On pseudo-radical antigay arguments

This and this both seem to me to run aground on the same basic reality: gay people exist, and no amount of quasi-Foucaultian “deconstruction” is going to change that. Even if you could dispense with the concepts of hetero/homosexuality, there would still be people who are exclusively, and more-or-less unalterably, attracted to members of the same sex. And many, if not most, of these people will want to form romantic relationships, which are widely and plausibly regarded as an important part of a good life for most people. Moreover, experience shows us that same-sex relationships can foster many of the same goods and virtues that opposite-sex ones can (and may have unique ones of their own).

These facts are inconvenient for religious conservatives because the options they have traditionally proposed for gay people–feigned heterosexuality or permanent celibacy–are so unappealing. The damage that results from living in the closet is so apparent now that hardly anyone seriously advocates this in public anymore. But celibacy is hardly a better alternative for most people. There’s no particular reason to think that gay people are in general more cut out for celibacy than straight people are. (This is true even if celibacy is pitched as a bohemian alternative to the “bourgeois” nuclear family.) Certainly people can be called to celibacy, perhaps as part of a religious vocation, but it’s unreasonable to demand this of gay people as a class.

I suppose it might be a sign of how much headway gay rights have made that opponents are now resorting to such counterintuitive and esoteric arguments.

29 thoughts on “On pseudo-radical antigay arguments

  1. A related point that this calls to mind (albeit on a less “radical” response): the way in which the current mainstream “conservative” consensus on LGBT issues seems to be: “We must hold the line on saying that same-sex relationships are contrary to God’s will, but equally we must respect the civil rights of same-sex-attracted people and reject homophobia in all its forms.” (See, for example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church.)

    Which is, in itself, arguably a tenable position to hold. However, what troubles me is that, in practice, what has led to the civil rights of LGBT people improving, and the increased unacceptability of homophobia, has been the widespread abandonment of the “traditional” view of same-sex relationships. The assertion that LGBT people’s lot would have improved to the same degree had the prevailing view of same-sex relationships remained as it was in (say) 1950 seems, um, difficult to sustain.

    So the result is that the conservative position described above is, to a large extent, parasitical on the very changes in sexual mores that it decries. Which makes it hard to see how it can be a sustainable position in the longer term.

  2. I think that’s right. There’s a similar dynamic, perhaps, at work in proposals to allow “civil partnerships” rather than same-sex marriage: if same-sex partnerships (by whatever name) can be accepted, it’s going to be hard in practice to maintain that homosexuality is a disordered state, etc. (Maybe that’s part of the reason why, in the US at least, that position has largely been abandoned.)

    1. “if same-sex partnerships (by whatever name) can be accepted, it’s going to be hard in practice to maintain that homosexuality is a disordered state”

      Prostitution was widely accepted in the Middle Ages, while it was also widely recognized that both partners to those acts were in a disordered state.

      1. I don’t think those two cases are really analogous. Same-sex marriage–among people who support it at least–is not regarded as a regrettable concession to sin. People who oppose it think homosexuality is a sin; people who support it don’t. (I mean in general, of course; there are undoubtedly some exceptions here and there.)

      2. gcallah

        Say what, Lee? The contention you put on the table was:
        * It is hard to accept any legal toleration for X if one thinks engaging in X represents a disordered state.
        But prostitution in the Middle Ages represents a clear-counter example: it continued to be tolerated while it continued to be thought of as representing a disordered state.
        Yes, I am sure there were supporters who said “But it is not a sin.” How does that speak to your contention, and my attempt to show it is false?

  3. Thank God for the sensus fidelium, is all I have to say; perhaps the Magisterium will get a clue at some point.

    Sometimes I find it hard to believe this discussion is still going on (and getting weirder and weirder). The Church is always the last to know….

    1. “The Church is always the last to know….”

      Look at the number of other ridiculous, antiquated positions the Church holds: capitalism in not the end-all of human life, the rich have an obligation to the poor, it is not OK to treat non-combabtants in war as “collateral damage”: perhaps the Church will “get a clue” on these other topics soon as well.

      1. Barbara

        (I do find it interesting, though, that anti-gay people can never seem to actually address the issue at hand – but always end up changing the subject, just as you have done here.

        I wasn’t talking about any of those things; I was talking about the Church’s completely wrong-headed view of homosexuality. Do you think you could possibly address that, instead?

        Because it’s actually possible for the Church to be wrong about something, you know; it’s been wrong many, many times in the past after all…..)

      2. gcallah

        Right, Barbara: “anti-gay people.” Look at your liberal tolerance!! You know nothing at all about me, except somehow you already know I am a “hater.”

        And I addressed your point very precisely, through mockery that sailed over your head: you imply that because the Church is “behind the times” on an issue (the ultimate progressive argument, isn’t it?) it is therefore wrong. I was just wondering if you want it to “catch up with the times” on these other issues as well?

      3. Barbara

        I know you “disapprove” of gay relationships; you said so quite clearly on your blog.

        And since those relationships are really none of your business, and they don’t affect you in the slightest in any case, that’s quite “anti-gay” enough for me.

        So: are you going to address what I said, or keep changing the subject?

  4. I’m interested in the “quasi” of the “quasi-Foucaultian,” too. I feel like I understand what’s off about this deployment of theory, but I don’t understand how it has come to be deployed. Or why … ?

    Do these writers in any sense value Foucault, et al?

    1. Good question. Other contemporary theologians have tried to deploy radical theory toward traditionalist ends (I’m thinking of the Radical Orthodox school). So maybe this is a thing to do now?

  5. As a majority of lay Catholics support equality for LGBT people, the church and its apologists become ever more strange in their defense of homophobia. The schizophrenic policy of “love gay people, but hate their lived lives” only makes sense to the hierarchy … it seems to me a way to try to doom people without actually taking responsibility for doing so.

    I wonder about the success of Radical Orthodoxy. It seemed a way to try to give old conservative views a new skin, but it wasn’t very convincing. A book I thought was pretty good – http://www.amazon.com/Radical-Orthodoxy-Introduction-Stephen-Shakespeare-ebook/dp/B0079LJ2TI/ref=la_B001KHE9Y0_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1393629822&sr=1-3

      1. Barbara

        And I take it there’s no such thing as “xenophobia,” either. Well, good to know.

        I guess we’re fully into the revisionist portion of our program at this point.

      2. gcallah

        There may BE such a thing a homophobia or xenophobia, and these would describe serious psychological conditions that made one actually afraid around homosexuals or foreigners. And this is certainly how “homophobia” was used… at first. Until in the hands of people like Barbara, it was recognized as a perfect propaganda tool to label anyone who disagrees as mentally ill, while still being able to morally condemn them. (And yes, of course, xenophobia is used in the same propagandistic way against, say, anyone who advocates any immigration restrictions.) So you, Barbara, have REVISED the original meaning to now mean “opposed to any part of the homosexual agenda.” The same way people have revised the definition of “tolerance” to include absolute contempt for any traditional Christians, Muslims, or Jews.

      3. Barbara

        Oh, stop it, really. The entire world DID hate gay people until about 10 minutes ago – and that’s exactly why the word was coined. It’s really not about you.

        And I haven’t used the word once here, so stop slandering me. You’re the one who keeps using it, in fact.

      4. gcallah

        Learn some history, Barbara! That was NOT why the word was coined, it was coined to describe a very specific psychological condition, and “phobia” means “fear,” not “hatred.”

      5. Barbara

        And yes, “fear” was definitely part of the word’s meaning – and part of the reality.

        But “xenophobia” doesn’t mean only “fear,” either. Look it up.

      6. Barbara

        BTW, here’s something from an article about the 2011 UN report on Gay Rights: “Violence against LGBT persons tends to be especially vicious compared to other bias-motivated crimes,” the report notes, citing data indicating that homophobic hate crimes often include “a high degree of cruelty and brutality.

        I’m sure it’s much, much more important, though, that you feel “oppressed” because of the use of the word “homophobia”….

  6. “Certainly people can be called to celibacy, perhaps as part of a religious vocation, but it’s unreasonable to demand this of gay people as a class.”

    What I find troublesome here is the issue seems to be phrased in terms of what *we* should demand. Isn’t it what God demands that is the real issue?

  7. @gcallah (Sorry, the threaded comment feature isn’t letting me respond directly to your most recent comment):

    I didn’t say “legal toleration”; I said “acceptance,” by which I mean something stronger than bare toleration. Same-sex relationships (again, whether we call these “marriages” or “civil unions” does not seem to me to necessarily be the most crucial argument) are increasingly coming to be seen as a *good thing* and the joining of such unions as a fundamental right. The social dynamic driving this (at least as far as I can judge) seems to go well beyond merely tolerating something distasteful. I’m not saying that such a scenario (“mere” toleration) is impossible; I just don’t think those are the circumstances we’re currently looking at in the USA. Rather, I think increased legal recognition and increased social acceptance (in the sense I mentioned) are mutually reinforcing. Hope that clarifies.

    1. gcallah

      Well, you certainly are correct about the current state of the debate in the USA. I mistakenly thought you were making a larger statement that “legal tolerance + moral condemnation” was not a possible state of affairs.

  8. gcallah

    “You’re the one who keeps using it, in fact.”

    Barbara: as well as dim historically speaking, also unaware of the difference between use and reference.

    1. Barbara

      So: no apology for slandering and misrepresenting me, both here and on your blog, then?

      Color me totally unsurprised….

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