I just received a beautiful comment from someone who goes by the handle anakinmcfly — see, already I like this person1 — who wrote to tell me that it’s possible to be gay and Christian. I’ve had comments like this before, but this one stood out because it showed respect where others had shown condescension, and true concern where others had shown self-righteousness.

So it deserves a response in kind, or as close as I can muster.

But one thing stood out to me – your depression, and how it’s one of the topics you talk most about. It would seem to be a warning sign that perhaps this is not how God means you to live your life. Jesus came that we may have freedom and have life abundantly (John 10:10). It suggests that if you were truly doing His will, you wouldn’t be living with the depression you currently are, and that perhaps this is a sign to reappraise things.

A.M. raises some very good points here. I agree only in a qualified way, as I will explain below.

I came to a similar conclusion several months ago. I had been reading Growth Into Manhood and generally feeling sorry for myself. After a real de profundis kind of night, I was sitting before my icon2 and praying: No, Lord, this can’t be right. This can’t be how you want me to feel.

It was already 1am, but I decided to sit there listening until he told me some way out: “I’m not going to bed,” I told him, “until I hear from you.”

I held out for 45 minutes — apparently I’m no great mystic — and then fell asleep. But the next day at Adoration I was able to identify two real problems, both linked to the depression I had been experiencing: a problem with sexual impurity, and a problem with isolation. In response to these, I made three resolutions: to join a support group, to make use of the Clean of Heart program, and to join a martial arts class.

I’m proud to say that, although it took a couple of weeks to get past the usual inertia, I followed through on all three. So that particular depression was, as A.M. suggests, a sign that I needed to reappraise things. It pointed to a real problem, and the Lord helped me take steps towards a real solution. I can’t tell you how grateful I am.

Some depressions are like that — pointing to a real problem in your life — and some are not. I’ve also had depressions that come from allowing poisonous thoughts to gain a foothold.

Thoughts of envy are sure to do the trick:

  • Why aren’t you as athletic/gregarious/kind/etc. as that guy?
  • Why don’t you have the relationship/wife-and-kids/set-of-talents that that guy has?

Thoughts of self-pity will do it, too:

  • Why do I have to fight so hard for things that come naturally to other people?
  • Why is my noticer stuck in the on position?
  • Why can’t I just be normal?

When I give in to thoughts like these, I get depressed. And then I write about it, because the experience almost always teaches me something that I bet somebody can use, even if that someone is me a couple of months later. But this latter depression has nothing to do with my actual life, and everything to do with my state of mind.

I have a lot more to say, but this post is long enough, so in a concession to the age of internet-induced ADD, I’ll split it up a bit. Stay tuned.

1 But imagine if Michael J. Fox had played Darth Vader? Might have lacked some gravitas somehow. And on the flipside, I can’t see James Earl Jones on a hoverboard.
2 It’s this one — one of the best presents I’ve ever received. I love the peace in his eyes, the solidity of his figure, and the way he seems to always have a different expression on his face, depending on when I look at it.

37 thoughts on “Response, Part I

  1. Gabriel

    Yes, I love that icon too. Even if it doesn’t look like Him, which it might, it’s an arresting face. (Fun fact: it is one of the few icons that dates to before the Iconoclasts went wreck-all-the-pictures happy in the eighth and ninth centuries, making one of the oldest icons in the world. Funner fact: when the features of this icon are overlaid with the face derived from the Shroud of Turin, the two are almost identical. Chills.)

    Some of us would be happy to be the sort of mystics that could make it 45 minutes before falling asleep. Solid observations as always, sir — very helpful. I should imitate as well as praise.

    Reply
    1. Steve Gershom

      Never heard that about the Shroud of Turin. Neat.

      One of the things I like about the icon is that it’s one of the only representations of him that actually does, at least to me, look like him.

      I should add that 45 minutes is sort a feat for me too.

      Reply
  2. Ben

    I had an absolutely amazing breakthrough this week with my therapist, and it might be helpful to you. I was talking about how I always feel like I’m comparing myself to other men, that I always feel like I don’t measure up. I gave examples of social situations, both personal (parties) and professional (conferences), where I would become timid and feel like the world’s most impotent man.

    “But you are not like other men,” my therapist said. “You are living a Christian life.” He went on to say that I shouldn’t compare myself with those who are living in the world, when I am living for Christ. Scripture talks about this constantly. We have been given a new life, and to forget this would cause the sadness and depression that we have been experiencing. How freeing it is for me to now know that I am a man of God, and that is good enough, and doesn’t need to match up to the worldly sense of what a man is.

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  3. Liz

    Steve,

    I work with abused kids and there are many days when I say those same things to God. “You can’t really want me to feel this way.” Too depressing and so much cynicism that I all too often give in to. But He has made it clear that this is where I’m supposed to be. I think it is really more of a world thing to give my feelings that kind of importance.

    I’m glad you had the insight and discipline to make some changes. I have yet to reestablish a good exercise routine.

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  4. Joe K.

    I’m sure you will address this in another post, but his main argument is nonsense. It’s premised on the childish notion that if one is doing good, he will somehow feel happy and things will work out just great. The feeling of happiness is a helpful tool in determining the goodness or badness of a thing, but it is not the only tool. It is not even the most important or most helpful tool, as it is often actually a hindrance to good decision making. Doing the right thing can often be very difficult and entail a great deal of suffering. It can, and often does, make a person Very Depressed to do the right thing. Choosing to stay with your wife, whom you don’t even like anymore, instead of leaving with another woman whom you love and cherish more than anything else in the world Sucks. Choosing to turn yourself in even though you will have to go to prison for the rest of your life Sucks. But struggle is what gives the right thing value. I don’t understand how people have trouble recognizing this.

    And I don’t mean to be overly confrontational (or maybe I do), but I cannot stand the Protestant nonsense he employs here, where value is derived from individual, self-fulfilling scriptural interpretation, an obsession with some strange notion of “freedom,” and, most importantly, an unrealistic faith in spiritual feelings. “Does doing this make me feel connected with God? Am I sure I have a personal relationship with Jesus? Can God really want me to be unhappy if he loves me?” Etc. Etc. Etc. Even starting from this position is a serious problem, as it is, at its root, hedonistic and immature. God wants you/requires you to do the right thing. Even If It Makes You Unhappy. What God wants for you is what is what is good for you. Even If It Causes You A Great Deal Of Pain.

    I will add this, and perhaps leave it at this, since it will probably infuriate some readers, but this sort of thinking is the precise reason why Protestantism (and modern Christianity as a whole) will be dead in a couple of generations (or at least so identical to the secular world that it’s effectively non-existent and meaningless). What they (Protestants and many Catholics unfortunately) sell is modern, secular ethics with extra Jesus friendship points. Once people realize how shallow and vapid this is (which many already have), they move on to atheism and the like. In atheism they get the same self-serving ethics without having to worry about all the cheesy, happy-clappy nonsense.

    It’s also unbelievably condescending advice in my eyes as well, but that’s probably a different issue, and I’ve already been mean enough in this post. I don’t mean to be overly denominational or whatever (since that’s a great sin today and all), but that whole comment just bugged me for so many different reasons.

    Reply
    1. anakinmcfly

      @Joe K.: I fully understand where you’re coming from, and agree with it. I’ve frequently argued the same elsewhere – hedonistic, boundary-less lifestyles are not the way to live, and not at all what I’m advocating. There are many right decisions in this world that are the harder thing to do, and where choosing that path results in more difficulty and often depression. I agree with this.

      But from personal experience, those kind of struggles and difficulties are a different kind of feeling altogether, because in those moments I also feel that I’m growing, spiritually or otherwise, that I’m conquering sin, and that there is something good resulting from it. I’ve never felt the same way when it came to repressing my sexuality.

      Perhaps it goes back to the definition of sin, and also how we’re supposed to be able to judge things by the fruits they produce. I’ve had many sins in my life that, when indulged in, might have been superficially enjoyable and gave me a sense of “freedom”, but at the same time were destroying me. Getting away from them was likewise hard and not at all enjoyable, but doing so was the right thing to do, and made me a stronger person and a stronger Christian.

      If accepting and embracing my sexuality (in terms of identity for now; I’m still a virgin and single, but am open to the possibility of a relationship if that’s where God leads me) were indeed a sin, then its results have not seemed at all characteristic of one, from my experiences with other sins. What sin, when engaged in, leads a person to become a better person, more in touch with God, more willing to love their neighbour, less burdened with hate, anger, bitterness, and all those other things that the Bible frequently condemns, and at peace? Because no regular sin I’ve ever known has led to that; just the opposite, and I’d think it has to mean something.

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      1. Babs

        Yes, yes, THIS!
        I’m Catholic, brought up by Mr. Offer It Up, but you are right about the difference between suffering that is a fruit of our own wandering off the path of right living and suffering that comes from right living. Much like the pain that comes from working out in a healthy way and the pain of a pulled muscle. Both are pain, but one is distinctly destructive and leads us into more sin rather than less. The problem, of course, is that in being human we can not always tell the difference.

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    2. anakinmcfly

      @Joe K.: Regarding the condescension – yeah, rereading my comment I see what you mean. I’m honestly sorry about that. I had been editing it to attempt not to come across as angry or confrontational, and somehow that sent that more into the condescending arena. I find it hard to write disagreeing-comments without sounding one or the other, but I’m working on that.
      Apologies to Steve.

      Reply
      1. Steve Gershom

        @Joe K. and @anakinmcfly –

        Enjoying this discussion! In my role as moderator I’m bound to say: AM, I think you’re doing a great job avoiding coming across as angry or confrontational. Being able to disagree with someone in a combox without doing so in a shrill way is a rare art. Joe K., I agree with what you’re saying, or most of it, but I think it would have been possible to say it more tactfully. I also think it’s important to keep on track with respect to the topic — e.g. it’s possible to argue about homosexuality and related issues without opening up the whole Protestantism vs. Catholicism can of worms.

        More posts on the topic are forthcoming. Right now the only thing I’ll say is: there’s a difference between suffering and unhappiness. Doing God’s will often (or maybe even usually) results in suffering, whether physical or social or emotional or all three. But I don’t think that doing God’s will ever results in unhappiness strictly speaking.

        But it’s important to agree on what we mean by happiness and unhappiness. When I say “happiness”, I don’t mean exclusively a state of the emotions. It’s possible to suffer quite intensely (as Victor points out in his comment about Jesus’ state of mind on Good Friday) without being what I would call “unhappy.”

        But this is too much to get into when I am supposed to be getting ready for Mass.

        Reply
  5. Roman

    Steve,

    Just a random inquiry, but have you read “The Battle for Normality: Self-Therapy for Homosexual Persons”, by Gerard J. M. Van Den Aardweg (http://www.amazon.com/Battle-Normality-Self-Therapy-Homosexual-Persons/dp/0898706149/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326616350&sr=1-1)? A lot of what he has to say resonated with me, in that one of homosexuality’s underlying causes is a neurotic form of self-pitying. Also, check out the first review in the link; it pretty much coincides with my experience. Thoughts?

    Reply
  6. Victor

    @anakinmcfly: I agree with Steve that for a representant of your point of view, you are uncharacteristically respectful. So please don’t take what I have to say personal.
    That being said, I have to agree with Joe K. – what you say reeks of Prosperity Gospel: if I do what God wants me to do I will be happy and mentally balanced, whereas not doing God’s will makes me depressed. How something makes me feel is almost irrelevant for the question whether it is right or wrong – Jesus himself felt quite off the night before Good Friday, remember?
    There also seems to be a huge difference between you and Steve (and, I hope, me): you say that not ‘accepting and embracing your sexuality’ made you feel depressed, and as soon as you started ‘embracing’ it, the depression vanished. Now I don’t know your situation, but it sounds like you tried to ‘undo’ your having SSA by ignoring it, which is a really dumb way to deal with it (I am allowed to say that – tried it myself for years). Of course this would lead you to feeling depressed – just like having an open, ulcerous wound and not dressing it up but leaving it open, hoping it will go away if you just don’t look at it. Steve doesn’t just ignore it – he has (to stay in the picture) cleaned the wound, dressed it and tries to treat the leg with care so the wound can heal. Whereas what you do – the simile fails me here, but it certainly is neither ignoring it nor dressing it (though you might think it is). Perhaps it is putting a band-aid on it without cleaning the wound – but lack of pain is not always a sign of healing but could also be an indicator that the leg has already died off.
    Humans are made up of spirit and body. To always do what seems to be the logical way would be really stupid – but why should the heart be less treacherous than the mind? Just because something feels right it doesn’t mean it objectively is the right thing to do. But this is the heresy of modern times: Me and my feelings, wishes and needs, my personal happiness, my personal relationship with Jesus… subjectivism taken to the extremes. But Christianity is the total opposite – it is completely objective, because it is not about me, it is about us. Jesus Christ came to save me, yes, but not just me, not isolated from my brothers and sisters. He came to save the whole mankind, of which I am a part. So if my gut feeling tells me something is just the right thing to do, I am well advised to double-check if my mind – and, more important, my conscience – agrees with that. Because my heart and my mind tend to be quite selfish…

    Reply
  7. anakinmcfly

    @Victor Thanks!

    I personally disagree with the Prosperity Gospel, but am having trouble articulating how it differs from my views, though I believe it does. And I agree with a lot about what you say; however, as mentioned in my earlier comment here, I don’t consider SSA as falling into a similar camp, at least not more so than heterosexuality (which can be immoral under many circumstances, but moral in others).

    Out of curiosity, since you and Joe talk a lot about doing the “right” thing – how then do you determine what is right? Doesn’t gut feeling + mind + conscience + sense of God’s will more or less equate to “feeling”? Because by “feeling”, I was referring to those things, and apologise if there was any miscommunication going on.

    Just e-mailed a pastor friend for advice on the subject of determining morality, so I’m waiting on that.

    Reply
    1. Steve Gershom

      A quick note re: “I don’t consider SSA as falling into a similar camp, at least not more so than heterosexuality (which can be immoral under many circumstances, but moral in others).”

      It’s not accurate to say that “heterosexuality…can be immoral under many circumstances.” It is accurate to say that “heterosexual acts can be immoral under many circumstances.”

      Just trying to keep our terms clear!

      Reply
  8. Victor

    @anakinmcfly: Welcome, and I am glad you don’t take offense.

    As a human being, I have my “gut feeling”, mind and conscience to lead me. But much like “left” and “right”, these are just relative directions. As a Catholic (and I fear this is where I am loosing you) I have the Church’s teaching as an objective reference point, like a “true north” without which “right” and “left” wouldn’t make any sense. Without this living authority, my faith would be completely subjective and nonbinding, like a feather levitating in the air. Steve has recently written about this (http://www.stevegershom.com/2011/12/north-star/), and he does it so much better than me…

    Of course this opens a whole can of worms, since it touches the question of papal, ecclesiastical and scriptural authority, and I am not sure you (as a Protestant) can follow me here. Perhaps Steve will take this as an inspiration for a future post…

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  9. anakinmcfly

    @Victor Yeah, I guess that would be down to the Catholic vs. Protestant belief system, then.

    Out of curiosity, what happens when the Pope changes his decision about issues? e.g. over evolution, which is now accepted by the Catholic Church. Does this mean for instance that if, hypothetically speaking, he one day declared that gay people should be treated the same as straight people – free to pursue relationships and so on within a certain context – you would likewise change your opinion on the issue?

    Thanks for the link to the older blog post! However, I take issue with the assumption that people who are open to the idea of gay relationships are picking and choosing to adhere only to the parts of the Bible they like. I know I don’t do that, or else there’d be a few other bits of the Bible I’d let go of because I don’t like them either. But I would not be justified in doing so.

    Whereas there is enough Bible scholarship to suggest that our current interpretations of scripture as condemning homosexuality are inaccurate, since the translations do not take into account the cultural, temporal and linguistic context (the verses were likely describing male shrine prostitution, involving straight men having sex with each other as part of pagan rituals); not to mention that there has been a history of Church-blessed same-sex unions.

    In that sense I’m not defending expressions of SSA just because I “feel” that it’s right; I’m defending them because I’m not convinced to begin with that God considers it a sin any more than heterosexuality is. However, I understand that this is the point where denominational differences come into play, since Catholics are to adhere to papal authority, whose current position says that gays are to be celibate, and I can respect that.

    Reply
  10. Lori

    Hi AnakinMcfly! You wrote, “Whereas there is enough Bible scholarship to suggest that our current interpretations of scripture as condemning homosexuality are inaccurate, since the translations do not take into account the cultural, temporal and linguistic context…”

    If I may, I’d like to just caution you with that line of thinking. I personally have experienced how quickly we snowball into rationalizing what we want to believe when we go down that path. People who believe in universal salvation, for instance, seek out alternate translations for “eternity” to justify the idea that it is “for a time.” Church of Christ bases its prohibition of using instruments in worship based on that type of historical searching/reasoning.

    The arguments may seem very logical or genuine, but in the end (for me anyway) I have to believe the Bible is meant to be understood as it stands on its own, through all generations. Although study of culture may deepen our understanding, I don’t think we “need” it to properly understand. God knows what will be forgotten or lost; He preserved what we need to understand in scripture itself.

    Sorry if this has become convoluted; I just think that the simple and obvious understanding is usually correct; if you have to be a history scholar to come to a different conclusion, you probably are rationalizing. Believe me … I’ve done it far too many times.

    God bless you and I, too, am enjoying your discussion :)

    Reply
  11. Victor

    @anakinmcfly: Thank you for your understanding.

    You say that you are not “picking and choosing to adhere only to the parts of the Bible they like”. But certainly you pick and choose one strand of biblical scholarship over another. As a Catholic, I know of these different interpretations but adhere to the one the Church teaches. It is my firm conviction that, even as a non-Catholic, one can come to the same conclusions just by carefully examining the sources. In fact, a lot of Protestants understand it this way.
    [@ Steve: Sorry to reopen the can of worms; I had written my previous comment before you commented]

    I suppose by “a history of Church-blessed same-sex unions”, you mean what John Boswell had to say about “adelphopoiesis”. Boswell interpreted as a “domestic partnership” avant la lettre what was just a way to officially recognize a blood brotherhood, a special bond between to men that had nothing to do with sexual relationship. Look it up at wikipedia; there is a bunch of criticism of Boswell’s position (who, by the way, was a gay catholic and hence not exactly unbiased).

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  12. Joe K.

    I’m sitting in traffic, so I can’t really make a great response, but
    I wanted to get something down. Right and wrong are determined by analysis of the relevant thing. The church interprets the natural law; they do not create it. One could easily recognize that homosexual acts are immoral outside of church or biblical declaration. This is why I brought up the Protestant v. Catholic issue. Put crudely, Catholics tend to start with philosophy and reach its objective consequences; Protestants start with the Bible and try to interpret outward based on their feelings. Catholics rarely resort to the bible to identify morality as a whole. They’ll often verify wih the bible, but it is never the beginning and end as to whether an act is immoral. This is the reason Catholics have so many “rules” that aren’t in the bible. It is also the reason Protestants rarely have complex ethical systems. (Do Not read this as “this is why Protestants are rarely ethical.”) The bible simply does not lay out a comprehensive law of ethics. It is also the reason, I’d wager, so much emphasis is placed on love (read usually as compassion and kindness). The bible is a love story, no doubt, but it is not a code of ethics.

    More directly, I don’t think homosexual activity is immoral because the church says so. Homosexuality is wrong because it frustrates the purpose of human sexuality as defined by the nature of sexual union itself. This is a metaphysical and philosophical issue, not a denominational one. That the church recognizes that homosexual acts are immoral is just further evidence that the church is right. The church or the pope can’t Change right or wrong or goodness and badness. They can help to identify and explain it, but they have little to do with defining it.

    Finally, and I’ll go into this later (traffic is about to break), you live in a world that increasingly caters to the homosexual lifestyle. You live in a world that constantly teaches you (literally, every single media outlet) that denying “who you are” is the greatest sin in the world. It is not surprising to me then that you feel better “accepting who you are.” To not do so would be an enormous uphill battle. I know; it’s my life.

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  13. Victor

    Joe’s comment just shows again why I should not comment on theology: because I don’t know Jack about it, and in the rare occasions I actually HAVE something to say, anybody else can say it much more coherently and beautifully.
    Just one thought: while attending mass today, I heard the second lesson (Corinthians 6:13-15, 17-20) where Paul quite expressly says that sins involving immorality are fundamentally different from every other sin: “Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body.” – Well, no wonder then that your reaction to withstand bodily sins is fundamentally different too!

    @Joe K.: I hope you are home soon so you can comment more!

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  14. anakinmcfly

    I have to be off to college in a while, so just some quick points:

    @Lori: The original definition of ‘eternity’ (e.g. when the Bible was translated) meant ‘outside of time’ rather than ‘forever’. To claim that using such a definition is inaccurate would be equivalent to claiming that old poems talking about ‘gaiety’ are referring to homosexuality.

    The same goes for the rest of the arguments. Historical context *is* important. Just reading the Bible “as it stands on its own” would lead only to a shallow and possibly incorrect understanding, not to mention that it’s hard to define *what* the Bible “as it stands on its own” is, due as mentioned to different translations and words that have changed definitions over time (even in English), e.g. how ‘abomination’ used to mean ‘against the norm / against tradition or culture’ rather than ‘evil thing’. I agree that one should not need to be a historian to understand scripture, but that’s where teaching comes in. If people at different times, based on different cultural backgrounds, would come to different conclusions about what the Bible says even at face value, it would suggest that reading things at face value is not sufficient to get an accurate idea of what the Bible says. Or even today: if you got two different people, gave them a Bible passage and asked them to write what they thought it said at face value, it’s still quite likely that they might have different answers. So it’s not a reliable way of reading.

    @Victor: I found a source that said: “While the pairing of saints, particularly in the early Christian church, was not unusual, the association of these two men was regarded as particularly intimate. Severus, the Patriarch of Antioch (512 – 518 CE) explained that, “we should not separate in speech they [Sergius and Bacchus] who were joined in life”. This is not a case of simple “adelphopoiia.” In the definitive 10th century account of their lives, St. Sergius is openly celebrated as the “sweet companion and lover” of St. Bacchus. Sergius and Bacchus’s close relationship has led many modern scholars to believe they were lovers. But the most compelling evidence for this view is that the oldest text of their martyrology, written in New Testament Greek describes them as “erastai,” or “lovers”. In other words, they were a male homosexual couple.”

    This particular source isn’t completely reliable, but I’ve seen similar things elsewhere. Don’t have the time to look them up now, though.

    Regarding the different strands of Biblical scholarship: yeah, I think this would be a Catholic vs Protestant thing too. I’m not bound to Church authority on the issue, though I have church leaders whom I consult for advice. Spiritual conviction, conscience, what I know to be true (e.g. I did not choose my sexual orientation), what the Bible says about God (e.g. is just, and also wants us to be happy – though as Steve said, this is a different issue from suffering) and judging things by their fruit (if a particular interpretation leads to behaviour that makes me hateful and angry and drives me further away from God, can it be the right choice, if the other does the opposite?) also play a part.

    Regarding your later comment about the different sins – in my case, by other sins I was referring also to bodily sins (specifically pornography), which still felt wrong (while feeling good, but in a bad way), and is not how I experience SSA, which *can* be expressed/exploited in a wrong way, but not necessarily so, same as heterosexuality.

    @Joe K: What then about heterosexuality in people who are infertile, and therefore cannot reproduce? (which I’m assuming is the “nature of sexual union” that you’re referring to.) Though from what I know, the Catholic Church considers all sexual unions to only happen with the express purpose of producing a child, hence the ban on contraceptives, so I can understand your position here, but would have to disagree on the basis of denominational difference.

    Lastly, it’s probably relevant to mention that I live in Singapore, where homosexuality is currently still criminalised. Such that (locally at least) I’m not in a society that “caters to the homosexual lifestyle”, but the direct opposite. I will admit to Western influences on my worldview, just not to the extent as if I’d been living in a Western country. I’m still tied to a lot of Asian cultural conventions that advocate putting community before self, and so on.

    Okay, that wasn’t really a quick reply. XD

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  15. Victor

    @anakinmcfly: I have spent many hours praying in Byzantine liturgies and therefore know how florid byzantine hymnody can be. “sweet companion and lover” – this is language that you can find everywhere in Byzantine liturgical texts. Didn’t you just say that gaiety in old texts does probably NOT describe homosexuality? BTW your source seems to be an article in the Irish times from 1998, quoting abundantly from the same John Boswell whose scholarship is celebrated in the LGTB community, but amongst his scholarly peers – not so much. I am sure it must be the first and only time a newspaper gets something wrong…

    As to barrenness, this topic has extensively been dealt with in former blogposts and comments. For your edification just a few points: a man and a woman cannot be married if the man is impotent, that is if he can’t perform the marital act. Mere barrenness of any of the spouses is not an issue: God can (and, as we know from the bible, did) work wonders to make a barren woman fertile. Gratia supponit naturam, Grace builds on Nature, as Thomas Aquinas perceived. Even a woman who had her cervix surgically removed can grow a new one (I think I read about this kind of miracle). But there is no way a man can be transformed into a woman and get pregnant by another man. Grace builds on Nature – where the proper Nature lacks, even Grace is powerless.

    I really don’t want to make this a Catholic vs Protestant thing, but your understanding of Bible interpretation leaves me dumbfounded. Liberal Protestants claim to hold the Scripture in such high regard, but then their biblical scholars start tearing it apart and explaining away everything they don’t like. Funny how it turns out that any controversial word of the Apostle Paul, or even the Lord Jesus Christ actually is secondary, was inserted later and hence is not relevant for us nowadays. Or the meaning has changed over time. Or poor Paul (or even the Lord) just didn’t know all the facts. But they hold the Scripture in such high regard! And unlike the nasty Catholics, they didn’t invent so many rules that are nowhere to be found in the Bible! Sola Scriptura (well, the parts that are legit)… And you know what? It really isn’t a Catholic vs. Protestant thing, because there are enough Protestant biblical scholars that don’t reinterpret everything until it fits their worldview.

    [@Steve, Anakin and everybody else: Sorry for this rant...]

    Yes, God wants us to be happy, but ultimately so. Until we are dead, he promised us: persecution, martyrdom, being betrayed by our parents/children and so on. There is no guarantee for a Christian to live a comfortable life, not even a happy one. I strive for eternal happiness, not temporal one. Mother Teresa (who is considered a Saint even by some atheists) lived most of her life in a feeling of being abandoned by God. Does it mean what she did was wrong because it didn’t give her a feeling of growing closer to God?
    I think I mentioned this before: no man or woman with SSA should deny his/her feelings (at least no more than we are all called to deny all worldly things). Being a man with SSA, I would be profoundly unhappy if I acted as if I wasn’t attracted to men. But I just refuse to accept the idea that being sexually active is essential for my well-being. To admit to myself that I like men doesn’t mean I have to go to town with them. Yes, it is a struggle, and yes, there are dark moments (as Steve noted), but it is worth it.

    Reply
  16. Lori

    @Victor and others … have you ever read Gary Thomas? His book, “Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy” resonated with me when I was ready to leave my marriage. He has a similar book I’m reading now, “Authentic Faith” and it is very much in line with what you are expressing, Victor.

    Reply
  17. Joe K.

    If people think texting and driving is bad, they should see me: blog posting and driving. No, the traffic was basically at a stand still before, so I don’t think I was doing anything exceptionally dangerous or anything. (Seriously, I only hit like 1 cat. And who cares about cats anyway?)

    I want to first address the whole point you brought up, McFly (hey, McFly…), about the different feeling you get in overcoming a real sin versus the feeling you get repressing something that is not really a sin. You said that when you overcome real sin, you feel better about yourself, etc. What if I were to say to you that the past couple years of overcoming my homosexuality has made my life a million times better. I feel freer and happier than I ever have. This is actually a pretty common experience among people like me. Many of us feel great and feel like we Have actually overcome a great sin in our lives. Ask many or most of the people who post on here, including Steve. Overall we Do feel better about our lives making the decisions we make.

    You would say, “well, I don’t feel that way; I just get super depressed and feel completely unfulfilled.” And you would be telling the truth. I wouldn’t even think of calling you a liar about that. But most importantly, the conversation would have to stop there because it would just be a feelings contest: “No, no, I feel more fulfilled than you!” “What are you talking about! You can’t even go out with friends without having to repress how you feel!” Which was my exact point to begin with. Our feelings here have little to do with whether or not the behavior is actually right or wrong. They are extraordinarily relevant psychologically, but they are somewhat meaningless morally. We have to step back and make objective judgments when discussing what we ought to do, even if it is overwhelmingly difficult to do so.

    To the next point: the “what if a heterosexual couple is infertile” has been brought up an innumerable amount of times, and it has been addressed even more times. The most I can do to address it is to give a basic small rundown of natural law (which fills up tomes and cannot fully be addressed here). Man is by his nature aimed at procreation. His body creates semen in order to fertilize an egg. It is aimed at fertilizing eggs. He has a strong sex drive so that he will have sex. So that he will ejaculate inside of a woman. So that his sperm, which are aimed at creating life, will get to the egg. Keep in mind, the individual man who is infertile is not at issue here: MAN is. The form of man. An infertile man would not frustrate the purpose of sex by having sex with an infertile woman. He is doing exactly what the form of man is supposed to do when having sex, getting his semen inside of her.

    A man having sex with another man is of course completely different. His sexual act is aimed at nothing that produces life By Its Very Nature. That is, the form of man having sex with the form of man would frustrate all of the ends mentioned above. An infertile couple is a defect of an appropriate use. A homosexual couple is Inappropriate in Use, not defective in circumstance. That is, if two of the most perfect men were to have sex with one another, the natural end of sex would Never be fulfilled. If the most perfect woman and the most perfect man were to have sex with one another, they would fulfill the end of sex: life.

    Any intended orgasm that does not culminate in fulfilling the end of the sexual act would be a “bad” form of sex, as it has nothing to do with the purpose of sex, if sex is metaphysically defined as an objective thing. A chosen bad is what we call immoral. Sexual bads are Gravely immoral because sexuality is so important to the human person. I would also like to note that sex does not have a Single purpose, so when I say THE purpose of sex, I am doing it for convenience. Sex unifies. But sex unifies for a further purpose as well. So that the unified couple will raise the life they created with love.

    This is the same reason why bulimia or other frustrations would be bad—though not Necessarily immoral (it would depend how bad it would get, etc.). This is simply an example of the perverted faculty argument, which is a large part of natural law. Which has nothing directly to do with the bible. Also note that it has nothing to do with God saying the activity is wrong. If he Were to say the activity were wrong (or if anyone were), it would be because he were Identifying something that by its nature is wrong, something that is a Bad example of the metaphysical thing.

    Put very simply, something that fulfills its end is a good example of a thing. Something that cannot fulfill its end is a bad example of that thing. Eyes’ ends are sight. There are many eyes that cannot see or see as eyes should see. We would call those bad eyes, as eyes are aimed at seeing. (We of course do this naturally, but it makes sense all the same. Also note that this has nothing to do with our Preference for eyes seeing. Eyes by their nature are pointed at seeing, whether we want them to or not. And they are pointed at this end for the further end of helping us survive. And so on and on.) CHOOSING a bad (which is something humans can uniquely do) would fall into the spectrum of immoral. (Note that this is the reason why it’s irrelevant that certain animals commit homosexual acts.) Which is why having a homosexual desire may be “bad” in the sense that it is a defect, as something like blindness would be, but it is not Immoral. To hammer home the point: a homosexual man having sex with a man is just as immoral as a heterosexual man having sex with a man (all things being equal).

    There are volumes written on natural law, and what I’ve given here is just rudimentary stuff. And in a lot of ways, it’s not really what I want to argue about. I simply want to point out how it has little or nothing to do with denomination or the bible or papal authority or anything else. Catholics don’t say contraception is immoral because the pope said so. We (and the pope) say contraception is immoral because it perverts sex. Now, most Catholics aren’t experts on natural law (I definitely am not), and this is why most Catholics listen to the Holy Church. Because the Church Is an expert on these things. We have “faith” in the Church (not in the sense that we follow it blindly), but in the sense that you have “faith” that your science teacher or tax attorney is to be trusted because they have shown their worth to you in the past.

    Steve, I apologize if my first post came off as rude. This stuff is coming up in my personal life, and I probably let that spill to much over. My apologies to you and to Anakin. The force be with you both.

    Reply
  18. Pingback: Catholic, Gay, and Feeling Fine » Response, Part II

  19. anakinmcfly

    @Victor: “But there is no way a man can be transformed into a woman and get pregnant by another man.” There are intersex individuals in which their bodies spontaneously undergo full or partial sex changes either at puberty or some point later in their life, and some of them are fertile after this. There are also transgender individuals, of which I am one – assigned female at birth, male gender identity, attracted to men, identify as gay, might still potentially get pregnant.

    @Joe K: I’ll have to disagree on the primary purpose of humans and/or sex is procreation, and if for instance one views just as important (or most important) a purpose of sex as being an expression of love, then the homosexual couple will no longer be inappropriate in use, if they both love each other. But that’s a denominational disagreement.

    I’d like to bring up Romans 14: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+14&version=NIV

    Specifically how it implies a form of subjective morality that differs from individual to individual on the basis of faith and conviction over certain matters. To tie it to this discussion: for some people, indulging in SSA may be wrong, and overcoming it will bring them freedom and happiness, but for others it may be the opposite. Either way, it’s between that person and God.

    I realise that’s more along the Protestant line of thinking, in which case we’ll have to agree to disagree on that matter!

    College work is meanwhile piling up, so I’ll have to withdraw from this discussion at least for now; replies still get sent to my inbox, but I’d be grateful if you not bring up new areas of debate at least until Steve creates part 2 of his response.
    It’s been a great discussion, thanks everyone!

    Reply
    1. Victor

      @anakinmcfly:
      a) What is the DNA code of your cells? Is it XY or XX? Dit it change when you started defining as male? I don’t buy the myth that there is a difference between sex and gender. And this is not a denominational thing – ask the average Baptist about this if you don’t believe me.
      b) What do you make of God’s order to Adam and Eve (the primordial married couple) to be fertile? Do you ignore this?
      Yes, it has been a great discussion. But it seems to me that indeed this is not so much a confrontation of denominations but of hermeneutics – whom do we take more serious, the Bible or biblical scholars (and if the latter, which sort of scholars)? Perhaps the only thing we can do is indeed to agree to disagree, which is a fine strategy to avoid confrontation but reeks of relativism (the old question Pontius Pilatus asked: What is Truth?).

      Reply
  20. anakinmcfly

    @Victor
    a) I have no idea whether I’m XX or XY, and most likely neither do you regarding your own DNA, unless you’ve done a karyotype test. Either way, they were fixed at conception and did not change. Neither did I ‘start’ defining as anything; I’ve always been me.

    I’ll ask you a similar question in return: if you were to go for a karyotype test and it turned out that you’re one of those cases where an XX embryo developed typically male instead of female (it happens, and vice versa), would you cease to believe you are a man and start believing you’re a woman instead? What if someone also injected you regularly with estrogen and performed surgery on your genitals until you looked female in every way? I’m guessing it still wouldn’t make you a woman, because you’d still be you, any more than getting a haircut changes a fundamental part of who you are. Gender identity exists independent of biology, though it is often correlated.

    There’s a huge variety in human sexual development – estimates run from 1 in 100 to 1 in 2000 who are some degree of intersex – and the process of assigning individuals as ‘male’ or ‘female’ based (most of the time) solely on the appearance of their outer genitalia does not always reflect the person’s gender identity. There are many other parts of the body that are sexually dimorphic, including the brain. If for instance we lived in a technologically advanced civilisation that assigned gender based on certain gendered brain structures rather than genitals, several people currently labelled ‘male’ might be labelled ‘female’ and vice versa. So while I similarly don’t agree about a difference between sex and gender, it’s the definition of the terms that I dispute.

    Here’s a fairly comprehensive collection of links to studies, if you’re interested: http://aebrain.blogspot.com/p/reference-works-on-transsexual-and.html

    b) Yes, they were to be fruitful and multiply, which humans are doing pretty well, given the current state of near-overcrowding on Earth. I don’t think that precludes the possibility of sex for other reasons such as love.

    The Bible and biblical scholars aren’t exclusive. We take the Bible seriously, and the scholars help us know how to do that, because they have more knowledge and experience in the area. The denominational difference comes about in how one decides how to discern which to believe.

    I agree that just leaving this isn’t the best solution for the reasons you mention, and I usually try to avoid doing so. Several things though:
    - busy with college, as mentioned (took a break from readings to write this reply)
    - I’m vastly outnumbered on this blog – I think I’m the only Protestant amongst the commenters, and possibly the youngest (22) – which is not conducive to a balanced discussion, and has been mentally draining on my side. I’d say the same if the situation were reversed. I’m also far from the best representative for my views, and would not be doing them justice; I also don’t have the experience and maturity to engage in the deeper levels of theological discussion that this requires.

    But I’ve definitely learnt a lot from this, and it’s given me new things to think about, so I’m grateful for that.

    Reply
    1. Peter J

      I’ve arrived after the party has left, sadly. I’ll refrain from adding my three cents except for this:

      @anakinmcfly: You’re not alone. Protestant, here, and younger than you. ;) Now if only you hadn’t unsubscribed from the thread. :(

      Reply
  21. Joe K.

    Your response to me clearly indicates that you absolutely did not understand the point I was making. I did not say that the purpose of human life is to procreate. A person does nothing immoral, all things being equal, by abstaining from sex. When he Does have sex, though, he must do it appropriately if he is to remain moral. And there is an appropriate way to have sex based on the metaphysical nature of the sexual act. This does not mean that every time a person has sex he has to intend to make babies and nothing else. He may just think his wife looks ravishing that Thursday night. It Does mean that when he does have sex, though, he has to do it appropriately; that is, by ejaculating inside of her vagina. The same is obviously true for eating. You don’t have to want to nourish your body every time you eat (a purpose of eating); you may just be hungry. When you Do eat though, you must do it appropriately. (There is of course the difference in that you could morally go your whole life without sex, while it is impossible to abstain from eating forever. There are other differences between sex and eating as well, but they have nothing to do with my point about intent.)

    The above is not true because the Catholic church says so. It would be true even if the Catholic church never existed. It would be true if the Bible were never written. Many of the ancient thinkers thought something similar to this. Aristotle, of course, was a proponent of a comparable idea. I also addressed this issue of love being A purpose of sex as well. And I explained why it was a purpose of sex, to unify the couples to create family. And I wouldn’t disagree that a homosexual couple can have sex with the feeling of love. That is, they are aimed at fulfilling A purpose of sex, unification. But that would not have anything to do with whether they were fulfilling the other, more overarching, purpose of sex. Or more directly, their feeling of love would not unfrustrate what they had frustrated. No matter how much one man may love his partner, his partner’s anus will never become a vagina. (This is not meant to be a crude statement; I apologize if it comes off that way.)

    These are philosophical arguments about morality. If you decide to simply ignore the arguments by ignoring the nature of sex, you are being unreasonable. That is, I can’t ignore everything there is about sex (sperm, egg, life creation, etc.) and say “Well, the purpose of sex is actually just to feel love and the rest of that stuff doesn’t really matter, so someone who has sex to feel love doesn’t frustrate anything” unless I justify that statement somehow. And I cannot justify it simply by saying “Well, this is just what Protestants think, so we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

    (Incidentally, the above statement about sex being solely for love expression is nearly identical (if not completely identical) to modern, secular ethics. Some secular people go further (and I actually respect them for this) in saying that there is no inherent purpose to sex at all, so any form of sex (child, animal, family) is the same as heterosexual sex in that it is all merely a personal preference. This is precisely the logic that follows when you ignore the facts on the ground and reject the inherent essences of things. (All of this probably comes from this modern notion that everything we say or is Merely an expression of our preferences. Which probably comes from splitting our souls from our bodies and all of that—something Steve mentioned in that earlier Descartes/Bad Catholic post, but this is way outside the scope of the topic.))

    In other words, no, it is not a denominational disagreement. It is a philosophical disagreement. I agree that one denomination often ignores philosophical analysis, but that does not make the disagreement itself denominational.

    Reply
  22. anakinmcfly

    Typing on phone:
    Unsubscribing from this thread; genuinely wish this wasn’t so – I hate leaving discussions unfinished, but I can see it’s not one that will end anytime soon, because we’d just keep on coming up with counterarguments to each other. Personal pride makes me obliged to say that this is not due to an inability to respond – in some sense I wish it were so, because then I would admit defeat and go. But I can’t afford to keep this up; I literally just got out of bed to post this because my mind was busy forming my next reply and making it hard to fall asleep.

    So this is my last post. Steve, thanks for hosting this discussion, and to all of you for staying civil.

    Reply
  23. Joe K.

    I can’t help but feel that your leaving is my fault; I apologize. I hope I wasn’t overly argumentative and rude. It was kind of thewholeblog v. you there, anakinmcfly (it feels so funny writing that name). That’s not cool. Be well; see you around.

    Reply
  24. Jordan Gray

    “This does not mean that every time a person has sex he has to intend to make babies and nothing else. He may just think his wife looks ravishing that Thursday night. It Does mean that when he does have sex, though, he has to do it appropriately; that is, by ejaculating inside of her vagina.”

    As a non-Catholic, I have always considered this to be a very queer and partial formulation of the purpose of sex. As expressed, it also seems disharmonious with Catholic beliefs concerning ignorance: one does not sin if one is invincibly ignorant (and sins less if one is vincibly ignorant), but it doesn’t matter if someone’s decision to have sex is purely carnal so long as it follows a strict mechanical formula of ejaculation within a vagina?

    No disrespect is intended; since I no longer believe in God, my own thoughts in this respect may be equally peculiar to you, and understand that I risk lumbering unaware over sensitive and nuanced ground. It just strikes me as a genuinely and strikingly odd concept.

    From my own perspective, what you are describing is a particular physical activity that can be successfully performed given the capacity and a particular configuration of genitals, but is by no means the only legitimate activity or exclusive purpose for sex. Each human being is a complex and unique organism with their own emotional and psychological needs, wants and preferences, and has a body which is capable of experiencing pleasure in a number of different ways. In this context, sex can mean a number of things to any one person. Reducing this complexity to a single “correct” act doesn’t really make sense without very powerful moral assumptions.

    Reply
  25. Jordan Gray

    “I’ll ask you a similar question in return: if you were to go for a karyotype test and it turned out that you’re one of those cases where an XX embryo developed typically male instead of female (it happens, and vice versa), would you cease to believe you are a man and start believing you’re a woman instead? What if someone also injected you regularly with estrogen and performed surgery on your genitals until you looked female in every way?”

    Well put. I’ve found that most people aren’t aware of the extent to which biological sex varies between people. I strongly recommend anyone who thinks karyotype is the sole indicator of biologic sex to look up Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, in which a person with an XY karyotype can be feminised to varying degrees, up to and including being indistinguishable from a typical XX female.

    The real turning point for my own understanding of sex and gender was the realisation that, given the reality of intersex, biological sex is more a bimodal distribution of characteristics than a binary categorisation.

    Reply
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