Elizabeth Scalia: Intrinsically Disordered Human Being

So, basically, I realized something about myself over the last few days, and over at First Things I’m just putting it out there, because, why not?

I yam what I yam:

Up to now I have done a very poor job of dealing with it, largely because until that moment of clarity, I had not recognized the disorder. Like most same-sex attracted persons, I had thought of my battles and defeats in terms of weakness, shame; discipline, programming, and willpower; there was no connection to the transcendent, so how could I ever transcend myself?

We are told that the phrase “intrinsically disordered” is hurtful or hateful, and yet I find the words ironically healing; they give me precisely the hook into that transcendent understanding (and into notions of original sin and even idolatry) that I have been missing. Far from taking any offense at the idea that I am “intrinsically disordered,” I am actually consoled.

In identifying my disorder as “intrinsic”—that it resides within me as naturally as the marrow in my bones—I understand that there is no point in attempting to further fool myself or run away from myself; I am released from self-hate, shame, or defensiveness. At the same time, I am now and forever obliged to acknowledge—with every temptation—that I am disordered, and within that acknowledgement to then choose whether I will serve the disorder, at the cost of Heaven, or serve God.

You can read the rest, here.

And yes, of course it ties in, in a way, with my book on idolatry. Idolatry is the constant serpent, slithering through all of our disorders, and telling us that we’re really perfectly alright, it’s God who has the problem.

About Elizabeth Scalia
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  • Mandy P.

    This is a really good piece. Like you, I struggle with the food. No idea why, but there it is. I recently had a conversation about the issue of homosexuality and homosexual “marriage” with my much more socially liberal mother-in-law and she initially recoiled at the idea that homosexual persons face intrinsically disordered desires. I don’t think I explained it quite as well as you did, but basically I said that we all have our crosses to bear. And it’s true. If it’s not a desire for one thing we should not have it is something else. It’s *always* something, for everyone. I guess that’s a part of concupiscence.

  • Jeff Stevens

    I’m the original author of the comment that Elizabeth quoted.

    I’m really glad that comment helped you, Elizabeth. While I was mostly using them as examples, like everyone I struggle with the intrinsic disorders of a concupiscent nature. I’m especially glad you expanded on it and took it somewhere I’d never taken it before. That helps me in return. Thank you.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    I commented over at First Things and said the following, not quite seeing it your way. But it was an interesting take on the subject. First I quote you from your piece.

    “In identifying my disorder as “intrinsic”—that it resides within me as naturally as the marrow in my bones—I understand that there is no point in attempting to further fool myself or run away from myself; I am released from self-hate, shame, or defensiveness.”

    That may be your reaction but I’m not sure that is the typical reaction. As I look at my compulsions (I’m not gay nor am I overweight, though I do enjoy eating) if they are sins (which they are) then I do feel a sense of shame about them. I don’t know whether they are “intrinsic,” nor am I all that sure yours would be considered “intrinsic,” but they are sins however catagorized. I don’t feel released at all.

  • Peggy m

    While waiting for mass to start on Sunday, I was thinking about medieval depictions of the seven deadly sins and wondered how I would depict them. That got me wondering about homilies, and how seldom we (or I) hear preaching on the Big 7. I think “the world”—especially the part hostile to us—thinks we hear about Lust and its friends more than we do. Anger and Pride are more common. Greed, too.

    I did wonder how a homily on Gluttony would be received, especially since so many in the congregation and country are overweight. This was not always so, and I don’t know exactly why it has happened. Should Gluttony be addressed in a homily? How could it be worded, so as to help rather than insult? I know that gluttony can describe other things than food but here I wonder about the sin of eating too much food.

  • Subsistent

    A commenter on Mrs. Scalia’s *First Things* article has objected to her formulation, “I am intrinsically disordered.” He has indicated that, given that a certain habitual desire of a person is disordered, it does not follow that the person himself is so. I think he’s right. And yet, I submit that it’s also true to say that the person is intrinsically disordered as to that habitual desire. In other words, that person is disordered not
    ABSOLUTELY, but RELATIVELY to that inordinate desire. And as long as this qualification is understood, it need not be expressed in words. And I think it’s reasonable to assume that this is how Mrs. Scalia understands her formulation. So I think there’s no real disagreement here between Mrs. Scalia and that commenter.

  • Subsistent

    A parallel example here: If I’m short and skinny but have a big nose, it’s false to say, in an absolute sense, that I’m big. But it’s true to say that I’m big as to my nose, big relatively to my nose.

  • David J. White

    C.S. Lewis has an interesting take on gluttony in “The Screwtape Letters”. He suggests that it involves not just overeating, but a general preoccupation with what goes into one’s mouth. His example is someone who is overly fastidious, who eats very little but insists what she does eat has to be prepared “just so”. His point is that such a person is just as preoccupied with food as someone who simply eats too much.

    And, to be honest, this is one of the things that I struggle with, too.

  • http://maxedoutmama.blogspot.com MaxedOutMama

    You know, what shocked me so about the comments were those saying that gluttony was in no way equivalent to homosexual behavior.

    Do we no longer teach Christians about the Seven Cardinal (or Deadly) Sins? Do Catholics no longer learn anything about them? Is it really true that a layman had to correct a cleric on such a basic point? Do people really believe that homosexual behavior is somehow worse than the others? If so, then believing, supposedly faithful persons are in dire need of religious education.

    Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony. Yes, apparently we DO need homilies on gluttony. And the rest of them.

    Wrath? You can see its perverted trace in half the dysfunctional “dialogue” we encounter in our society, from the divorce court to the Congress. Greed, hoo, hoo, hoo, it’s not like we are not still suffering from a speculative bubble. Sloth – well, I claim that as my personal worst, although I can’t say I’m immune from the other six. In a society in which sedentary lifestyles are becoming one of the worst health risks, perhaps we all need to think a little more about sloth. But the love of laziness has got to be one of the strongest impediments to a worthwhile life. Pride – it’s a twisted clinging to the self-image that becomes self-destructive. Lust – well, it’s bad in all its forms. Essentially lust is the pursuit of the desire rather than allowing the desire to direct you to the pursuit of the life and service intended. Envy – it is not a coincidence that it shows up in the Big Ten. Gluttony is non-sexual lust.

  • ahem

    All sins arise from the same source: self-idolatry.


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