Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Against Heterosexuality: The Idea of Sexual Orientation is Artificial and Inhibits Christian Witness"

Michael W. Hannon, "Against Heterosexuality" (First Things, March, 2014):
Alasdair MacIntyre once quipped that “facts, like telescopes and wigs for gentlemen, were a seventeenth-century invention.” Something similar can be said about sexual orientation: Heterosexuals, like typewriters and urinals (also, obviously, for gentlemen), were an invention of the 1860s. Contrary to our cultural preconceptions and the lies of what has come to be called “orientation essentialism,” “straight” and “gay” are not ageless absolutes. Sexual orientation is a conceptual scheme with a history, and a dark one at that. It is a history that began far more recently than most people know, and it is one that will likely end much sooner than most people think....

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Imagine if those people who anticipated being most romantically satisfied by committed sexual exclusivity began identifying as “faithfuls,” while those who were usually most excited by the prospect of unbounded sexual promiscuity started identifying as “unfaithfuls.”

* * * * * * *

... Michel Foucault, an unexpected ally, details the pedigree of sexual orientation in his History of Sexuality. Whereas “sodomy” had long identified a class of actions, suddenly for the first time, in the second half of the nineteenth century, the term “homosexual” appeared alongside it. This European neologism was used in a way that would have struck previous generations as a plain category mistake, designating not actions, but people—and so also with its counterpart and foil “heterosexual.”

... While our popular culture has not caught up— yet—the queer theorists increasingly calling the shots at the elite level already agree with Foucault on this point. Such thinkers echo Gore Vidal’s LGBT-heretical line: “Actually, there is no such thing as a homosexual person, any more than there is such a thing as a heterosexual person.” True, the firm natural division between the two identities has proven useful to the “gay rights” activists on the ground, and not least of all for the civil-rights-era ethos such power dynamics conjure up. But most queer theorists—and, for that matter, most academics throughout the humanities and the social/behavioral disciplines today—will readily concede that such distinctions are fledgling constructs and not much more. Many in this camp aim to expose the counterfeit credentials of sexual orientation and, taking a page from Nietzsche, to genealogically explain it away once and for all....

Of course, given our immersion in a culture for which these categories seem as connatural as the English language, uprooting them from our vocabulary and worldview will not be anything like a simple task. So why bother? As long as we do not succumb to sinful acts, why does it matter if people—even we Christians—continue to identify as homosexuals or heterosexuals?

First of all, within orientation essentialism, the distinction between heterosexuality and homosexuality is a construct that is dishonest about its identity as a construct. These classifications masquerade as natural categories, applicable to all people in all times and places according to the typical objects of their sexual desires (albeit with perhaps a few more options on offer for the more politically correct categorizers). Claiming to be not simply an accidental nineteenth-century invention but a timeless truth about human sexual nature, this framework puts on airs, deceiving those who adopt its labels into believing that such distinctions are worth far more than they really are.

A second reason ... it has bred both intellectual obscurity and moral disarray.... The older teleological view measured morality against man’s rational-animal nature; in the sexual realm, this meant evaluating sex acts by reference to the common good of marriage, which integrated spousal union and the bearing and rearing of children. The newer heteronormative system, on the other hand, cannot account for the wickedness of same-sex sodomy by reference to anything but a conditioned and unprincipled gag reflex, and one which, left unjustified, has weakened considerably over time....

There is a third reason .... It is at odds with the freedom for which Christ set us free. My future prior in religious life, Fr. Hugh Barbour of the Norbertine Fathers, has expanded on this idea in an essay in Chronicles Magazine , entitled “Do Homosexuals Exist? Or, Where Do We Go from Here?” As Fr. Prior argues, “Traditional moral theology evaluated acts, and did not generalize so unsatisfyingly about the tendencies that lead to these acts....

... Our Christian forebears would be shocked at our complacency with sexual orientation. The only reason that this whole program fails to alarm us as it would them is that we have been systematically indoctrinated into it from childhood, especially the young adults among us. But to take an analogue that we do not have such familiarity with, let’s consider how we would react if a different sort of category worked its way into our cultural vocabulary....

Imagine if those people who anticipated being most romantically satisfied by committed sexual exclusivity began identifying as “faithfuls,” while those who were usually most excited by the prospect of unbounded sexual promiscuity started identifying as “unfaithfuls.” Would we not find that troubling, especially when Christian men and women began adopting the latter label for themselves, and even offering the fact that they are “unfaithfuls” as a reason not to marry, since they would not be sufficiently fulfilled by the sexual life to which they would be committing themselves via the marital vows? [emphasis added]

“Unfaithfulness” is obviously playing the role of homosexuality in this analogy. But whether we are considering the number of one’s sexual partners or their gender, how can it not shock us when our Christian brethren adopt an identity for themselves that is essentially distinguished from its foil by nothing but a particular brand of temptation to sin? That is the opposite of Christian freedom. Of course, all of us are fallen and tempted and in need of divine assistance. But while we continue to struggle against these sinful temptations, what has been given to us in Christ Jesus is liberation from the shackles of sin that claims us as its own.

We do not belong to our transgressions any longer. So why create identities for ourselves using sin as the standard? I do not care how attractive promiscuity happens to be to you. You are emphatically not “an unfaithful.” Sure, we could socially construct categories that would make speaking that way appear obvious and connatural. But for the Christian to do so, or for him to participate willingly in such a framework once it has been constructed around him, would be severely mistaken.

I am not my sin. I am not my temptation to sin. By the blood of Jesus Christ, I have been liberated from this bondage. I will have all sorts of identities, to be sure, especially in our crazily over-psychoanalytic age. But at the very least, none of these identities should be essentially defined by my attraction to that which separates me from God....

... Our justified disapproval of Christians despairingly identifying as “unfaithfuls” notwithstanding, would there not be something even more absurd and vicious in their vaingloriously self-identifying as “faithfuls”? Put it this way: Does the fact that my erotic desires tend to take a single person for their object rather than a vast collective necessarily signify some inherent moral quality on my part? For that matter, does it even signal that my desires are virtuous, or—I think more probably—does it simply indicate that I happen not to be strongly tempted to one of many potential lustful abuses? Like so-called “faithful” folks, “heterosexual” individuals are not paragons of chastity just because they avoid the unchaste pitfall du jour....

However, while we can and should recommend the queer theorists’ diagnosis of the absurdity plaguing our popular sexual categories today, nevertheless we cannot sign on to their plan of treatment.... ... To riff on Dostoevsky, these radicals would like to believe that if orientation does not exist, then all things are permissible.

... The role of the champion of Christian chastity today, I argue, is to dissociate the Church from the false absolutism of identity based upon erotic tendency, and to rediscover our own anthropological foundation for traditional moral maxims. If we do not wish to be swept away with modernity’s orientation essentialists, then we need to remind the world that our sexual ethics was never really at home in the modern framework anyway, and thus that our forsaking the framework need not lead to postmodern nihilistic libertinism. There is firmer ground to stand on in the classical Christian tradition. Indeed, it seems to me the only place left to stand.

The Bible never called homosexuality an abomination. Nor could it have, for as we have seen, Leviticus predates any conception of sexual orientation by a couple of millennia at least. What the Scriptures condemn is sodomy, regardless of who commits it or why. And yet, as I have argued throughout, in our own day homosexuality deserves the abominable label, and heterosexuality does too....
Michael W. Hannon is preparing to enter religious life with the Norbertines of St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange County, California.


3 comments:








Anonymous

said...

Judith Butler says the same thing about male and female. Social constructionism goes all the way down. Ex-gay ideologists espouse it at their peril.





Charles

said...

Michel Foucault was a flaming sodomite who died of AIDS. He also stooped to mendacious and arbitrary revisionism in his so-called "histories" of this or that. Nevertheless, he has a point when it comes to this matter of "orientation essentialism."

There is no such thing.

Even our new Catechism of the Catholic Church, along with Pope John Paul II, rejects the notion that a person is defined by their sexual orientation.

The one correction we should make is to stop talking about "sexual orientations," "homosexuals," and "heterosexuals," since that only reinforces the distortion. Instead, we should talk about individuals who are faithful to Church teaching or not, people who are "sodomites" or not. We should probably also be more forthright about those who are not "sodomites," but are involved in recreational sex of the supposedly "normal" type, and call them out for being what they are: "fornicators," "adulterers," "lechers," "pedophiles," and "sexual predators."

Good article.





Robert Allen

said...

Great article, showing why precision in speech and an understanding of history are so important in this context (and, of course, others as well). But the defenders of sodomy are not interested in the Truth, nor in drawing correct distinctions- they just want to have their way at all costs. They are (literally) hell-bent on jamming their benighted, anti-Catholic notions of morality down the throats of all parties concerned, including and especially children. (And I agree with those who discern a demonic element in their unholy quest.) I called in to a local radio program to object to the hosts' take on the recently vetoed Arizona law protecting religious liberty: 'As a business owner, you have the right to think homosexuality is wrong, but not the right to refuse service to homosexuals.' I didn't want to get into a discussion of sodomy per se, I merely wanted to point out that rights permits actions or they are pointless. It would be as if one said that the right to vote meant one could decide on the candidate of one's choice but couldn't cast a ballot. We never got there, though, I was quickly asked if I thought homosexuality was wrong. When I said 'yes' I was scoffed at and summarily dismissed as the 21st century equivalent of a Klansman: 'Robert's just going to have to get used to serving gays in his restaurant, just like the racists down south had to eventually begin serving blacks.' I'm sure they think that they won the 'debate' (as if I had a chance with their fingers on the hang-up button) but, the thing is, ridicule is not an argument.