Sunday, 26 February 2012

On being a bigot

When someone calls me a bigot, before I jump up and down and get upset, I need to think.
In particular, I need to think about two things: what did he intend, and what did he mean?
His intention may be benign (eg it is humourous joshing); or while his intention may be to offend, his actual meaning may be positive (eg he regards as a bigot anyone who defends historic Christianity). Only when I have ascertained both of these, to the best of my ability, will I know how to respond.

Before I go any further, I should make it clear that I am not condoning the intention to offend, nor the online bullying which I have observed recently in some quarters, nor condemning people who get understandably upset when on the receiving end of such bullying - I am going somewhere else with this.

Let us consider the case of someone who is upset, angry, outraged and so on, when they learn that the Catholic Church refers to homosexual orientation as objectively disordered.
Whilst their initial reaction of upset, anger and outrage may be understandable, it may not be reasonable.  To reach an informed response they need to understand both what the Church means by this statement, and what it intends by it.  Only then are they in a position to pass intelligent comment on it.

That, of course, takes both a degree of good will, and some intellectual work (including at least temporary suspension of prejudice).  These are not always present, in the current climate.
So what does the Church mean? What does she intend?

To understand her meaning, we need to understand the context within which she is talking about human sexuality at all, her overall understanding of human sexuality, and the precise meaning she attaches to the words quoted.

To understand her intention, we have to examine what she claims to intend, and decide whether we believe that claim, or whether we discern a different intention, and if so on what evidence we base that discernment.

I will try to explain these things as clearly as I can: I am not a trained theologian or philosopher so if anyone finds fault with my reasoning or my expression of it, please feel free to correct or clarify as appropriate.

Taking the meaning first: the Church understands human beings as created good by God, endowed with both natural and supernatural gifts, but damaged by that primeval catastrophe known as the Fall.

One of the results of the Fall is that all humanity is disordered: instead of being inclined towards what is ultimately good - both objectively good and good for us individually and collectively - we are inclined towards secondary goods, which, when pursued at the expense of the ultimate good, become evil: something that diverts us from the good.

One particular example of that is human sexuality: it was created as a good by God, the very means by which we can express love, which is union with Him as well as with another human, and also the means by which we can share in His creative act, by procreating.  Its correct context is matrimony: the union of a man and a woman, indissoluble, faithful, and open to children.  In this context, sex is not only good, but holy.  Any other use of sex, in thought or deed, is disordered.  That includes, but is not limited to, pornography, masturbation, fornication, attraction to children, attraction to people of the same sex, and so on. 

Since the Fall, humans have struggled with all these, and other, problems with sexuality; sometimes introducing selfishness, or the assertion of power, or the separation of the unitive from the procreative; or finding that their inclinations are not aligned with the purpose of procreation and love.  In all these cases, it is correct to speak of an objective disorder: our passions are not ordered as they should be, to the final purpose and intrinsic meaning of sexual love.

This is not a label that is used as a hate term for people who are attracted to those of the same sex.  In fact the Church has 'harsher' language, if you will, for heterosexual couples who separate the unitive from the procreative by the use of artificial methods of birth control: contraception is described as 'shameful and intrinsically vicious' in Casti Conubii.

To return to 'objectively disordered,' it is worth considering the Church's intention in using this phrase.  The first thing to notice is that it is not an attack on the dignity of individuals who experience homosexual attraction. Look at the very next words in the Catechism, immediately after the famous 'objectively disordered' phrase: 
This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
(CCC § 2358)
This is scarcely the language of hate.

The Church's intention, in teaching thus, is to proclaim the truth, in order that all may be saved.  It may be that one believes it to be wrong, but to claim it is bigoted is to impute either meaning or intention to it other than those claimed by the Church; and to do that, one should really bring some evidence to bear.

In fine, if my believing and proclaiming what the Church has always believed and proclaimed means some people wish to call me a bigot, that is a label I will take as a compliment - and a reflection more on them than on me.

1 comment:

Suem said...

I think the phrase "objectively disordered" is insensitive. It is good that the statement acknowledges that, "They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination...should be avoided" this still begs some questions which are:
1. Why does the requirement to respect need to be spelt out - says a lot about what actually happens.
2. It isn't quite clear whether the "respect and sensitivity" applies just to those for whom their sexuality "is a trial" or whether those who embrace that sexuality must also be treated with respect and sensitivity?
3. What is "unjust" discrimination - is this saying that there is "just" discrimination?
4. Also, I think the wording to avoid "every sign" of unjust discrimination is strange. It almost seems to be saying "don't be seen to discriminate..." maybe I am reading too much into it?

If you meet someone who has a same sex partner whom they dearly love and are committed to, and you tell them that relationship is "objectively disordered" - I can't see how that is respectful or compassionate or sensitive. It doesn't admit of the possibility that that relationship might have integrity and be a source of blessing to the person and those around them. I do actually think this is a bigoted attitude, because it makes assumptions but doesn't really look at reality or human complexity. Surely that kind of narrowness can be described as "bigoted"?