Liberalism is a Destructive Force on American Catholics

Liberalism is a Destructive Force on American Catholics December 4, 2009

Liberalism has had a powerful, and yet destructive, influence on the average American Catholic. There is no doubt about it. Culturally, Catholics have embraced liberalism as a political doctrine, and in doing so, they have brought their politics back into the Church, causing great doctrinal confusion. If we want to repair the harm that has been done, we must be willing to look at liberalism and see how it has hurt our Catholic sensibility.

Liberalism is the creed of individualism; it is the belief that the individual should be free from external coercion, such as from the state, in order to pursue their own private interests (a classical example of this is laissezfaire economics). All individuals are seen as equal (leading to a disregard for hierarchies).

While one might point out that there is a truth involved with liberalism, it is the exaggeration of that truth which is dangerous and yet is the norm of our society. Individualism has led to a disregard to traditional forms of respect. For example, because people are equal, no one should bow before another person (if you do, you indicate some sort of subservience and therefore you present yourself as less than equal to the rightful liberal individual). This has led further to a denigration of honor, so that we have a very limited perspective in how to show it to another, and if you go beyond it, your excessiveness is seen as idolatrous (the range of honor you can show to someone else has decreased through the years, so that anyone who is said to be a follower of someone else is looked upon as a cultist giving adoration to someone who does not deserve it).

If we look to the criticism surrounding President Obama, we see classical liberalism making its case: when President Obama is seen as bowing to someone else, the liberal will cry out in disgust. How dare he bow? Doesn’t he know what that means, that he has lowered himself (and the reputation of the United States) because of it? How can he be seen as a leader if he acts like a servant? Yet – this is exactly the kind of activity that a Catholic should expect from our leaders. A quick look through Holy Scripture shows that the great Patriarchs were among the first to bow before others, even to those who were their own inferiors (as when Jacob bowed to Esau – the one whose birthright Jacob possessed).[1]

Perhaps the greatest criticism has been to Obama’s supporters. Here, liberal have said that his supporters were idolaters worshiping the president. What have they done to get this designation? Have they formed a religious cult around the president? No. All they have done is shown enthusiasm to the man. They know that he cannot solve all the problems of the world, and they also know they disagree with him a great deal on many issues; but they saw in him the potential to change the course of the United States, hoping it would be for the better. Their enthusiasm, their praises, does not, however, get anywhere near the level of a cult; indeed, conservatives laugh at the notion that what we see is anywhere near excessive, when we have a history of courtly honor and praise which makes what happens around the president pale in comparison (compare, for example, the courts of Constantine, Justinian, Charlemagne, Louis IX, or Louis XVI with what we see around president Obama, and we will see Obama’s followers hardly show him much honor, and indeed, they do so in rather limited circumstances).

At the heart of this liberalism is the deadly vice of pride; the ego likes to be lifted up and think itself above everyone else, and never having to give honor or respect to anyone else. While there is a limited form of respect left in our society, it is a kind of respect which is being lost, the more and more this individualism and its ways are encouraged. Road rage, for example, comes about because of the lack of respect people show towards each other while driving. But why would anyone have to show that respect, if everyone is equal and everyone should be free to do as they will? Clearly society is falling apart, and it is this liberal core which is destroying it, rotting us from the inside out. There can be no society based upon individualism, because there is no connection between the individuals themselves to make for such a society. They have become Leibniz’s monads. They believe there is no one else for them to follow than themselves; they have become slaves of their own ego and its pride.

Catholics, once again, should know better. The way to salvation is humility; the one who wants to be greatest will become the servant of all. We must die to the self, if we want to enter real, eternal life. Inordinate passions such as lust can never be satisfied, and so the libertine pursuit for pleasure (which is what they understand happiness to be) can never end. Society holds a common bond because we are not mere individuals. We are connected one with another because of our common nature.

But, as we said earlier, Catholics have been influenced by liberalism. We can see this in the way their devotions have changed over the years. In the 19th century, the word worship was never seen as a word which was meant only for God. Worship, giving someone honor, could be done according to different grades, from relative honor to absolute adoration, with only absolute adoration being given to God. Even in the early 20th century this was understood. Thus, the 1912 Catholic Encyclopedia could say, “The word worship (Saxon weorthscipe, ‘honour’; from worth, meaning ‘value’, ‘dignity’, ‘price’, and the termination, ship; Latin cultus) in its most general sense is homage paid to a person or a thing. In this sense we may speak of hero-worship, worship of the emperor, of demons, of the angels, even of relics, and especially of the Cross.[2] But within the 20th century, Catholics slowly accepted the liberal leveling of honors, so that the only worship could be that which is given to God. Now most Catholics if asked whether or not they worship the saints will say “no.” Of course, they are right in thinking we do not give adoration to the saints, but they have ignored the great diversity possible with worship, and have readily given in to the liberal interpretation of worship as being idolatrous if it is given to someone other than God. This has, however, has influenced  our spirituality. Private Catholic devotions give far less reverence to the saints, with far less practices of traditional piety (kissing icons, incensing the statues, singing hymns to the saints, etc) because these forms of reverence are inherently recognized as being worship. Indeed, liberal Catholics will be among the first to agree that many forms of Catholic piety were excessive and idolatrous (with the only given defense being the people who performed such rituals were ignorant and therefore, worthy of pity not condemnation). What was said in public about public actions and rituals gets turned in on Catholicism and their rituals.

This difficult finds itself also in the way the ordinary American Catholic treats the bishops of the Church. While the conservative knows how to give respect, and understand the limitation implicit in a position of authority, they also know that authority is to be respected and given its due place. Bishops can indeed do wrong, just like anyone else. But they are to be respected, their position given due consideration, and the response given to them should be one which demonstrates this respect, showing that their words were contemplated and not just dismissed outright. Liberals, on the other hand, are quick to dismiss authority; the only authority they cite is one which agrees with the positions they already accept, and they are unwilling to follow an authority if there is any disagreement between them and that authority. Liberals use authority for their own gains, but without any actual desire to serve that authority themselves. Of course, the liberal will point out the history of abuse within the Church and use that to indicate why authority should be dismissed. But who is convinced by such an ad homimem? Even a conservative will recognize the need for reform and constant pursuit for excellence, and if there is an abuse in authority, they will agree that it needs to be rectified, but they will not agree that it means all authority is abuse and needs to be rejected (just as the presence of alcoholics in society does not mean alcohol should be forbidden to society).

It has once been said that liberalism is a sin; while I would not go that far, it is true that the principles of liberalism lead to sin. The solution, of course, must not be some extreme counter-reaction to liberalism. The solution is not an extreme authoritarian society which gives its citizens no personal freedom. There has to be, as with all virtues, a middle way, and for Catholics, the way forward and out of this quandary is to look towards the government of God over the earth. What freedoms does God give? What restrictions does God place on society? How and why are each given? That, not political liberalism, must become the framework of Catholic dialogue in the 21st century if we want true reform in the Church.

[1] “And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. And he put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother” (Genesis  33:1 -3).

[2] F. Cabrol. “Christian Worship,” In The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912). Retrieved December 4, 2009 from New Advent: .

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  • Great post, Henry. I always think that liberalism is built upon a Hobbesian foundation – everybody is king of their own little castle, and if somebody else gets too close, they will get a punch in the nose. We see this with laissez-faire liberalism, with the “absolute right of taxpayers”. We see this with the “right” to marry whoever we want. We see “family” being interpreted as a nuclear family in an atomistic suburb. We see this with the rise of SUVs and McMansions. We see this with the gun fetish. All of this says – I’ll do what I want to do on my own turf, I don’t owe anybody anything, so back off.

    What I find absolutely amazing is that people who hold this liberal principle to heart are called “conservative” in America.

    • MM

      It has amazed and saddened me that many people focus more on those ways Obama has followed traditional political models than they have of the content of his political work. It shows to me what is at the heart of their political engagement. Obviously, people can (and should) engage his political work, but how they do so often says more about them than Obama.

      I think I would say what you said about Hobbes slightly different. Instead, Hobbes develops out of liberalism, and then becomes as you said the framework in which liberalism will live in the world. As long as no over-arching virtue is used to regulate a society founded upon libertine notions, the eventual fight for “my rights” comes out on top. I do not think it always starts this way, indeed, as Jeffersonian liberalism tried to hold on to some virtues (in the notions of rights which limited what others could do), but it slowly becomes more and more expressive, the egoistical individual desires more and more for themselves, and in the end, anything which gets in its way, including moral considerations, are to be fought against as serving to go against one’s own “liberty.” So we see in today’s society the lack of civility is increasing quicker now than ever, and I think it is because of two factors: one the natural factor of liberalism as “liberty and freedom of the individual” are trumpeted above every other factor (leading to the king of the hill mentality you describe well), and the second is the internet, and its influences on the way people interact with one another.

  • David Nickol

    We see this with the “right” to marry whoever we want.

    Wish you had left that one out.

    What many same-sex couples want is just to get married. Political activists may see it in terms of “getting our rights” in some abstract sense, but when it comes down to the level of the committed couple, what they want is not their “rights.” They want to get married, because in our society, that is the way they can make the kind of commitment to each other they want to make — the kind of commitment that is held up as an ideal in our society — and that is the way to form a household that will get the same recognition other households with formally committed couples have.

    This is, of course, what the American Bishops want to make sure doesn’t happen. Not only do we have them — with their tax-exempt status and exemption from reporting their finances like other lobbyists — lobbying the House and Senate on abortion like any other “special interest group,” we have them lobbying against same-sex marriage anywhere it becomes an issue:

    The state’s Roman Catholic bishops had consistently lobbied for its defeat, however, and after the vote released a statement applauding the move.

    “Advocates for same-sex marriage have attempted to portray their cause as inevitable,” Richard E. Barnes, the executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, said in the statement. “However, it has become clear that Americans continue to understand marriage the way it has always been understood, and New York is not different in that regard. This is a victory for the basic building block of our society.”

    Do you know how galling it is to gay people to read about the American Bishops and the callous indifference they displayed to sex-abuse victims, and then turn around and see them running lobbying campaigns to impose Catholic beliefs on the entire country? What right do Catholic bishops have to prevent non-Catholic gay couples from getting married when they wouldn’t prevent priests under their own authority from sexually abusing children?

  • Ronald King

    Henry, I really appreciate your thoughts. I only have a moment. A quote from Monsignor Guardini’s book The Lord, “…there must be something else in God that the word love does not cover.It seems we must say, God is humble…Humility…does not move upwards, but downwards…the greater reverently bends to the lesser one. By this profound mystery we can measure how far removed the Christian attitude is from any natural earthiness. That the great one kindly descends to the little one, gently respecting his importance, that he is touched by weakness and makes himself its defender…humility begins only where greatness reverently bows before one who is not great.”

  • digbydolben

    I have for a long time thought that it is exactly along the fissure of the hypocritical contradiction of the bishops’ opposition to full equality for “gays” as well as to full respect for their unions, as opposed to the cover-ups of massive pedophilia, that the Roman Catholic Church in America and Western Europe would lose almost ALL of her young people.

    When I taught a few years ago in a Catholic high school in America, almost ALL the students were proponents of “gay rights” and there was consistently NOTHING the theology teachers–vetted for their “orthodoxy” by one of the most doctrinaire prelates in America–could do to stem the tide of youthful dissent from Church teaching on this subject.

    • Digbydolben

      Of course we must ask why they are proponents. One of the things I would like to ask is: what is it to gain with gay marriage? In a capitalistic society, I think there is quite a bit; it is one of the things people who support pure, laissez-faire capitalism and deny any responsibility of society for the welfare of its people (health care, etc) need to address. But I also think this points to what is at issue — it is not really marriage per se, but economics. If the social structure is better, so that the advantages (like being able to visit someone in the hospital, being able to be a financial unit together, etc) are no longer issues, what exactly does it gain for two gays or lesbians to have the government recognize their marriage? I would even ask what do most people who just like to be a couple for a limited amount of time have to gain as well, and I would think the answer is also nothing. The system however, because of how it works, creates an economic/political gain for marriage, and so to me I think the answer is deal with that, and then see if there is any other reason for marriage beyond religious/sacramental concerns once that aspect has been dealt with. I do not know. I do know that marriage as a sacrament looks to other concerns, and so I do think there are often cross purposes in this discussion going on.

  • David Nickol


    I assume you are talking about “classical liberalism,” since it was conservatives that were most offended by Obama bowing to the Japanese emperor.

    Here’s my question. It seems to me the attitudes you and some others here (for example, Sam “Liberalism Is a Bunch of Lies” Rocha) decry are so fundamental to the American (and perhaps Western) psyche that it is almost impossible to imagine looking at them from the outside in. If liberalism is all wrong, what ism is right? (And don’t say Catholicism, since I think Catholicism must be interpreted through some other ism in order to be comprehensible.)

    • David,

      Obviously I am talking about the libertine tradition which started before the Reformation, but became a major philosophical and cultural movement with the Enlightenment onward. It is a tradition which questions or ignores authority, and we can find this within the so-called “conservative” tradition in the United States — they are (as with the liberals in the United States) both forms of liberalism. Now I will be the first to point out there were true gains from liberalism, but the problem is that it took some ignored goods, and responded by exaggerating them and pitting them against other goods which also need to be accepted. Liberalism helped bring the idea that “authority is not always right” which is useful for philosophical and scientific investigation, but it also brought it further to “I am the only authority” which has led to an all-out power struggle and no norms as having any lasting significance; this has led to what MM pointed out– Hobbes — although to be sure, the right’s reaction to this was to try to use Hobbes for their own gain as well.

      Now you ask what is wrong and what is right? This, of course, is a difficult question – and one which I think we will always be exploring and further refining — there will always be the need for constant reformation to help deal with the defects of a given age. The way forward is to accept the good of the age but to balance it out with what is lost, and in this way, to pursue that good in the middle way beyond extremes. Each “system” is a construct by the human consciousness, with much that is good, but with all kinds of blind spots, the kind which slowly destroy the system from within; when that happens, it is time for reformation and development. It is also for this reason why the Church says there is no one answer, because any answer will become reified into an extreme which then closes in on itself into an attempted “pure nature.” Catholicism is about the reverse of that, to have an open nature which works with and complements something outside of itself — again, interdependence, which is lost with individualism, not only affects human with human interaction, but the whole of the system itself.

  • Steve

    I’m not sure if I buy into this completely. On paper one would think that “rugged invidualism” leads to a selfish outlook, but in my experience it seems that those who live independently and believe in indepedence also are the most generous, and have close-knit, interdependent communities. Think small family farming localities. On the other hand, it also seems that the more we centralize, the more divided, isolated and selfish we become. Now I do think that individualism is fatally flawed due to the fact that the family is the basic unit of society, not the individual. But I also think that the other side of the spectrum goes way off the plantation by promoting a type of phony solidarity that places the community over the family.

    • Steve

      I suggest you look for my article “person vs individual.” It will help with reading what I write here.

  • Gabriel Austin

    David Nickol writes December 4, 2009 at 11:50 am
    “Do you know how galling it is to gay people to read about the American Bishops and the callous indifference they displayed to sex-abuse victims, and then turn around and see them running lobbying campaigns to impose Catholic beliefs on the entire country?”.

    There are several lapses in logic in this statement. The bishops are not imposing their beliefs [doctrines] on the entire country. They are lobbying for these beliefs. It is up to the representatives to do the voting.

    [Amusing was one senator’s comment that he knew his constituents were against gay “marriage” but he was going to vote for it anyway. So much for representative government].

    There is another important error. The opposition to gay “marriage” is not exclusively a Catholic position. It is [rather violently] held by the second largest religious group in the world – the Muslim. It is also held by many other religious groups.

    In this country it is held by what are called by some “fundamentalist” groups [who are looked at by liberal persons with the same disdain given to the untouchables].

    The attempt to equate the issue witth that of civil rights is given the lie [and resented] by the many black churches which are vigorously opposed.

    Distressing at it is to many, this is said to be a democratic country. Such issues are meant to be decided by votes of representative bodies, not by judicial fiat.

  • Very nice, Henry. I think this theme is important to stake out, under no uncertain terms, the fact that the liberal vs. conservative divide is really just two degrees of liberalism—that we ought to reject in both kinds.

  • David Nickol

    Obviously I am talking about the libertine tradition which started before the Reformation, but became a major philosophical and cultural movement with the Enlightenment onward.


    I assumed so (as I said), but what is obvious to you and MM may not be so obvious to many of the rest of us. One of the things that makes Vox Nova interesting is that the contributors write at a high intellectual level — as opposed to being correct all the time by means of gut instinct and intuitive insight, like myself — but not all of the commenters could pass a pop quiz on Hobbes. (Or at least I couldn’t.) And up until quite recently, I had always thought that the Enlightenment was a good thing.

    • David,

      Certainly I hoped there would be an element of challenge being found by this piece, saying things which appear opposite of expectation. But it is to help people move beyond the limited political landscape they find themselves in so as to express themselves in a far greater tradition. But I also hoped I said enough (liberalism and its connection to laissez faire economics, for example) for people to see where it is I am coming from with my criticism.

      Now, to the Enlightenment. Obviously there was good and bad found within it. My view towards education has always been that we can learn from a diverse number of traditions, especially those we do not always agree with. Even someone who has fallen for some great error does so because there is some truth in that error, and we must learn to find that truth and bring it out so that it can be restored to its rightful place in society.

      Now I truly believe the Enlightenment has many problems (such as an extreme reliance on human reason), and post-modernism itself is one expression of this (and one of the reasons why it is fascinating to me). Nonetheless, we also find many of those interests in the otherwise ignored responses to the Enlightenment while it was taking place (of course, the responses often were extreme and need moderation as well). Nonetheless, the more one explores what has come out of modernity (starting with Descartes), one can see that there is something quite problematic with this turn to the subject — not that the subject is unimportant (indeed, subjectivity is a great advance), but it needs to be placed within a greater tradition which also appreciates the limits of human reason.

      Oh, and as to Hobbes. My study of de Maistre required me to get a grasp on him, thanks to Fr Komonchak (who said I couldn’t ignore the connection between the two in my paper on de Maistre). You are right, though; most people will know nothing on him!

  • Not to self-promote, but just to offer a simpler and shallower view of this in a previous post:

    Also, for a more in-depth look at this Charles Taylor’s enormous book “A Secular Age” is the best there is, in my view. I am slogging through it right now.

  • David Nickol

    Distressing at it is to many, this is said to be a democratic country. Such issues are meant to be decided by votes of representative bodies, not by judicial fiat.


    I suppose it upsets you that the Supreme Court usurped the rightful authority of the Virginia State legislature in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia when it struck down the state’s anti-miscegenation laws.

  • David Nickol

    the liberal vs. conservative divide is really just two degrees of liberalism—that we ought to reject in both kinds


    As Emil de Becque said in South Pacific, “I know what you are against, but what are you for?” What I was trying to ask of Henry, and now ask of you, is how do we step outside our own mentality and embrace something that is neither liberal or conservative (in the MSNBC versus Fox meaning of those terms)? In my way of thinking, everyone (aside from radical fringe groups) who is not a liberal or a conservative is a moderate. And I presume moderates are just as mistaken in your view as liberals and conservatives, since they are just a mixture of the two and are just as much victims of “classical liberalism” as anybody else.

    I remember somebody asking, “What is the thought that thought can’t think?” What I am saying is that I find it difficult to conceive what you are talking about, because I am steeped in a way of thinking that I am not sure has the concepts in it that are needed to think about what you are saying. It’s like the isolated tribes whose concept of counting is “1, 2, many.” Telling them that 2 + 2 = 4 has absolutely no meaning to them, and (if I remember correctly) they don’t even seem to be able to learn if it is explained to them.

    Are we supposed to believe in the divine right of kings, or what? I think like an American. Help me! 😛

  • David Nickol


    Regarding marriage, when has it ever been something that could be isolated from economics? When Jesus is said to have “raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament,” marriage was not a religious rite, was arranged by the families of the bride and groom, and was very much a matter of economics. It is impossible even to imagine a purely sacramental marriage. People who complain about “changing the definition of marriage” have not thought very much about marriage, which has changed drastically over the millennia and will no doubt continue to change over the coming centuries.

    • David,

      I think of the question of marriage a great deal, in part because the West and the East look at marriage quite differently. One of the things we must note is that there has been a discipline change on the nature of marriage, and yet a core sacramental idea which goes beyond the discipline. The East “allows” for divorce and yet if one explores the issue more deeply, second and third marriages are not seen in the same sacramental light as the first, though they are still allowed. It suggests there are indeed two issues going on.

      As whether or not all marriage has been economic, remember, it is the modern world which has promoted economics to a place of prominence. For so many in history who would have had no advantage either way to marriage (serfs, slaves, etc) marriage still was seen as something — why? What did they see they got out of it? What did they get beyond mere coupling? I think that is something which needs to be reflected on.

  • David, your question is a good one and an important one. And a proper reply to it will take time and a great deal of patience on both our parts. But, for me (Henry is more articulate and erudite on this subject), it begin with the human person (prospon).

    To be a person is fundamentally opposed to the idea, and the possibility, of the liberal individual. The other thing about being a person is that a person is fundamentally mysterious, unlike the self-known individual. Accepting that mystery and letting it push us into deep senses of how persons can live together is what leads us in a similar direction as the Enlightenment (Lonergan call it the 2nd Enlightenment)—away from Kings—and into a deeper sense of personalist politics.

    That is the alternative-to-come. One that I hope we at Vox-Nova might work on articulating more and better.

  • Peter Farley

    I thought Karlson’s post was an ironic take on conservatism. The terminology has become mushy. Ambrose Bierce wrote that a conservative “is enamoured of existing evils, as distinguished from the liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.” In religion liberal Catholics are loyal to the Church when they agree with her;conservative Catholics are unequivocally loyal to the Church when she agrees with them.

  • Every mistake you make in your thinking comes from an inability to separate the Church from the rest of the world.

  • digbydolben

    It seems to me that Christ did not wish His “Church” to become “separated” from “the rest of the world.”

    Henry, I agree with you perfectly about the economics of marriage, and would prefer that Catholic “gays” ask only for a “blessing” for their “friendships” and not for that thing (which is thoroughly repudiated by Protestant and post-modernist secular culture in America) called “sacramental marriage.”

    I DO believe that there is something mysterious and sacred in “personhood,” as opposed to the Enlightenment’s “individualism,” and that that “personhood” is somehow engaged in a deeper experience of nature and nature’s “godhead” when heterosexual “marriage” is involved. Nevertheless, I also believe that the “affections of the heart” (not of merely the flesh) between two homosexuals are also sacred, and need societal affirmation.

  • Kevin


    I don’t understand. Are you asking the Catholic Church to bless something that the church deems sinful? If so the church needs to re-define sex between two persons of the same sex as holy. Which is really what the blessing would entail.

    I think the wink wink , the two elderly uncles are “just friends” blessing won’t really fool anyone. Nor do I see the Church doing a complete reversal on this teaching. Although not proclaimed ex-cathedra, the teaching is pretty close to being settled, however that works. I don’t see how the church could do the “everyone to be saved must be in the church, but we don’t know who is in the church” on its teaching of marriage. I think the best thing to pray for would be a softening of the disordered language as that is probably as far as the teaching can go without contradicting itself.

    Now a blessing of two consecrated virgins would be an interesting avenue to pursue.

    And to bring us back to Henry’s topic, is the gay marriage rights movement classic liberalism? Is it about elevating oneself and wants and ego above society?

    • Kevin,

      Things are not so easy. There are many ways the association and love between two men and women can exist; obviously, I think the Church will encourage a celibate, chaste relationship, but it does not mean it cannot recognize there is something in the love between the two, either. Indeed, historically, it has (look into St Pavel Florensky’s discussion of the rite of brotherhood; it certainly was not to be used as an excuse to sin, but it did see that two men/women can be bonded together through their love to help each other in their pursuit for virtue). This also seems to connect to the ideas of St Aelred and his pursuit for “spiritual friendship.”

      The problem to me is how our modern culture over-sexualizes all kinds of love. Once we move beyond that, then many kinds of relationships, without sex, can be recognized.

      One of the things that liberalism has done is to remove our sense and association with the past; things have been forgotten which I think should be revived and could deal with all kinds of modern issues if they were. Of course, the revival has to be done in proper fashion.

  • Ronald King

    With more time to read and reflect on this post and the comments I was amazed how liberal and conservative attributes are expressed in moment to moment fluctuations of subjective experience regardless of the person’s identified label. It seems that the drive to individualism is a natural instinctive response of rebellion against authoritarian power and control which identifies the more vulnerable human being as an object to be used for the purpose of the one in power. As such, becoming an individual is a step towards liberation from the oppressor to becoming a person. However, there is danger to this person if this courageous seeker of truth remains contained in the reward of pleasure and a sense of empowerment in this rebellion without a deeper reflection into the mystery which had motivated this internal drive to liberation.

    The danger is one of becoming what one has rebelled against or of being caught in a constant state of rebellion without the understanding the underlying nature of this rebellion. The internal forces which drive the human being to liberation from oppressive authority can be understood within two major components of being human which are soul and body, or, the spiritual and the physical. The soul becoming attached to the senses is awakened from its initial relative unaware state of comfort in the womb to an environment of intrusive overwhelming chaos that we call human relationships. The embodied soul is now subjected to the pressure of becoming something that is instinctively alien in order to survive in this alien world. Its symptoms of discomfort in this internal and external chaos are responded to by another with comfort, discomfort or indifference. Depending on the response from the other the embodied soul begins the process of becoming something other than what it ‘knows’ it was created to be.
    This is getting too long and there are too many levels of experience to look at. Simply stated every soul is going to experience the rage and fear of being human and if that rage and fear are not understood the identity becomes hardened into a lifelong rebellion against anything that is different from the individual’s identity no matter what conservative or liberal label is used. Hardness of heart is the primary symptom.
    Every soul and body is made for love and is in a constant state of being deprived that love which all souls seek. Those who desire same-sex marriage just want their love to be validated by the majority who oppose them. They instinctively are rebelling against the individual authority that has rejected them and they instinctively know that they are not loved by the authorities or oppose them. It seems that neither side knows how to speak the language of love clearly enough.

  • digbydolben

    The problem to me is how our modern culture over-sexualizes all kinds of love. Once we move beyond that, then many kinds of relationships, without sex, can be recognized.

    Henry is absolutely correct here, and he’s not right because there’s anything vile or nasty about homosexual (or heterosexual) love-making or about the physical desires of individual human beings; he’s right because sexual love per se is only an overwhelming need during a short period of many individuals’ lives. However, the need for love and affection persists…

    And bless you, Ronald King; you’re one of my favourite commentators here!

  • Gerald A. Naus

    This isn’t your fault, but this line of reasoning reminds me a bit of the occasional old Austrian who, when faced with something/someone disorderly, remarked that “That wouldn’t have been possible under Hitler.”

    “Individualism has led to a disregard to traditional forms of respect.”

    Largely a good thing, things aren’t accepted as easily simply because someone in charge says so. There is less respect for the military, drastically so in Europe, another good thing. One is far less likely to assume one’s position, as “just a woman”, “just a peasant”, or what have you. The notion of respect should not be discarded per se, but being suspicious of authority is a great thing.

    “Clearly society is falling apart”
    …when has it not been ? Nothing is static. I’m sure Southern slaveholders were more polite on average and respected all kinds of traditions. Nazis saluted impeccably, I’m sure Tojo bowed perfectly. Overall, by comparison, this is a great age.

    • Gerald,

      Obviously we will part company on many things you said here, though not everything is in total disagreement.

      Of course everything is changing, and nothing is permanent. That’s a given. The question though is what comes out of the change — is it better, worse, or just a side-step with some good and some bad?

      Now, as I have said, I do think there is much which has been gained from the Enlightenment; while I think its individualism is an exaggeration, I also think it reflected upon things which were also ignored and necessary. The subjective element is an important contribution, the problem is the excess which has come out of it: subjectivity which is a good has become the ultimate good, so to speak.

      As for tradition: as I said, I think the rejection of authority has led to questioning which has provided insight, which is a good, but it has also rejected much insight because it is traditional, which is bad. It is one thing to develop and improve, it is another to also reject advances of the past just because they are of the past. And that is the problem of modernity; it really rejects the past, and so creates not only anew, but something inferior, and based upon the passions (desire/attachments).

  • Ronald King

    The aspects of tradition and authority which are not based on love must be rejected. But first, recognition of what is and is not love must be clearly identified. It is the subjective wisdom which is the spark of the Divine that will cause rejection of authority which is not love based. We must understand the dynamics and the symbolic language of the subjective before we begin to criticize it. The subjective language of the developing human being clearly and honestly reflects the presence or the absence of love in the earliest attachments. If this language is not understood then we have an absence or a void develop within the human being which is always seeking the real or imagined object which will fill that void. Tradition that is not connected to love cannot fill that void. A human authority who functions within that tradition and knows the language of love will give that tradition the substance of nourishment which had been empty without love.
    Tradition without love is religion. Tradition with love is faith. Catholicism is a faith of love and a religion of fear based on its physical presentation to the world.

  • ES

    You all really need a gay writer on your blog. It’s nice to have allies, but it would also be nice to see how a gay writer could fare on Vox Nova.

    I write in, every now and again, as a gay man. I usually don’t say anything, as I watch the non-gay Catholic crowd talk about what they don’t know connaturally. It’s a nice reminder that experience really does make all the difference.

    To straight people, like MM: we, the non-straight, seem to be a problem for you. For almost 2000 years, Christians have seen the straight body as sacramental. That’s how it’s made sense of a sexual body, as something to be read as a sign (according to Peirce’s definition — that by knowing which we know something more). Such reading, however, has been based on an assumption of normative desire not as that which proceeds from social conditioning or social construction, but as that which is implanted in nature. The problem, however, is that whichever side of the coin you wish to argue (nature or nurture), the idea of a singular form of sexual desire does not and never will meet up with the facts, and neither side of the coin vindicates the norm as normal.

    But the church says so. And the church said, with much greater biblical warrant, that slavery was ok. Who will be the Sepulveda and Las Casas of this argument?

    My suggestion: start asking us what it’s like. Start getting to know that you, though the majority, do not have a monopoly on how to make sense of desire. Become comfortable with the idea that maybe, just maybe, God is comfortable with gay people, lesbian people, transsexual and transgendered people – maybe God even wants us…maybe the desires that we feel are signs no less holy than those of straight couples, and, I might add, more reflective of the Father’s desire for the Son and the Son’s for the Father.

    • ES – Thank you for your comments.

    • ES

      Your comment on MM is ill-advised. Nothing he has said is that “gay people are a problem for me.”

  • Gerald A. Naus

    Very tangential – I find Buddhist traditions of purposely denigrating the Buddha very interesting. On the Catholic side, there used to be the Feast of Fools in the middle ages, a mock liturgy with lines such as “adventavit asinus, pulcher et fortissimus.”

    I agree that rejecting something merely because it’s traditional is silly. If there’s one thing I have found Zen Masters to have in common it’s a child-like openness to sensations, areas of interest etc. We all tend to
    give more or less credence based on sympathies and antipathies, which can make us miss out on interesting insights.

  • ES

    MM, please, of your own accord, let me know if I have misrepresented you. The line about people marrying whomever they wish certainly seemed directed towards, in terms at least of scope if not as a direct target, the non-straight.

    As for how I might have used the term problem, I refer you to Marcel’s distinction between problem and mystery. Much of what is said here, especially your comments about chaste same-sex relationships, Henry, isolate the desires of
    non-straights as having their matrix in an already-solved pattern of sexuality, which is heralded as a mystery for the straight, but used as a measuring-rule for all others. We stand here, with our different desires, either as problem to be solved or as a mystery that calls into question the current explanations of desire.

    What I read quite regularly at Vox Nova and from much of straight Catholic thinkers on this subject approaches lgbt people as problems – not as something other, as those with voices and intelligence who have had to come to self-understandings that can glorify a good and loving god rather than simply stand under signs of disorder or sickness.

  • David Nickol

    Your comment on MM is ill-advised. Nothing he has said is that “gay people are a problem for me.”


    Giving the example of people seeking the “right” (in quotes) to marry as one of a laundry list of the ills of our society is definitely a potshot at gay people, although one can find in it no hint of “unjust discrimination” against Vatican-approved “homosexual persons.”

    It is crystal clear that the Catholic Church believes that gay people should not exist.

    But the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase (No. 10).

    The Church may be comfortable with the idea of “homosexual persons” — although it will not ordain them. But the Church deplores the idea of gay people — self-accepting “homosexual persons” who do not see themselves as afflicted with an “intrinsically disordered” condition.

  • Kevin


    You had me interested up until the last sentence. In the last sentence you self destructed your post. The Father’s love for His Son is probably undescribable in human terms. The closest we can describe to the love of Our Father to His Son is that of how we love our own children and how we relate to our own biological or adopted parents. It is a sacrificial love. To describe it in homo-erotic terms is wrong.

    A great blog to read on this is

  • ES

    I submitted a comment this morning about what I meant by problem. For some reason, I guess, such clarification was not being called for.

    If there is something objectionable in that comment, please let me know.

    [remember, the speed of comments being approved can be affected by many factors–ed]

  • digbydolben

    The problem, however, is that whichever side of the coin you wish to argue (nature or nurture), the idea of a singular form of sexual desire does not and never will meet up with the facts, and neither side of the coin vindicates the norm as normal.

    ES, I, too, thank you for your comments–except for this one; one does not have to be “gay” or “straight” (I am neither, I’m pretty sure) to know this.

  • ES

    Kevin, I will link to your suggestion when I have a chance, but the analogia entis in this area has a lengthy history, going back at least to Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth century, and most recently employed by JPII in his Wednesday catachesis that came to be called the theology of the body.

    When doing this, however, one must always remember the decree of the 4th Lateran council that any declaration about a similarity between creator and creature always implies an infinitely greater dissimilarity.

    Lastly, if there is no Eros between father and son of which our own is but a shadow, we should just hang it all up right now.

  • grega

    Kevin I can see how you are disturbed by ES’s last sentence – I had the same reaction – perhaps for a slightly different reason – you than point to this John Heard guy as a good example how it is done right?
    I do not buy that kind of stuff – this heterosexual male clearly prefers that our many homosexual friends,neighbors, colleagues, sibling etc. live a honest life – we all SHOULD make honest attempts to find great partners/husbands/wifes and we all SHOULD than go on to have wonderful respectful sexual relations – I additionally disagree with the notion that sexual inclinations are only short lived or a ‘brief period’ in ones life -(..because sexual love per se is only an overwhelming need during a short period of many individuals lives.)- are you serious digby?
    For me our natural desire to express ourselves as sexual human beings is very much essential part of our humanity.
    As most often I very much like what David had to say.
    Obviously our church -despite wording to the contrary has ordained plenty of homosexual men – not surprising really – all they will accomplish with this current surge in antihomosexual postering they will drive the (20% – 30 %?)closeted young seminarians deeper into the closet – in my view given how the internet is available 24/7 this will accomplish nothing particularly good.

  • ES


    I read the link. I poked around at some of his other musings, and I’m guessing that John Heard self-identifies as gay and yet accepts current (post-1976) teaching on gay people being “intrinsically disordered.”

    If this makes sense of himself to himself, who am I to dispute that. It did not work for me. I found it ironic that the link had to do with Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, since I once was a member at a very young age, until I realized certain things. If people are wondering why I, a gay Catholic, know the theology I know, it’s all thanks to Opus Dei.

  • Aegis


    You wrote:

    “But the church says so. And the church said, with much greater biblical warrant, that slavery was ok. Who will be the Sepulveda and Las Casas of this argument?”

    Can you elaborate more on this point, specifically, what it means concerning how changeable Catholic teachings are?

  • Kevin


    You can’t join Opus Dei until you are 18. Do you mean you went to an Opus Dei high school or middle school?

  • ES


    this is a really difficult topic. I’m sure that if I were to try to go into this, I would be up all night. If I try to be brief and simple, I will sound like an idiot. So here goes trying not to sound like an idiot.

    I look at how much suffering has happened on the one hand: millions and millions of people, both in Africa and the Americas, dispossessed, sold, turned to property, beaten, made to mate to breed more slaves, and the Popes told the Spanish and Portuguese, go ahead, you have “dominium.”

    And then I see people sitting around saying, “But how do we uphold this doctrine that the church does not err in faith and morals?” Really? Is that what Jesus has taught us?

    If your faith is in an institution, or in sinful human beings, go ahead and try to work this out. For me, it doesn’t matter. I know my own experience tells me that those who analyze what homosexuality is from the outside have nothing to tell me about how it really feels to go through such a learning process, and so I also feel that all the arguments about what the development of doctrine means won’t ever change the fact that millions and millions of people had horrible existences here because of what Christians, assuaging – or perhaps not assuaging – their consciences did. Only God can make this right, and in my opinion, all we can do is ask for forgiveness and pray that we learn faster the next time.

    God is not the church, which (to quote St. Ambrose) is a chaste whore (casta meretrix). We’re on our way, but we don’t get a pass – we’re stuck with our human cognition, which comes to shape within culture and is expanded by cross-cultural contact and economic development, and so we have a lot of learning to do.

    Part of that learning, and maybe this is just me, but part of that learning might be to stop defending the church with convoluted arguments about development of doctrine and just have a little faith in the truth as something clear and big and powerful enough to show itself.

    And when all the attacks come, isn’t that what we were promised anyway?

  • ES – I suggest you look through the Vox Nova archives on the topics of homosexuality and gay marriage. See what I have written. I have numerous gay friends. Some of them are in relationships. I don’t judge them just as I don’t judge my straight friends who engage in pre-marital or contracepted sex.

    In terms of same-sex benefits, I support the Levada solution. I’m not bothered by the civil authorities choosing to grant legal rights to same-sex couples. Where I do draw the line is on the “right to marry” because that “right” derives from a flawed understanding of marriage. Today, marriage is seen as some romantic wish fulfilment. It is a way by which individuals satisfy their wants and needs. But there is nothing individual about marriage. It is a social institution centered on the bearing and rearing of children. It is the mutual self-giving of man and woman, where both surrender themselves to each other, and to the greater good, the social good. We’ve lost that idea in our liberal post-enlightenment world.

    Granted, most of what we call marriage in today’s world is far from this ideal – which is why I could probably accept a world of gay marriage under the strict condition that secular marriage is completely divorced from sacramental marriage.

  • digbydolben

    MM, marriage in America is ALREADY “completely divorced from sacramental marriage” except for the very small number of practising orthodox Christians who take it seriously. That’s why it’s unjust to restrict the American version of “marriage” to heterosexuals.

    And, yes, Grega, I AM “serious.” Maybe I really don’t understand adult human sexuality and never have, and, for that reason, have always stood on the sidelines and watched the games played regarding it with amusement, but my own erotic impulses only run, in my old age, toward the “polymorphous perverse”: I just want to give EVERYBODY I love, of every possible sexual “orientation” a big hug and be done with it!

  • digbydolben

    ES, you might be interested to know that John Heard’s blog used to have a “comment section” but that he eliminated it when he couldn’t deal anymore with the critical and rebarbative comments.

    He’s brilliant, but he’s also, truly, a “self-hating gay.”

  • ES

    I’ll try to respond in one posting to Kevin, digby, and MM. What I have to say primarily concerns MM’s comments, so I’ll start with Kevin and end with MM:

    Opus Dei does conform to canon law in that a person cannot request membership (“whistle” as they call it) until 18, but they do have what are called “ascritos,” kids 14-17 who have effectively become numeraries, live the “plan of life,” and follow the “Spirit of Opus Dei.” I was in Opus Dei for about a decade and left when I was 24, after a long attempt at reparative therapy.

    As for John Heard:have you asked him if he hates himself? I’m pretty sure that’s not how he experiences who he is.

    From what I understand, MM, it does seem to me that the non-straight cannot be sacramental, a mystery (to stretch Marcel a bit), for you. Fine. I realize that we’re at the very beginning of huge societal changes about how people understand their bodies and their desires, and a lot of talk and planning needs to go on before the church, in her infinite slowness, will get on board.

    But here’s where things get funny: as much as some say “let’s follow the Levada plan,” other things always make me scratch my head.

    For instance, this statement of yours: “But there is nothing individual about marriage. It is a social institution centered on the bearing and rearing of children. It is the mutual self-giving of man and woman, where both surrender themselves to each other, and to the greater good, the social good. We’ve lost that idea in our liberal post-enlightenment world.”…seems to suggest how you might really see your gay friends. I don’t know, but to me it sounds like you’re saying that gay people are selfish, that their relationships are individualistic, that they can’t give themselves to one another, that (granted they can’t bear) they can’t lovingly and together rear healthy children, and that the psychological health that they enjoy from being a family will have no positive effects on society.

    In effect, I’m not sure what your attempt to establish your credentials is supposed to do for your argument: you have people in your life that you somehow don’t judge but find no place for, not only in your view of sacramental relationships, but even in the most basic elements of a committed relationship.

    As for rights-talk, I find the objections to it funny, since it always comes from people who already have them, and the objections are always directed towards those who have been told that they are intrinsically different from those who possess them. In other words, those who have them (while objecting to any claims from the others) use them as a bulwark to the creation of significant differences (in the Aristotelian sense) so that the majority can continue to define itself by defining what it is not (the basic logical operation of A = all that is not-A).

    I could say that your idea of marriage, and the attempt to derail a discussion of rights, is a nice little weapon to deepen the trench around your self-understanding that depends on an outside (an other) for its meaning. That would be mean — it certainly sounds offensive, doesn’t it?

    But, here’s the rub: the effect of drawing the line (regardless of your intention), the effect of discounting rights while still possessing them (despite one’s self-understanding), has the same result, both psychologically and sociologically: the same arguments have been made before (slavery/civil rights movement/women’s rights), and the historical record is quite deep with the evidence.

    What the arguments (both concerning a theological understanding of relationships and a civil one) amount to is just a reiteration from the majority: you aren’t white, you aren’t a man, you aren’t us; god wasn’t talking to you about love; you don’t love like we do; you’re doing it wrong; your bodies don’t work like ours and so you don’t get to say that god is doing anything of the sort that god is doing with us; start being more like us, no matter how hard or self-destructive of your potential to love it might be, and then we’ll talk.

    I’m not asking for assimilation. The straight, who find the non-straight problematic, have always seemed to me to insist on the differences in a way that enforces a conformity that results in a desire for assimilation on the part of those excluded, and in an expectation among those on the inside that this is how the excluded can gain acceptance.

    Instead, I’m asking for two things: one, just to entertain the notion that maybe difference in and of itself doesn’t count as a disqualifier; two, to entertain the notion that maybe god is trying to say something through difference. We’ll fight our civil battles, and we’ll eventually win. That’s not what I’m concerned about.

    Lastly, I’d like to draw a panorama of the city (in the Augustinian sense) that we live in, to attempt in some way to bring this back to the issue of the original posting:

    Consider that for the past century (at least) churches no longer fracture along primarily theological lines. Look at your churches. I live in one of the most cosmopolitan areas in the US, and there are plenty of gay churches, lesbian churches, black churches, Korean churches, straight white churches (although they don’t self-identify as either, because they’re the norm) and the list goes on. To me this suggests another narrative about what inequality (which pre-existed and called forth the rights-talk arguments) does to us and what it takes for us to overcome it. None of us, no matter how different from the norm, is entirely comfortable with all the weight of difference we find around us, and we are (as Robert Putnam’s work has shown) self-segratating and opting for disengagement from civic life more and more.

  • Ronald King

    Digbydolben, You and others who do not “fit” into the “neurotypical” patterns of perception are a blessing to everyone who will take the time to listen to you. Eros is passion and where it is expressed is the point at which we can begin to understand where we have been invalidated and isolated from the love that we were created to receive and give. All of us are in the desert crying out in vain to be loved. The “liberal” is attempting to encompass those who have been labelled and rejected as not good enough. The “individual” is passionately seeking validation beginning with the self and fearful of getting too close with another “individual” lest he might see the ugliness within that might evoke the historical rejection and pain experienced in his past.
    “Self-hate” is the internalized absence of love in our most vulnerable state of existence. It is the genetic history of our ancestors being passed to us at the moment of conception. It tells us that we do not belong through an instinctive response of fear that is felt at the moment of separation from love. Those on the fringes have not mutated to the level of numbing extroversion and aggression as a defense against being vulnerable. Those on the fringes are the mystics who are consciously inundated with the constant intrusion of suffering all around them. There is no escape and they know the only answer is love to this mess we are born into. The tradition which expresses the faith and forms it into a structure of religion begins with the belief that we are “disordered”. Is that a loving understanding and is that wisdom?
    The mystic who has not been misled by the “authorities” of that tradition will cry out from the desert that their tradition is not love but is fear. Traditionalists will not understand because they have not yet gone into the unknown darkness of their lost love because they are afraid of darkness and they wish to remain in the 60-watt light of the known in their corner of tradition.
    They know the language there.

  • David Nickol

    It is a social institution centered on the bearing and rearing of children. It is the mutual self-giving of man and woman, where both surrender themselves to each other, and to the greater good, the social good. We’ve lost that idea in our liberal post-enlightenment world.


    You make marriage sound a lot like martyrdom!

    Your lofty view of pre-enlightenment marriage doesn’t seem to me to square with the history of Christian marriage for at least the first thousand years.

    [M]arriage was not always a liturgical event, even for Christians. In the first thousand years of the church’s existence, marriage was a civil affair. Seen as a contract between families, the main event was the transfer of the bride from the father’s house to her groom’s home. Christians simply followed the local customs with regard to marriage. The earliest Christian writers had little to say about it. Those who did refer to it in a positive way encouraged Christians to marry other Christians and warned them not to get drunk at wedding feasts. From the fourth century on, a bishop or priest would sometimes offer a blessing on the marriage at the feast that followed the wedding, in the wedding chamber, or at a mass after the wedding, but the blessing was not essential. Over time, parts of the wedding ceremony were celebrated near or just outside a church building, so that the couple could be blessed right afterward. In the eleventh century, more bishops began to require that marriages be blessed by priests. Gradually the ceremony moved inside the churches, and the secular ritual was transformed into an ecclesial ritual. The twelfth century saw the establishment of an official ritual presided over by a priest, though the details still varied according to local custom. Finally, at the Council of Trent in 1563, the Church declared that all Christians who wished to have a valid sacramental marriage must marry in the presence of a priest and two witnesses. [A Christian Theology of Marriage and Family by Julie Hanlon Rubio, Paulist Press, 2003]

    Granted, most of what we call marriage in today’s world is far from this ideal – which is why I could probably accept a world of gay marriage under the strict condition that secular marriage is completely divorced from sacramental marriage.

    How many Christian couples in pre-Enlightenment times surrendered themselves to each other for the good of society? (How many people who fall in love and get married today think of marriage in those terms.) While I wouldn’t deny that marriage is good for society, I don’t think many people enter into it fulfill a duty to society. It happens by chance (and by design of society) that something that is good for society is seen by couples as something that they desire for their own personal reasons.

    Who is to say that the marriage of a Jewish man and woman, a Buddhist man and woman, a Muslim man and woman, or man and man or woman and woman is inferior in any way to –- or more selfish than — the “sacramental” marriage of a baptized man and a baptized woman? When Jesus allegedly “raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament” by attending the Wedding Feast at Cana, he was attending a civil marriage of two Jews. Civil marriage (including secret marriages, which were valid) continued for centuries. I don’t think marriage was definitively declared a sacrament until the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century.

    In any case, nobody that I know of in the gay-rights movement is battling for “sacramental marriage.” It is all about civil marriage, and though I suppose if gay civil marriage becomes accepted, some same-sex couples at some future time will campaign for the Church to grant sacramental same-sex weddings, it will do about as much good as women seeking to be ordained. I don’t think the Church has anything at all to fear from the state or the culture recognizing civil same-sex marriages.

  • digbydolben

    David, if you will please read very carefully what Ronald King has written immediately above, I think you will come to better understand what the Catholic and Apostolic Church DOES have to “fear,” at least from the culture’s belated but fast-moving recognition of “same-sex marriage.” What the ecclesiastics have to “fear” is the increasing re-appropriation by ordinary Catholics, from the hierarchy, of what Ronald is so good as to call the “mystics'” unique understanding of Christ’s agape-love.

    Ronald and his kind represent the sole credibility among youth that religious people will have in the future, regarding this issue; believe me, I know, I regularly work with youth, including deeply idealistic religious youth.

    I want to take what Ronald has written above and broadcast it in Catholic schools, to show students and former students that orthodox Catholics are not necessarily judgmental or callous regarding the “civil rights issue of our times.”

  • digbydolben

    It tells us that we do not belong through an instinctive response of fear that is felt at the moment of separation from love.

    No, ES, I have not asked John Heard if he hated himself, but I watched plenty of other people ask him that question, in so many words, for months on his blog, before he shut comments down, and his answer, invariably, was a form of the above–that “homosexuals” MUST fear a “separation from love” IF they “acted” upon their desires.

    This was the ancient use of religion to instill fear as the consequence of an “act” that is increasingly understood, in our culture, to be morally neutral.

  • David Nickol

    I personally believe that to call oneself “gay” involves self-acceptance and a rejection of the “objectively disordered” label. But if someone is a “homosexual person” who accepts the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, I suppose it is unfair to automatically call him self-hating. People who have genuine afflictions — alcoholism, for example — can acknowledge that they have them without hating themselves. If you’ve been sober for ten years and still call yourself a “recovering alcoholic,” that does not necessarily imply that you hate yourself. It only implies that you recognize in yourself an urge to do something self-destructive (drink) that you have chosen to defy. I am not saying alcoholism and homosexuality are analogous, although those who believe in the “objectively disordered” theory of homosexuality would probably see many similarities.

    That said, I believe that most of what the Church has to say about homosexuality is based on prejudice. And of course it is perfectly possible for a “homosexual person” who accepts the Church’s teachings to experience a revulsion of themselves. It is just not necessarily the case. And describing someone as “self-hating” is basically name calling. If I thought something like self-hatred was going on, I would try to describe it in more sympathetic and less pejorative terms.

    Of course someone who is motivated by a revulsion for gay people when he himself is gay, and who feels it necessary to be an agent for those who want to promulgate revulsion for gay people, has to be called out.

  • digbydolben

    Of course someone who is motivated by a revulsion for gay people when he himself is gay, and who feels it necessary to be an agent for those who want to promulgate revulsion for gay people, has to be called out.

    Heard would say, I think, that he wants to “promulgate revulsion” for gay “acts” AMONG “gay people,” in order to bring them to what HE’d call “agape love.” In my book, he needs to be “called out” for his superstitious assertion that there is a distinction between what persons are and what they do.

    For instance, as a close student and an amateur literary scholar of both Hopkins and his Victorian milieu, I believe firmly that Gerard Manley Hopkins was of a decidedly “homosexual orientation,” knew it about himself, and expressed his self-torment over it in his poetry. The NEW Catholicism would bar him from the priesthood both because of his “intrinsic disorder” and his refusal to leave it unexpressed, in poetry of a clearly homoerotic colouration, in sermons which a modern would blanch at but a Victorian apparently would not, and in “spiritual diaries.”

    Of course, many of us who love him would prefer that Hopkins had never become a priest, but then, of course, he might not have been tormented into such beautiful, but heart-wrenching verification.

  • digbydolben

    am not saying alcoholism and homosexuality are analogous

    Of course you are! You’re definitely implying it!

  • digbydolben

    And, David, we need a commentator on here who is totally free of such prejudices.

    I nominate Ronald King.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    When you’re married to me, marriage definitely is martyrdom 🙂

    My uncles-in-law are married, I was just at their house, I didn’t find any sulfur pits. The people scandalized by gay marriage are a, literally, dying (and usually less educated) breed. Outside of the US and Poland you won’t find significant fervent opposition in the West. I don’t know why American politics are so histrionic, everything is such a drama here…..Especially given the real issues like starting wars. Frequently, the same people who are outraged by gay rights don’t mind America’s wars all that much. Homophobia and belligerence are traditional values….

    • I have let many comments through, despite some major disagreement I have with them. This is because I believe even in error, there is much truth to be found. Plus, I also think the comments represent the kind of liberal position which I speak against in the original post, demonstrating the kind of views which come out of it — views which declare people as “homophobes” or “biased” if they do not agree with their own liberal conclusions. This “biased’ comment is also being used with a negative connotation.

      Now, what they fail to see is the kinds of bias they use to lead to their own conclusions. One major bias is of the libertine “if one has a passion, let them fulfill it” view. One of the ideas behind this is “it won’t hurt anyone, really.” But that is never the truth. For it uses goods and perverts them, indicative of the evil involved. Who would suggest Tiger Woods in fulfilling his desires has hurt no one? At first it might seem as much, as long as it was hidden; now, when everything comes in the light, not only is his immediate family hurt, but it is clear the libertine position has helped lead him to a habit which continues to harm himself and his family. Now someone might say “the performance of homosexual acts hurts no one.” It would be suggested this is obvious; but it is not always obvious. Indeed, it is following the bias of modern society with its moral relativism that leads one to think that this necessarily triumphs over traditional Catholic piety; yet how can this be? The argument is based upon an accident (modern public opinion), and yet it ignores how that public opinion was formed and whether or not our modern ideology and biases are the ones confusing us and our judgment (as C.S. Lewis points out in his introduction to On the Incarnation, it is easier to see the errors of other cultures and societies than it is to see our own).

      What exactly is this bias? Again, it seems to be the capitalistic assumption that any desire can be and should be fulfilled. Yet, traditional society and culture understands that this turns a person into a slave to habits, for habits create desire; they are no longer free and argue against their own freedom by saying that their desire not only must be fulfilled, but desires are essential and unchanging, incapable of being modified. Such deterministic approaches run contrary to the fundamental freedom of the Christian, one which says we are not to be left to the passions but to transcend them to find our real happiness not in some “natural” closed end, but in the transcendent God who deifies us. It is really another example of “pure nature” with the addition problem of a “nature” which is based not upon the sinless Adam, but sinful humanity and its desires. It is the argument of Satan convincing us that we are our own rightful end — self love leading to hell.

      To see this through all one has to do is look at the people who argue for “fulfill your passions” and see how they treat people who are virgins. Their biases become quite clear as they have to degrade the virgin as someone who is a loser. I know. I run across this all the time when people find out I remain at 35 a virgin. It shows the true heart of our culture, and shows why our culture must run and accept not only the sexual activity between any male and female who just want to get together, but anyone who has desires for another human being, confusing desire and enjoyment for love. Indeed, I was surprised when I heard on the radio a protestant minister rightfully make this distinction: love is self-giving, not seeking happiness or pleasure or enjoyment for oneself but for the well being of one’s beloved. Our society is one based not on love, not on self-giving, but on self-taking, and we confuse enjoyment with someone with love (so much so that when the enjoyment is over, love is gone, and so of course it’s right to divorce).

      Now, one might wonder, what truths do I see in this thread? All one has to do is read some of my earlier posts in where I do suggest there can be real love between two people, whether or not it is married/sexual love, and this is something which should be recognized. But as long as it is diverted into an issue of the passions, I fear that love is doomed to die and be turned into something far less than real love.

  • David Nickol

    What exactly is this bias? Again, it seems to be the capitalistic assumption that any desire can be and should be fulfilled.


    I am sure there are political types to whom same-sex marriage is just one more issue about “liberation” or some such abstraction, but there are thousands of same-sex couples who just want to get married. Someone I know, who is in his fifties and has been with his partner at least 25 years, just went to Connecticut recently with his partner and got married. The motivation wasn’t “if it feels good, do it.” I know a number of gay couples who have been together between 25 and 35+ years. You don’t stay together that long with a philosophy of “any desire can and should be fulfilled.”

    One of the problems with the Catholic Church’s approach to homosexuality, it seems to me, is that if you feel you can’t live by the most severe of rules — lifetime celibacy — no sexual morality applies to you. Even the most basic and silly guidelines for young teenagers don’t apply. “Can we hold hands in the movies?” No, you are not supposed to get physical with someone of the same sex. “Is it okay to kiss my date goodnight?” No, because you have no business dating. Dating is for courtship, and courtship is for marriage. There’s only one rule that applies: Just renounce it all. And if you feel you can’t renounce it all, then what is the sexual morality you should follow? There is none, because in Catholicism sexual morality is “God says so” or “natural law” or “intrinsic evil.” So the Catholic Church has nothing to say to gay people except “Just say no, or go elsewhere.” Now, I realize that there are many priests and parishes where a more pastoral approach is taken. But as for official Church teaching, that is the message of the Church. You are objectively disordered. Anything you do sexually is intrinsically evil. You cannot really love someone of the same gender because only a man and a woman can give themselves to each other — it’s a matter of plumbing.

    The Catholic Church in its sexual teachings (and not just about homosexuality) is cruel. Not quite as cruel as it used to be, but still cruel.

    • David,

      The same “it’s cruel” can also be said to many people who want to do things they can’t do. And this argument against Catholic morality is not new; the problem is that Catholics no longer see themselves as a judge of the culture, but sees the culture as a judge of Catholicism. It shows a problem which has yet to be met. Just because there is a habit or a desire does not mean it is right to let it be executed; giving up of oneself always seems cruel to those who want to live to and of themselves. Indeed, I think Charles Williams’ Descent Into Hell is exactly about this issue, about the perversion of love to a projection of desire, turning into a kind of hell. It does not really open up but demands. On the other hand, can there be real love between people outside of marriage? Again, this reduction of love to marriage and sexuality says no, and in doing so, I think is becoming even more cruel to those who are trapped with desire, seeking to experience something true, but doing so in a way which leads contrary to that truth. There comes from this a delusion which leads to real suffering.

  • David Nickol

    the problem is that Catholics no longer see themselves as a judge of the culture, but sees the culture as a judge of Catholicism.


    I would say that over the centuries, the Church has sometimes learned valuable lessons from the culture. In the 20th century, for example, I think the Church caught up to the culture when it came to renouncing anti-Semitism. I think the Church learned a thing or two about the role of women from the culture. I think the culture was in a number of ways ahead of the Church on racial equality. You may be right in general — I really can’t say — but the Church has not always been in the forefront of every good development. Even when it comes to homosexuality, the more pastoral approach and the softening of the tone in CDF documents and the Catechism has been, I think, partly a result of the a more sympathetic culture rather than a change initiated from within the Church.

    • David

      Of course the Church does learn — as you know I entirely believe this — but there is a fundamental difference behind your example. The Church entirely agrees that we should not discriminate against homosexuals, and that is something I entirely agree with. And as you have seen, I also agree there is room to learn and appreciate something in this discussion because I do think there are truths involved which are ignored, but I think the truths are hard to ascertain and are being distorted. But I think the change itself as you see is one which goes with the fundamental agreement to the dignity of the human person and what that dignity must represent.

  • Ronald King

    Henry, What is in error that you let through. I have lived the prodigal son’s life and I know that what I was looking for was not taught to me by the people of authority in the Church. I was looking for a loving human being who would love me. I did not see them in the Church. I returned to the Church because of God’s Love. I was hurt in the Church because of a lack of love in human beings. I was hurt outside the Church for the same reason. I was healed through God’s Love. Your comment after Gerald’s doesn’t seem to be related to any of the comments I have read.
    There is also slavery to tradition. People made fun of me also because I was not cool enough.
    Back in 1974 I saw this woman at a mental health dinner in Pittsburgh. I was introduced to her and I could not speak. I met her again 6 months later and she did not remember meeting me. This time she was across the volleyball net and I could not speak. There were about a hundred people there. She was walking toward the parking lot and I thought I would never see her again. I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Hey, will you go out with me?!!!” Long story short, we have been married 34 years. I lusted for sex and desired to be loved at the same time. I love her more now than ever since God revealed his Love to me first as Him and then as her. I also lust after her more now than ever before. She is my love that I passionately love with all that I know about love at this point.
    People need to be understood with compassion and not with tradition. Love is not being lost now. Love was never understood in the first place between human beings. I am convinced that we are passionately looking for love now, more than ever before. People made fun of me when I did not know the love that I was capable of giving. They did not know love either and so went for power in their traditional mannner.
    Tradition is addictive because it gives us security without requiring us to explore the darkness that is in us and which we project on to others.
    What you wrote after Gerald, is what is on EWTN everyday. Your comments have been far superior to what you just wrote. Was that you?

    • Ronald

      What I wrote is exactly myself; and what I wrote is not exactly the same thing as EWTN. If one looks carefully, I am pointing out that there can be and is going to be real love which is there, but how that love is met can go in different directions and can get subverted. Remember, evil uses the basis of a good to justify itself. This is more than mere tradition, but again, a look beyond the modern sex/love ideology.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    We need to separate the “desires” issue. Longing to love and be loved in return is universal, the gay aspect doesn’t make things fundamentally different. It is the same longing, just manifested differently. All a straight married person has to think of is if he or she was not allowed to marry. Period. By making it “gay marriage”, it’s something external, something the opponent cannot relate. Think how you’d feel if you hadn’t been allowed to marry your wife or husband.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    “On the other hand, can there be real love between people outside of marriage?”
    come on now, you can’t ban people from marriage and then say they don’t have real love cause they’re not married. It makes my brain hurt, you’re making a sentient being suffer 😛

    • Of course one is not saying they don’t have real love; that is the point. Marriage isn’t what makes it nor is it marriage which is expected from all forms of love. Imagine someone who has a real loving heart and really falls in love with five women. Should they be told not to marry them all?

  • grega

    I give you this you express the perspective of a 35 year old virgin quite well. Obviously your theoretical knowledge regarding love,desire,sexuality will get you only so far – at some point it is worth tipping a toe or two into what is Reality for Billions of God finest creations.
    And yes at that point you might understand why the request that all homosexual inclined embark on a lifetime of celibacy is very very unrealistic and rather cruel. Particularly cruel in 2009 coming from an institution soaked plenty with homosexual clergymen. Oh well what else is new.

    • Grega

      This is, to me, one of the problems of the modern age; the expectation that we should get whatever we want, and it is cruel for anyone to say no to our desires. Is it cruel for a woman to say no to someone who really really wants to be with her? There might be pain created by it, but it would create pain for her to say yes, too, and the situation would quickly become far more cruel. That is the issue at hand. Sometimes we only look at what we want; we must on the other hand learn to give beyond the passions. As long as we think desire must be met, we have not moved into adulthood, I am afraid. And I say this as someone who does have strong desires which are not met.

  • ES


    I’ve noticed that you don’t ask questions, aside from the rhetorical. I have this feeling, when reading you, that I’m not even in a Turing experiment, or may I am, and I have found the machine. This is my feeling, and maybe I’m just not seeing what precisely you want to say.

    When I read you, I come away with a sense that much of what others are saying gets crunched into a dichotomous frame: I (Henry) have no bias, but all the answers (therefore no need to ask questions, just tell people how it is); there is love, on the hand, passions on the other. And the reality of relationships and how the law and relationships interact, how people’s real lives are categorized not as atomized series of acts (homosexual or otherwise) but as wholes, slips out of the conversation. We all just become “the modern age” or “the culture” (as distinct from the institutional church, which, to me, is part of the culture). Again, this might just be me.

    As a result, I don’t know what to say to your last long posting, since it seemed to have nothing really to do with how real people (gay, straight, otherwise) are going through their lives trying to make decisions from the inside. You just declared how it is: those, whom I generously let in, but with whom I disagree [what does that comment add to the conversation?] are saying “any and every desire should be fulfilled”. Really? Where did I say that? Where did anyone say that? You take that which is defining (be it about God [1 Jn 4: God is love] or people [Augustine: amores mores]) and you flatten it out as desire pure and simple, but it isn’t: it is the inverse of the divine fullness, our lack, that is calling out to the infinitely good. Many here are trying to say that not everyone’s emptiness manifests bodily in the same way. Figuring out why that is must proceed from within by those who are feeling and experience such desires, and the way you talk (which is how the Catholic Church talks) gives people a script that shuts down self-discovery, and shuts down the conversation. Please, if you would, engage with this aspect of desire — the need for individuals to learn from it, its depths, which are an individual’s depths (or should I say, a person’s, since you don’t like the connotations of individual).

    Also, a general request: can we avoid the “this is how it is” statements about what an individual person is? A claim to know others’ inner selves better than they do, a claim to knowledge about all humans makes me take my attention off the real, off of what I know, which is my feelings, my life and history, my friends, their attempts to let me in on what they are and are becoming, etc.

    • ES

      Save for the fact your whole idea here is rather hypocritical. You are telling people to “accept this is how it is” on issues of sexuality which go against the Church’s teaching on it. Telling us to “accept this is right” and “a right” when it is not. And when it is examined that the issue is much deeper than just “I have a desire, I have a right to fulfill it” people say “you are being cruel” “you ignore the person.” Something very childish about this response — it is exactly what I hear from little kids when they cry to their parents as their parents say no to something they want. It also reminds me of 14 year girls going on a talk show saying how they want free sex and a baby and anyone who speaks out against them “hate” and “don’t know me.” Seriously, perhaps people do know more of the temptations and know exactly the problems — all the while being told “you hate me” they are trying to show love, it seems the one who screams “let me do as I want or else” is the one who ignores the personal level going on. They demand for themselves and that is all.

  • David Nickol

    Imagine someone who has a real loving heart and really falls in love with five women. Should they be told not to marry them all?

    Yes, he should be told not to marry them all, unless he is in the Old Testament and God smiles upon him. However, the man who loves five women is not told that his love does “not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.” It’s kind of like saying a man’s love for five women is illicit, but a man’s love for another man is illicit and invalid.

    • David

      Once again, there are ways the love can be licit and valid; the confusion once again is the assumption that love can only be fulfilled in marriage and with sex. That is the mistake of the present age. It really leads not to love, but self-gratification in the name of love, and it really is destroying any true sense of love (and this is a problem with marriage in general — the principle of marriage as understood in our society is self-gratification, and as such, the homosexuals are right in denouncing the hypocritical approach of many who contend against homosexual marriage; but this only shows how society has misunderstood marriage and love and sexuality, and indeed, why many should not be allowed to be married who are heterosexual, instead of allowing marriage for homosexual).

  • grega

    in my view it is wrong to see issues like that strictly
    as something that came up in ‘modern age’.
    This sort of thing quite naturally has been around from the beginning of times. Yes like in many areas our society adapts to changing circumstances and yes these days society gravitates to a position not exactly aligned with the moral code of a previous generation.

    You give the classical example of a situation ideally benefiting from a temporary restrain – the cruelty David refers to -if I understand him correctly -cruelty that results from the (not so cute IMHO) request of a LIFETIME of celibacy for homosexuals. It serves no purpose in my view – homosexuals deserve exactly the same rights that we heterosexuals enjoy – something as fundamental as our natural way to develop a rich and respectful sexual life is at the core of most peoples existence.

    It is non negotiable right for EVERY human being in my view – and yes here I view the request of a number of religions and societies around the globe to the contrary as wrong.

    • Grega

      Let’s look at how you have already told me that as a 35 year old virgin, I don’t know the “real world” and “real feelings” and “real love.” Again, this is all based upon assumptions about love and sexuality which are in error. That is the foundation for our disagreement. It is an extreme error going on in the assumption that desire means love, and all desire must be satisfied or else we are being cruel. Sometimes we will suffer pain — and REAL LOVE bears with pain (as Christ on the cross), it is self-sacrificial, not demanding. It is not a right of every human to be in a sexual relationship, and it is not the only way to real love. And just because “I grieve” for not having it does not mean “therefore, I should have it.” It is a failure to understand desire and temptation and the passions, to give in instead of transform, to go for something less than what is true.

  • Ronald King

    Henry, I am really having difficulty understanding what you are attempting to say. Grega stated that this problem with desire and love has been around since human beings became self-aware. It is not unique to the present time. What is unique to the present time is freedom of speech. Death, freedom, isolation and lack of meaning are the existential crises we all encounter as human beings. When there is fear being imposed on the developing human being it then becomes internalized and is often experienced as an alien authoritarian voice of criticism that denounces our natural human hardwired instincts as evil rather than as something to be understood with compassion. Once this happens there is a tremendous internal conflict between what we are told is evil and good within us. I see this and have seen this everyday in my work for the last 30 years. I have seen the tremendous harm this does to human beings(me) when they have been told that what had been a natural innocent act of sexual interest and pleasure now becomes something evil that resides within them(me). The shame this creates can be manifested throughout the person’s life and because this is the most powerful primitive drive we have as human beings it can become the most powerful inhibiting force or aggressive force which separates us from one another under the false heading of morality and tradition.

    Sacrificial love requires giving up everything by the seeker of Christ’s Truth. It requires giving up every assumption about human beings that we have been taught because it is from the past and it is the past that has caused us much suffering and pain. Love requires us to live the life of alterity(if I got that right). Love requires us to explore together as brothers and sisters without clinging to beliefs that inhibit our understanding and love for one another. Love requires us to love the rage that has been repressed in those who do not fit in when they finally have the freedom to express that rage.
    The first expression of freedom is the passionate expression of what has been repressed and dissociated from awareness within the oppressed.
    Growth is not graceful. When something has been repressed it has not been allowed to develop a language that can be understood by the oppressors or the oppressed. Each will have a different belief about the outward expression of this passionate feeling. Generally, each will be limited in their understanding of this passion. The oppressed will passionately proclaim this is me. The oppressor will passionately denounce you are disordered.
    It is the oppressor who proclaims to be a follower of Christ who has the responsibility to follow the path of humility and receive the oppressed with open arms to explore together the mystery of love that can only be found in the unknown infinite darkness of God’s calling. Desire is the fuel that God gives us to search for that perfect Love. That desire must be understood by everyone as that passion He has given us to seek the perfect Love.

    • Ronald

      Look at how grega has said that because I am 35 and a virgin, I really am not in the real world and don’t know things about love, etc. That to me says much about the mistakes of the modern world. Why is virginity seen as something good in Christianity, but the modern world ridicules someone who is a virgin, as if there is something wrong with them? And all kinds of assumptions about them come about — as if they necessarily desire to be as they are ( I want to be married, but alas, things are not about my wants), and the idea that they have nothing to offer on the idea of suffering (I think I have far more to offer on it because I do not give in to base desires and yet I get all kinds of ridicule for that stand, and I suffer loneliness too).

      The issue is that the modern age has turned love into something which is not love, and then continues with “love is a right” as mantra to support things which are not rights and not necessarily goods for people. There is also a kind of “give me my desire” sentiment in the modern world — yet this ideology leads to real suffering; while there will be suffering elsewhere (and trust me, I sympathize and want real human respect for everyone) the idea that people just are cruel if you don’t accept a simple childish call for fulfillment of desires does not convince me at all. It shows me someone needs to grow up; to realize live is suffering and why it is suffering.

  • grega

    what can I say – we disagree – sure what you write so eloquently is obviously ‘real’ in the context of your life and I give you this even within a certain intellectual tradition of our church – our Saints typically either come spiffy clean and asexual or have seen the light after an initially mildly messy period in their lives – my path in life however leads me to question the sort of passive aggressive ‘wellmeaning’ recommendations that result form such ‘ideals’.
    We disagree on a number of fundamental points – for me it would be actually most appropriate if our church would go all in on backing gay marriage.
    All human being should be able to take the path towards marriage if they wish. This means that following a respectful courtship period the couple can and should be encouraged to express the deep love for another in the sacrament of marriage.
    In my view the sacrament of marriage should be extended to same sex couples.
    In my view our church barks up the wrong tree in this instance.

    I also think that there will never be that ‘perfect’ time when magically society and all humans behave just all according to a particualr moral code.
    We constantly renegotiate what is most appropriate behavior – and yes in 2009 here in the western democracies we are in the midst of shifting societal taboos. That is what we enjoy doing – that is what keeps us fresh and going.
    Sure plenty of religious and non religious folks seem to believe that the end of the world is looming if gays can marry – I find such notions rather childish and naive – we have much bigger issues as a planet and as societies to worry about.
    All will be good – if you can i can highly recommend you find yourself that ‘perfect’ match in life –
    but please while you at try to resist the temptation to declare your particular ‘insights’ as the truth.
    I can respect your understanding of what love ideally represents – love lived everyday by most of us however is a much less lofty preposition.

    • Grega

      I agree that we disagree, and I do not think we will see eye to eye here. The thing is, while you say I should not suggest my insights as “the truth” you want your insights recognized as such. Both can’t be “the truth.” Neither can be “the truth” and I fall more with the neither as “the truth” side if you know where I stand with things. I recognize the difficulties and think there is truth in the other side of the issue, which is why I do not want to dismiss it entirely. But I think that truth is being perverted, and probably you can believe I am doing the same (and I would say probably both of us are, in various ways). Nonetheless, my response is to point out the aspects which I believe and why I think they need to be dealt with as well (beyond the notion of revelation).

      Despite this, I am very strong against extreme bias against homosexuals, even if this thread appears differently. It is one thing to discuss this within the present context, another when I find extreme prejudice elsewhere. I find this recognition goes one way, while mocking/ridiculing/finding something wrong with those who, like myself, are virgins (trust me, I wish I had a mate and I have looked for one). Ask yourself why my viewpoint is wrong, why I must be rejected just because we have not had a match? Deconstruction of this says much, imo.

      Nonetheless, I do not say this in hostility, and I do not think you intend to either (despite the deconstruction). We will agree on much. But I had to explain why and where I view these things. I think the extreme interest in sexuality is the problem, homosexual or not. It is this reason why homosexuality is now a central concern with so many. It is because sexuality has become the central concern and ideal of our society. I disagree with this, and it is for this reason why I think the biases are wrong too. It is too sex-focused. But when discussing that focus, I will bring out what insights I have, whether or not people accept them, or think I am wrong.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    “Imagine someone who has a real loving heart and really falls in love with five women. Should they be told not to marry them all?”

    Sorry but that’s no argument. We’re not talking about polygamy. You can’t prove the right or wrong of something by pointing to something else. The value of gay marriage cannot be denied via slippery slope/analogy arguments – they are a neat trick, admittedly, since many are prone to say “Well, yeah it’s wrong to marry your dog, so NO! to gay marriage.” The same way of reasoning could be employed to forbid straight marriage. “If we let a man marry ONE woman, soon he’ll want to marry 4 more!”

    Of course, why a man would want 5 wives to make him feel insufficient and accuse him of not communicating enough beats me 😉

    Wife #1 “We don’t talk anymore.” #2 “You used to be so romantic.” #3 “Get off that stupid computer.” #4 “I saw how you looked at #3.” #5 “Would it kill you to pick up your clothes ?” And that’s before they synchronize their menstrual cycles (another uncanny female skill).

    Polygamy was abolished for a reason, just a different one from the official story 😉

    • Gerald

      The discussion is about love and the kind of end which must be found in that love. If we really view all love must be sexually fulfilled, then someone who falls in love with 5 people should be accepted. That they are not suggests there is something wrong with the notion that “love means sex.” That is the issue.

      Many people will say you are just biased against their views of love and their own desires. Why should they not be allowed to follow through with their desires? It is the same argument, but you just respond with “Well, we don’t accept polygamy because it causes all kinds of problems.” Well, is that not what is being argued against when homosexual unions are denied?

  • Ronald King

    Henry, I appreciate your openness and honesty. I hope my daughter meets someone like you and you meet someone like her. We meet ourselves in relationships not our opposites. By that I mean we form relationships with those who have a similar sensitivity and openness to love and pain. However, I have observed throughout my life that those who are more open and sensitive will have great difficulty meeting one another unless one screams to another in a desperate act of humiliation the desire to know and be with this other.
    You suffer in your choice to remain celibate until that miraculous meeting with the other. Those who are not celibate suffer in their choice to find love within the sexual act. Both suffer the same loss of love and we do know that the human love we seek is always going to result with loss.
    When you state that these are “childish” desires you seem to express contempt. These “childish” desires are the expression of the “hungry ghost”. I know you know that from Buddhist psychology. You know that we do not escape this state of mind through criticism and law. I will not state anymore about this. I would love to see your thoughts about the “hungry ghost” and how that applies to the present time. What then would be the solution to this expression of the “hungry ghost” in combination with the “human” realm on the wheel of life. Oh, the “animal” realm also applies as does the “hell” realm. I can’t stop! The realm of the “jealous gods” and the “heaven” realm are involved also in the crisis we are discussing.

    • Ronald

      Nonetheless, the point of the hungry ghost is that those desires can never be met in the form the ghosts seek to satisfy it; the pretas have huge bellies and pin-point mouths. This is exactly what I think is the problem going on here with lust in general, and confusing lust with love, and confusing love as having to have an aspect of lust.

      As I have said, I truly do think two people, whether or not to be mates, can be lovers; indeed, I think some can have a lover who is a greater lover than one’s mate. But the kind of love and ways that love is to be met is different from the kind of love between mates.

      As for my pain/loneliness/etc — I appreciate that. I really hope I meet someone, but I somewhat feel it is not likely — the older I get, the more secluded I feel. I pray God will bless me with a miracle, but I feel maybe God just wants me to be in this state as I am now, so I understand the pain and suffering of this state as a sacrifice to help others. It is not my choice, but it is the only meaning I can find in this.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    “Well, is that not what is being argued against when homosexual unions are denied?”
    Well, yes, but/cause that’s how every issue is argued/decided. My point is to not use unrelated issues to sway people, like the infamous Santorum dog. “What’s next ?” purposely ignores what is at hand in order to scare people.

    As far as finding a mate is concerned, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear, or: mind precedes phenomena.

    • Gerald

      Two things. The first is that I suggest people sometimes look at how they argue for a small thought X, and then see how their arguments would hold in a larger spectrum Y. That is what I am doing here. If the arguments are legitimate, I think then it would be able to find answers to why it is not so in Y. I am not saying we should universalize a particular, but I am saying sometimes what we say to a particular is already a universal idea and must be see if it works or not, and if not, we must see why not and not just say “different situation.”

      As for a mate, your response can appear as a tautology. What exactly is “ready” here?

  • Gerald A. Naus

    Like the single life, married life has its own pains and perks. Loneliness doesn’t fully cease either, as no one can ever fully understand you, including you. Potential for conflict is always present. A good thing to keep in mind
    “There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels.” (The Buddha)

    If being single gets you down, remember Proverbs 25:24
    “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” 😉

    So I’m not the only Dharma bum here hehe. Speaking of the wheel…We recently bought a house, I turned the barren front yard into this:

    • While I agree married life has its own pains, and often of kinds which seem to remove a kind of “freedom” people idolize, the criticisms and pains I hear from 99.9% of people who are married are of things and issues which not only would not concern me, but seem to be the kind of thing which I need. It’s one of the paradoxes.

      And yes, I know it might not be perfection and utopia, I also know the kind of loneliness I suffer from is a kind few can appreciate; I am looking for something simple and yet not even that happens. It’s strange. But I also feel because I am the kind of person who is most suited for this, it is why it won’t happen (one of those paradoxes of life).

  • digbydolben

    Many people will say you are just biased against their views of love and their own desires. Why should they not be allowed to follow through with their desires? It is the same argument, but you just respond with “Well, we don’t accept polygamy because it causes all kinds of problems.” Well, is that not what is being argued against when homosexual unions are denied?

    This passage of your writing makes something abundantly clear, Henry: You are so dogmatic, so certain of your received notions about the world and its purposes that you absolutely REFUSE to recognise the EXCEPTIONS to your “laws”–the “homosexual unions” that clearly are NOT causing “all sorts of problems.” For you, they have to be discounted as being any real manifestation of any genuine love between two people of the same sex; for you, love between two people of the same sex must BY DEFINITION be non-sexual, but this simply isn’t the way your so-called “natural law” works. Your view is primitive, CRUELLY dogmatic and wholly unscientific.

  • Ronald King

    Henry, I do not know how you have risked yourself in the search and desire to love. I am paraphrasing here something I read about 13 years ago. It goes something like,”Those who are on the Way will experience tremendous suffering in this life. They will not, however, search for someone who will help the old self to survive. They will instead seek someone who encourages them to risk themselves. The more they risk their annihilation the more they will discover that within them is indestructible. That is the spirit and integrity of true awakening.”
    With that in mind, why not run into a place of young people gathering and scream “I AM A VIRGIN AND I AM LOOKING FOR LOVE!” If you want, Henry, I will go with you and break the kneecaps of anyone who makes fun of you and is too afraid to do this.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    It’s almost ineffable, you know, like, if the Tao could be put in words it wouldn’t be the Tao. I met my wife when I was not “looking.” It’s this tightrope of being ready on the one hand but not trying on the other.

    There’s a German saying, if you chase happiness, you’ll chase it away. The Tao concept of wu-wei, “non-doing”, effortlessness, is helpful, or the saying “going with the flow”. Of course one shouldn’t try not to try either…Experience without judgment – people can sense if you’re “screening” them for mate possibilities. If one’s mind is focused on finding a soulmate, there’s way too much pressure and an otherwise open person might flee, since neediness shows and is unattractive. By thinking about the future, the present gets short-changed – and you’re not really present, you’re making plans.

    If you were most suited, you’d be married. But whether you’re suited is not a fate but a decision. If you think it won’t happen it certainly won’t. Dhammapada, first pair 🙂 Frequently, we get what we think we deserve. This may of course differ from what our conscious mind claims.

    As for paradoxes, I think loneliness can only be solved alone.

    It may sound trite, but it’s true
    “Work like you don’t need the money,
    Love like you’ve never been hurt,
    And dance like no one’s watching”
    or as I phrase it
    “Work like no one’s watching
    Love like you don’t need the money
    And dance like you’ve never been hurt.” 😉

  • ES


    Please reread everything I’ve written. I’ve not said “this is my right,” nor have I called anyone cruel, nor have I said “this is how it is.” I have not claimed to know how anyone feels or thinks, as far as I can tell. I try to be careful in that regard, and if I have made such claims, then I am quite sure that I am wrong to have spoken in such a way.

    I have only made a few requests, wondering what a conversation based on those requests might look like. I don’t know how it might look, and I haven’t tried to project one.

    What I have said is simply that people need to be able to explain themselves to themselves, and those who are different need to listen, since we don’t know. I do not make pronouncements on straightness and judge it in light of gayness. I have no experience of being straight, and so I only know that I can learn about it from without.

  • I have just now come to this conversation and have read through most of it. I thank the commenters for some truly profound insights and courageous statements.

    Henry, I think you are pointing rightly to some serious distortions of love, marriage, sex, etc., but most of them really have nothing to do with the core issue(s) of the debate about homosexuality which involve judgments about gay and lesbian personhood and the possibility of their fulfillment as persons. Heterosexual and homosexual persons alike are able to fall into destructive, individualistic and selfish views of love, marriage, sex, relationship, etc., but it seems strange and unjust (not to mention counterintuitive) to presume selfishness and the idolization of freedom on the part of gays and lesbians who want to marry.

    My two cents.

  • David Nickol

    Once again, there are ways the love can be licit and valid; the confusion once again is the assumption that love can only be fulfilled in marriage and with sex.


    It all seems very simple to me. Speaking in broad generalities, some people are straight, and their sexual and affectional preference leads them to desire sexual contact with members of the opposite sex, and to have the inclination and capacity to love others of the opposite sex in a special way. Some people are gay, and their sexual and affectional preference leads them to desire sexual contact with members of the same sex, and to have the inclination and capacity to love others of the same sex in a special way. There are many kinds of love (parent for child, sibling for sibling, friend for friend), but all the world knows there is a special kind of love between a man and a woman. A tremendous amount of great literature deals with that love. What the world doesn’t necessarily know is that two gay men, or two lesbian women, can experience that same kind of love. And many who do want to get married.

    When I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to Elizabeth Bennett to wind up with Mr. Darcy because I understand the special love between a man and a woman, not because I have made a scientific observation of men and women and deduced their feelings, but I feel the same way, only for the same sex, not the opposite sex. Hopefully when straight people see something like Brokeback Mountain, they can identify with two male characters who love each other, because they know what that special love feels like from their feelings about the opposite sex.

    When you love someone in that special way, all of that talk about the complementarity of the sexes is silliness, whether you are an opposite-sex couple or a same-sex couple. You don’t love someone because they complement you. You love them because you love them.

    So people who grow up in our culture and find themselves feeling that special love for another person often will want to marry that person. All of us, gay or straight, have grown up with the idea that when you love a person in a special way, and you want to spend the rest of your life with that person, you want to make a commitment to each other, and that commitment is often marriage.

    Now, I suppose in our culture, many straight people get married for the wrong reasons, or don’t take marriage seriously enough. But many straight people get married for the right reasons and take marriage very seriously. Straight people who want to get married are not (necessarily) saying “I have a desire, and all desires must be fulfilled.” I don’t see why one should assume gay people are saying that either.

    It is really just so simple. Sometimes people think too much for their own good.

  • digbydolben

    MEGA DITTOES and AMEN to what David has written above!

  • You don’t love someone because they complement you. You love them because you love them.

    I think this is right.

  • Ronald King

    I agree. All I know now is being with the love of my life is…………………………..

  • David Raber

    Henry and all,

    It seems to me that as believing Catholics, we have to believe that “liberalism” is a gravely deficient ideology simply because it is not Catholicism–in its pure form, and maybe most of its forms, it is non-theistic and non-Christian.

    On the other hand, we may want to support liberalism in practice, or the greater part of it, because it leads to the best workable sort of system in a fallen world–a world where the great majority of people may never recognize, much less act as if, we should love our neighbors as ourselves.

    We believe that humans are not in essence selfish atomized individual units. What if they do often or even most of the time act that way? We need an economic system and a social system that takes account of the facts of life in this world–precisely to promote the common good as best we can.

    Was it Churchill who said that democracy is the worst possible system of government, but better than all the rest?

    I can support liberalism in practice, or large chunks of it, without buying into it as an ideology, all the while trying to convince my fellow free citizens and voters that the ideology itself is not the Truth.

    • David,

      It’s not just as a Catholic, but someone who follows post-modern criticism of “systems,” I find liberalism faulty. Nonetheless, it is true it produced good as well — the turn to the subject added a needed dimension to our understanding of our place in the world, and helps in developing authentic personalism. The problem to me is the exaggeration of things on the will, and sometimes a misplaced understanding of freedom which turns out to promote a kind of slavery as freedom (as we see with many forms of capitalism and the kinds of defense given to such systems as being ‘free’). But there is also, of course, a role for freedom, and I hope my other writings reflect upon that need. Nonetheless, my issue is that the underpinnings of liberalism which also create the system we live in today has all kinds of errors in it which lead to the promotion of all kinds of unfreedom as freedom.

  • digbydolben

    Well, this is why I continue to bother to participate at this blog-site at all: for all my differences with them, I find myself agreeing with some of the things said by my Catholic brothers and sisters here–as with the above, by David and Henry.

    A blessed and happy Season to you both!