Brett Interviews Father James Alison: Part III

Brett Interviews Father James Alison: Part III March 26, 2012

After some delay (family and travel issues), I am happy to present the third of four parts of my interview with Father James Alison.  Part I introduced Father Alison to readers while Part II was the first of the final three parts dealing with Father Alison’s views on matters of homosexuality and Catholicism.  My questions are in italics.  I have been mostly staying out of the conversation for now, but plan on presenting my own thoughts in a more systematic way once the series has run its course.

6. Much of the discussion in Catholic circles about homosexuality revolves around the distinction between homosexual persons and homosexual acts. The Church condemns the acts as disordered (and calls any orientation towards disordered acts disordered), but insists that homosexual persons are not, as such, disordered. What are your thoughts on this distinction? What is the relationship between persons, orientations, and acts?

This does seem to me somewhat of a Ptolemaic discussion in a Copernican universe. Of course there is a notional distinction between talking about what someone is, and talking about what someone does. The question is not “does the notional distinction exist?” but “what use is being made of the fact that such a distinction can be formulated?” When the distinction is made in the discussion of gay people to which you refer, it is subservient to a conviction brought in from elsewhere – that of the objectively disordered nature of the inclination.

Think of it this way. There is a distinction between left-handedness and the act of writing left-handedly. For most of us the distinction remains exactly that, and has no moral consequences. We would understand that a left-handed person forced to write right-handedly owing, say, to having their left arm in a plaster cast, or a right-handed person forced to write left-handedly for analogous reasons, would, with some difficulty, be able to learn to do so. These people would in some sense be acting “contra natura”. But the use of the hand appropriate to their handedness would be entirely unremarkable, and if we used words to describe it at all, they would be words like “typical” or “natural”. Now, imagine that, involved in a Catholic discussion, you find yourself addressing a left-handed person. You say: “Any left-handed writing you do is intrinsically wrong; and in fact the inclination we call left-handedness must be considered objectively disordered.” The only justification for using the distinctions in this way is if you have received, from quite other sources, the sure knowledge that right-handedness is normative to the human condition, anything else being some sort of defect from that norm, and yet you don’t want entirely to condemn the person who has a more or less strong tendency to left-handed writing.

No, it seems to me quite patent that here we have an unwieldy bid to fit a reality into an acceptable framework, rather than learning from reality how to adjust a now unreliable framework. Any left-handed person, faced with the above logic, would know that the one addressing them really does regard them as a defective right-handed person, rather than a normal left-handed person. Any insistence on the part of the one who is addressing them that they are not calling them “disordered” as a person would be seen to be the humbug that it is.

So the only real question is: is it true that being straight (or right-handed) is normative in such a way that knowledge about being gay (or about left-handedness) should principally be derived negatively from the normative reality? If it is not true, then of course you are left with a notional distinction between being gay (or left-handed), and acts typical to that way of being, but the distinction has no moral significance in itself. What will give the acts their moral value will be a range of other considerations to do with human flourishing.

7. Some time ago I engaged in a lengthy e-mail exchange with the editor-in-chief of Lifesitenews because one of their articles had claimed that it was the teaching of the Catholic Church that homosexuality was a psychological disorder. After much wrangling, I was successful in getting them to edit the article. It is not Catholic teaching that homosexuality is a psychological disorder. In fact, my reading of the Catechism is that the official stance on this question is one of agnosticism. We don’t know the causes of homosexuality. What do you think the Church’s position is on this question? What are your beliefs about the origins of homosexuality? What factors strike you as the most important? What are your thoughts about homosexuality that has roots in sexual trauma or other aspects of a broken past?

I’m so glad that I wasn’t involved in your discussion with Lifesitenews! To judge by what you say, I think that I would simultaneously agree and disagree with both of you. Personally I think that the current teaching of the Roman Congregations in this area is of unstable meaning. The Congregations both insist that the inclination itself must be considered objectively disordered, and yet fight shy of committing themselves to a sense in which this claim has incidence in reality. Well, either their claim means something, in which case it enters into the realm of that which can be studied and understood by analogy with other objective disorders, having as its backdrop a clear claim about the proper order by comparison with which it is some sort of defect. Or, on the other hand, the claim has no incidence in any reality that can be measured, and is simply the verbally necessary logical ground which the CDF must stake out if it wants to maintain that the acts flowing from the inclination are intrinsically evil. This would be a consequence of their knowing that in Catholic Theology, acts flowing from a neutral or positive inclination could not be intrinsically evil, but would be good or bad according to use. So, in the one case, the claim would be falsifiable by the human sciences, and in the other, we would be obliged to derive our understanding of what is from what is forbidden, or “can never be approved”, a voluntarist position smuggled in by the back door, and the claim would be something like a de facto defection from Catholic teaching concerning grace, nature, faith and reason as set out with admirable clarity by Pope Benedict in his Regensburg address.

Now a teaching of unstable meaning that induces confusion is not of Christ. So I am sympathetic to those who attempt to cash out the teaching by claiming that it does actually mean something straightforward rather than allowing it to sound as though it means something rather ominous without ever allowing what that actually is into the clear light of day. I guess that your interlocutor at Lifesitenews was trying to do the former by claiming that the Church teaches that the inclination is a psychological disorder (and anyone who listened to the Vatican officials attempting to interpret the 2005 document barring admission of gay men to the priesthood would have a hard time denying that at least those officials, who were never reprimanded publicly for their positions, regarded the inclination as some sort of psychological disorder).

I think that the Archbishop of Brussels, Mgr Léonard, was trying to do something similar when he claimed recently that being gay is analogous to being anorexic. We would all agree that anorexia is a pathology of desire, one that can appropriately be described as an objective disorder. The local press jumped on the Archbishop for producing this analogy, a little unfairly I thought. While I consider him to be entirely mistaken in his view, he should nevertheless at least be commended for attempting to treat the official position as if it were in the business of trying to say something true. For if that position means anything from which real decisions about life-choices, acts and so forth can be made, it means that being gay must be regarded as analogous to something like anorexia, and must not be regarded as analogous to something like left-handedness. (I take this latter to be a paradigm case of a regularly occurring non-pathological minority variant in the human condition). When someone makes a clear affirmation about something, the docile conscience can then say: “A truth claim is being made in an area which is available to study. Is it true?” By contrast with this, the refusal either to confirm or to deny that a truth claim is being made, while allowing a negative pall to hang over many people’s sense of identity, as if coming from God, suggests to me the presence of a spirit other than the Holy.

My own belief is that being gay is a regularly occurring non-pathological minority variant in the human condition, and that an appropriate analogy is left-handedness, which also, as it happens, used to be regarded as some sort of defect in a normatively right-handed humanity. I’ve arrived at this position having, as an educated amateur, followed the studies and arguments back and forth over many years, and notice that this position is tending to be confirmed massively the more that we know and see of gay people who are able to live their lives openly. I hope I would be open to any emerging evidence that my view was wrong, though I’m aware how easily any of us can become locked into convenient self-deceptions and self-reinforcing ideological cocoons. Like all other educated amateurs gathering what I can from disciplines in which I have no expertise, what I know about the aetiology of same-sex desire is regularly being updated as the field advances, and I’m sure that we are in the early days of scientific knowledge about such things.

As part of my personal history, I should say that I remember my own relief on realizing that not all searches for causality are helpful. Part of my motivation in the search for a cause of being gay earlier in my life was the need to find “something that has gone wrong that I can put right”, and it was good, spiritually fruitful, to discover that the question: “what went wrong in where I came from?” is actually not a useful one. More helpful is to ask: “how can I enrich where I’m going starting from where I am, however this has come about?” I wish I could find the reference, but I remember a quote from St Augustine, tired of nit-picking arguments about the finer details of Original Sin, insisting that “it’s not where we come from that is important, but where we are going” or words to that effect.

As to the Church’s “having a position” on the aetiology of same-sex desire, I can’t imagine it having one, or wanting to have one, other than that of being available to learning from what is true in whatever field that truth emerges. What I imagine the Church will want to develop, as it is able to take on board what we are learning to be true about gay and lesbian people, is some sense of “what is being gay or lesbian for?” A sense of the way that something that genuinely is has some sort of capacity to point up the glory of God by a flourishing that is appropriate to it. I take it that consideration of this is indispensible for us as Church, given our faith that our Creator and Redeemer are one, and that there is an organic link between the Creation and the New Creation.

As to the current “status quaestionis”, I’m pretty much convinced by the evidence of the last fifteen or twenty years of research which show that the biological configurations that will manifest in a person being gay or lesbian are in place pre-natally. Having spent time in the late eighties and early nineties of the last century flirting with “ex-gay” ministries and their literature, it now seems to me a mistake to think that sexual trauma, abuse, or any post-natal psychological factors are causative of a same-sex orientation, though I think that such things can indeed affect the way any of us receives into our lives, and are able to live out, that pre-natal configuration of our capacity for love.

8. What is your view of bisexuality? What are your beliefs about its origins? How is it related to homosexuality?

I find it useful to distinguish between bisexuality as orientation and bisexuality as observation of practice. Many people seem to use the term loosely to refer to people who, on the face of it, appear to be either straight or gay, and yet who have, at one time or other, engaged in the sexual practices typical of the other orientation. So, for instance, a person within an opposite-sex marriage or relationship either leaves that relationship for a same-sex relationship or is found to have been having same-sex relationships concurrently with the opposite sex relationship. While such people are clearly functional in bed with both sexes, I don’t think that this automatically counts as bisexuality, any more than do the same-sex experiences of straight prisoners, or sailors, for instance, while in enforced confinement from the opposite sex, and who revert to type the moment an opposite-sex partner becomes a possibility. As far as I can tell from more or less keeping abreast of the studies: entirely independently of all the factors which might lead to situational bisexual behaviour, there is a small minority of people who are genuinely bisexual by orientation, and who get scant comprehension from those of either of the more obvious orientations. From what I have read, there is a gender imbalance in this, with more women than men being bisexual. But here, as in all these fields, I am nothing more than a slightly informed amateur – and have no beliefs or knowledge at all about aetiology or how that relates to other orientations.

9. Would I be right to assume that you advocate for Church recognition of same-sex marriage? Do you see any value in maintaining that same-sex marriage and opposite-sex marriage are, in fact, two different kinds of relationships?

Well, let’s make some distinctions! I am greatly pleased when I see the Church, in its members, if not yet in its hierarchy, coming to recognise that there is no good reason to deprive same-sex couples of access to civil marriage. However, I think it is far from obvious how we, as Church, should celebrate these acts of union liturgically: whether in a rite that is similar or analogous to that for the sacrament of matrimony, or with something rather different. And I don’t think it will be obvious for some time.

As you might guess from what I’ve said previously, I’m not sure that this is a discussion that is even worth having until the basic parameters can be agreed upon. Those who are committed to the notion that the people about whom they are talking are indulging an objective disorder, are impenitent practitioners of grave sin, and thus would be seeking to sanctify something that can never be approved, are not useful conversation partners if we are in fact dealing with people who are acting appropriately in seeking a form of flourishing that is an entirely legitimate option given who they have found themselves to be. Once we’ve agreed that we can talk at all, then I would say that from my perspective, the appropriate liturgical shape by which we bless God for the gift of the love between two same-sex spouses, and beseech God’s blessing to incarnate itself in their lives for us as Church, is something for which we have little jurisprudence as yet! And the same is true for our understanding of the analogies and differences between the relationships of same-sex married couples, and those opposite-sex couples who choose to live out the sacrament of matrimony (with its concomitant implications of the “munus” of the “mater”). It is the protagonists of these relationships who will, by lives lived publicly over time, yield for us knowledge of what is of their essence. No sense trying to hurry what is necessarily going to be a process of learning over several generations.

What is certainly true is that no useful purpose is served by seeing these realities as in principle in rivalry with each other, as though same-sex marriage somehow cheapens opposite-sex marriage. Likewise, should it indeed turn out that marriage between two baptised persons of the same sex is not sacramental in exactly the same sense as opposite-sex marriage, then whatever form of sacramentality does turn out to be proper to same-sex couples would certainly not be “second best” to the sacrament of marriage. God’s summons to flourishing involves people being called in tailor-made ways, not forced to endure invidious comparisons. There are many mansions in God’s house, and he invites each of us to discover what is his plan for each one of us – we are called by name, not by category.

Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto. He is a father of three (so far) and husband of one. He is the co-author of How Far Can We Go? A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating and the author of Can Catholics Evangelicals Agree about Purgatory and the Last Judgment?

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  • Can a homosexual orientation be “intrinsically disordered” and not be, at least in some sense, a psychological disorder? If so, are there any other examples of things that are “intrinsically disordered” but are not psychological disorders?

    Can something be called a psychological disorder if its classification as such depends on a religious belief? Are there things that Catholics would classify as psychological disorders that atheists would not?

    I think that psychologists and psychiatrists would not consider a certain level of masturbation to be anything other than normal and even healthy. Is this view incompatible with the view that it is intrinsically disordered? Does the fact that animals masturbate and engage in homosexual activity have any bearing on whether such acts are “against nature”?

    • Thales

      If so, are there any other examples of things that are “intrinsically disordered” but are not psychological disorders?

      I think there are plenty. The inclination I have to badmouth someone behind their back, and the perverse pleasure I get from that, seems to me to be intrinsically disordered without rising to the level of psychological disorder. As a result of our fallen nature, I think we’ve got plenty of instrinsically disordered inclinations.

      I think that psychologists and psychiatrists would not consider a certain level of masturbation to be anything other than normal and even healthy.

      I think one problem is that psychology is a very uncertain, contradictory, and hotly-contested science. You have some psychologists who say that masturbation is normal and healthy, and you’ve got others who disagree; you’ve got psychologists saying that promiscuity is normal and healthy, and you’ve got others who say monogamy is; some say religious belief is healthy, others say it’s detrimental; some say abstinence is healthy and empowering, others say it’s stifling; some say transgendered thoughts are healthy, others disagree; etc., etc.

      The one thing I would say is that the Church’s position on these issues is not simply a function of a mere religious belief; it’s a position that is grounded on a substantial vision of the entire human person — body, mind, and soul — and so, presents a robust and developed understanding of the human psychology. People may disagree with the Church’s understanding — that’s fine — but it’s an understanding that can’t be lightly tossed aside and dismissed as being the result of a simple and unscientific or unserious belief system with no grounding in scientific reality.

      An aside: Anyone familiar with the work of Fr. Benedict Groeschel, a Catholic priest who is a psychologist? I’m not familiar enough with his work, but he came to mind as a possible authority on this topic.

      • As a result of our fallen nature, I think we’ve got plenty of instrinsically disordered inclinations.


        I think it is mistaken to put an inclination to “badmouth someone behind their back” in the same category as a sexual orientation.

        The only use of intrinsically disordered not referring to homosexuality that I can find searching the entire Vatican web site is in the Catechism:

        1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving).

        Lying and calumny may be intrinsically disordered behavior, but I don’t think anyone would claim that someone who tells lies has intrinsically disordered speech. Someone who is a pathological or compulsive liar may indeed have psychological problems, but as I understand the “perverted faculty” explanation of lying, it is speech that is being misused. The faculty that is being “perverted” is speech. But we would not send a pathological liar to a speech therapist!

      • ‘Psychological disorder’ is a label for practical use indicating stable psychological features that impede what is required for living life within bounds that would widely be seen as normal and functional; it’s a guideline-label for mental health practitioners to use in treatment, not a rigorously defined category. Despite the controversies over its applicability to particular issues, ‘intrinsically disordered inclination’ in the abstract is a fairly rigorously defined category in ethics that is not merely practical but based on the actual structure of the inclination. (It’s an inclination to ends that are either internally inconsistent among themselves or necessarily inconsistent with the natural end of happiness or good life, so that acting on it would involve, always or for the most part, prioritizing a lesser good over a greater good.) The differences would mean that there are several different kinds of intrinsic disorder that don’t map onto psychological disorders:

        (1) Everyone with original sin has the intrinsically disordered inclination of concupiscence; this couldn’t possibly be classified as a psychological disorder in any ordinary sense because everyone has it.

        (2) Solitary and fleeting desires for things that are necessarily wrong are intrinsically disordered, but are not psychological disorders because psychological disorders have to be stable and lasting enough to admit of standing diagnosis.

        (3) Serious temperamental weaknesses, whether inherited or learned, can sometimes be intrinsically disordered inclinations, but whether they are psychological disorders will depend on just how serious they are and what counts, for practical purposes, as the outer bounds of a normal and functional human life.

        (4) The more serious kinds of vices of desire will be intrinsically disordered, but will in general not be psychological disorders unless their effects start seriously interfering with the capacity to do ordinary human things or engage in ordinary human social interactions. Selfishness, understood as the acquired trait of consistently putting one’s own good before everyone else’s, would be an intrinsically disordered habit, but before anyone would call it a psychological disorder it would have to become so intense as to start making social life genuinely difficult. Thus some of what the Aristotelians used to call bestial vices, and also vices where the action has become compulsive to the point of being irrational, might also be treated as a psychological disorder.

        On your other questions I would say–

        Can something be called a psychological disorder if its classification as such depends on religious belief? There’s nothing to prevent it; ‘psychological disorder’ is not a rigorous scientific label but a practically helpful label for organizing diagnoses and treatments. This is why, for instance, there’s always controversy every time the DSM gets updated. There are certainly some traditional Catholic labels from moral theology that might be reasonably and helpfully seen as psychological disorders whether any secular psychologist or psychiatrist finds it practical to treat them as such — entrenched forms of scrupulous conscience, for instance. Whether it is in fact reasonable and helpful to see them this way would depend on details.

        ‘Against nature’ in ethical matters means ‘against ethical nature’, i.e., ‘against the nature of something capable of deliberating rationally about right or wrong in general’. Unless one thinks that dolphins and apes, for instance, are capable of reflecting on the general ends of sexual life, the fact that they masturbate doesn’t have much to do with whether it is against nature in the ethical sense. There are lots of obvious cases that show this: a lot of animals eat their young, but cannibalism, and especially cannibalism of one’s own children, is a pretty obvious case of an action that is contrary to nature in the ethical sense.

      • Thales

        Sorry, David, I don’t understand your point that lying is perverted speech but we don’t send liars to a speech therapist. It sounds like you’re equivocating on “perverted”: after all, perverted speech of a liar is different from the the “perversions” that a speech therapist tries to correct in someone who can’t speak properly.

        But regardless of that issue, I wasn’t thinking of simple lying as an intrinsically disordered behavior. I was thinking of the desire to destroy someone’s reputation, just for the sake of spite — the inclination one has, and the pleasure one gets, from demeaning someone for no other possible motive than the perverse pleasure in seeing someone get hurt by one’s words. Consider: wanting to kill an animal because one has the intention to eat it is different from wanting to kill an animal because one takes perverse pleasure in snuffing its life out. The latter seems to me to be an intrinsically disordered inclination.

        Brandon is obviously more knowledgeable about this topic than I am. But here’s the way I see it. (Brandon can correct me.) When the Church talks about “natural” or “ordered” desires, it’s talking about those desires that we humans have as part of our nature as beings created in the image and likeness of God. These are desires that would be natural to us pre-Fall. An example of this is the desire to eat food and nourish the body. The Church also thinks another example of this is to unite sexually in a permanent, exclusive, and complementary male-female relationship.

        After the Fall, our natures are fallen, and so we may have natural desires that are out of whack (i.e., we desire food, but in a disordered way; or sex, but in a disordered way), and we may have desires that are intrinsically disordered, that is, desires that are not in keeping with our intended nature and that we wouldn’t have had pre-Fall. I speculate that perhaps the desire to see an animal’s life snuffed out, or a person’s reputation snuffed out, for no reason besides the pleasure in committing that destruction, is intrinsically disordered. The Church also thinks the desires for sexual union between with the same sex is one of those desires that wouldn’t be present pre-Fall.

        If Fr. Alison is correct that the homosexual inclination is a “natural” desire in humanity (ie, a desire that is in keeping with our nature as humans, the way that God intended it), I think that would require the Church to revise its view that humans are meant to unite sexually in permanent, exclusive, and complementary male-female relationships. The element of male-female complementarity would have to be taken out. I’m curious about whether Fr. Alison recognizes the elements of permanence and exclusivity as being valuable or necessary in homosexual relationships. But if the bisexual inclination is a “natural” desire in humanity, I think that would require discarding the elements of permanence and exclusivity also.

  • Thales

    I found the bisexuality question to be particularly interesting, as I think it touches on a potential weakness in Fr. Alison’s understanding of humanity and human sexuality, or at least an issue that deserves addressing. Unfortunately Fr. Alison doesn’t confront the bisexuality question as fully as I think he needs to. Let me explain.

    Fr. Alison’s view, in short (and as I understand it), is that homosexuality is “a regularly occurring non-pathological minority variant in the human condition” like left-handedness—and that this understanding of homosexuality leads to a new and different understanding of human nature and sexuality than the understanding currently in the Church: in particular, it leads to a different understanding of the moral value of certain sexual acts and to a different understanding of what is supportive of and conducive to human flourishing for the particular individual with homosexual inclinations.

    I think that the question that naturally follows is about bisexuality and other sexual inclinations: Is bisexuality “a regularly occurring non-pathological minority variant in the human condition”? Is a polyamorous inclination “a regularly occurring non-pathological minority variant in the human condition”? And if bisexual and polyamorous inclinations are natural variants in the human condition like homosexuality, then doesn’t that lead to even other different understandings of the moral value of certain sexual acts and to different understandings of what is supportive of and conducive to human flourishing for the individual with bisexual or polyamorous inclinations?

    [Now, it’s possible that bisexual and polyamorous inclinations are not natural variants like homosexuality, but the distinction is not obvious to me based on Fr. Alison’s views (and, in fact, it almost seems as if Fr. Alison almost concedes that bisexuality is a natural variant at the end of his answer to Brett’s question—though if he does so concede, he doesn’t address the implications of that view.]

    • Is bisexuality “a regularly occurring non-pathological minority variant in the human condition”?

      Yes. Freud thought we were all, as infants, not just “bisexual” but “polymorphous perverse.”
      I don’t think it makes sense to classify people into three distinct groups—heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual. Kinsey used a scale from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual), with many people falling in between.

      Is a polyamorous inclination “a regularly occurring non-pathological minority variant in the human condition”?

      It makes no sense to me to put a homosexual (heterosexual, bisexual) orientation in the same category as a “polyamorous inclination.” And it doesn’t seem to me that human beings have a “monogamous inclination” anyway. Monogamy is rare in nature, and considering just the rate of divorce and remarriage (leaving aside premarital and extramarital sex), it is far from universal in human beings.

      • Thales

        All of your comments just further support my point that Fr. Alison’s thesis creates an unresolved issue that requires addressing. Fr. Alison’s thesis, as I understand it, is that for a person with a naturally occurring sexual inclination, acts typical to that sexual inclination have moral value and lead to that person’s human flourishing. So the question is whether bisexual inclinations, polyamorous inclinations, Kinsey-scale-x-inclinations are naturally occurring in the same way as a homosexual inclination– because if they are, based on Fr. Alison’s thesis, acts typical of these other sexual inclinations also have moral value and also lead to that particular person’s human flourishing. If they’re not naturally occurring in the same way as a homosexual inclination, well, it’s up to Fr. Alison to articulate a distinction.

    • Ryan Klassen

      It would seem to me that while bisexuality could be seen as a sexual orientation (akin to heterosexuality and homosexuality), polyamorous inclinations are common to any sexual orientation and thus not a “non-pathological minority variant in the human condition”. I don’t have the study sources at hand, but it is commonly stated that 74% of men and 68% of women would have an affair if they knew they would never get caught, and that 50-60% of married men and 45-55% of married women engage in extramarital sex. That would seem to indicate that polyamorous inclinations are instead a majority characteristic of the human condition and not a distinct sexual orientation.

      • Thales

        Fine. Set aside the polyamorous inclination, and consider only the bisexual inclination: if we follow the logic of Fr. Alison’s thesis, the acts typical of this inclination and that are part of that person’s human flourishing, by necessity, have to be with two different persons, since you can’t be bisexual with only one person.

  • if we follow the logic of Fr. Alison’s thesis, the acts typical of this inclination and that are part of that person’s human flourishing, by necessity, have to be with two different persons, since you can’t be bisexual with only one person.


    Are you saying a bisexual must have a sexual relationship with a man and a woman for the purpose of “human flourishing”? If so, then why wouldn’t you say a heterosexual must have a sexual relationship with a member of the opposite sex? If a sexual relationship (or two) in accord with one’s sexual orientation is necessary, then celibacy must be condemned.

    • Thales

      I’m not saying that. I’m saying that Fr. Alison’s thesis says that (as far as I understand it).

  • After the Fall, our natures are fallen, and so we may have natural desires that are out of whack (i.e., we desire food, but in a disordered way; or sex, but in a disordered way), and we may have desires that are intrinsically disordered, that is, desires that are not in keeping with our intended nature and that we wouldn’t have had pre-Fall.


    I am afraid I can’t discuss human nature before and after the Fall, because it is impossible for me to believe that such an event as the Fall occurred. I know many people look at human nature and think that the Fall is self-evident, but I feel just the opposite. There is nothing to indicate that as human beings evolved, some act by human beings brought about a dramatic change in our nature. It is simply incredible, for example, that before the Fall, women giving birth would not feel pain.

    If you can invent a human nature that was allegedly supposed to be, or fleetingly existed, but has now vanished, you can make it anything you want it to be and use that to criticize human nature as we know it as not measuring up.

    • Thales

      We don’t have to think about the Fall and related issues chronologically or historically. It’s enough to think about it this way: that humans were created in God’s image and likeness, with a certain nature, and that living in accord with this nature is conducive to our happiness and flourishing the way God intended it — and that we also see that humans have inclinations or act in ways contrary to our nature and to our flourishing (i.e., we murder, steal, rape, etc.). That’s what I mean by fallen nature.

      Now the notion that humans have a fallen nature is a fundamental Christian belief — after all, that’s the reason why it was necessary for Christ to redeem us. Now you don’t have to believe in the notion of fallen nature or that humans were created in God’s image and likeness, but then we’d have to have an entirely different conversation with a different set of premises. Right now, I’m coming from the premise that assumes a fallen nature, a premise that pretty much all Christians share.

  • Dan

    I would like to know more about the process in which he came to his conclusion that homosexuality is a non-pathological variant akin to left-handedness. On the surface, it seems like apples and oranges to me; the left-handed person has a tendency to use a secondary appendage according its primary purpose, while the homosexual is using a primary faculty according to its secondary purpose.

    • Dan,

      Isn’t Fr. Alison’s conclusion basically the same as that of most people in the mental health professions?

      • Dan

        Perhaps, but how did they come to that conclusion? It’s only recently that this shift occurred. 50 years ago it was widely recognized as a mental disorder. What happened to cause the shift?

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