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Tuesday, there is an interesting post at First Things (a conservative Catholic outlet) by Sebastian Alvarez, a conservative Catholic gay man. The title of the polemic is False Counsel at Fordham. The short circuit is that Jesuit priests and the faculty are telling this guy to live his life. Mr. Alvarez is so strangled by guilt and self-loathing that he is lashing out.
I find the whole thing sad and bewildering. After all, one can change their religious beliefs but changing sexual orientation is impossible.
Shortly before my freshman year at Fordham University, I came out to my parents and close friends. Classmates had mocked me for acting gay since elementary school, but it took me years to admit that dreaded fact to myself. My family was nominally religious, but always told me they would accept me no matter what. Nevertheless, I doubted that gay sex made sense from a moral point of view. It seemed to me that men and women “fit” together, and that something essential would be missing if I were to pursue a relationship with another guy.
In a more perfect world one’s sexual orientation should be a matter-of-fact realization rather than a “dreaded fact.” If one accepts their sexual orientation it seems improbable that gay sex is immoral. Regarding how the parts fit, Alvarez is referring to the very Catholic concept of sexual complementarity. It was the primary philosophical point of objection to marriage equality.
Utterly nonsensical is the idea that “something would be missing” if Alvarez were to pursue a relationship with another man. Since Alvarez (hopefully) will not pursue a relationship with a woman, not pursuing a relationship with another man is what produces an essential missing part of being human. Mr. Alvarez is presumably wed to the religious dogma that his god will not allow him to enter heaven if he has a gay relationship.
Alvarez obviously knows that his sexual orientation was not a choice. Therefore it follows that he is gay because his god wants him to suffer. Why would a deity do that? It makes no sense. One is challenged to suffer in this life to have a rewarding afterlife?
Something did click in Alvarez:
Still, the prospect of having a boyfriend, or even just gay friends, thrilled me. An alumna had told me that at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus (located in Hell’s Kitchen, also known as the “gayborhood”), “basically half of the guys are gay,” and I soon discovered this was true. Thus my first few weeks at Fordham were at once exciting, anxiety-inducing, and full of glitter. I was enthralled by the beautiful gay men sitting next to me in class and couldn’t wait to attend the first meeting of the “Rainbow Alliance”—a group with the mission of providing LGBTQ students with a “safe space” to explore their identity. Rainbow was one of the most active clubs on campus. Students often joked about how ironic it was that as a Catholic school, Rainbow was one of the most visible clubs. But as at most Jesuit schools, anything goes.
So he wants a boyfriend while simultaneously believing “that something essential would be missing if I were to pursue a relationship with another guy.” And I thought that we Jews were the acknowledged experts when it came to guilt.
I also went to the Queer Prom, imagining there would be attractive guys and good music. I was not prepared to find two Jesuits standing at the entrance, one wearing a pink feather in his hair. “Aren’t they supposed to be against this?” I thought to myself. At this stage of my life, I was still trying to figure out why I was so fascinated by the Church’s rituals and traditions. So I asked the Jesuit with the pink feather if I could meet with him to ask a few questions. I wanted to understand Catholicism’s moral teachings better.
I have to wonder why he went to queer prom which is only going to produce temptation for those “attractive guys.” He is also saying that the very existence of the event is inconsistent with Catholic teaching which he otherwise insists he wants to conform to. So, again, why is he there? Is he a gay tourist?
But when I met with the Jesuit, he started talking about how the pope (at the time Benedict XVI) was “too strict with the teaching on contraception.” “Most Catholics use condoms nowadays,” he said. “Benedict says he would rather have a small Church with people who follow the teaching than a full Church where people do as they please. Come on—let’s get real!” To clarify why he thinks the Church should recognize the sacramentality of same-sex marriages, he told me about his experience as a young bisexual teen. “Back in those days, people weren’t as accepting as they are now,” he said. “I couldn’t tell my family. I thought, if I join the priesthood, then no one will have to find out about my secret.” According to this Jesuit, no one should have to hide in secrecy. If you’re LGB or T, you should be able to “live openly” in the Church, in defiance of Church teaching.
The priest made a great deal of sense but Alvarez objects to it as “false counsel.” In the competition between a real-world common sense priest and the dogma of the Church, the dogma wins even though it is based on ancient manuscripts written by men with no concept of sexual orientation.
This attitude toward sexual doctrines permeated the theology department. One of my first classes, Bible and Human Sexuality, began with a debunking of the “clobber passages.” We were taught that St. Paul wasn’t referring to modern, loving homosexual couples when he condemned arseonikoitai, but to pagan temple prostitution. After reading Joseph Ratzinger’s CDF “Halloween Letter” on homosexuality, the professor told us how ridiculously archaic Ratzinger’s reasoning was, much to the delight of the LGBT students in the room. Later in the semester, we read an essay by a gay Protestant who had decided to give up living a homosexual lifestyle. My professor, Dr. Benjamin Dunning, belittled this man’s decision, claiming that his sense of “being delivered” from homosexuality was delusional. “These kinds of people just need to accept who they are and stop lying to themselves.” My classmates cheered for our professor’s moral heroism.
Arseonikoitai is a Greek construction that Paul used for homosexuality. What Paul was probably referring to was the practice of nonconsensual sex between slaveholders and young boys. As for Ratzinger’s Halloween Letter, it is a nonsensical and irrational 1986 compendium of homophobia based on the idea that gay people are objectively disordered. One of my “favorite” paragraphs:
… the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.
In other words, gay people are responsible for the violence directed at them. Apparently Mr. Alvarez believes that he is disordered and all the other crap that Ratzinger spewed.
Dr. Warren Throckmorton, an Evangelical Christian, psychologist and academic, wrote something to the effect that when religion and sexual orientation are in conflict, find a different church. Mr. Alvarez should heed that advice. On one hand he wants to be part of the gay community. On the other hand he believes that his sexual orientation is an unfortunate affliction. That’s not living. That defines existing. On the whole, Catholics support gay equality more than the general population. A majority of Catholics don’t feel like they are destined for Hell for their support of LGBT people.
I do not know what Alvarez has done since he left Fordham. Personally, I was a much better manager out of the closet. I suspect that applies to most of our pursuits.