Monday, November 20, 2006

Observing the gap through the prism of sexuality

Over on the First Things blog, Fr. Edward Oakes, S.J., who, as frequent readers of my blog know, is a favorite philosopher/theologian of mine, and who is a leading expositor of the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar (he wrote the masterful Pattern of Redemption: The Theology of Hans Urs Von Balthasar), whose theology is the the cornerstone of my own, in his usual cogent manner, addresses some of the issues I have been grappling with since last Thursday on sexuality and the body (what Balthasarian-long sentence!). He focuses on recent magisterial teaching, drawing special attention to Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, which is a profound articulation of the human body and sexuality.

Fr. Oakes' comments are very timely for me because last evening, just before retiring, I read a rather predictable, but nonetheless troubling article, which appeared in the Opinion section of yesterday's Salt Lake Tribune. The article, entitled Hatred and bigotry are immoral, homosexuality is not, was written by a member of the University of Utah's Philosophy faculty, one of the few Philosophy professors who was on the faculty during my days as both an undergraduate and graduate student with whom I did not study. Like Prof. Chaterjee, I, too, believe hatred and bigotry are immoral. I also believe homosexual acts are immoral, but being a homosexual is not. I also agree with the good professor when he writes that cynically exploiting moral issues "for political expediency has no place in public life." I think one reason behind the results of the recent election, in which many evangelicals voted for Democrats, is the recognition by Christians and many other people of faith that they had been exploited by the cynical use of moral issues by the Republican right. However, he fails to mention the fundamental role of the family as the basic unit of all human societies. It is concern about this, along with other legitimate concerns, not cynicism or immorality, that cause voting citizens in many individual states of these United States to overwhelmingly affirm that marriage is between one woman and one man. He also fails to make a distinction between these concerns and how they are expressed by the democratic will of the people in this country and how people, despite their inability in a growing number of states to gain legal status for their same-sex arrangments, are free to live their lives in the private sphere, which most people do not want to legally regulate. In other words, sexual freedom is maintained as consenting adults, even in states that constitutionally prohibit legal recognition and benefits for same-sex couples, remain legally free to pursue sexual relations with other consenting adults and even to order their domestic arrangements in the way they see fit. My question for Professor Chaterjee is, riffing off Dylan, How many strawmen must a man kick down before he can call his argument fallacious? The answer is one.

Just so we identify empty, misguided propoganda when we read it, I pass along this little gem from Professor Chaterjee's article: "The religious gurus, with their morbid fear of sexuality and a pathological unease toward the body, have given us a misguided morality by putting undue emphasis on regulating sexuality. In the process, they have robbed morality of its substance by denying autonomy to women, homosexuals and any others who evoke fear in them." This may be an apt description of some "religious gurus", but it certainly does not describe my position, or the position of the Catholic Church, as articulated by Sacred Scripture, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope John Paul II, or the U.S. Catholic Bishops, and certainly not Catholic thinkers, like Fr. Oakes, or the position of many other thoughtful, respectful religious thinkers and believers, both Christian and non-Christian.

I'll let Fr. Oakes' post stand as not merely a rebutal, but a definitive refutation of Chaterjee's less than philosophical fulminations about morality, in which he is all too eager to merely dismiss the worldview of most of the earth's population as primitive if not unhealthy. By so doing, he widens the gap identified by Pope Benedict XVI in his Regensburg address.

So, in order to whet your appetite, I offer the opening of Fr. Oakes' post:

Reports that the South African Parliament has approved gay marriage, and that the U.S. Catholic bishops have reiterated Church teaching on the disordered nature of homosexual acts, once again recall the line about the real reason for the culture wars: 'It’s the sex, stupid.'

"Part (but only part) of the problem, as crystallized so distinctly in these two news reports, comes from the understanding of the term nature that is implicitly operating in these two assemblies. Among secularists, gay activists, liberal politicians, and the like, it is taken for granted that homosexual urgings are 'natural,' in the sense of being innate (the word nature comes from the Latin natus, 'to be born' as, in fact, does the word innate); and since the urges are natural in that sense (or so goes the claim), what’s wrong with satisfying them? For the Catholic Church, however, nature always carries a teleological implication, and since the sex organs are also called reproductive organs, it represents an abuse of their function to make use of them in ways that violate their reproductive purposes."

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