I’ve been called a few names for suggesting that sentimentality is a kind of soft tyranny. So be it. I concur with Flannery O’ Connor that when we swim in the sticky syrup of sentimentality, we lead ourselves to ovens and gulags.
Feelings are wonderful things and I am glad we have them, but they are often irrational things, as well. Think of the things you “love” and “hate”. Often your passion is irrational to your friends, and — if you’re honest — even to yourself. Because they are irrational, feelings are to be noted and respected, but not to be given the weight of authority. Increasingly, in our culture, that is precisely what is happening. The tyranny of sentimentality, of course, is that if you don’t “feel” the way the culture has decided you ought to, you’re a mean person. If you’re a Christian you will be told — often by other Christians who have mistaken feelings for reason and yes, given it authority — that you are a bad, unloving Christian, because “Jesus loves everyone.”
Jesus does love everyone. He also, as he demonstrated throughout scripture, confronted everyone honestly, with love balanced by both truth and justice. I always think of Christ in the center of the Cross, the culmination of truth and justice, balanced on either side of the horizontal beam. One cannot have Christ and not have truth; one cannot love Justice yet fumble it through a filter of feelings. The Justice and Truth get sticky in all that goo.
This is why Catholicism insists on thinking over feeling — which certainly seems very mean to a world hellbent on doing whatever it feels like — and because the church thinks, it often confounds. The same people who love the bishops for their pro-immigrant stance hate the bishops for their anti-abortion rhetoric, and vice versa, and people get frustrated and express anger that the church is not wholly on board with their ways of thinking.
But the church is not here to be on-board with anyone’s thinking, or even to be loved. She is here to keep Christ, physically and spiritually, in our world and in our lives. That was the whole point of Christ giving Peter the Keys to the Kingdom, and the authority to loosen or hold bound. The church, as His Body and his Bride (the two are one flesh), is meant to confront each of us, as Christ did, with love balanced by truth and justice. Like Nicodemus, whom Christ urged to keep thinking, we are called to reason, and like the hemorrhagic woman who dared to seek healing on the sly, we are meant to face Christ squarely, and be who we are:
When the hemorrhagic woman dared to touch his cloak, he still wanted to know who had approached him in faith; he still wanted her to account for herself and her approaching him. He healed her. He had mercy on her. But he wanted her to declare herself to his face, and before all the rest.
As the issue of the homosexual person, and homosexual marriage, comes to the fore in our social awareness, the Catholics are busily talking and reasoning and feeling; some are feeling more than reasoning, some are reasoning with feeling, but almost all of them are talking. Beyond the bumperstickerspeak and repetition of the feelings being promoted in the pop-culture and on execrable morning talk shows, I dare say it’s the Catholics who are saying the most interesting, compelling and thoughtful things about homosexuality, life, love and faith right now. Here’s a sampling:
I have been arguing, clumsily, for a long time, now, that the homosexual person is created for a purpose and is being called to something unique and beautiful, but I have never quite been able to put my finger on it, which I think has opened me up to some fair questioning.
Enter Michael Voris; he’s one of those guys I sometimes get annoyed at and I sometimes defend. In this video (found via Mark Shea), he does a fine job of putting his finger on the exact spot I was unable to find, and does it with beauty and depth, here. In fact, he moved unsentimental old me to tears at one point:
That’s the stuff. Well done, Michael.
But we’re not done. Remember Joshua Gonnerman, who last week wrote in First Things that Christian-baiter Dan Savage had made a fair point in one of his recent rants? This week, he follows up, writing: Why I Call Myself a Gay Christian:
The central locus of my identity, which shapes all other aspects of it, is Christ. But no one, upon honest self-reflection, can realistically claim that this entirely does away with all other aspects of one’s identity. Christ is the foundation which shows how other aspects of my identity can and cannot be expressed, but other aspects of who I am do say something significant about me.
Oscar Wilde — a deathbed convert — once said, “I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect.” In responding to this Christian argument for homosexual marriage that is so packed with heavy syrup we could add some ice cream, drizzle a raspberry and call it a peach melba, Marc Bares does opt to go with brute reason:
You are arguing that because Peter could not withhold baptism from anyone who desires it, we cannot withhold marriage from anyone who desires it. Right? Two problems here:
Peter would surely not have denied baptism to any one who asked for it. However, I’m quite confident he would have denied baptism to any one who said, “I would like to be baptized. By this I mean I would like to get a spray tan and become an expert at soduku.” Why? Because the issue here isn’t whether or not to give the man baptism, the issue is that what the man wants isn’t baptism at all.
In the same way, the reason the Church doesn’t grant gay marriages is not because gays are somehow worse sinners than others and therefore not eligible. The reason is simply that they don’t want marriage at all, for marriage is a covenant between man and woman. This is made very starkly and stunningly clear, not in the Old Testament — which you seem remarkably able to ignore — but in the New . . .Because God create male and female, a man seeks union with a wife. So to ask for a gay marriage — at least to a man living during the time of Peter — would have been like asking for a spray-tan baptism.
But even then, asking for a gay marriage is in no way comparable to asking for Baptism.
Baptism is a sacrament of initiation. It is the sacrament by which one enters the Church. Because the Church — the Body of Christ — contains the fullness of Truth, anyone entering from from outside of the Church is necessarily in some degree of falsehood. Marriage is not a sacrament of initiation. It is a sacrament given to those already in the Church, those already inside that fullness of Truth. So your argument is essentially that, because Peter baptized those in falsehood into the Truth, those already in the Truth should be allowed to live out a falsehood.
It is brute reason, and it may even be hitting below the intellect, but you must admit, the Catholics are keeping it interesting.
And here at Patheos, this imperative cultural, spiritual and religious discussion is about to get a lot more interesting.
But more on that, tomorrow.
UPDATE: A good piece by Bishops James D. Conley, who writes of attending a Theology on Tap featuring Eve Tushnet, in Denver.
There are, of course, many people—Catholic and non-Catholic—who are attracted to members of the same sex; the numbers are not negligible. Like Eve, there are many other Catholics with same-sex attraction who are earnestly committed to living in conformity with the Gospel—which can mean a life of unique difficulty.
Few Catholics are able to speak about an issue so personal as reconciling sexual identity with faith. But Eve did so artfully—she spoke clearly, honestly and with the kind of vulnerability that should be commonplace in a Christian community. She offered a genuine insight into the challenges that chaste, faithful, same-sex attracted Catholics face—and those challenges are not insignificant. Eve spoke about sublimating her sexual desires for women into expressions of love that are in harmony with Church teaching. She has tried to understand the Church’s teaching on same-sex attraction—that engaging in homosexual acts is outside of God’s plan for sexuality. Eve was clear that same-sex-attracted Catholics face challenges that single laypeople or clerics do not face in living chastely. All of us should be sensitive to that.
But Eve also offered insights into the virtue of chastity that are profoundly meaningful for all Catholics. She offered three key practices essential to living a life of chastity: developing authentic friendships, a dedication to hospitality and service, and a real commitment to an active prayer life.
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