Theology, Sanity, and Homosexuality
To be honest, I feel inadequate to deal with the topic of homosexuality. Eric has a remarkable, stunning, and moving post on homosexuality in general, focused predominantly on the human aspect of those struggling with homosexuality. What I have to say—how homosexual acts fit in the pattern of pitting body against soul, the topic of my series on human sexuality—seems flat and insipid in comparison. Nevertheless, and at the risk of sounding like I’m endless repeating the same message, I intend to complete this series with a discussion of where homosexuality fits in our discussions thus far.
Before we proceed, we should clarify one matter, a necessary distinction. First, I am not condemning any person with homosexual tendencies. My focus is entirely on the action. Whether or not homosexuality is a matter of nature or nurture, same-sex attraction is not in and of itself sinful. I would certainly argue that at least some people train themselves (not deliberately, for the most part) into same-sex attraction, but that is neither here nor there. Every person, no matter how grave his sins be, no matter how unrepentant he is, deserves our love and prayers. As a corollary, every person with same-sex attraction still deserves charity and welcome. The sins we denounce, not because we despise the person, but exactly the opposite. Indeed, if we cared nothing for the person, we would simply say, “Go ahead and do whatever you want,” as though his eternal destination was of no importance to us.
Frank Sheed, in his Theology and Sanity, defined sanity as conforming to the real world, as opposed to any imagined ideal of the world or wishful thinking. Thus the argument against particular sexual acts that the Catholic Church condemns—sodomy, homosexual sex, pedophilia, etc—must be grounded in the reality of the world, not our desires of how we wish the world would be. In this series of posts, I have endeavored so far to explain how and why inappropriate sexual behavior runs contrary to the reality of the world, mostly in mystical terms of the Fall and the pitting of the body against the soul. The crux of the argument—the basis from which we deviate when we engage in sexual sin, because of its most vital importance—bears repeating, especially as I attempt to field particular objections against homosexual acts.
As reminder, at the heart of human sexuality is the mimicry of the Trinity. God, being pure spirit, of course is not a sexual entity, and sexuality only appears in the masculinity of the Son in the Incarnation. But the parallels are distinct and obvious, though perhaps our terminology masks the relationship. The common notion of how the family mirrors the Holy Trinity places God the Father appropriately, but tends to think of God the Holy Spirit in the maternal role, and God the Son as the offspring, as seems to make sense from terming the second Person in the Trinity “the Son”. Indeed, this form of thought is reflected in modern heretical notions that want to attach femininity to the Holy Spirit. Yet this notion is incorrect.
The analogy fits when we considered that the Son is eternally begotten by the Father; from the Father comes the Son. And from both (and this is why the Filioque debate is important) proceeds the Holy Spirit. Indeed, as the Son is the eternal Word of God, the Holy Spirit is the eternal Love of God, proceeding from the love of the Father for the Son, and the love of the Son for the Father. This procession of persons is mirrored by humanity when we consider the following relations. In Genesis, in the account of the creation of Man, the woman is created from the man, from his very flesh. In other words, the woman was generated from the man. In turn, their offspring proceed from the loving union of the two. Thus the analogy stands as follows: the man mirrors the Father; the woman mirrors the Son; and the offspring of the two mirrors the Holy Spirit. (Granted, this analogy is only a part of the mirroring of God that man partakes in, but for purpose of sexuality, we will stick with this.)
This line of thought is increasingly abhorrent to our society, especially in the feminist realm, which makes the accusations of male-chauvinism, bigotry, and the indoctrination of a patriarchal society, all geared towards the suppression of women. To them, woman should most definitely be placed ahead of man in the order of procession, for it is woman who carries and gives birth to the child. How many times have we heard that it is the woman who brings about life because of this very special gift of pregnancy (and men, violent warmongers that they are, bring death)? Yet this picture is incomplete. It is true that the woman carries the child within her body for (approximately) nine months, but that child could not exist without the man. The realization that neither sex could reproduce without the other invalidates placing woman ahead of man. At best the argument stands that man and woman should hold equal place in procession. Yet even that picture is incomplete, for the man is placed at the head of the family by the very fact of his being first in procession. Why? Perhaps it is because as the Son and the Holy Spirit exist by procession from the Father, so typically is the woman and child provided for by the man.
The point, though, is that through sex we mimic the Holy Trinity, and it is through this mimicry that we can fully appreciate the arguments the Church makes for what is appropriate and what is inappropriate in our sexual lives.
The most predominant arguments for the admission of homosexual “marriage” and the general approval of homosexual acts follow two lines. If sex is about the fulfillment of family through procreation, then many heterosexual marriages, to which the Church has granted approval, should be invalid. Those include marriages that are naturally infertile, either due to barrenness or age, or are infertile by choice. Certainly, this argument claims, the elderly, who are incapable of reproduction, should not be permitted to marry or remarry. The second argument goes the other direction. If sex is not about procreation, but about love and unity, then there should be no reason to exclude homosexual acts—or even premarital acts, even down to sex acts between adults and children. Furthermore, these arguments are meant to work in tandem, catching the Church in sexual version of Euthyphro’s Dilemma.
But there is work still be done before the advocates of homosexual unions can truly spear the Church on one prong or another. For example, they are under the obligation to show that only those two prongs exist, i.e. it must be the case that either sex is primarily for procreation, or sex is primarily for love. (Hopefully by now we can dispense with the notion that sex is primarily for recreation.) Scripturally, it seems that the strongest argument is made for the primacy of procreation, as God commands Man to be fruitful and multiply, and from a biological imperative, sex is the only means by which humans can procreate. Of course, this argument is not what the homosexual advocates want, but by pressing it, they hope to force their opponents into embracing the other prong of the dilemma. But to continue: if sex is predominantly about procreation, then love must needs take a back seat. Thus, even if a couple loves each other, if they cannot reproduce or have no intention of reproducing, then they cannot legitimately marry.
This view leads to consequences that no one particularly accepts. Indeed, if love is secondary to reproduction, then, taking this to its extreme conclusion, a man is justified in the rape of his wife, for he is merely trying to fulfill the contract between them. Furthermore, it justifies putting aside a spouse if the spouse proves impotent. And these conclusions are expressly forbidden. So, once this line of thought is carried through, it seems that the Church should have no recourse but to fall back onto the prong of the primacy of love. Then, if love holds primacy over procreation, in that procreation may be preferred but not necessary, then the door is wide open for homosexual union.
The Church, of course, has stated clearly that one cannot place procreation above love, nor love above procreation. Neither is sufficient by itself, and neither can hold dominance over the other. Indeed, the true fulfillment of marriage is the union of love with procreation. In this we refer back to the Trinity: the Holy Spirit not only proceeds from the love between the Father and the Son, but is the love between the Father and the Son. In the Trinity, we see perfect unity between love and procession. As humans, we only imperfectly mimic that act of procession, but the unity between love and procreation is one of the highest means of mirroring the divine.
Homosexual sex, then, is insufficient. Fundamentally it lacks half the necessary components, namely the procreative, and this poses an insurmountable challenge. The continual frustration of the sexual purpose leaves an indelible mark. (This is noted not just in homosexual unions, but contracepting marriages, cohabiting couples, and sexually open, premarital relationships.) I won’t bother with the statistics here, but they provide empirical evidence that there is something dissatisfying about homosexual relationships.
Now, I have no doubt that a man can choose to devote himself to another man, and a woman to another woman, inasmuch as any person can fully devoted himself to a member of the same sex. Just as it seems that there are sufficient contracepting couples that remain devoted and faithful to each other to cast doubt on the evils of contraception, so too are there are loving, lasting relationships between homosexual couples. Yet these relationships persist despite of, not because of, the condemned sexual practices present. We have discussed before how masturbation and extramarital sex are harmful, how they pit body against soul, and the case of homosexuality is no different in this regard. Because the sexual act is frustrated in homosexual copulation, it becomes merely a means to pleasure, and this reduces sex to objectification. There is simply no escaping this reality.
One thing we might ask still is whether or not homosexual actions bring any greater condemnation than other sexual sins. After all, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of their rampant sins, but most importantly sodomy. People who engaged in homosexual actions under the law of Moses were sentenced to death, and while adulterers were likewise stoned to death, premarital sex merely obligated one to pay a fine or marry, and the kings could practice polygamy without repercussion.
The reality of the world is that homosexual actions are sinful and disordered. But what, then, is the full gravity of such actions? Leviticus 18:22 states that lying with a man as though he were a woman is an abomination, but for what reasons? First, of course, is the unavoidable lustful aspect of homosexual sex, which we have mentioned before. Second is that homosexual sex is about the greatest frustration of sex that can exist, ranking above even contracepted heterosexual sex. Even contraception can fail, be it through misuse, natural failure, or even a directly willed act by God. But homosexual union cannot, and never can be fruitful, no matter how loving and devoted each of the couple are to each other.
Moreover, homosexual unions bear an additional offense against the dignity of a human person. Lustful heterosexual sex reduces each participant to an object used for sexual gratification. Homosexual acts not only contain this element, but go further and fundamentally deny the gender of the two involved. The wording in Leviticus makes this clear: “lying with a man as though he were a woman” specifically indicates that homosexual acts violate the dignity of a person’s gender. While the attraction of a homosexual man is toward another man, the actual treatment of his sexual partner is as a woman. (Before anyone goes up in arms, I don’t mean that being a woman is degrading, but being treated as a woman when one is not is degrading, just as being treated as a man when one is not is degrading.)
Herein lies the truth of how homosexuality pits body against soul. The body, ever a glutton for pleasure, struggles with the soul, proclaiming that it doesn’t matter how it receives its gratification, no matter how the soul yearns for that highest mimicry of the Trinity. The soul struggles with the body, trying to make it conform to an act that biologically does not work quite right.