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.
Victor de Villa Lapidis