WE HAD TO DESTROY THE CHURCH IN ORDER TO SAVE IT: I don’t really know where to begin with Andrew Sullivan’s crop of posts today (scroll down). I don’t want to address everything he says, so I’ll just take on a couple points and then explain part of why I react so strongly against what Rod Dreher called “the Oprahfication of Andrew.” As always, his comments are in bold, mine in plain text.
“Thinking about this again today, and reading many of your perceptive emails, it became even clearer to me that sex is the problem – sex with minors, sex with members of the same gender, sex with members of the opposite gender, relations with the opposite gender. And the striking thing is how, when you read the Gospels, you hear so little about this subject. Jesus seems utterly uninterested in it. So why is the Church so obsessed with it? …Why cannot the Church be as neutral as Jesus was about this issue? Why can we not leave the dark and difficult realm of eros out of fundamental moral teaching? …More specifically: Why can we not hold up marriage and committed loving relationships as the goal but not punish and stigmatize the non-conformists or those whose erotic needs and desires are more complex than the crude opposition to all non-marital and non-procreative sex allows. …Let it go. And let’s focus on what really matters: love of neighbor, prayer, compassion, service, honesty, justice.”
1) Notice how we move from “the American hierarchy has covered up pedophilia; they’ve lost an immense amount of credibility; let’s reform, and clean these Augean stables” to “sex outside of committed loving relationships is A-OK for ‘nonconformists.’” This is, no doubt, great news for the Mickey Sabbaths of the world; and the 30-year-olds who hang around DC high schools and impregnate my pregnancy center’s 15-year-old clients (“but we’re in love!”); not to mention those who seek to grope a goat (a dark and difficult goat, no doubt, but aren’t they always). One of the reasons we should be grateful for the Church’s guidance in the “dark and difficult realm of eros” is precisely that it is so dark and difficult, and it is good to have a light. Sex and eros often appear centripetal–driving us toward one another–but when they are not linked to caritas, promise-making, and loyalty they become centrifugal, alienating, isolating, and ultimately they can fragment our sense of self. (I need to write more about this, but not today. Start here for more.)
2) If only the Church weren’t so obsessed with those slaves! Why are they always going against the natural, moral, and Biblical teaching of slavery? Jesus never said slavery was wrong! How can Christianity possibly include anything Jesus was so uninterested in?
Obviously, it is society that is obsessed with sex. The Church responds with the teachings she’s proclaimed for two millennia. I don’t claim to understand all of them (especially the teaching on homosexuality), but several years ago I concluded that the Church was an authoritative teacher, and that she proclaimed God’s truth. Unless and until I am convinced that this is wrong, I will follow her law, which is God’s law.
Sullivan calls what he believes Catholic. As far as I can tell from reading what he’s written, he has a deep, abiding, and deeply-felt faith that God is present in his life and that the Catholic Church–whatever he takes that to mean–is the place to find Him. He’s written movingly about his experiences of faith and his love of the Church. But the kind of Catholicism he espouses, in which all moral statements are up for grabs if they prove too difficult for me or too obscure or too strange, is untenable. For example, I do not have a deeply-felt faith. I believe; I seek to give my life to Jesus Christ; and I’ve had several scattered experiences of God’s presence–a few times praying, a few times receiving Communion or in Eucharistic Adoration, a few times just sitting thinking, and so on. But in my day-to-day life, an emotional connection to the Church is something I struggle for. (This, by the way, is another reason I dislike iconoclasm [the removal of all images from churches]. Icons, statues, stained-glass scenes all help remind me of the beauty of God, and they remind me more specifically of what I believe, its history, and its power.)
I read Sullivan’s Love Undetectable during a period in my life that was already rough; I was deeply shaken by his rejection of the Church’s sexual teachings, and his reasons for that rejection, but since I lacked his emotional commitment to the Church my options were different. He stays in, and dissents; I had absolutely no reason to go that route. I had no deeply-felt connection to Catholicism. I wasn’t raised in it. And so my options were: reject Sullivan’s claims about sex, or reject the Church. That’s why I think that Sullivan’s form of Catholicism is accurately described as “Oprahfied”–its claim to be Catholic rests, ultimately, on nothing stronger than the unpredictable waves of human emotion.