So Austin Ruse has published yet another piece at Crisis about homosexuality. I haven’t bothered with the last few; it seems to be a kind of perennial obsession and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of point in exhaustively refuting each problematic claim. Basically, the stream of vitriol against homosexuality, the gay community, the “gay agenda,” and even gay-identified Catholics who choose to live according to the teachings of the Church, has the endless trait. Lop off a head, it’ll grow two more.
Which of course leads to the question, “Why do conservative Catholic publications publish this shit?” It’s always the same tired arguments and tropes wheeled out over and over again. Nobody is converted by it. Nobody is convinced by it. Edification does not take place. When someone from outside of the deep conservative ghetto reads one of these pieces, they are invariably scandalized. If they make the mistake of also reading or (worse) engaging with the com-box, then whoever they are, they come away with their estimation of Christianity and specifically Catholicism diminished. Basically, it’s a form of counter-witness. So why do they publish it?
The answer, of course, can be figured out pretty quickly just by looking at the number of comments. Articles taking the piss out of homosexuality and homosexuals drive traffic. The com-boxes are always filled with fans crying out for more of the same, waiting for unsuspecting outsiders to voice a dissenting opinion so that they can be publicly excoriated before the mob. Within conservative Christianity there is a deep and insatiable thirst for articles which show that the gays really are evil, dissolute, dissenting, disgusting and bent on the destruction of good, decent, upright Christians.
Now, to most secular liberals the reason for this is obvious: Christians, especially gun-toting, Republican-voting, Bible-belt Christians, are bigots. And not just bigots. They’re also knuckle-draggers of the worst kind. Badly educated. Unintelligent. Poorly dressed. Probably inbred.
The knife cuts both ways. When a good liberal Canadian rushes to “Like” a post about some dumb redneck shooting himself with his own gun at an NRA rally, or cheerleads in the combox as an atheist pundit maliciously lambasts the religious practices of poor folks in the Appalachians, or laughs knowingly at snarky witticisms directed against the entire state of Texas, that is bigotry too. And it’s an undeniable fact that the left has an equal and opposite thirst for articles showing that all Republican voters and most Christians are malignant, stupid, ignorant people who are out to undermine America’s modern, egalitarian values and to carpet bomb the world.
Sanctioned bigotry, the tendency of any group to choose another group who it is acceptable to malign, is a pretty much universal characteristic of human societies. It’s part of the way that we establish a common identity: nothing brings people together and provides them with a sense of unity quite like being able to point and sneer at that guy over there.
At its simplest, most primitive level, it’s really easy to see that this is quite astonishingly arbitrary. In high-school, for example, it was unacceptable to make a comment that might even potentially be understood as racist, sexist or bullying. Unless, of course, the comment was directed towards the hated denizens of Brampton Centennial Secondary School, with whom we maintained a football rivalry. I have very little idea what BCSS kids said about us, but I know that all of us at Turner-Fenton sincerely believed that BCSS was overrun by drugs, gangs and teen pregnancies, that it was the worst school in the city, and that students there were of a very low intellectual calibre.
Even when the stakes were this self-evidently ridiculous, there was, already, a pretext of respectability and even objectivity. The claim that the rival high-school was a festering den of stupidity and iniquity was actually, on occasion, supported by alleged statistics. Nobody looked too deeply into the source of these “facts” for the simple reason that they made us feel like we were justified in pretending that members of the spirit team were BCSS Bucks, dressing them up in pink dresses and tarring and feathering them in shampoo and packing peanuts at the Sportsfest assembly.
Of course, as we get older and our corporate identities become more serious the rhetoric also has to become a little more subtle. Not much, necessarily, but the veneer of moralism and dedication to “truth” does have to be laid on a lot more thickly. After all, the stakes are higher. The cultural differences are less superficial, and the fight for cultural dominance has much graver implications.
At base, though, the fundamental psychology is the same. The reason that the Culture Wars are rife with sneering, stereotyping and scapegoating is that they serve this basic, tribalistic impulse to consolidate our corporate identities by constructing a common enemy.
Sincere disagreements about how a society ought to be organized, how the concept of family should be understood, how children should be educated, etc. cannot be logically discussed, nor can reasonable compromises be accepted because the goal is not to seek a common vision, but to win. The point is not to engage with the other side, to seek mutual understanding, or even to persuade: it’s to consolidate one’s own forces, to reinforce a common ideology, and to demonstrate that the other is evil, wrong, malicious, stupid and inferior.
Christianity, however, is from its inception opposed to such tribalism. Christ repeatedly scandalized his Jewish audience precisely by His refusal to respect their tribal aversions – to the Samaritans, the Gentiles, the lepers, even the tax-collectors who were understandably seen as collaborators with the occupying Roman state. Even more radically, He completely inverted the symbolism of the scapegoat – the sacrificial offering which becomes a symbol of everything that the community despises in itself and which must be driven out in order to secure the communal identity – by Himself becoming the scapegoat, “becoming sin” in order to establish a profound oneness, identity with, sinners.
By His actions and His words, Christ demonstrated that His Church was supposed to be for all of humankind. Indeed, this universality is so essential to the heart of the gospel that the Church which Christ founded came to be known primarily as “Catholic” — universal. We do not generally call ourselves the One Church, or the Apostolic Church – even though those traits are given equal weight in the Creed – but the Catholic Church. That’s how important universality is to our identity.
For this reason, the Catholic identity can never be upheld by sanctioned bigotry or other practices of exclusion. The moment the Church seeks to consolidate Her identity by establishing some group of people as the other, the enemy, at that very moment She loses Her identity and becomes something else – an exclusive ideology, a country club for the saved, a mutual congratulation society, a whitened sepulchre.