Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

30 September 2010

Why gay sex is wrong, from a Catholic perspective

This is something of a departure from my normal themes; although some of my recent posts have had an explicitly Christian, indeed Catholic, subject matter. I think a defence of Catholic teaching on homosexuality still falls within the remit of this blog, however, in that it involves challenging one of the sacred cows of contemporary Britishness: the view that, unlike certain benighted parts of the world, we in Britain have a rational, tolerant and, by implication, correct attitude towards homosexuality.

Clearly, this subject could generate vast tomes, as it’s so complex and controversial. I’m going to try to cut through some of that by means of a direct assertion: the wrongness or otherwise of active homosexuality (gay sex) is bound up with the nature of the life of faith itself. It’s impossible to understand or accept Church teaching on homosexuality without an appreciation of what faith is, which in a sense requires that you have faith.

If you don’t have a faith, whether Christian or that of any other ‘God’-centric creed, then the centre of your universe and of meaning in life will probably be your self: your personality, relationships, life experiences, aspirations, career, family, beliefs, etc. The purpose of a life lived without faith could be variously described as to fulfil your potential, care for those you love, be successful (or rich, or famous), make a difference in the world, pursue your dreams, do whatever you want, make the best of what you’ve got, etc. What these goals have in common is that they are all centred on the self, which is not necessarily the same as self-centred: who I am, what kind of person I am, self-discovery, self-fulfilment, self-realisation. If you’re a gay person without faith, then it’s obvious that one of the main goals in your life is to be true to yourself as gay and to express your sexuality in your relationships. End of discussion.

However, the life of faith is not centred on the self in this way: it is, or should be, centred on God. And that’s the living God and risen Lord, as Christians know him, not some random, patriarchal giver of archaic homophobic laws, or the prime mover of creation, or other contemporary caricatures. For people without faith, or of another faith, those words – living God and risen Lord – could also appear to be a cliché and caricature. But they don’t do, cannot do, justice to the lived experience of Christian faith, which ultimately is centred on a direct, personal encounter with God. All I can say is that, for me, the love of God in Christ is real and is the most powerful motivating force in my life. When your life has been touched by that love, then the best part of you wants to live out that love and be true to it in all that you do. And you’re carried forward by the conviction that that’s precisely what God wants for you: that your life should be in every aspect be a visible, tangible expression of the love of God, for yourself and everyone you relate to.

That means that God has a purpose for each and every one of us; and that purpose is love. And as God himself is love – the source and centre of all human love and life – then that purpose is also to draw us into an ever deeper union with (communion with and in) his love and being. This means that sexuality and sexual activity also has a divine purpose and meaning. And that’s not only procreation and, for that reason, necessarily heterosexual. The purpose is to share in God’s love and in what that love does, which is to bring new life into being and to bring mortal life into his eternal being.

Therefore, sex is not just for procreation, but it is for life and for marriage, defined as the life-long union between a man and a woman in Christ via the sacrament, or sacred mystery, of matrimony. Sacraments enact and express the union between God and humanity in Christ. Therefore, the union between a man and a woman in marriage is both bodily (as expressed in sex, among other things) and spiritual, just as Christ is both incarnate and pure divine Spirit. In that union with Christ, and with each other in Christ, married couples are called by God to live out and manifest in human form the very nature and action of God himself known as a Trinity: two – God the Father and God the Son – being united in love for each other, and in that very love (a love also known as God the Spirit or the Giver of Life) giving rise to and sustaining the whole of creation. By analogy, the married couple, in their union of love lived out both spiritually and physically – including through sex – are intended to become a father and a mother giving new life of themselves and of that love in the form of their children, who they are called not only to procreate but to guide into the fullness of life that is Christ. Like Christ himself, the new life that results from that union is literally the love of God incarnate.

Sex is therefore intended by God to be a means for human beings to be united in and with his own love and being, and in the fruits of that love, which are life itself. What are called the ‘unitive’ (a man and woman becoming one in Christ) and ‘procreative’ purposes of sex as lived out in marriage are integral to each other: if the sex is not both unitive (sacramental, matrimonial) and open to procreation it cannot fully express and embody God’s love. That’s the common reason why gay sex, unmarried straight sex, non-genital straight sex, and marital sex using contraceptives are all viewed as sinful by the Church: ‘sin’ meaning when, in our actions and thoughts, we close ourselves off to the love of God. In sexual life, that love is intended by God to be realised most fully in the loving union between a man and a woman in marriage from which new life comes.

So it’s not just gay sex that is, on this view, ‘wrong’, i.e. immoral and sinful. All sexual activity that we engage in with either the deliberate intention to ignore what the Church, speaking words inspired by the Holy Spirit, teaches us to be the true meaning and purpose of sex, or in ignorance of that teaching, is to a greater or lesser extent sinful, because it means that our will and our actions are directed to the ends of our self rather than to God’s purposes and love. And the more we structure our lives around the ignoring and ignorance of God, the more we are in danger of being unable or unwilling to turn to God and welcome his love into our lives.

Therefore, what is essentially ‘wrong’ about gay sex is that it is sex without any reference or regard to the divine purpose of sex, which is one important way, but not the only way, to share in the love and action of God in the world. That doesn’t mean that gay sex is necessarily or always without love, which it manifestly isn’t: gay couples are often just as loving, if not more so, than many straight ones; and their relationships just as long-lasting. But gay sex is an imperfect expression of the love of God – but, let’s face it, which one of us is perfect? – insofar as God intends that love to be expressed in sex: it cannot be either unitive (a man and woman becoming one body in Christ) or procreative (giving of new life). And, for that reason, gay sex can never be the realisation of a divine calling: God doesn’t call gay people to have sex, because gay sex cannot in itself serve God (bring God’s life into the world, and be an expression of his intentions in creating sex, and creating through sex). Gay sex is ultimately an expression of what the self wants – ‘I’m gay, so therefore I want sex and am going to have it’ – rather than of God’s purpose for sex and for the gay person him- or herself, which is to share fully in the love and being of God.

So gay sex is ultimately, from the Catholic perspective, a potential barrier to the gay person in responding fully to God’s offer of love and eternal life: it can orientate our will and our actions towards the pleasures and goals of this life and of the body, in opposition to the Christian calling to open our hearts, minds, bodies and souls to the love of God for us in Christ. And gay persons are therefore called upon to be celibate, not out of an arbitrary, servile and ignorant submission to a homophobic prohibition on something to which gay people’s personalities naturally attract them; but out of the need – which all of us share – to put God’s love before all other needs and desires.

And that’s because God’s love is both the true purpose of our life in this world and its eternal destination.

Advertisements

15 Comments »

  1. Well said! Do check out some of the pamphlets on my blog on love.

    Comment by shane — 1 October 2010 @ 8.26 pm | Reply

  2. This ignores our Catholic history – and so dooms us to repeat the mistakes of previous generations. There was a time when Catholics used the Bible to support slavery, there was a time when Catholics used the Bible to support the view that women didn’t have souls, or were inferior, there was a time when Catholics used the Bible to support racism and colonialism, there was a time when Catholics used the Bible to support anti-Semitism and accused Jews of deicide. Fortunately now, most Catholics oppose slavery, support women’s rights, oppose racism and oppose anti-semitism.

    Remember the Pope had to apologize for the many sins of the Catholic Church in 2000 – and I predict a future Pope will have to apologize for the sins of the Catholic Church against homosexuals, in the same way the Church has to apologize over anti-Semitism, sexism and other past sins. This seems to me inevitable.

    Comment by Englander — 4 October 2010 @ 6.03 pm | Reply

    • Englander, I’m not going to disagree with you that many Catholics at different times throughout history have argued in favour of the things you mention from the point of view of their faith. But you do have to be careful to be accurate in the language you use when talking about these things: 1) ‘Catholics’ may have supported slavery, sexism, etc. at different times; but that’s not the same as saying the official teaching of the Church was that slavery was a good thing or that, simplistically, ‘the Jews’ en bloc were responsible for the crucifixion – while equally, some aspects of Church teaching may indeed have lent support to some of these prejudices.

      2) Catholics and the Catholic Church wouldn’t typically have used the Bible to support these views – that’s more of a Protestant position. Some of these opinions may, however, have drawn on long-standing Christian traditions that would have been common throughout Christendom before the Reformation, and continued in both branches of the Western Church in different ways after the Reformation, with Lutheranism arguably having a greater burden of guilt for anti-semitism in Germany (but equally, the Catholic Church having a grievous responsibility in many countries occupied by the Germans in the war, such as Poland and France).

      3) Were these errors (sexism, racism, anti-semitism, etc.) driven by Church teaching or were they, rather, general social prejudices for which people in those societies sought justification from their religion? Probably, a complex mixture of the two.

      4) And that reflects on Church teaching and practice with regard to homosexuality and homosexuals. Undoubtedly, there has been a vast amount of prejudice and homophobia within the Church and within Christian societies throughout most of Christian history. But how much of that can really be blamed on Christianity, let alone Catholicism specifically and uniquely, and how much of that was a case of Church behaviour and teaching reflecting the general culture? In the present, it is indeed true that the Catholic Church remains one of the few voices (along with evangelical churches, I might add) that are opposed to active homosexuality in the West, which could imply that previous general cultural attitudes were caused or driven by the Church – but it’s not necessarily quite as simple. In fact, you could say that as the general culture and the churches have grown apart, the Christian teaching can now be more clearly differentiated from the social prejudices that were once attached to it.

      This is what I’ve attempted to outline in my piece: gay sex is ‘wrong’ not because it is ‘vile’, ‘debased’, ‘unnatural’, ‘disgusting’, and all the other epithets that were once attached to it; but because it is an imperfect response to and realisation of God’s love and his purposes for gay persons themselves, which can have devastating spiritual consequences for the people involved. That’s my take on it, admittedly. The Church does in fact continue to use the language of natural philosophy, according to which homosexuality is a disorder of creation and ‘unnatural’. I would take issue with that sort of language – while I’m talking about rigour of language – because it fails to reflect modern understandings of sexuality and human nature. But the way I try to put it – centring everything on God’s love and unique purpose for each one of us – is a perspective the Church has always held and will continue to do so; and I personally can’t see how the Church could change its bi-millennial teaching that the place where human sexuality and God’s love meet most perfectly is in the union of a man and a woman in marriage.

      Comment by David — 4 October 2010 @ 7.24 pm | Reply

  3. I appreciate your response, it gave me a lot of food for thought. I have to disagree with you about there being a difference between official Church teaching and the actions of individual Catholics, this seems a weak excuse I have heard many times. Christ said ‘By their fruits you shall know them’ and it seems you are saying the Catholic Church should be judged only after rejeccting most of the fruit it has produced. Does this also apply to the good deeds of the Church as well? Or is the Catholic Church being intellectually dishonest in claiming that only Catholic good deeds are truly Catholic, and bad deeds by Catholics are somehow ‘not Catholic.’
    Why did the Pope feel he had to apologize for these crimes in the past on behalf of an institution which, nearly unique in the world, claims infallibility? I still can imagine a future Pope apologizing for the Church’s actions in the Rwandan genocide and apologizing for homophobia. The Catholic Church seems to constantly change whilst claiming to remain the same, pedantically trying to differentiate between its teachings and the works of its adherents.

    I was thinking about the argument about sex being about procreation, life and marriage – how do infertile couples fit into this argument? Are they less in God’s eyes because they cannot procreate?

    I still cannot find a legitimate argument against gay marriage or gay sex, just as there is no argument for anti-semitism or sexism. Just as the two latter have been proved wrong, so homophobia will be proved wrong, and I fear the Catholic Church will in the future attempt to fudge the issue by claiming that the homophobia of its adherents was not official Church doctrine, in the same way that Papal attacks on Jews was somehow not Church doctrine.

    Comment by Englander — 9 October 2010 @ 8.33 am | Reply

    • Thanks, Englander. For the distinction between the actions of the Church and Catholics, see my response to Paul above. Also, I would draw a distinction between homophobia and a teaching that gay sex is ‘wrong’ because it risks separating the individuals from the love of God. One is hate-filled towards gays, and the other is, potentially at least, love-filled.

      Re infertility, non-contraceptive, genital sex between a husband and wife is still open to the mystery of procreation, in that, if God chooses, he can heal that infertility, whether just temporarily to allow conception or permanently. It’s rare that couples that thought they couldn’t conceive do end up with a pregnancy, but it does happen. Plus the intercourse still reflects the pattern or template of unitive-procreative sex within marriage, and it is therefore open to the idea of creating new human life, and to the belief that the act itself is something that unites the husband and wife in a special way.

      The same could be said of sex between married couples where the woman has passed the menopause. If they’ve had children, then each sexual act is in a special way almost a commemoration and re-enactment of the sex that did lead to the procreation of their beloved children, and is in this sense a celebration of their marital union. If they haven’t had children, then it re-enacts the hope they once had for children, which could be quite a healing thing, if it’s not too painful.

      Comment by David — 10 October 2010 @ 9.28 am | Reply

      • David, you still haven’t addressed whether or not those couples where infertility cannot be ‘healed’ – e.g. where the woman has had a hysterectomy and/or the man a bilateral orchidectomy (removal of both testicles) prior to marriage – are also in an ‘imperfect’ union (unitive but not procreative, therefore in the eyes of the Church closed to the transmission of life). “Humanae Vitae” makes it clear that the marriage act should, at all times, be open to the transmission of life. Whilst agreeing with your views on the celebration of marital union and the sanctity of matrimony (matrimony is predicated on a sexual union whereas civil partnerships are not) it still begs the question ‘should a couple who know full well that sex in their marriage is closed to the procreative function live a life of chastity the same as gay men and women?” I merely pose the question rather than ask for an answer. When asking clergymen for the Church’s view on this I have received conflicting answers so I don’t expect you to provide a definitive answer either.

        Paul

        Comment by Paul — 10 October 2010 @ 11.58 am

      • being gay is a none of your business. see the problem is youre judging. no matter what you say or you do it will not change. instead of saying it’s wrong and judging us just accept it cuz it will not ever ever change. worry about your own self in your own religion and them abusing and molesting kids. traditional marriage would not be destroyed is gays could legally marry. it has already been ruined by straight people getting married and divorced several times committing adultery and cheating.
        it’s 2012 not 1855 times are changing in the proof is in the 7 states allowing gay marriage in 50 years from now that number will be tripled and there’s nothing religion can do about it. stop judging it is a sin. goodbye

        Comment by jon — 26 February 2012 @ 4.17 pm

  4. I am encouraged by the way in which David writes without apparent homophobia in presenting the Church’s attitude towards gay sex. The “Magisterium” would do well to adopt the same sort of language rather than suggesting that homosexual behaviour is as dangerous to planet Earth as the destruction of the rain forests (dailymail.co.uk, 23/12/08) or in voting against a UN declaration to end the criminalisation and punishment of homosexuals (December 2008). David’s defence of the Church’s teaching does not incite hatred of gay men and women in the way that the misguided statements of the Magisterium often do (I use the word ‘misguided’ advisedly).

    Englander makes a valid point about infertile couples and I would add not only those couples where the wife is post-menopausal and who may have had children, but also those who marry in the full knowledge that either one or the other or both, due to infertility, are incapable of “each and every marriage act [being] ordered per se to the procreation of human life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church); valid grounds for annulment I believe. Article 2351 of the Catechism states that sexual pleasure sought as an end in itself is wrong because it is isolated from the “procreative” and “unitive” purposes of sex. Does this mean that sex must be open to both the procreative and unitive functions, as David suggests, to be a channel of God’s love? If it is acceptable that sex which can only be unitive is also a channel of God’s love then surely a loving, committed same-sex relationship can possibly have the same unitive force that it provides in a heterosexual relationship.

    The Catechism concedes that homosexuals do not choose their sexuality, which inevitably leads me to suggest that if sexuality is not chosen then it must be God-given and if it’s God-given then it must be morally acceptable or at least morally neutral and not ‘disordered’. In all good conscience I cannot accept that God makes me who I am (being gay is who I am not what I do) and then denies me a perfect expression of his love through a loving, committed relationship with another man. I am supposed to be called to a life of chastity because I’m gay but I’m not even allowed to dedicate myself as a priest or a religious anymore (CatholicCulture.org, Nov 2008). There is a major injustice being perpetrated by the Church against gay men and women in denying us the right to a loving, committed (even non-sexual) relationship or ordination as priests. Added to that the exclusion from Holy Communion unless we repent of our “grave depravity” and “intrinsic disorder” there appears to be little hope of sincere gay men and women ever experiencing God’s offer of love and eternal life. God said “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18), He didn’t go on to say “unless he just happens to be gay.”

    There is a fundamental issue at stake here. If the Church were to admit that homosexual relationships can be a legitimate form of human love open to the unitive function of sex then it would have to abandon its condemnation of artificial birth control as well, and that it probably will never do. Maybe, one day, the bishops of the Catholic Church will cease to exclude ‘practising homosexuals’ from Communion on the same basis that they do not exclude Catholics who dissent from the teaching of “Humanae Vitae”.

    In response to Davids’ semantics about “Catholics” and “Catholic Church” a reading of the tradition of the ecclesiastical Magisterium with respect to homosexuality highlights the role of the Church (and not just the prejudices of Catholics) in the discrimination against homosexuals. For example Pope “Saint” Pius V claimed that “…the execrable libidinous vice against nature” was the reason why “peoples and nations are scourged by God, according to His just condemnation, with catastrophes, wars, famine and plagues.” Of course, the Church excommunicated homosexuals and then handed them over to the secular arm, which then promptly burnt them at the stake (it was the form of punishment in England in the reign of Henry VIII) – yes, the Church has a lot of apologising to do for inadvertently inciting hatred, discrimination and homophobia – but probably not in my lifetime.

    Comment by Paul — 9 October 2010 @ 5.12 pm | Reply

    • Paul, I would say that marital sex is thought of as unitive not only by being genital and without the use of contraceptives, but by virtue of the sacrament of marriage, which is a real, spiritual-bodily union between a man and a woman, of which intercourse is an essential expression. So you can’t even have unitive heterosexual genital sex outside of marriage, let alone unitive gay sex. My own understanding is that this is the way marriage and sexuality reflects the union between God and the creation in Christ: God working through the active participation and assent of humanity to create and redeem humanity in the person of his Son and Word. The marriage sacrament is an instantiation of this mystery: the couple being united as one body in and by the union of Christ with them. In general, this mystery is what enjoins us Christians to try to seek the will and love of God in all that we do, not just in sex: so that we are united to Christ in all things, not just doing things only or mainly because we want to do them, whether or not we are (also) motivated by love (as in the case of loving gay couples) alongside self-will.

      But I agree with you that the Church ought to recognise that gay sex can be an expression of love: in my term, an imperfect one, but then we’re all imperfect and all fall short of the faith and love we ought to give to God. I also agree with you that it is wrong that openly gay persons committed to celibacy should be barred from ordination. Of course, that means that many ordinands and priests will simply put their sexuality in the closet, which contributes to the climate of secrecy about ‘forbidden’ sexuality within the Church. If everyone was a bit more open and honest about their struggles with adhering to the Church’s teachings in sexual matters, and in keeping vows of celibacy, then people could actually move from a climate of guilt to one of mutual support and caring, plus it would be much harder for paedophilia to be brushed under the carpet.

      And I also agree that the Church, as well as Catholic individuals and societies, has a lot to answer for in terms of propagating homophobia down the centuries. I do, however, think there’s a danger that the Catholic Church in particular gets scapegoated for it by virtue of its present stance, whereas homophobia has pretty much been universal in all cultures with monotheistic faiths until very recent times, and still is in many.

      Comment by David — 10 October 2010 @ 9.15 am | Reply

      • David, my understanding of the Church’s stance on the procreative vis a vis the unitive purpose of marital sex is that genital sex without the use of contraceptives relates to the procreative purpose not the unitive. My understanding is that the unitive purpose is complementary (the two becoming one flesh – Genesis 2:24) but the primary function of marital sex is procreation.

        As for there not being unitive heterosexual sex outside of marriage the Church has shifted its position on this over the centuries. At the time of the Reformation in Europe the ecclesiastical laws relating to consanguinity forbade a man from marrying the sister of his mistress as it was considered that a union (pre-contract) was formed when a man had sex with a woman. In other words the two had become one flesh and it would have been a violation of God’s laws to permit a man to marry the sister of a woman he had already had sex with, without a dispensation. But I’m sidetracking from your original blog. Whilst the Church may never ‘approve’ of homosexual relationships maybe it will agree to ‘condone’ them. I write with reference to the Catholic Church’s position as that is the perspective you write from but you are right – fundamentalist Christians, so called Christian sects (e.g. Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses), and Islam all consider homosexual practices (and in many cases even celibate homosexuals) to be living against the revealed purpose of the Creator God

        Comment by Paul — 10 October 2010 @ 1.26 pm

  5. David, Paul, I appreciate your comments very much, as I said earlier they have given me a lot of food for thought. Thanks.

    Comment by Englander — 10 October 2010 @ 8.23 pm | Reply

  6. if being gay was not normal then why are so many people gay every country every religion every nationality and culture and since the beginning of time it’s not like just 1 or 2 gays in the world it’s millions it’s apparent that it was meant to be and not a choice judging is and all your sins until you learn to accept you will be judged when you die by our creator

    Comment by jon — 26 February 2012 @ 4.03 pm | Reply

    • Who’s judging now?

      Comment by David — 20 March 2012 @ 12.05 am | Reply

  7. The Christian way is not “centred on the self”? The Christian faith is centred on the premise that if you do God’s will you will ultimately be rewarded. How is this not centred on the self? You follow God because you want a return on your investment and because you get pleasure from doing so.

    It’s always rich to hear Christians pretending to be selfless, when religion, by very definition, is shrouded in selfishness.

    Comment by Tim — 14 February 2016 @ 4.26 am | Reply

    • Sorry for the delayed response. I haven’t been doing much on this blog for a while. I think you misread Christian motivation for following Christ, which is, or is supposed to be, about abandoning oneself to the love of God and his service, for its and his own sake. If it becomes about self-interest, then it all becomes null and void.

      Comment by David — 25 May 2016 @ 10.55 pm | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: