Monday, March 22, 2010

Why Do They Care?

Whenever I see liberals pushing for the Church to change its teachings on sexual morality, I always have to wonder why they care? I think we need to analyze their motives, try to figure out what exactly, concretely, they are imagining.

Well, actually, there are two categories of issues here. The first set, if changed, actually would have some effects in practice. Such issues include:

-Making celibacy optional for diocesan priests. This is very possible, of course, and would change the whole social landscape of the priesthood, as well as opening up a whole new pool of men, and ending some of the secrecy and deception by allowing open marriages and maybe help to break open the isolated clerical culture and arrogant separation from the laity.

-Allowing divorce and remarriage would, I suppose, make people not have to go through the rigmarole of some long complicated annulment process; but, then again, so would merely adopting a more Orthodox pragmatism towards approving them (since the theoretical principles aren't going to change). There is this idea out there that the divorced-and-remarried are singled-out for exclusion from communion, but this is simply because they are publicly presumed to be in a state of grave sin. People don't seem to realize that no one in a state of mortal sin is supposed to receive communion, though I understand that the semi-permanent status of the divorced-and-remarried makes it harder for them. However, they can live as brother and sister, and I'm sure there are people who have made that resolve, gone to confession in order to receive communion again, only to resume sexual activity at some later point. Likewise, I'm sure there are people divorced-and-remarried who simply ignore the Church's teaching about not receiving communion in a state of sin. As do many sinners after many sins; this idea that the divorced are singled-out isn't really true, no one is checking ID cards in the communion line.

-Allowing women to be priests would likewise change the whole make-up of the priesthood, though that's not going to happen. At most you might see some sort of deaconesses brought back. However, women could have much influence in the Church even just in the role of Priest's Wife or "presbytera" as in the East, where she is a very important maternal figure for the parish.

-Approving homosexual marriage would obviously change who had weddings in our churches, and change the structure of the Church and society, and that's definitely not going to happen. The Church should, however, resist the "culture-wars" tendency to stigmatize homosexuality more than any sins (like adultery, etc). Resisting the self-righteousness of the older generation of conservatives, I think in the younger generations this is already happening. Lots of young, faithful Catholics I know accept the sexual morality of the Church, and oppose gay marriage politically, but aren't homophobic and also have gay friends, liberal friends, non-Catholic friends, fornicating friends (or fornicate themselves), etc.

Which gets to my main point; while changing the teaching (or, since that can't happen, the attitudes in practice) on the above issues might have some practical effects...I don't really understand what the liberals are imagining changing other teachings would accomplish. Recognizing something is immoral is different than having some sort of oppressive regime against it. Accepting theoretically that something is immoral doesn't actually stop anyone from doing anything necessarily.

So many of their other concerns would simply have no effect. Which is what they don't seem to understand. "The Church should allow contraception!" Why? Is the so-called "ban" actually stopping anyone who wants to use it from using it? No, obviously not, in fact one of their big arguments is that so many Catholics do it anyway. But so what? We're all sinners. So what would changing the teaching that it is immoral accomplish in practice? It's not like the Church is holding a gun to anyone's head forcing them not to contracept. "Catholics should be able to!" But Catholics already are able to if they so choose, that's not the question at all.

The same basic principle applies to fornication and prostitution and pornography (which they'd probably like to see reduced to merely venial sins), and to masturbation and impure thoughts (which they'd probably like to see exculpated entirely). The Church's teachings that these things are wrong are not like some sort of sharia law that is getting people stoned to death.

These teachings basically amount, in terms of external effect in practice, not to a statement that faithful Catholics won't do these things, but merely that faithful Catholics will mention these acts in confession before receiving communion after committing them (and inevitably someone will at some point). Big deal. Lots of us fornicate, masturbate, and have lustful thoughts sometimes, even while accepting the Church's teaching on the immorality of it. And so we go to confession before receiving communion and resolve to try harder next time. That's not hypocrisy, it's just sin, and we're all sinners, but God loves us anyway. It's really not the big scary oppressive regime they're imagining.


Is that what the liberals are so afraid of? Is that what they want to change? That they don't want to have to tell some guy in a dark box if they hook-up, use a condom, touch themselves, or have an erotic fantasy? It's really not that hard; the priests have heard it all before, trust me. So I really don't see why the liberals care. I don't understand why they're so emotionally invested in having the Church change these teachings which, in practice, are just that: teachings.

Perhaps they have a hard time bearing cognitive dissonance? Perhaps they are too disturbed by the thought that they too are (gasp!) sinners, and so would rather label what they do as not sin. But this is the very sort of self-righteousness they accuse (correctly) the conservatives of having. Because it's not about living up to the standard, nor is lowering the standard to fit your own abilities the solution to not living up to it. Rather, it's about upholding the standard even though everyone falls short, and letting grace fill the gap.


They're teachings, sure, but no one is "enforcing" them except for the individual conscience. If they are so troubled by the lofty ideal of chastity proposed by the Church, maybe it is really their own conscience which is disturbing them, maybe their war is really one to alter their own conscience. But it is in our weakness that grace comes in! It is in the gap between our ideal and our reality that God enters our lives! The difference between them and those of us who accept the teachings isn't that we are really objectively behaving all that differently, it's that we glory in our infirmities and don't mind being reminded of them. That's the path to humility.

Well, some of us who accept the teachings don't mind being reminded of our infirmities. There are, of course, several classes of people who accept the Church's teachings besides just those of us described above. The first class are those who actually live up to them due to holiness, but don't judge those who don't; these are the Saints-on-Earth, and they're not bugging or oppressing anyone. But then there are those who technically live up to the standard due to extreme repression (if you can call that living up to it) but are extremely judgmental and self-righteous nevertheless; they're spiritually sick, but rather rare. Unfortunately, the next category is rather common, perhaps the largest category. It's those self-righteous, judgmental types who don't, in fact, live up to the standards, but then strangely enough are all the more repressive and jansenist in their attitudes. Defensively, over-compensating for their own weaknesses instead of accepting and embracing them. Because their cycle depends on guilt (when they fall) and self-righteousness (when they're in the "good" phase) and because they feel a need to create a false distinction between themselves and "the sinners" even though they sin too. "But at least we try!" they'll tell you, or some such false distinction. As if they think they can make themselves better just because they feel guiltier or are more stridently condemnatory and judgmental due their self-loathing. Methinks they do protest too much.

Those two self-righteous categories of conservatives need to be stopped. They probably have ended up traumatizing all sorts of other impressionable young people with their toxic bile, born of their own twisted psyche and arrogant angst. But those attitudes are not something essential to the Church's teachings in themselves, so the liberals needn't worry. Talk of the Church "imposing" regulations on people or "controlling" their sex lives...are ridiculous. If people choose to follow the Church's teachings, that's their own choice, so why do the liberals care? Now, if the State was trying to enforce these things legally, coercively...I'd be mad too. But just as a moral code for individuals...it's a private matter. If they want to reject those teachings and do their own thing, they're free to do so (and already do), no one will know or try to stop them. But publicly changing the teachings wouldn't really do anything except, apparently, make them more comfortable with themselves. Which raises the question: if they already believe these teachings are wrong, why do the liberals need them to be officially changed in order to stop them from nagging at their conscience? Why would the teachings be nagging at their conscience still if they've already decided they're incorrect?

5 comments:

George said...

"These teachings basically amount, in terms of external effect in practice, not to a statement that faithful Catholics won't do these things, but merely that faithful Catholics will mention these acts in confession before receiving communion after committing them (and inevitably someone will at some point). Big deal. Lots of us fornicate, masturbate, and have lustful thoughts sometimes, even while accepting the Church's teaching on the immorality of it. And so we go to confession before receiving communion and resolve to try harder next time. That's not hypocrisy, it's just sin, and we're all sinners, but God loves us anyway. It's really not the big scary oppressive regime they're imagining."

exactly! thank you! ive tried to explain this before but found a hard time putting it in words.

"The difference between them and those of us who accept the teachings isn't that we are really objectively behaving all that differently, it's that we glory in our infirmities and don't mind being reminded of them."

yes! though let me tell you that your very realistic attitude towards all this is going to make some of those selfrighteous neoconservative and traddie types very upset, because they are very much invested (for some reason, one suspects personal) in the idea that the moral standards largely line-up with behavior in practice, so its sort of just like the other side of the coin of the liberal position. one wonders what is going on inside their head.

Anonymous said...

"they feel a need to create a false distinction between themselves and 'the sinners' even though they sin too"

That's always so frustrating.

Your take is refreshingly honest.

"As if they think they can make themselves better just because they feel guiltier or are more stridently condemnatory and judgmental due their self-loathing. Methinks they do protest too much."

lol, you mean, like, the whole Catholic blogosphere? And everyone on Catholic message boards, and all the uptight Christians out there who seem so concerned with OTHER peoples' private sex lives.

I think if you investigated a little further, you'd find out that a lot of them are deviants themselves, thinking they can hide it or make up for it by merely taking an extreme position against it.

Pater, O.S.B. said...

While I appreciate most of your post, I wouldn't write off those who have a problem with the fact that so many Catholics fail in the morality they profess. While it should be understood that being judgmental is wrong, it should remain an indictment against the sincerity of our faith if we live no differently than the heathen. Confessing our guilt and acknowledging our weaknesses is only the beginning. As a Church community we live as practical atheists. In the past, non-Catholics could see higher church attendance, fewer divorces and larger families among Catholics. Much leverage is given to liberals who go against Church teaching by its--apparent--failure to transform lives. One point to note, as well, is the banning of condoms for prevention of AIDS. There are many people--believers and unbelievers--who hold (incorrectly in my opinion) that acceptance of the Church's teaching among the poor populations of Africa is a tremendous challenge to curbing the spread of the disease. Most of them could give a hoot about having to face Confession for doing what they really don't want to admit they know is wrong. Their goal is often to influence dissent in the Church or rejection of the Church altogether to curb a harmful superstition (such as veneration of the Small-pox goddess is India when vaccinations were being offered.).

"But then there are those who technically live up to the standard due to extreme repression (if you can call that living up to it) but are extremely judgmental and self-righteous nevertheless; they're spiritually sick, but rather rare. Unfortunately, the next category is rather common, perhaps the largest category. It's those self-righteous, judgmental types who don't, in fact, live up to the standards, but then strangely enough are all the more repressive and jansenist in their attitudes. Defensively, over-compensating for their own weaknesses instead of accepting and embracing them. Because their cycle depends on guilt (when they fall) and self-righteousness (when they're in the "good" phase) and because they feel a need to create a false distinction between themselves and "the sinners" even though they sin too. "But at least we try!" they'll tell you, or some such false distinction. As if they think they can make themselves better just because they feel guiltier or are more stridently condemnatory and judgmental due their self-loathing. Methinks they do protest too much."

You sound like one who is an insider.

A Sinner said...

Or was, perhaps.

Timotheus said...

Rowe says in the intro to the Phaedrus, "Socrates out-dazzles him, first by treating the philosopher, that exemplar (surely) of rationality, as mad, then -- even more extraordinarily -- by giving Phaedrus, and us, an ideal of eros that seems to overturn the whole idea of eros. (Eros without sex? What on earth is next? Isn't sex what eros is ultimately about?)..."

And ideal eros MUST be without sex, if it is --ideally--a passion for Beauty (as the speech suggests), not for the bit of beauty that happens to be present in this particular body (and soul), since sex with this body will merely distract from the search for Beauty, about which the ideal beloved will be equally obsessive."

Ideas go back to the Greeks, not just Christianity