Leah Libresco writes…

Leah Libresco writes… May 22, 2012

Do you have any recommendations for readings on the Church’s teaching on sexuality? I’ve been picking it up by osmosis via blogs (and the book I read on the Church’s early teachings on sexuality was really interesting, but not very enlightening). Am I just supposed to start with Theology of the Body?

I don’t think it’s intrinsically unreasonable to tell a person (or a class of people) that sex is out of the picture for them. No one is guaranteed or entitled to a sexual relationship, and there are plenty of other impediments that can mean you can’t have sex with someone you love. (Having to break up with the Catholic boyfriend I loved is a case in point). So, in theory, I don’t object, but I don’t understand why having the beloved be of the same gender means you wind up on the impediments list. That’s what I’d like to read a defense/explication of.

(For them that ain’t familiar with her, Leah is my favorite atheist. She blogs here.)

I am, funnily enough, not a particularly good resource for this question, just as I am not a good resource for questions about the papacy. Why? Because neither Catholic sexual teaching nor the papacy ever posed a big intellectual difficulty for me. The papacy always seemed to be pretty obvious from Scripture (ie. it doesn’t take a genius to see that Peter is clearly regarded as the head of the apostolic band and that the Roman Church was pretty obivously seen as the most significant See in the early church due to its connection to the Petrine office). Likewise, however *difficult* the Church’s sexual teaching may prove to be for us concupiscent humans with our weakened wills and disordered appetites, it’s always been obvious to me that, yeah, the conception of sex handed down from Jesus and the apostles is that it is to be between one man and one women in the sacrament of marriage. It is, quite frankly, ridiculous to imagine that the New Testament has anything else in mind. So anything–masturbation, fornication, homosex, polygamy, contracpetion–and anything whereby you encourage unchastity in thought (committing adultery in your heart) is out of bounds. That’s the basic picture and it has always made complete sense to me once I understood what the Church taught (for my take on the contraception bit, which also gives the Church’s *positive* teaching on what sex is for, and not merely what the Church opposes, go here).

Because of this, I have not particularly studied up on the Church’s sexual morality. It made sense, it was not all that difficult to live out for us. End of story.

But, of course, that doesn’t help Leah too much. So I will add a couple of things. I don’t know how helpful the Theology of the Body will be. John Paul is not the most accessible writer in the world, but you might give him a shot. As I discuss here, there is (very typical for the Catholic world) controversy about Christopher West’s take on John Paul’s TOB which you may or may not find helpful. Patrick Coffin has written a book called Sex au Naturel which may be of use. (I haven’t read it, but Patrick is a sensible guy). Your mileage may vary.

Without getting into the question of how a homosexual is supposed to practically live out this teaching (since I am not subject to the temptation and therefore am reluctant to give free advice here), the teaching is, itself, rather sensible. It begins with the basic datum of revelation which says, “God, not you, is at the center of things.” This is as true for heterosexuals as it is for homosexuals, by the way. Lots of people feel strong sexual attractions in all sorts of ways that the Christian revelation denies them the right to fulfil. The reason it does so is that sex is, at the end of the day, sacramental. That Catholics have sometimes spoken of sex as “dirty” is a tragedy, but not determinative of anything. Sex is the creation of God. But because this is so the Church’s take on sex comes back, it seems to me, to the question of how the Tradition understands the relationship of natural and supernatual revelation. The same God who creates nature also reveals himself supernaturally and typically will elevate and perfect nature to participate in his supernatural life. So while nature will point in a general direction (as, for instance, sex points to union and fruitfulness and to the complmentarity of love), it does not do so with complete clarity. We are fallen, so our mere appetites don’t necessarily make clear what sex or eating are for. Merely because we feel strongly and “the heart wants what it wants” (in the immortal words of Woody Allen) does not thereby baptize it as good. For some people, the heart wants to eat paper clips, rocks and dirt. There are no Lady Gaga songs celebrating them as “born this way”. Because merely manifesting an appetite for something that nature does not intend the body is, in these cases, not called “natural” but recognized as “disordered” (which is exactly the term the Church uses, not only for homosexual appetites but for any appetite that is, well, out of order).

The natural–and supernatural–purpose of sexuality is, according to the Guy who invented it, union between man and woman in love and fruitfulness. A civilization which embraces a view of sexuality that makes war on these twin purposes is a civilization that is making war on fundamental reality–and therefore a civilization that is doomed to fail since reality refuses to be argued with.

I realize this confonts homosexuals–and an awful lot of other people–with a trial, precisely because it says that “you are not your own. You were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God with your body” (1 Cor 6:20). So, by the way, did the apostles (“If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry” they said, after hearing Jesus’ shocking and difficult teaching on marriage (Matthew 19:1). But though it is difficult, I can’t honestly say it is wrong or inconsistent. In fact, sex is not an absolute right. God has something to say about the right ordering of sex that we ignore at our peril because failure to heed him leads to harm to the human person and, multiplied across millions of relationships, to harm to human civilization as we are now experiencing.

Dunno how much use that is, Leah. Oh, one last thing though, a priest reader writes this:

A woman in Canada named Melinda Selmys has written a book recently called Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Look at Homosexuality and Catholicism, which is a profound and beautiful exploration of these issues – perhaps some of your readers might look in her direction for further (Catholic!) insight from one who has been there/done that.

Haven’t read it myself, but the priest who recomends it has his head screwed on straight so it’s probably worth a read.

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