Fascinating piece in First Things.
There is a third reason this categorization should be disposed of, this one theological: It is at odds with the freedom for which Christ set us free. My future prior in religious life, Fr. Hugh Barbour of the Norbertine Fathers, has expanded on this idea in an essay inÂ Chronicles MagazineÂ , entitled â€œDo Homosexuals Exist? Or, Where Do We Go from Here?â€ As Fr. Prior argues, â€œTraditional moral theology evaluated acts, and did not generalize so unsatisfyingly about the tendencies that lead to these acts. That was left to the casuistry of occasions of sin, and to spiritual direction. If the sin is theft, then is the standard of evaluation kleptomania? If drunkenness, alcoholism? If sloth, clinical depression?â€ Even orthodox Christians, he writes,
have given in to the custom of treating sexual inclinations as identities. Pastorally, we are meant to preach the freedom whereby Christ has made us free. In treating the sin of sodomy as aÂ prima facieÂ proof of an identity, are we not, in the guise of compassion and sensitivity, helping bind the sinner to his sinful inclination, and so laying on him a burden that is too great to bear without perhaps moving a finger to lift it?
Self-describing as a â€œhomosexualâ€ tends to multiply occasions of sin for those who adopt the labelâ€”provoking, in Priorâ€™s words, an unnecessary â€œdramatization of the temptation.â€ Whereas the infusion of the theological virtues sets the Christian free, identifying as homosexual only further enslaves the sinner. It intensifies lust, a sad distortion of love, by amplifying the apparent significance of concupiscent desires. It fosters a despairing self-pity, harming hope, which is meant to motivate moral virtues. And it encourages a strong sense of entitlement, which often undermines the obedience of faith by demanding the overthrow of doctrines that seem to repress â€œwho I really am.â€
There are a handful of laudable counterexamples to this discouraging pattern, self-identified â€œgay Christiansâ€ who are both virtuous and faithful to the teachings of the Church. But given the inherent tension between the classical Christian narrative and the modern sexual-orientation account, it should come as no surprise that the praiseworthy outliers who try to combine these two inconsonant traditions are the exception rather than the rule.
Baptizing the homosexual identity is fraught with preventable perils. And yet, when it comes to the gravest evil effected by the sexual-orientation binary, homosexuality is not the culprit. Heterosexuality isâ€”not, of course, as though we can have one without the other. The most pernicious aspect of the orientation-identity system is that it tends to exempt heterosexuals from moral evaluation. If homosexuality binds us to sin, heterosexuality blinds us to sin.
There is no question that some morally self-aware â€œheterosexualsâ€ exist. Nevertheless, as a general rule, identifying as a heterosexual person today amounts to declaring oneself a member of the â€œnormal group,â€ against which all deviant sexual desires and attractions and temptations are to be measured. Such hetero-identification thus ushers in a pathetically uncritical andâ€”hopefully it goes without sayingâ€”unmerited self-assurance, not to mention an inaccurate measure for evaluating temptation.
Of course, we do have a model norm for the evaluation of sexual deviancy. But that model is not heterosexuality. It is Christ Jesus himself, the God-man who both perfected human nature and perfectly exemplified its perfection, â€œone who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.â€ For the self-declared heterosexual to displace our Lord in this position is the height of folly.
It is true that homosexuality may be distinguished by an inappropriate despair, accepting sinful inclinations as identity-constituting and thereby implicitly rejecting the freedom bought for us by the blood of Christ. But heterosexuality, in its pretensions to act as the norm for assessing our sexual customs, is marked by something even worse: pride, which St. Thomas Aquinas classifies as the queen of all vices.
There are practical reasons to be wary of heterosexuality as well. Because our post-Freudian world associates all physical attraction and interpersonal affection with genital erotic desire, intimate same-sex friendship and a chaste appreciation for the beauty of oneâ€™s own sex have become all but impossible to achieve. (Freud, by the way, was one of the most influential architects of the vicious orientation-essentialist myth.)
For â€œheterosexualsâ€ in particular, getting close to a friend of the same sex ends up seeming perverse, and being moved by his or her beauty feels queer. To avoid being mistaken for gay, these days many self-proclaimed straight peopleâ€”men especiallyâ€”settle for superficial associations with their comrades and reserve the sort of costly intimacy that once characterized such chaste same-sex relationships for their romantic partners alone. Their ostensibly normal sexual orientation cheats them out of an essential aspect of human flourishing: deep friendship.
The earliest usages of the term â€œheterosexualityâ€ give further reason to doubt whether we should celebrate the idea too enthusiastically. It is true that even in the late nineteenth century, sometimes the label was employed merely to denote â€œnormal-sex.â€ This is, of course, how we still tend to use â€œheterosexualâ€ today, which I am arguing is tragically confused.
Basically, he’s post-gay (and post-straight really).