be the rule of thumb by which "a homosexual" should be defined as "incorrect" and "intrinsically disordered"?

And while it completely ignores questions like whether, as a human being, "a homosexual" deserves to have his human rights respected and defended by religious institutions that tout themselves as preĆ«minent defenders of human rights . . . . Viewed as a system of thinking about moral issues, the Catholic magisterial position on "a homosexual," as formulated by Father Longenecker — namely, "a homosexual" is a relationally impaired man who suffers from an "incorrect" masculinity, and the key to his redemption is to accept that he is "intrinsically disordered" — is not merely wildly off-balance and completely unconvincing: it's downright morally abhorrent. It's abhorrent from the vantage point of almost any well-balanced system of moral thinking that well-formed moral adults use to solve the moral problems they encounter on a day-to-day basis.

Those of us who know anything at all about moral theology, or, from our own religious lives, about moral decision-making, know that moral thinking always involves balancing competing moral norms. It involves thinking about which moral norms weigh more significantly in a particular moral case, and then applying those more significant moral norms as we make our conscientious decisions.

The magisterial approach to "the homosexual," with its talk about "incorrect" masculinity and "intrinsic disorder," obliterates what are, for many adult moral thinkers including many conscientious lay Catholics, the most important moral considerations of all to apply as we figure out what to do with "a homosexual." As with Catholic magisterial thinking about sexual matters in general, it views "a homosexual" in such a ludicrously reductionistic, biologistic fashion that it finds itself fixated on, mesmerized by, what it fantasizes about what "a homosexual" is doing with his penis — again, female homosexuals do not exist for magisterial thinking, practically speaking — while it completely ignores far weightier moral questions like whether "a homosexual" deserves to have secure employment free from discrimination, access to healthcare without barriers of discrimination, a place to live in which he will not be denied housing due to his sexual orientation, the right to form healthy monogamous relationships, etc.

About these issues, official Catholic moral teaching (with Father Longenecker) is totally silent (the statement of the catechism deploring "unjust" discrimination is laughable, in light of the behavior of Catholic institutions themselves towards LGBTQ people) — as if these issues do not count at all when the moral meaning of "a homosexual" and his life are under consideration. And because the moral laserbeam in magisterial-cum-Longeneckerian analysis of "a homosexual" runs exlusively from the magisterium and Longenecker to "a homosexual" — the magisterium and Longenecker imagine they own the laser — but never back to those operating the laser, no moral consideration at all is given to the extreme peculiarity of moral thought that presents the person making moral definitions as the ideal and those whose human lives he's defining as "incorrect" and "disordered."

What if the most salient question to be asked here, is in fact, a question not about the "disorder" of the "incorrect" homosexual, but about the disorder of the Dwight Longeneckers of the world? What if the disorder that deserves most moral attention here is the disorder of heterosexual males who assume that the world revolves around them, and who have not developed intellectually, morally, or psychologically into anything approaching adult maturity because they have not had to develop, given that they imagine the world belongs to them and should serve them?

What kind of moral system produces people who think at such a pre-moral level of moral thinking that they can confidently declare other people to be "incorrect" males and "intrinsically disordered" and never ask whether, in the very act of issuing such imperious, cruel declarations, they say something about themselves that deserves moral analysis — and about the conspicuous shallowness of their system of moral thinking? What kind of moral system produces religious "pro-life" people who think that Donald Trump and the men with whom he's surrounding himself as advisors and members of his cabinet represent a moral ideal for the human race — or for men, in particular? 

We have no choice except to ask these questions with extreme urgency now, since the future of the world may well depend on our doing so. And they are not going to be asked by either the clerical or lay leaders of the (white) Catholic community in the U.S. That community, after all, is responsible for placing Donald Trump in the White House, because many of its most influential members have been trained to think at the morally impoverished, morally immature level dictated by the magisterial approach to matters of gender and sexual orientation. In an historic moral battle regarding the full humanity of women and LGBTQ human beings, the Catholic community through its leaders has placed itself squarely on the side of discrimination and repression.

What we are about to see, as a result of all of this — and I want to underscore Catholic responsibility for what is going to happen, through the votes of three in five white Catholics and through the abysmal leadership offered to American Catholicism by many of its lay Catholic leaders who have every reason to know and do better — is a grand reversal of many of the painfully won breakthroughs that have been made in the twentieth century in the areas of women's rights and LGBTQ rights. We will now see a deliberate — and, I predict, a very effective — assault on women's and LGBTQ rights, with the rehabilitation of cruel, mendacious discourse about what "a woman" can and cannot do and what "a homosexual" should and should not do. This assault will set the women's and LGBTQ movements back many years, and will do so very swiftly, unless there are concerted efforts to resist it.

We're going to see the recrudescence of all the old lies about who "a homosexual" is and why he should not be treated as a human being. These lies will have a Catholic and a white evangelical stamp on them, and that stamp will appear right beside the stamp of approval provided by Donald Trump and his administration. We can see this process already beginning, in fact, can't we, in the choice of the Knights-of-Columbus-funded Crux journal under the editorship of John Allen — a leading U.S. lay Catholic intellectual who is well-connected and highly regarded in Catholic journalistic and academic circles — to publish Father Longenecker's hit piece on "homosexuals" within weeks after the election of Donald Trump?

The graphic is an illustration from Josiah Clark Nott and George Robert Gliddon's Indigenous Races of the Earth (1857), by way of Wikimedia Commons. We have to wonder, don't we, whether men who now employ pseudo-religious discourse about "natural law" and how it confirms the superiority of heterosexual males to homosexual ones know anything about how white European and North American males once used similar "natural law" arguments to affirm the supremacy of white skin over dark skin, and to suggest that light-skinned people should enjoy the right to define dark-skinned people as subhuman?

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