Format Change

Due to a few really, really, really long nested discussions on a few of the posts (Yay!) we’ve decided to turn nesting off.  This means all comments will be displayed across the entire width of the text-space.  Yay!  It also means it may be slightly harder to figure out which comment is directed at what.  Boo!

For anyone who may be unfamiliar with how to deal with this sort of dilemma, I suggest either posting responses @ specific people, so we know who’s talking to whom, or @ the number of the comment you’re responding to.  Quoting other people’s comments is also helpful.

Thanks, and sorry for any disorientation.

-Blogmaster, Righteous Pagan

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Published in: on August 25, 2010 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Homodoxy Loves Mail

An acquaintance of mine, an English Catholic lady charged with the weighty task of teaching ethics and philosophy of religion to eighteen-year-olds, has recently written to me, and generously given permission for some of her current thinking about art, education, and devotion, to be shared.

Our initial topic of conversation was Tom Ford’s 2009 gay-themed film, A Single Man.  Having pontificated against this film for its dramatic demerits (bad script, flashy cinematography), I was called out by my correspondent: 

As to A Single Man, … I was taken by it because it stirred in me some sense of how the “homosexuality problem” (as framed by Christians of all kinds) is simply too profound and [some sense of how it has] too much to do with being a human being, to simplify or reduce in the way it commonly is in, say, conservative blogs and such….  And I suppose that side of it was lost on you, since you have twenty-five years of first-hand experience of it … !  It was rather the same kind of feeling I had while reading The Persian Boy by Mary Renault.  It has become obvious to me over the years that homosexuality is not something that need only be thought about by homosexuals.  Quite the contrary.  Taking homosexuality seriously means significantly broadening one’s understanding of one’s own sexuality, and human sexuality altogether, which is challenging.  And further—very importantly—if we are called to serve the marginalized and struggle for their voice to be heard, we are contravening the gospel if we do not shake our fists for homosexuals in the church, Catholic and Orthodox.  This responsibility weighs heavily on me, since if I come to the conclusion—as I think I have, despite my occasional doubts—that homosexuality is not a tendency to intrinsic moral evil, one immediately assumes a painfully heavy responsibility not to cooperate in their suppression.  It was, as you allude to, the beauty of the portrayal of homosexual love in A Single Man (just as in Mary Renault) which touched me and renewed my perennial sense that the heterosexual Catholic is just as responsible for living with the reality of homosexuality as any homosexual.

Here she is now, on teaching matters of controversy from within a Christian perspective … :

Sexual ethics has occupied my mind particularly because I have to teach it and, knowing I am Catholic, my students ask me about it endlessly.  I am proud to stand for most of the traditional Christian views about sex and I can defend the official view when asked, but when they want to know my own personal views, I find that my strong objections to pornography, prostitution, consumerization and commercialization of sex, the reductionistic attitude to the female body, etc., are not matched by my thoughts about homosexuality and birth control—though I am more sympathetic to the birth control prohibition than most Catholics I know.  I am inclined to conservatism out of a profound suspicion of the current generation’s pathological attitude to sexuality, and yet I can’t help finding that much of what is offered by the church is pathological in its own way.

… and on devotion to the Church:

I feel in a strange way as though I have never been more serious about God, never more reliant on prayer, and yet I find certain aspects of the church as problematic as ever.  The more I read the gospels the more I shudder at the Pharisaism of the hierarchy.  And yet I find I cannot survive without regular Mass, regular prayer, and I feel ever more pressed by the person of Jesus.

vozradujemsja

Victor de Villa Lapidis

Published in: on August 25, 2010 at 11:05 am  Comments (2)  

Other Gay Conservative Groups? Really?

Cool!

I got linked to GayPatriot today, and it was a bit of a surreal experience: all sorts of statements supporting homosexuals, but advancing the conservative agenda – even an alternative to Pride called Homocon.  Now, when we say in our title that our blog is conservative, we mean, largely, religiously conservative.  Victor is politically to the right, and Eiluned is to the left, but both agree on more than they disagree.

I, the atheist-agnostic-white-straight-male, am quite fiscally and socially liberal and a lot of what I read on GayPatriot (really, Patriot? Because only conservatives are patriotic?  But I digress…) I found horrifying, wrong-headed, and at times, mildly offensive.  Ann Coulter, one of the most loathsome writers I’ve ever read, is going to SPEAK at HOMOCON!  Admittedly, she’s taking a beating for it, but still: what is happening to the world?

Gay Activist? Maybe not, but still...

But you know what my overall response is?

This is awesome.

It’s about time the Liberals lost their stranglehold on gay rights, and gay conservative organizations became prominent. It’s an indication that homosexuality and homosexual acts,  only decriminalized in Canada in 1969, finally decriminalized by the US Supreme Court in 2003, and still punishable by death in many countries (Saudi Arabia, Sudan, UAE, to name a few) are finally being accepted even by mainstream Republicans.  Is this bad for the Democrats?  Yes; it robs them of a useful demographic.  Is it bad, potentially, for the cause of gay marriage?  Probably, as these gay Republicans are arguing more for civil union than marriage.  Is it bad for liberalism as a movement? As it steals liberalism’s issues, it may drive progressives to be more and more extreme; and that’s a good thing.  Progress must always push the envelope, and conservatives must resist the change.

There is nothing inherently wrong with either conservatism or liberalism.  They are both vital drives: one is the desire to try new things and explore, and the other is the fear of what damage such exploration might inflict; the need to hold onto what we have already accomplished vs the imperative to change.  Both are valid.  It’s a dialectic… the two forces must clash, and a synthesis forms from the struggle.  Gay Republicans are part of that synthesis, and are a sign that times are changing. I may be wrong, but I doubt Anne Coulter would have spoken at a gay rally fifteen years ago, or even ten, or five.  Things are improving, and this shift on the part of the right is a perfect example.  Eventually, gay rights will have the same status as feminism… still an important struggle, still a real concern, still laughed at and ignored by those who are uninterested, but at least the largest part of the work will be done.

-Your Blogmaster, the Righteous Pagan

Published in: on August 21, 2010 at 1:25 am  Comments (7)  
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Disagreement Between Friends, I

An Orthodox reader of this blog has asked me about the “problem” of tradition, as it pertains to the queer question.  How do I reconcile my contention that homosexual unions may be ethical and holy, with the Tradition and traditions of the Church, seemingly so hostile?  This “problematization” of tradition arises in other contexts, too: in plans for reunion with the Oriental (Monophysitic) Orthodox churches, stalled over the thorny problem that their saints are our heretics, and our saints their heretics; likewise in dialogue with the Roman church, which recognizes, and is not about to stop recognizing, a full fourteen additional post-Schism councils, as ecumenical in status.  What, then, is to be done?

One approach has been for the “conservative” and “liberal” parties in the Church to throw caution to the winds, and to assert themselves in despite both of each other and of whatever elements within the Tradition (in the broadest sense) which might challenge them.  That seems to be pretty much what is now going on in the Anglican Communion; and the best conciliating efforts of Rowan Williams as archbishop of Canterbury aside, the Communion’s dissolution is to be expected.  At one extreme, the Anglican bishop of Karamoja in Uganda supports the death penalty bill for homosexuals.  At the other, the dean of the Anglican seminary in Cambridge, Mass., calls abortion a “blessing” and an “holy work.”  Violence proliferates.

Some of that violence is committed in the context of the Church’s pastoral and penitential disciplines.  I myself have, on more than one occasion, been threatened by an (Orthodox) priest with refusal of communion—for no other reason than that I happen both to be openly gay and also happen to disagree with a traditional but non-infallible moral teaching of the Church.  I expect that this may happen many times in my life.  Fr. Hopko says that a person in my condition may not receive the sacraments; Metropolitan Jonas (Paffhausen), archbishop of Washington, DC, and primate of the Orthodox Church in America, the night of his election to the primacy declared that if an ecclesial body “endorses gay marriage” (amongst other controversial political questions), it “abandon[s] … Jesus Christ and the Gospel.”

Never mind that the Gospel says not one word about gay marriage: many ordinarily faithful people are, almost without discussion, to be treated in the same way as would heretics and unbelievers.

And yet, Christ calls us “friends” (Jo. xv. 15).   And “by this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another” (Jo. xiii. 35).

One of the most politically resonant icons in the Church’s iconography is that of SS. Peter and Paul embracing.  They may have disagreed about important doctrinal questions, as the apostles and fathers generally have disagreed: “And some coming down from Judea, taught the brethren: That except you be circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved.  And when Paul and Barnabas had no small contest with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain others of the other side, should go up to the apostles and priests to Jerusalem about this question” (Act. xv. 1-2).  Therefore the apostles are depicted as friends.

Disagreement Between Friends

If we (Orthodox and Roman Catholics) are to avoid some of the snares into which the Anglican Communion has fallen, we must take care to imitate Peter and Paul, preserving our unity where the dogmas of the Church are concerned, but permitting a legitimate diversity of theological opinion elsewhere.  We must take care to remember that we are friends.

This essay will constitute the first part of a series, “Disagreement Between Friends,” proposing some initial ideas for how to manage the problematization of tradition and, no less important, how to continue living in catholic love and reconciliation.

Part I: The Necessity of Dogma

When reasonable people call the Church “dogmatic,” they are not, usually, being complimentary.  As the Slovak church historian and Orthodox convert Jaroslav Pelikan noted shortly before his death in an NPR segment “The Need for Creeds,” this perception, right or wrong, can pose a tremendous obstacle to the Church’s evangelism.  Queers especially are often suspicious (and understandably so) of the Church’s dogmatic system.  I can well remember my feeing, just for example, on a certain winter night some years ago, listening to an outwardly very pious layman—oblivious of his audience, and alas only half in jest—as he expressed his wish he had a faggot to burn.  That is the sort of obviously negative encounter which does lead reasonable people to hold a negative assessment of dogma.  A fine example occurred recently in Andy Sullivan’s exchange with Ross Douthat about Judge Walker’s ruling on Proposition 8 in California:

[Ross] is not a homophobe as I can personally attest.  But if he cannot offer something for this part of our society except a sad lament that they are forever uniquely excluded, by their nature, from being a “microcosm of civilization” [and thus from participating in the institution of marriage], then this is not a serious contribution to the question at hand.  It is merely a restatement of abstract dogma….

When dogmas are reduced to the level of mere abstractions, they die, and those who cling to them are justly censured for their “dogmatism.”  On the other hand, as V.S. Soloviev wrote in an essay on “The Significance of Dogma”:

When Christian dogmas were taking shape at the general church councils, for the true representatives of the church they were neither that mind-game by which the last Byzantines were carried away nor that alien and forgotten word, which they pronounce for present-day hearing.  True dogma is the word of the church responding to the word of God when such a response is required by course of history and the development of religious consciousness. [1]

Dogma correctly understood is not abstract and dead, but historical and living.

Just as a philosopher might proceed by asking what must be true of the mind such that we are able to interpret the realities we experience, in the same way a theologian proceeds by asking what must be true of God (dogmatically speaking) such that we are able to interpret our experience of eternal salvation.

So it is that what the Church claims to teach dogmatically, infallibly, turns out to be relatively little.  There are the declarative, frequently paradoxical theses of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed, in the East, and those of the Apostles’ and Athanasian creeds, in the West, mostly having to do with the relations which subsist between the three persons of the Holy Trinity.  In the East in the eighth century, the appropriateness of venerating icons was made into dogma; so too, in the West, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, were the Marian doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.   But to venture much beyond these few items with any certainty one would be hard-pressed.  Good reason for such dogmatic reticence was given first of all by S. Vincent of Lérins: “… all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.  For that is truly and in the strictest sense ‘Catholic,’ which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universality.” [2]

The theological opinions which can meet this test are not numerous.  The theological opinions which, in course of time, have indeed met this test, then act as a groundwork on the basis of which all further inquiry is made possible.  They are, in other words, the indispensible core.  As the Apostle reasons: “For if the dead rise not again, neither is Christ risen again.  And if Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain, and you are yet in your sins” (I Cor. xv. 16-17).  For such reason is belief in the resurrection, as set forth in the Creed, properly called “dogmatic.”

Granted that, I cannot conceive how homosexual love or unions do any injury to dogmatic theology; nor can I conceive why the queer community need be suspicious of dogmatic theology.

On the contrary, the most striking political consequence of dogma is to set limits to all earthly authority.  An authentic dogmatism is thus also the aboriginal classical form of liberalism.  The Christian does not deny the dogmatic definitions of faith, even on pain of death; the sovereign conscience of the individual martyr in the arena is to be obeyed before corporation, class, or committee of public safety, is to be obeyed.  The Byzantine basileus or Russian tsar might aspire to reign together with Christ, but could never replace Christ, and buried in the recesses of the Church’s pre-imperial memory lies Tertullian’s old dictum about the blood of the martyrs.  As Jaroslav Pelikan states bluntly on the first page of the first volume of The Christian Tradition, “polity transcends organization because of the way the church defines itself and its structure in its dogma.” [3]

This is a justification of dogma, at once as deeply conservative as the early African church in which the likes of Tertullian could flourish, which can at the same time be embraced by the queer community, and likewise by any persecuted or marginalized group suffering at the hands of Pharisees and Caesars.  I have written about Orthodox seminarian Eric Iliff here, but the names and stories are without end.  The martyrial witness of the Church’s queers does not threaten the Church’s dogmatic system; it helps, like all martyrial witness, to support and explain it.

vozradujemsja

Victor de Villa Lapidis


[1] Politics, Law, Morality: Essays by V.S. Soloviev, trans. Vladimir Wozniuk (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), pp. 108-09.

 

[2] Commonitory ii. 6.

[3] Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971), p. 1.

Published in: on August 20, 2010 at 7:45 pm  Comments (8)  
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Of Note

Colm Tóibín, a cradle Catholic who considered a vocation to the priesthood during his adolescence, has published a thoughtful review of Angelo Quattrocchi’s new book, The Pope Is Not Gay, in the current issue of The London Review of Books.  In it he treats of those twin sociological mysteries, why the Vatican has so poorly handled the recent sexual abuse scandals in America, Ireland, and Germany, and why so many repressed gay men continue even today to adopt religious vocations.

Money-quote:

The problem is that, after all that has been revealed, many of us who were brought up in the Church now know that we once listened to sermons about how to conduct our lives from men who were child molesters. And that senior members of the Church hierarchy protected these men, believing that the reputation of the Church was more important than the safety of children, and that Church law was superior to civil law. When they were found out, their sorrow was not fully credible. Thus, when we think of the Catholic Church, we think of secrecy, half-hearted apology, studied concealment.

This makes it difficult for Ratzinger, who is probably the most intelligent and articulate pope for many generations, to be heard properly when he speaks about matters of faith and morals. He wishes to make it clear, from a position that is starkly coherent, that moral values are not relative values, but absolute ones, that we must follow God’s will, and that the Catholic Church is in a unique position to tell us in some detail what this entails. However, rather than listening to this message or bowing our heads as he offers us his blessing, because of what has happened, because of a new suspicion which even the most reverent feel about the clergy, we will find ourselves examining Ratzinger’s clothes and his accessories, his gestures, and checking behind him for a glimpse of the gorgeous Georg with whom he spends so much of his day.

vozradujemsja

Victor de Villa Lapidis

Published in: on August 14, 2010 at 6:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Brief Ecumenical Note

Alas, Victor is still traveling, but I have found time for a brief note.  One of our readers, Rei, brought this blog post concerning the Orthodox Jewish position on homosexuality to my attention.  Unlike the infamous “Halloween Letter” written by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVIth) when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to Bishops on the pastoral care of “homosexual persons;” the Statement of Principles originates from a Rabbi, who then allowed it to be “commented upon by and revised based on the input from dozens of talmidei chachamim, educators, communal rabbis, mental health professionals and a number of individuals in our community who are homosexual in orientation.” This statement was then signed  by many Rabbis and other prominent Orthodox Jews who agreed with the sentiments espoused therein. Both authorship and audience ought to be kept in mind while drawing comparisons.

The first thing that struck me was that the language of the Statement of Principles was far more welcoming.  Compare, for instance, the first few lines of each:

We, the undersigned Orthodox rabbis, rashei yeshivaramim, Jewish educators and communal leaders affirm the following principles with regard to the place of Jews with a homosexual orientation in our community…

with

The issue of homosexuality and the moral evaluation of homosexual acts have increasingly become a matter of public debate, even in Catholic circles. Since this debate often advances arguments and makes assertions inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church, it is quite rightly a cause for concern to all engaged in the pastoral ministry, and this Congregation has judged it to be of sufficiently grave and widespread importance to address to the Bishops of the Catholic Church this Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.

The disparity in language here cannot be attributed to mere differences in authorship, style, religious structure, or audience (although those do factor in).  The Statement of Principles clearly underlines that there are practicing homosexual Jews within the community, whereas the “Halloween Letter” only speaks of homosexuality in a way that distances its readers, as an abstract concept; the document discusses homosexual acts, not homosexual Catholics.  We are not included in the community.  This is particularly interesting, as the Statement of Principles is not actually any less damning than the Halloween Letter in its moral evaluation of homosexuality.  It affirms that no matter what the cause of homosexuality, such interactions are prohibited:

4. Halakhic Judaism views all male and female same-sex sexual interactions as prohibited. The question of whether sexual orientation is primarily genetic, or rather environmentally generated, is irrelevant to this prohibition.

Interestingly enough, the Halloween letter discusses the possibility that homosexuality is not a choice:

11. It has been argued that the homosexual orientation in certain cases is not the result of deliberate choice; and so the homosexual person would then have no choice but to behave in a homosexual fashion. Lacking freedom, such a person, even if engaged in homosexual activity, would not be culpable.

Here, the Church’s wise moral tradition is necessary since it warns against generalizations in judging individual cases. In fact, circumstances may exist, or may have existed in the past, which would reduce or remove the culpability of the individual in a given instance…

Although, it immediately warns its readers against “the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behaviour of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable,” as

What is essential is that the fundamental liberty which characterizes the human person and gives him his dignity be recognized as belonging to the homosexual person as well. As in every conversion from evil, the abandonment of homosexual activity will require a profound collaboration of the individual with God’s liberating grace.

While both the Halloween Letter and the Statement agree on the unacceptability of homosexual relations, the latter contains something that the Halloween letter lacks:  an awareness that the religious community has a fundamental duty to welcome those within it, even if they are homosexual, and an understanding of the harsh psychological toll well-meaning devout persons may have on those who are LGBTQ.  The Statement clearly addresses this issue immediately:

1.  All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot). Every Jew is obligated to fulfill the entire range of mitzvot between person and person in relation to persons who are homosexual or have feelings of same sex attraction. Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism.

This is reiterated again, and again and again.  The document “affirm[s] the religious right of those with a homosexual orientation to reject therapeutic approaches they reasonably see as useless or dangerous,” and warns against marriages between someone who is gay, to someone of the opposite gender, as “this can lead to great tragedy, unrequited love, shame, dishonesty and ruined lives.”  Furthermore, the document makes it quite clear that the children of homosexual couples, both biological and adoptive, are also to be welcomed into the community.[1] Quite a far cry from what one may see/experience in any conservative Catholic setting.  And who can be surprised, as only once–quite far into the document–does the Halloween letter demonstrate any sensitivity on the part of the Church to such considerations:

10. It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.

This is quickly followed up (lest the reader should forget!) by a reminder that homosexuality is in no way to be condoned.

I am amazed that conservatives of another religion have managed to write a document that is just as hardline on the morality of homosexuality, while simultaneously managing to remind people that GLBTQ are part of their community, and ought to be treated as such, and remaining psychologically sensitive.  I would wish to see similar language from hardliners within my Church.

In Corde Mariae,

Eiluned


[1] One has the sense that this would not happen.

Published in: on August 5, 2010 at 10:08 pm  Comments (1)  
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