Clapback Comes for the Archbishop, Part Three

Clapback Comes for the Archbishop, Part Three October 18, 2019

Part One; Part Two; Excursus

Right then, back to your regularly scheduled program of subverting Catholicism. Archbishop Chaput’s second point of critique of Fr Martin is this:

Father Martin has, in the past, suggested that people are born “gay.” … Studies have recently shown that there is no “gay gene,” and homosexuality is the product of a variety of factors. It’s true that many persons with same-sex attraction have experienced it for as long as they can remember, but no firm scientific consensus exists on the cause. Moreover, genetic dispositions … say nothing about the benefit or harm toward which they dispose those having them. Any implication that a person’s behavior is predetermined, and that intellect and free will have little role in the formation and control of his or her sexual appetites, is both false and destructive, especially to young people.

Hoo boy. This is going to take some unraveling.

First of all, the idea that people are born gay is in no way the same thing as the assertion that there is a gay gene. The expression “born gay” is, admittedly, a rather simplistic way of putting things in the first place, but what it expresses is the idea that being gay is neither chosen by gay people, nor caused by upbringing, experimentation, or trauma: it’s just the way some people are. And that idea is a great deal broader than genetics. It’s technically true that biology seems confident that there is no gay gene, but that does not remotely discredit the idea behind the expression “born gay.”

Speaking of genes, there is actually some evidence that homosexuality has epigenetic causes: that is, that environmental factors that affect how genes are expressed might cause, or contribute to, homosexuality. But when we say “environmental factors” here, it’s denoting things like the internal chemistry of the mother’s uterus and its influence on fetal development—not whether dad played softball with the boy enough or whether bullies on the playground called him slurs.

This leaves us with the possibilities that Archbishop Chaput either didn’t know that, or didn’t feel it merited mention. I’m inclined to take issue with either: both indicate ignorance or incuriosity or even carelessness about LGBT issues. Which would be one thing if they were the feelings of a private person, but it’s frankly irresponsible for an archbishop who is writing on that exact subject. Knowing what you’re talking about when you speak with sacred authority is not an optional extra—it’s a duty to honesty.

His Excellency’s remarks on intellect and free will are again disquieting. Now, probably no reasonable person, and certainly no educated Catholic, would deny that intellect and free will have an influence on what we do with our sexual impulses; and nobody, or at least nobody worth listening to, is saying that sexuality is such a powerful force that it overrides all thought and choice. It’s the decision to say “formation and control,” rather than just “control,” that comes off unsettlingly. Is the good bishop saying that we can decide not to be gay? Or that we can cure it with arduous effort if it’s caught early enough? Because, uh … no. We extremely can’t. If nothing else had, the implosion of Exodus International in 2013, after a forty-year career of trying to change people’s sexual orientation, should have taught everybody that. People have committed suicide over their inability to change their orientation. This is not something to imply lightly.

And the idea that we can become straight if we just try hard enough isn’t just poisonous: it’s also a staple of the way Christians of all denominations have treated queer people in this country for the last fifty years. LGBT people still get ejected from ministries, schools, jobs, churches, and even our own families for not being able to change our orientation. Again, this is something Archbishop Chaput should know already, partly as a function of his office as a shepherd and partly because he chose to write about this subject.


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  • Samuel_G

    “Studies have recently shown that there is no ‘gay gene’…”

    If I recall correctly, the study (singular) in question found not that there was “no gay gene,” but rather that there was “no ONE gay gene,” which is quite a different proposition! While the Punnett squares of high school biology work for certain hereditary traits like blood type or eye color, we know from modern genetics that the idea that there is one particular gene that either is or isn’t present corresponding to every possible bodily quirk is simply not accurate. In many cases, different pieces of different genes work together to form different traits, and this does not even get into the effects of epigenetics, as you mention.

  • Naters

    Chaput is incredibly ignorant. Whoever replaces him should be better than this.

  • Irksome1

    My only mild criticism is that when the bishop implies that the intellect and will can be brought to bear on the formation of one’s sexual appetites, I think it’s a little unfair to read that formation as one which can be absolute. Certainly the manner in which a particular sexual proclivity is experienced can change through mortification, even if it isn’t altogether eliminated.

  • Naters

    Sexual attractions don’t change. Scientifically proved fact.

  • Statistics Palin

    Mortification? What did you have in mind? Beating a gay man to the brink of death and hanging him on a fence in Laramie so that he can die alone?

  • Irksome1

    I’m not suggesting that we can have direct control over who/what we find attractive. I’m suggesting that, given a set of sexual attractions (towards, say, a certain person or a specific sexual act), the urgency that we might feel towards it may either grow or diminish over time, depending on our satiation or self-denial of the attraction.

  • Irksome1

    Mortification —noun
    1. a feeling of humiliation or shame, as through some injury to one’s pride or self-respect.
    2. a cause or source of such humiliation or shame.
    3. the practice of asceticism by penitential discipline to overcome desire for sin and to strengthen the will.
    4. Pathology the death of one part of the body while the rest is alive; gangrene; necrosis.

    Origin: 1350–1400; Middle English mortificacion < Late Latin mortificātiōn- (stem of mortificātiō), equivalent to morti- (see mortify) + -ficatiōn- -fication
    —Related forms
    pre·mor·ti·fi·ca·tion, noun

  • Irksome1

    Surprisingly, being tied to a fence in Laramie isn’t necessarily something one might reasonably contemplate as necessary to the word “mortification,” although, if you would like it, I can pass you the contact info for an S&M dungeon I know of in Jacksonville where being tied to a rack and beaten is part of one of the fun weekend packages that they offer…

  • Statistics Palin

    But castration, psychosurgery, and simulation of death were practiced as behavior modification (mortification) in twentieth century America against homosexuals.

    I spent my years from twelve to twenty-two hiding who I was from everyone so my parents wouldn’t have me sent to conversion therapy as an inpatient. I spent most of this period in catholic educational institutions where I was called “faggot” everyday by students, who told me all the things their perverted minds could imagine I did.

    The people who need to be treated like that are straight Catholics.

  • Irksome1

    Ok, so look: in grade school, junior high and high school, I was in the exact same place you describe yourself as being in. I had both harassment at school from my peers, harassment at home from my parents and indifference from everyone else, if I was lucky. I am not unaware of, nor unsympathetic to some of the real traumas visited upon me and other gay men and women as a result of malformed notions of moral theology. I get the anger. I really do. I’ve got it too.

    For myself, I was lucky enough to recognize the anger didn’t help me. It served only to make me bitter and depressed. It stunted my intellectual growth and my ability to be a good boyfriend to the men I loved. To get beyond it, I mostly chose humor. That’s where my (possibly poor) joke about the S&M club came from.

    The “mortifications” I speak of need to, by their very nature, be ultimately self-chosen and self-directed. They cannot be imposed from without as you’ve described your treatment in Catholic schools. I’m deeply sorry for that, not only because it robbed you of the chance to experience some level of comfort with sexual self-discipline, but also because I do respect you, and I am also angered by the treatment you received.

  • Naters

    But you implied in your answer that you believed sexual attractions change. I don’t get what you were criticizing him for.