Friday, February 17, 2012

Gay rights: tradition's vulnerable flank

J.J. Reno, "Exporting Gay Rights" (First Things, February 2012), writes: "Guaranteeing sexual liberation—unrestricted abortion, sex education, easily accessible and subsidized contraception, and gay rights—has become one of the major commitments of the Democratic party, and it is natural for a political party to shape policies in accord with its core commitments." Now the Obama administration is on a crusade to add gay rights to the exercise of America's "soft power," i.e., "the State Department will use [foreign] aid recipients' treatment of homosexuals to evaluate their suitablility for aid, and will be setting aside $3 million to fund NGOs that fight for gay rights."

When previous presidents, like Jimmy Carter made human rights an explicit priority in foreign policy, they appealed to moral principles that the overwhelming majority of Americans, at least, have endorsed for a long time. This is hardly the case with gay rights. Unlike the main elements of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, sexual liberation, especially homosexual liberation, "has no roots in the traditional cultures and religious traditions that shape the lives of the vast majority of people in the world."

Reno bases his article on a telling speech made recently by Hillary Clinton to the United Nations Human Rights Council in which the Secretary of State explicitly included homosexual rights among "human rights," drawing attention to the brutal treatment of homosexual people around the world. The conflation of rights based on a chosen life-style with those rooted in human ontology is clear.

The response of the international community to this attempt to make sexual and homosexual rights part of the "global consensus" that Western revisionists view as the inevitable direction of history has not been unmitigated gratitude. Last October, as Reno points out, "British Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech not unlike Hillary Clinton's, suggesting that foreign aid would be cut to countries that did not recognize gay rights." The response of the Nigerians was to "criminalize same-sex marriage and homosexual cohabitation."

Those promoting the exportation of gay rights in th West are not marginalized people. On the contrary, they are part of the liberal elite who imagine themselves the enlightened governors of the morally benighted, says Reno. "The White House is turning one of the most divisive issues in our current domestic battle over culture into a principle guiding the American effort to influence and shape culture throughout the world."

As long as partisans of "traditional family values" allow the self-styled liberal elite to define the terms of the debate by identifying gay rights (based on a chosen life style) with human rights (based on non-chosen features of human nature, like color, gender, and age), they will leave exposed tradition's vulnerable flank. To the extent that homosexual disposition is an unchosen characteristic of one's nature, the Church has never condemned it, even while recognizing it as "disordered." To the extent that those with homosexual dispositions act on their inclinations, choosing an active gay or lesbian lifestyle, the Church has always judged this a matter of culpable vice, just as it has judged immoral those acts stemming from natural inclinations that lead to recreational sex, fornication, adultery and other forms of lechery. The momentum in the West is now quite clearly in the camp of those who see traditional morality as a repressive violation of "human rights." Cannibalism in the privacy of one's own home, anyone?


Tradacious said...

Without all due respect, PP, the dichotomy you are positing here does not seem to fully hold up upon closer analysis.

Since 1960, the Church has declared [rather questionably, in my view] that people have a right to public worship and to publicly propogate their theological errors and evils. One's religiousity is not a matter of ontology. And Second Vatican makes clear these supposed rights are not even restricted to those in error who are acting in some manner of good faith but also are conferred upon those who even shirk their duty to pursue truth.

Anonymous Bosch said...

With all due respect, audacious Tradacious, please clarify. "... the Church has DECLARED," you say. "... Second Vatican makes CLEAR," you say. Where? When? How? Who?

I agree there's a problem. But the problem is ambiguity, not clarity. On the one hand, the Church and the Council have issued statements that ambiguously suggest revisions of emphasis and teaching in various ways. These statements are easily capable of being interpreted in heretical ways, and this is certainly is a novelty in Church history. On the other hand, none of these statements rises to the level of explicit repudiation of defined dogma and is therefore hard to declare outright heretical.

I prefer to ignore these ambiguities and interpret what I read and hear in light of unbroken tradition.

JM said...

The Church's vulnerable flank is that it cannot bring itself to say gay sex is sinful and displeasing to God, and therefore those pursuing it are in a bad place that cannot change without an abandonment of same sex activity [At least not outside of hardly heard, rarely quoted "official" documents that gather dust before the ink is dry, ever only be quoted by hardcore apologetical types who also still quote the encyclicals on inerrancy outside of Levada's shadow.]

I think they can't say it because they don't quite believe it. All the turmoil about gay marriage almost seems beside the point, since the leaders don't seem to have much problem with gay sex, just with sex outside of male/female marriage. Which sidesteps the whole question. If gay sex is not bad, then gay marriage is no worse than birth control, which supposedly everyone is OK with anyway.

And they expect a pack of Obama-voting parishoners to rally? LOL. Hasn't anyone learned anything from Paul VI?

Tradacious said...

A.B, these statements can be found in Dignitatis Humanae.

DH says: 'Religious communities also have the right not to be hindered in their public teaching and witness to their faith, whether by the spoken or by the written word.'

This is within certain due limits that DH enumerates, but none of those limits has anything to do with purely theological or doctrinal truth. In other words, the truth or error/evil of one's purely theological stances is no hindrance to its public propagation, running counter to centuries of Catholic values, thought, law and teaching.

DH also says: "In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed." One doesn't even have to try to pursue truth in good faith.

Not too much ambiguity here. Looks fairly clear. And, unfortunately, it seems that our council fathers were far more enamored with the UN's Declaration of Human Rights than they were with centuries of Catholic teaching in this area.

Pertinacious Papist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pertinacious Papist said...


In political philosophy we're reading Maritain's Man and the State now, which fits in nicely with your last paragraph, along with J. C. Murray and a host of others in those balmy days preceding and following V-II.

I'm always curious what the DH statements about having a "right to this immunity" practically means, particularly for those who, in bad faith, have no interest in pursuing Truth. Presumably it includes immunity from thumb screws and the like. How sad. A little drama might at least awaken people from their lethargic somnolence. But then, if we wait a tad longer, maybe the thumb screws will be used on Catholics to similar salubrious effect.

Tradacious said...


Aside from the damage that Second Vatican has done to Church teaching in areas like Church-State relations and material schismatics and heretics, my related concern is that this metaphysical mindset, taken to its 'logical' conclusions, potentially threatens to unravel almost any other area of Church teaching as well.

If rights are seen as conferred upon people regardless of ontology or, at a minimum, meaningful proper pursuit of the good and true, why not confer legitimacy upon homosexual unions as a doctrinal development? That was then, and this is now.

Just as our present pope informed us in December 2005 that George Washington and Adolph Hitler provided a justification for somehow revisiting Church stances on Jews and the modern Western state, why can't Stonewall and Matthew Shepherd be cited someday to call for a needed adjustment in Church teaching on homosexuality? It took us nearly 200 years after Valley Forge for the Church to recognize and appreciate its alleged watershed importance. Who's to say what we may be teaching in another 100 or 200 years?

Pertinacious Papist said...


I'm afraid I'm finding your comments a bit hard to track. For example, I'm not sure what your beef with metaphysics or ontology is. Isn't this classically understood as the basis for natural law?

Hence, if plants had natural rights based on their "metaphysical" nature, they would have a right not to have gasoline poured onto them, but rather water, in keeping with their nature.

As to Hitler and Matthew Shepherd and all the rest, isn't all that -- and the ability to cite historical precedents in the service of any opinion -- simply part of the current dominion or relativism and subjectivism?

Pertinacious Papist said...

By the way, when I used the term "tradition" in the title of this post, I wasn't thinking of Catholic "traditionalists." I had in mind the broad mainstream tradition of Judeo-Christian morality which has always regarded sodomy as an abomination.

By "weak flank," I meant that Judeo-Christian institutions have waited so long -- in fact, until homosexualism has largely succeeded in portraying itself in the image of victim in violation of "natural rights" -- so that these institutions now face an almost impossible uphill battle against the prevailing culture.

Tradacious said...


No, I have no problem with metaphysics and ontology, rightly understood, though I must confess my background is far from being an expert in these matters.

And, yes, citing Washington, Hitler, and Sheperd are part and parcel of a lack of objective pursuit of truth. So how did this approach make its way into a papal address in December 2005? That's my concern. I was suggesting that if Washington and Hitler become justifications for Catholic revisionism in the eyes of the present pope, then a future pope could cite Stonewall and Sheperd as a justification for further revisionism.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Got it, Tradacious. Good point. Thanks.