Friday, December 09, 2005

Sartre contra Sullivan on the Vatican Instruction

In his latest paparatziphobic salvo against the Vatican Instruction banning admission of homosexuals to the priesthood, Andrew Sullivan declares why, in his opinion, its new rules "turn Jesus' teachings on its head." In an article entitled "The Vatican's New Stereotype," Time (December 12, 2005), he writes: "The one consolation that gay Catholics have long had is that the church hates only sin, not sinners." The substance of his argument is that the Church has turned this principle on its head, or, at least, now hates the sinner as well. His conclusion spills over in bitter bile:

The new Pope has now turned that teaching on its head. He has identified a group of people and said, regardless of how they behave or what they do, they are beneath serving God. It isn't what they do that he is concerned with. It's who they are. They are the new Samaritans. And all of them are bad."
This is as pathetic as it is wrong-headed and misleading. One hardly knows where to start. The Pope has not turned Church teaching on its head. He has not identified a group of people and said that they are beneath serving God (at least in other ways than the priesthood), or that he's unconcerned with what they do. He has not said that homosexuality constitutes who they are, or that they all are bad. These are Sullivan's words, not the Pope's.

There are countless impediments that can disqualify an individual from seeking priestly ordination, including being female, being under age, being too old, being married, being a medical risk, being financially in debt, etc. In addition, there are also impendiments of psychological unfitness involving various pathologies, phobias, neuroses, syndromes, obsessive-compulsive disorders, etc. It is simply not true that these accidental properties of a person's life, no matter how preoccupying they may be, define the substance of his nature. The Church has never taught this. It never will. In fact, Catholic teaching has often explicitly rejected precisely such a view. Hence, it has denied that homosexuality can be a person's defining identity. For this reason, too, there is good reason to eschew use of such words as "gay" and "lesbian," which in common parlance today are used as nominal identifiers, as though they referred to a given nature.

Not even the atheistic existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre, accepted such nonsense. He writes, in "Patterns of Bad Faith" in his magnum opus, Being and Nothingness:

A homosexual frequently has an intolerable feeling of guilt, and his whole existence is determined in relation to this feeling. . . . In fact it frequently happens that this man, while recognizing his homosexual inclination, while avowing each and every particular misdeed which he has committed, refuses with all his strength to consider himself "a paederast." His case is always "different," peculiar; there enters into it something of a game, of chance, of bad luck, the mistakes are all in the past; they are explained by a certain conception of the beautiful which women cannot satisfy; we should see in them the results of a restless search, rather than the manifestations of a deeply rooted tendency, etc., etc.

... Thus he plays on the word being. He would be right actually if he understood the phrase "I am not a paederast" in the sense of "I am not what I am." That is, if he declared to himself, "To the extent that a pattern of conduct is defined as the conduct of a paederast and to the extent that I have adopted this conduct, I am a paederast. But to the extent that human reality cannot be finally defined by patterns of conduct, I am not one." But instead he slides surreptitiously toward a different connotation of the word "being." He understands "not being" in the sense of "not-being-in-itself." He lays claim to "not being a paederast" in the sense in which this table is not an inkwell. He is in bad faith.

By "bad faith," Sartre intends the view that denies one's innermost free moral agency, the view that one is ultimately responsible for making of his life what it is and not a hapless victim of his environment or circumstances or "nature." If Sullivan doesn't understand his Catechism, he could do worse than study a little Sartre.

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