Homosexuality, American Stoicism, and the Long Halloween of the Clerical Abuse Scandal

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If there was a book written about the generation of men and women born in the 1980s, it could quite possibly be called The Last Generation of Americans.  Even more so than the Civil War and Reconstruction, the New Deal Era, or the 1960s, something definitively broke in the body of the American tradition that made what came after the 1980s not American. This change is palpable in the tenor of the American presidency. Reagan was probably the last American president, and he was not necessarily a very good president. In a weird way, the “long Halloween” of George H.W. Bush to Obama is simply a continuation of the same transformation of America into “something else.” This change is also perceptible in American pop culture. As the 80s babies became teenagers, they watched the last hurrah of American television: Full House, Family Matters, and Home Improvement were about American families while Keeping up with the Kardashians and Modern Family are about people wandering their way through the rubble of America. Fareed Zakaria was not quite right; it is not a post American world yet. Wall Street (and its boss, the World Bank) and Hollywood, those two “twin pinchers” of Disney America hold the world in their grip more than ever. What he is right about is that we live in a post American America. In America’s history, there has been struggle between Stoicism blended with element of occultism and illuminism (seen in American thinkers from Ben Franklin, to Emily Dickinson, to Oprah) and Christianity. It would be difficult to see whether it was magical Stoicism or Christianity that has had a greater hold on the American mind, but a strong argument could be made for the former—see, for example a lot of the architecture of the WPA building projects (google Nebraska state capitol building).  In the end, we may come to the realization that Christianity may have never really taken root in the soil of the new world north of the Rio Grande. Thus what has been killed is not so much Christian America, but rather the distinctly pagan American culture that was placed in the soil by the most prominent American founding fathers. Perhaps the most illustrative and shocking change is in American views of homosexuality.

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Understanding homosexuality as part of a wider genealogy of morals would reveal an ebb and flow of order and chaos.  But despite what latter day advocates of left wing Nietzscheism might hope, this genealogy reveals that sodomy is largely an aberration in human behavior present in decadent societies and homosexual identity itself is a social construct of the twentieth century. In pre-modern societies, there were three types of venereal acts. There was something that men did with their spouses in order to procreate, and there was something else that men did with other men, male and female slaves, children, or animals and that was just for fun. The final type of venereal act was something done for religious purposes; this was not necessarily pleasurable and might involve mutilation, extreme violence or even abstinence from sex itself. As Michel Foucault himself notes, there was no such thing as homosexuality in pre-modern societies. Furthermore, as even pro-homosexual queer theorists admit, sodomy was understood as an act rather than identity. There was the notion of effeminacy, which common in many world cultures. The effeminate was man who was a catamite (the “girl” in a male homosexual act) who grew attached to such activity and continued a homosexual relationship beyond a proscribed limit, e.g., those young men who pursued relationships with their teachers in ancient Greece after the period of education had ended. The effeminate man was someone who attempted to modify his body to resemble a woman’s and whose manners mimicked a woman’s albeit in a cartoonish fashion. These characters were common objects of ridicule in literature such as Aeschylus’ plays. In fact, the very act of sodomy itself as well as the attended physical consequences in a man’s body were also an object of ridicule.  Oddly, in both paganism and Christianity the effeminate was usually more severally punished by civil and ecclesiastical law than the sodomizer.

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In contemporary queer theory, there seem to be two pre-dominate views of homosexuality. The first and more intellectually potent but less popular is that there is no such thing as gender. Advocates of this view, at the metaphysical level, claim that are only two things in the world: stuff and ideas; there are no forms, substances, or things. There is matter, and human ideas shape this matter, giving it useable labels. This view opens the door to any and all forms of sexual expressions. Some sex acts may have to be curtailed for utilitarian purposes, and there must be a negotiation with chaos, but pretty much one can do whatever he or she wants. This view is necessarily atheistic and nihilist, but it is the philosophical core of post-modernity that many atheists are too afraid or weak to embrace.

The second argument, which is not really an argument, and is, therefore, much more popular is that some people are born with same sex attraction, and it is a part of their nature. Previously, homosexuality had been forbidden for practical, religious, and ideological reasons, but now is the time to embrace the idea of gay couples living committed lives. This view advocated by the neocon Andrew Sullivan, somewhat conservatively argues that true human happiness is to be found in a permanent (or at least long term) relationship with another human being. Furthermore, homosexuals are just like heterosexuals, and they can fit harmoniously into a functioning bourgeois American culture. Homosexuality itself, according to this view, is not an aberration but rather is just uncommon in human history. There are deviant and neurotic manifestations of sexuality, but semi-monogamous homosexuality is not among them. It is, indeed, the issue of mental health that is at the center over the “battle for normality.”

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In discussing homosexuality and normalcy, there are two options.  Either there is something called homophobia, a genuine mental illness, which, although having pre-modern precedents, was largely the product of the Christian era and was only strengthened with the advent of modernity and the totalization of bourgeois values in the modern state. This argument, which runs on the ideas of Freud and the Adorno of The Authoritarian Personality, holds that the desire for order is essentially a neurosis spring from insecurity. This view suggests that many of the people who argue so vehemently against homosexuality are, in fact, either gay themselves or at least ashamed of some sort of chaos (probably but not necessarily sexual) in their own lives. They desire to control others and eliminate the chaos inside themselves by eliminating it in the exterior world. Indubitably, there are people like this, but to say that opposition to homosexuality (or the desire to maintain order) is necessarily a mental illness does not meet historical or psychological scrutiny.

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It is often forgotten that the old, pre-Freudian, pre-Romantic psychology held that acting on desires not suppressing them leads to mental illness. Emotional and even bodily chaos is like an infection or cancer that spreads throughout the soul and body, destabilizing the mind. In this view then, the pornography industry would be a very violent and cruel world (it is). Mental illness, drug abuse, and physical violence would accompany not just the homosexual lifestyle, but sexual promiscuity itself.  Health is found in self-control and moderation of one’s desires. Tied to this view is the theory of natural law in which we figure out what is natural or normal through rational observation of what sort of behavior leads to general human peace and happiness and what does not. This view is also tied to the notion that the human body is a map to the soul and normal function of the human body reveals the way things should be. Thus, if it can be observed that male and female bodies and souls are complementary, then this is evidence that heterosexual relationships are normal.

If this natural law view is correct, then homosexuality is an abnormality precisely because it is essentially hysterical and neurotic; it leads neither to human flourishing nor a stable human society. If being a sodomite or catamite is breaking the norms of human behavior ingrained in our very selves and not simply a negation with chaos, then the guilt present among homosexuals is not alleviated by squashing Christianity from the public square. Homosexuals feel guilty precisely because what they do is wrong and contra naturam. Homosexuality is not the only reason for the outbreak of hysteria in the West—certainly financial debt, divorce, heterosexual promiscuity, racial tension, excessive use of technology and the proliferation of competing philosophies leave many people feeling “dazed and confused.”   Instead of retreating into psychiatric medication, science fiction novels, and sports hysteria to flee guilt, we should undergo a thorough examination of conscience and honest stillness in the presence of God.

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As a side note, the argument is often made, that Catholic Church itself has no right to judge because of the endemic sexual of abuse of children by Catholic priests. The argument made in return by many Catholics is that only a very small percentage of Catholic priests molested children. What is more, one is much more likely to be sexually abused by a family member, baseball coach, rabbi, or protestant minister than a priest. The critical response is then given that the Catholic episcopate protected these priests and actually enabled them. The final Catholic retort is that the speaker is anti-Catholic. But this is not the best response to give.

Grand conspiracies aside (that does not make them any less true), there was a noted uptick of men entering the Catholic priesthood—especially in the United States—who were homosexuals in the decades prior to Second Vatican Council. These men engaged primarily in consensual homosexual acts with one another as well as those outside the priesthood. At the same time, many heterosexual priests began, in the words of Beavis, “breaking the law” and having consensual sex with women at a greater frequency than had occurred in the immediate past. Leadership in the Church, by and large, attempted to put out these fires—although there were notable exceptions in the American episcopate that were right on board with unchaste priests. As the spirit of Vatican II wafted its way from hell, many of these priests left the priesthood to pursue relationships, but a significant number remained (many of them gay) and actually rose to positions of power in the Church. It became well known in the gay community that the position of Catholic priest was actually a pretty good gig. The Catholic Church in America and in parts of Western Europe became a homosexual club, which was, initially, protected by adulation and respect for the clergy, but the façade began to unravel as many of these homosexual relationships deteriorated and led to financial corruption, black mail, and even murder.

At the same time, many of homosexual priests were aware that their position of power made access to teenage and middle school boys very easy. Lawsuits came forward, and attention in the media framed the abuse in terms of pedophilia even though most of the cases of rape were of boys beyond puberty. What was most disconcerting was the fact that many bishops turned the other way. The bishops claimed naïveté or innocence, but the truth was much more disturbing (and much more obvious). In the homosexual network in the Church, everyone knew each other’s secrets, so if a priest molested a child or raped a young man, he probably knew what Bishop so and so was up to at least at one time in his life. Thus, in order to avoid exposing himself to accusations, these bishops protected the priests until they were no longer legally able. Because of endemic corruption in the Church, it has been difficult for Catholics to condemn homosexuality when so many priests and bishops in the wake after Vatican II have been gays gone wild.

The culture wars are over, and Christians have lost, but so too have the well intentioned stoics. If it is true that we are entering into a great age of freedom without limits, championed by virtually every postmodern thinker, and that after the death of the father, we will finally be free and happy, then things are just going to get better and better as Christianity and any other form of authoritarianism recedes into the background. But there is a wager made not simply by Christians but by Stoics, Platonists, Aristotelians, and Confucians: that chaos destroys itself. If sodomy is essentially disordered and a deviation from normal human behavior, then chaos will follow in its wake. This is true not simply of homosexual acts, but also of heterosexual promiscuity. This chaos would not just be perceptible in street violence, including robbing, murders and the like, but would be, first of all, manifested in emotional instability and at first, slightly psychotic mannerism. There is no end of history—even Francis Fukuyama has modified his idea that a new age of liberty and freedom would dawn after the Cold War. What we have seen, rather, is the advent of a new age of subtle, day to day hysteria and effeminacy punctuated by flare ups of extreme violence. No matter how loudly we protest, it would be difficult to view this time as being essentially happy and gay. The explosion of post-apocalyptic art is an indication that not only are humans aware that the civilization is disintegrating, we want it to die; we want to see the world burn. Things may fall apart, but after the long Halloween of the Joker, the Batman comes back.

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