Monday, April 11, 2011

They Need a Better Editor

I was just reading through the Catechism's section about chastity and noticed what appears to be a glaring sloppiness of definition when it comes to the paragraphs on "homosexuality." The Catechism's language on the matter is a disjointed mess. Specifically, for example:
Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex.
This is incoherent, no? First, why make the category defined "homosexuality" as opposed to "homosexual acts" or something like that? As if the former is morally relevant. And what do they mean by "relations"? And why the switch then from "relations" to "attraction"?

According to their definition, does it not constitute "homosexuality" if the "relations" (assuming that's a euphemism for unchaste acts; though sins of lust need not involve another person: another sloppy choice!) are between two men or two women whose "exclusive or predominant sexual attraction" is not towards people of the same sex? If two heterosexual (or even bisexual) men engaged in it, would that not be "homosexuality"?? Furthermore, is it not homosexuality if someone has these exclusive or predominant attractions but doesn't engage in "relations"?? And does "between" imply that it must be mutual? What about someone with such an exclusive or predominant attraction lusting for someone who doesn't have that?

The Catechism's language is thus all over the place and inconsistent. They mixed two concepts ("relations" and "attractions") in the definition and it doesn't stick together. Even the shift in preposition from "between" (which implies mutuality) to "toward" (which implies a phenomenon in a single individual) shows the confusion here.

We all know the Church condemns homosexual acts of lust, but not merely "being" homosexual (albeit the social construct of "sexual orientation" is pretty easily deconstructed). And yet, in this paragraph, it seems like they preform a sleight-of-hand (I hope merely through carelessness) that arbitrarily switches from "relations" to "attractions" in a way that I'd tend to think might lead to homophobia through a confusion or conflation of the "attractions" with the "relations" and vice versa.

depending on how "or between" works in the original Latin, we might even ask if a gay man having sex with a lesbian constitutes homosexual relations! After all, if you define homosexual relations not as "sex acts between two members of the same sex" (regardless of their "orientation") but specifically as "sex acts between two homosexuals" (as the Catechism's sloppy language essentially does)...this is not an invalid question!

It starts out defining the category being discussed as "relations [assumably sexual] between men or between women" and at that point, I'd think that would be enough: it means sex between two men or between two women. Okay, that's easy to understand and simple. But then, bizarrely, they go on to add this qualification "who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex" which confuses everything! So, is sex between two men a different moral category if those men are not homosexuals?! If you've already defined the objective act, I see no reason for this further qualification making assumptions about the type of person engaged in that act.

I find troubling the logic (so common in conservative circles nowadays) of homosexual acts being parsed as problematic because of "acting on disordered inclinations" as opposed to the inclinations being problematic only inasmuch as they tempt to unchaste acts. As the former outlook is a total reversal of priorities, and is clear homophobia; condemning a type of act (for everyone) as unchaste is certainly legitimate, but phrasing your condemnation in such a way as to imply that this type of act is primarily problematic because it expresses being a particular type of person (even implying that no one else ever engages in such acts, though that's clearly not true; just look at prisons, etc) to essentially condemn being that type of person (if not in so many words).

The implication becomes something like "homosexual sex acts are problematic because they're what gay people do," rather than homosexuality being seen as problematic inasmuch as (and only inasmuch as) it inclines to such acts in some of those people (acts whose condemnation, however, rests on something intrinsic to the act itself, not merely the type of person doing it.) This almost circular notion of homosexual acts as "the acts of homosexuals" leads to some bizarre places in the conservative homophobic logic (to the point that anything "coming from" or "motivated" by "homosexuality" is condemned by some internet conservatives as "acting on disorder," even if it's merely something as innocuous and in-itself-morally-neutral as wearing a purple shirt for that reason!)

Anyway, I think a more precise (or at least internally consistent) version would simply say something like,
"Homosexuality refers to sexual attractions towards members of the same-sex or to such relations between them," without trying to draw any line between the two things or define the on in terms of the other, even if usually we can assume the relations are the result of such attractions. This still is probably an oversimplification and could be deconstructed further (what, for example, is the nature of "attraction" in terms of the faculties of the soul? Is it even a theologically precise concept?) but at least it wouldn't be all over the place like the current one.

No comments: