Part 1 dealt with the perpetuation of misconceptions about homosexuality by Catholics, using examples that came up in this video below. In it, multiple Catholics, some of them gay themselves, explain the church’s official stance on homosexuality:
Unfortunately, the perpetuation of misconceptions isn’t the only thing wrong with this video.
There are things religious people do with language that frustrate the hell out of me. They like to define things using whatever authority they follow (for Catholics it’s the Catechism. For Christians it’s usually the Bible), as if that authority is automatically going to be recognized by everyone else. They’ll take a small excerpt of text from that “authority” which defines an action or something else using negative language, then deny that the language itself is negative. They’ll even fail to define things that are vague and don’t actually mean anything and just cross their fingers that people buy it because it sounds legit. Then they’ll put it all together, wrap it up in a homily (or in this case, a video about Catholics and gay people) and present it like Ta-DA! Look what we came up with! This is Truth!
A brief Public Service Announcement: be wary of ANYONE who uses the word “truth” without a definite article in front of it. They are probably trying to be dramatic. They are not referring to reality when they say, “truth.” They mean whatever they think it means, and that will vary from person to person, and from religion to religion.
Now, about the language issues in this video–some of them come directly from Catholic teaching, while others come from the culture of Catholicism. Let’s start with the first kind. The video quotes the Catechism, which is basically a big book containing all of the church’s teachings on everything. It helps Catholics know how to interpret the Bible, among other things (such as basically everything the religion teaches). It also contains a messed up statement about homosexuality. The Catechism says, “Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law.” Here’s the thing though… “natural law” is never defined. I will go so far as to say that people fixate on the “natural” part, and that’s what gives this statement the bulk of its meaning. It’s common for people to argue that being gay is “unnatural” because well, the body parts don’t fit in each other. But remember, the Catholics in this video have already said that being gay is fine, while acting on it isn’t. So it’s not that being attracted to the same sex is wrong–as long as you don’t act on it, because that would be unnatural.
I’m going to look up the definition of “natural.” Webster defines it as, “existing in nature and not made or caused by people : coming from nature.” Being gay does exist in nature. Animals are often observed engaging in homosexual behavior. People are not gay by choice–this has already been established in my earlier post, and the Catholics agree with this. Going with this definition, it doesn’t follow that being gay is unnatural, so it’s probably natural. If being gay is natural, then how could the behavior not be? This doesn’t seem to support their beliefs.
Let’s try another definition of the word. Webster also defines natural as, “not having any extra substances or chemicals added: not containing anything artificial” which I’m not going to try to relate to homosexuality. Then, there’s this definition: “usual or expected.” Here we go. Maybe this is what they’re going for. This would mean that something can be considered “not natural” if it is unusual, or not expected. You know what else is not usual or expected? A lot of things.
Going with this definition, we can easily reduce anything or anyone who is somewhat different to the label “unnatural” or, as the Catholics so eloquently put it, “contrary to natural law.” Maybe birth marks and tattoos are unnatural. Maybe a male nurse is unnatural even if he’s fantastic at his job and really enjoys it. Maybe a female engineer is unnatural. Just because something is unusual or not expected does not make it wrong or bad. I’ve met good female engineers and excellent male nurses, and you know what, I’m glad they found something that they’re good at that makes them happy. If the idea of a man giving you a flu shot scares you, then I’m sorry, you fail at life. Go back home and cower in the comfort of your nuclear family. You’ve proved yourself incapable of experiencing the diversity of this world and living in it. Sexuality and sexual behavior come in many forms, and we don’t decide what’s OK and what’s not OK by looking at what’s typical and what’s atypical. It may be unusual for someone to have a fetish where they like getting hit in the funny bone–but you know what, it’s not going to hurt anyone, so I’m not going to legislate against them hitting their funny bone, or preach to people that it’s OK for them to like it, but they should never engage in that behavior. Now, there are sexual things that are not considered acceptable by society. BDSM is somewhat accepted, but only to a point, and pedophilia is never acceptable. The reasons for this come down to who is capable of giving consent, and whether or not something harms someone. Plain and simple, no consent = rape and harm = bad. This isn’t that complicated, and it’s a much more reasonable system to base one’s arguments on than “unusual or unexpected.”
I actually wrote an entire philosophy paper this past semester on polyamory, in which I disproved the argument that monogamy is “natural.” It would take 20 pages to give my whole argument, but to sum it up, what people perceive as “natural,” is the result of upbringing and conditioning. It’s a social construct, so people can learn a different behavior quite well and adopt it as the norm. There was a period in history when a biracial couple would be considered gross. Now, it’s not. Clearly, racism is a learned behavior, not a natural state for human beings. There are still people who have a problem with it unfortunately, but at least people are far less likely to boo or hiss at a couple walking down the street. Well–as long as they’re straight. I realize this seems like a very long rant on one word, but let’s face it–the word natural doesn’t mean what they think it does, and throwing it around doesn’t actually mean anything or prove an argument, especially an argument against an entire group of people who are just doing what feels natural TO THEM.
Sticking with that catechism excerpt, I also take issue with the word “disordered.” It calls to mind the time when homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. It was taken off the list of mental disorders, and I’ve heard some Catholics say that it should still be on that list. The thing is though–they aren’t psychologists. How they feel about something has nothing to do with what the American Psychological Association decides to put in the DSM. And thank goodness it doesn’t! Imagine if Christians had a say in what was considered normal, healthy thinking. We’d have a lot of schizophrenic people who firmly believe they’re on a mission from God on our hands. Meanwhile, maybe there’d be people “living in sin” getting forced into therapy by concerned relatives–without being sent home by therapists who would rather help people with real problems.
As if this video hadn’t lost credibility already, they brought on a sister! A brief lesson on all people who are nuns, sisters, monks, priests, etc: they are celibate. This sister argues that “disordered” is not a harsh word to use about gay behaviors, but doesn’t give any reasons why. I’d just like to point out what that word brings up in a Google search. The first thing that comes up that isn’t a definition, synonym, or antonym for the word, is a Wikipedia page about “disordered eating.” Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are severe, life threatening, and they involve psychological issues as well as physical ones. How is it not harsh to use a word that can apply to something as unhealthy and life threatening as anorexia or bulimia to describe functioning, consenting adult behaviors?
Then they talk about how lust in general is “disordered.” Well…didn’t God say, “Go forth and multiply”? OK, that’s a slight misquote, but seriously, here’s a real verse: “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth'” (Genesis 9:1). We wouldn’t do that if it didn’t feel good. I mean, we pee and defecate out of those usually covered parts of our bodies. If our bodies didn’t want to, we probably wouldn’t make babies. Lust is an important part of our survival. Yes, it has a bad connotation, but guess how Webster defines it? “A strong feeling of sexual desire.” There’s nothing sinful about having “a strong feeling of sexual desire” for one’s husband/wife/partner. But that’s technically lust. If Catholics want to define it some other way (and they probably think of it as a component of the sin of covetousness), that’s fine, but in a video meant to educate the general public on Catholic teaching, they should use words the way they’re used by actual English speakers, unless they redefine the word in the context of their video so that people know what they mean.
They also bring up what they call, “authentic and inauthentic flourishing,” but never define them. I’m going to leave that statement where it is because come on–what the hell is “inauthentic flourishing?”
And this method of replacing one’s sexual attraction with friendship and a relationship with God? Guess what. It’s pretty inauthentic, and it’s definitely not flourishing. It allows one to run the gauntlet of this unfortunately homophobic world, but it doesn’t allow everyone to be themselves. What kind of parent says to their child, “You can be anything you want to be. Except if you’re gay. Then you can’t ever have a sexual relationship with someone.” Not that you’d say that to a kid, but still–let’s keep our promises, folks.
Another failure to define: what is “authentic love?” They mention it several times, but I don’t think my current relationship is any more authentic or less authentic than that of a gay couple. If you love someone, you love them. If God calls us to love people, why can’t gay people do it too? Because it’s “disordered?” Is it just me, or are these people sounding less and less tolerant and accepting?
In part 3 I’m going to address the language Catholics use that comes from their culture–and what that culture actually is. Stay tuned for more!
In the meantime, happy thinking!