A reader writes:
Is it uncharitable for me to say that it seems really shallow for one to define oneself by one’s sexual proclivities, whether you’re L or G or B or T — or even H? Is this another example of people filling their unrecognized but innate desire for religion, for something to believe in? I remember reading an article that put forth the notion that everybody has that desire and has to fill it in some way, even when they reject the idea of faith in God.
I would appreciate your take on this before I start asking the initial question whenever confronted with alternative lifestyle issues.
Depends on what people mean by “define oneself”. Somebody who makes their sexuality the monomaniacal focus of their life—whether homo or heterosexual—is living a disordered life. There are millions of heterosexuals whose lives are completely defined and dominated by a disordered obsession with sex, lived out in an endless life of fantasy, porn, serial relationships and so forth.
That said, it is also often the case that homosexuality is bound up with narcissism in such a way that one’s “sexual identity” is treated as the central fact about who one is. (People can make almost any aspect of their life the central fact about who they are, defining themselves by ethnicity, income, sports team, Star Trek fandom, music preference, body alterations, political tribe, religious tribe, web browser preference, cat loving, marble collecting or you name it. Fallen man is an idol making machine.)
We should, however, be cautious about assuming that simply because somebody frankly acknowledges that they are gay that they are making it the central fact of their life. I know any number of gay folk who live in fidelity to the Church’s moral teaching, but who don’t shy away from saying frankly that they are gay, that their appetites are what they are, and that this does not mean they have to indulge those appetites. I think this is simply being honest, as when an alcoholic says frankly that he has a disordered attraction to alcohol or a glutton is frank about his tendency to desire to eat too much. I think that some Catholics, uncomfortable with so much as hearing about this particular disordered appetite can be swift to shush all discussion as “defining oneself by one’s sexuality” in the way a teetotaling fundamentalist tries to declare all discussion of alcohol sinful.
I think this is unwise since it communicates to the faithful homosexual that it’s not enough for him to be obedient to Holy Church. He has to repent even his temptations. The Church does not tie up for us the heavy burden of guilt for our temptations, only our sins. Indeed, the Church tells us that when we meet the challenge of our temptations with obedience we are being virtuous and our Father is pleased with us. No small part of why homosexuals get the message that God hates them is this curious double standard, reserved only for them, which says that when a heterosexual resists the temptation to commit fornication or adultery, he is a heroic saint, but when a homosexual successfully resists temptation he is still guilty of feeling tempted and must not speak of it lest he incur the charge of “defining himself by his sexuality”. I think that is a perfect formula for inducing despair in the homosexual who genuinely wishes to follow Christ.
Hope that helps!