March 12, 2009

It's All Connected

I haven't been blogging for a while.

Let's pause there for a moment.

Now that's a sentence I've never written before.

But it is, after all, 2009.

So, let's start over.

I haven't been blogging for a while. I've got this day job as an Orthodox priest, and last week was the first week of Great Lent which means lots of additional services and lots of fasting, none of which leaves much time for messing with technology and none of which leaves much energy for sustained thought. But now it's the second week of Great Lent, and there are a couple of things that I want to write about. The first is the Jan/Feb Touchstone. Of course, you can read the entire issue and enjoy a couple of great cups of tea just by stopping by the bookstore, but, if you don't have time to get through the entire magazine, be sure and read the article "Phony Matimony" by Christopher Oleson. Mr Oleson teaches philosophy at the Pontifical University Regina Apostolorum in Thornwood, New York. His article is about the current controversy over the definition of marriage, and he has some really important things to say about the way most conservatives approach the debate. Like this:

What traditionally minded defenders of life-long heterosexual couple hood are left to object to (when it comes to same sex marriage) is either that (1) homosexual behavior is "yucky" (an instinctual and, by itself, subrational repugnance) or (2) that the Bible simply happens to anathematize such behavior (as through God arbitrarily thundered prohibitions without reason and without reference to the goods which human nature is meant to realize). Neither one of these objections provides a rational understanding of why such behavior could be morally problematic or why God would forbid it. They are therefore not only justifiably open to the charge of being intellectually hollow, but constitute a recipe for a public routing in the marriage debate.

The truth of the matter is that the ultimate reason why homosexual acts are contrary to human nature--namely, that the violate the generative purpose of sexual union--is the same reason why contraceptive heterosexual activity is unreasonable behavior. They stand or fall together.

In other words, by embracing contraception in the 1960's, American Christianity paved the way for same-sex marriage in this century.

Of course, there's a whole lot more to the argument, and I'm still thinking about the import of it all, but I've seen this dynamic of unintended consequences at work in another issue that is troubling American Christianity--the ordination of active homosexuals. I was a United Methodist pastor for twelve years, and I was what was then called an evangelical or conservative. Like most conservative pastors in that denomination, I was fully supportive of women's ordination. I wasn't thrilled about the biblical gymnastics that it took to support such a view, but, without the resources of a broader tradition, it was almost impossible to construct a reasonable objection. But then the issue of the ordination of gays and lesbians came along, and I began to realize that the one issue was dependent on the other. That is, if sex wasn't an issue when it came to the ordination of women, then sex shouldn't be an ordination issue at all. Just about all of the conservative pastors I knew were blind-sided by that one. A lot of them eventually gave in on the issue of homosexual ordination; a few, like me, left the denomination (although I would hasten to add that the issue of gay and lesbian pastors was not at all the main reason for my decision); but most of these conservative pastors continue to fight a losing battle against the proponents of homosexual ordination. And they will eventually lose because they cannot remain United Methodists and oppose the ordination of women--but if they can't/won't oppose the ordination of women, then they cannot, with any degree of logic or even good conscience, oppose the ordination of gays and lesbians.

So, like I said, I haven't completely thought through all the implications of Oleson's article, but the dynamic he identifies is a real one: Truth is a unity, and you can't begin to tinker with it in one spot without eventually bringing down the entire structure.

fr. aidan


Anonymous said...

OK. I'll be brave and venture a comment.

First of all, I have not read the "Touchstone" article. I will therefore confine my comments to what Fr. Aidan says in his post. I am certainly open to other points of view, especially from those who have access to the article.

I'll phrase my first comment as a question -- what is the logic which leads to the conclusion that if women are ordained, then homosexuals must also be ordained?

The human race is composed of two sexes (or "genders" as is often said nowadays): male and female. A baby's sex (male or female) is evident at birth, or, thanks to ultra-sound imaging, even before birth. Except for a few rare and bizarre twists of biology, every human being is born either male or female. A person can't be both male and female. A person can't be neither male nor female. A person is either one or the other.

Look at your birth certificate. It is recorded there: male or female. Is there any case in human history where a baby was identified as "homosexual" on his/her birth certificate?

A homosexual male is still a male and a homosexual female is still a female. A person cannot change the sex he/she was born with. (Some have tried, through surgeries and hormone treatments to do so, and I feel compassion for these individuals but I don't believe a person can really change his sex this way.)

The Church holds the position that a practicing homosexual is not fit for the priesthood. It sounds like this position is based on a moral code (however derived) that homonsexuality is a sin. For the purposes of this debate, I'll agree to this and say that a practicing homosexual (male or female) is living in a moral state that disqualifies him or her from the priesthood.

But what sin is it to be born female? A homosexual can change his/her behavior (I know that some disagree with this, but for the purpose of this debate, I'll concede that a homosexual can change his/her behavior and either become celibate or "straight" just as an alcoholic can learn to control his/her passions.)However, as I just pointed out, a female cannot change her sex just as a male cannot change his.

It may be that the Church is correct to bar women from the priesthood. In order to enter the Church I had to take a leap of faith ("I fell into it" as I've said to some of my friends) and put this issue on a far back burner. Other issues matter more to me now.

However, I don't see the logic that seems to say if we ordain women, then we must ordain gays and lesbians as well. Such logic appears to imply that just being female is somehow morally wrong.

I'll save my second comment for another post.

Carol (sorry for the "anonymous" posting but Google keeps rejecting my password)

Carol said...

Hello, It's Carol again. It looks like I have to open a new Google account every time I post.

I'll now venture my comment on the quote that Fr. Aidan extracted from the "Touchstone" article. As in my first post, I admit I have not read the article. Feel free to criticize me, especially if you have access to the article.

The article states, per Fr. Aidan: "...the ultimate reason why homosexual acts are contrary to human nature -- namely, that they violate the generative purpose of sexual union -- is the same reason why contraceptive heterosexual activity is unreasonable behavior."

Is Mr. Oleson objecting to "contraceptive heterosexual activity" even within marriage? I wish I had access to the article to find out.

But, assuming that he does object, that is object to all contraceptive sex with or without marriage, he is articulating what has been the Roman Catholic tradition (at least in theory, if not in practice).

It could be that he is right. Perhaps in an ideal Christian world we would, even within marriage, be able to control our passions enough to limit family size or else be able to adequately care for the large number of children produced.

As to the latter of these options, I know several large families who are doing a wonderful job of raising 5-6 children. These families work hard and demonstrate a lot of love. The fruits are evident. Their children are kind, intelligent and thoughtful. I commend them.

But there is another side to this. Our country, even with its poverty, is nothing like other parts of the world. I lived for 5 years in Northeastern Brazil. Although Brazilians do not consider themselves a part of the "Third World", my husband and I lived in the second poorest state in Brazil. We were in the drought-ravaged "Nordeste", a long way from Rio and the typical lush vacation spots of that wonderful country.

In the face of grinding poverty, the Catholic Church preached no birth control. Poor women gave birth to one child after another, only to see them become beggars or go to work at menial jobs when they were only 7 years old. Or worse yet, become little thieves living on the streets. Daughters as young as 8 or 9 may be sent to the city to serve as live-in "maids" in what amounted to virtual slavery.

You did not even need to leave your house to have this hit you in the face. Brazilian houses are very open with no glass or screens on the windows. The windows on most houses, in the modest "lower middle class" neighborhood where we lived, are covered with "grades", ornamental burglar bars to keep intruders out.

Our house, as others, was regularly visited by beggars, often children as young as 4 or 5. One little boy came right up to our door and pressed his sad little face, runny nose and infected eyes, covered with flies, against our "grades" and called out the familiar cry "Da esmola" which means "Give alms". I saw his mother in the street, assisting his little sister as she urinated in the gutter in front of our house.

Our maid, Maria, a poor woman herself raising a child alone, often chased them away. Her feeling was that she worked for a living so why couldn't this mother do so as well.

Lest you think me totally heartless, I finally resolved the issue by giving alms only to the elderly, the ill and the disabled. An elderly man came by our house every two weeks around lunch time and we gave him a plate of whatever we were eating that day. I carried ready change to hand to the disabled of all ages who lined the streets of the downtown area.

But I hesitated to give to children. Protestant missionaries were making great inroads in Brazil's Northeast and one thing they preached was that birth control is OK. I was an agnostic at the time and did not support any faith but I was impressed with the care shown by these missionaries. They located clean water and set up a church in a small town that the Catholic priest had not visited in years. They taught that through responsible hard work and limiting of family size, the people could improve their lot in life.

And their faith was real. One convert, Cicera, worked for us for a while and I asked her how she tolerated living such a hard life. "My reward is there," she replied pointing heavenward. She also told me in great detail how her daughter had a tubal ligation because more than two children would be difficult to provide for.

Perhaps if the fathers had been present in the lives of these women it would have been more "reasonable" to follow the Catholic Church's commandments. But, more often than not, it was a single woman struggling alone, with no education (Cicera could not read or write nor could she even dial a number on the telephone) in a society with no "safety net" to catch her or her kids.

So, I ask, what is "reasonable" under these circumstances? An American friend and his wife, living in Ecuador, went to an orphanage to adopt a child. "Take all the kids you want," the nuns told them. "We don't have the resources to care for them."

Perhaps Mr. Oleson addresses these issues in his article. I hope so. It is easy to preach the that contraception is "unreasonable" from a university lectern. What do you say to the woman who spreads cardboard on the sidewalk for her children to sleep while she begs coins from those who are often only slightly better off than she?


Anonymous said...

I would like to respond to Carol's postings (in part) and attempt to add to the conversation by asking a related question. I should also confess that I have not read the article. My question is as follows:

Should morality be based on social utility?

It would seem to me that while the issue raised by the article writer has a very practical application, his comments still exist in the realm of morality -- dealing with what one "ought" to do (I think Carol correctly identifies this assertion in her "university lectern" comment).

One thing that human beings have proven through history is that we have a hard time doing what we "ought" to do. As a result of doing what we "ought not to do" humanity suffers the very real consequences of our actions. Furthermore, these consequences are far-reaching in that they effect many people who are not directly realted to the action that brought about the consequence. Carol's experience with the poor in Brazil vividly expresses this reality.

In the face of such a reality, I do believe that the Church should respond in practical ways to address the felt needs of a hurting society. But I do not think that a moral stance should change based on the grim and gritty reality of social conditions.

Utilitarianism seems attractive in a politically correct world, but in the end the relativism on which it is based rips the guts out of humanity and provides an unstable "ought." It also places a premium on devtotion to the state over a more personal utlitarian outlook -- just ask Socrates.

I think humanity would be well served in thinking about why we cannot do what we "ought" to do, rather than changing the "ought" because we have a hard time living it out and we are tired of dealing with the guilt of our failure on top of the in-your-face consequences it produces.

As I said before, this does not mean we should ignore those who are suffering. We should address their immediate needs the best we can (as Carol did by giving alms to the elderly and the disabled). We should also, however, be reminded that these conditions are brought about by our ontological issues with doing what we "ought not to do."

Changing a moral stance because adhering to it is hard or may not even seem right at times, does not change the fact that violating the original stance will coninue to produce detrimental effects, even if those effects scream more quietly in society.

- Brandon

Anonymous said...

Wow, there are two people above who have given this a lot of thought! I think they both raise excellent points.

In response to Carol, I would say that as far as the issue of the priesthood in Orthodoxy goes, it is true that a practicing homosexual is considered to be living sinfully, and that would be why he would be expected to stop serving in the role of a priest.

However, it is not true that women cannot enter the clergy because their gender is considered somehow sinful. Women are not even considered less worthy than men or inferior to them. I know these issues were covered in Fr. Aidan's seminar on gender in the Church (which I regret being unable to attend). However, we must look at the realities of gender and gender differences and the way our Lord and Savior chose to deal with them. His Will is our ultimate example and reason for the way things are in the Church.

For some reason, the second person of the Most Holy Trinity chose to be male. He could have chosen to be female, but did not. He chose male apostles (who were to be the first bishops of the church). The church recognizes several female saints, such as Mary of Magdala, as "equal to the apostles", but still, they were not given episcopal authority. For some reason, Christ Jesus chose males to be in authority over his flock, and we continue to respect His decision.

That does not mean that He didn't like females, or that He did not think we were as important. In fact, after Christ Himself, the most honored human being in the Christian Church is His Mother. Among other things, she is the world's very first Christian--the first person to ever "say yes to Jesus," an event we will celebrate next week on the feast of the Annunciation. She gives us perhaps the most perfect example of what it means to "hear the word of God and obey it" (Luke 11:28).
So, God has chosen males for the priesthood, and a female for our most honored and hymned saint. He has not forgotten us or mistreated us by choosing males for the priesthood. He has chosen us for other things.

I think the Orthodox Church continues to recognize that the genders are differently gifted. It is part of our understanding of Reality, of the Way Things Are. Our Protestant brothers and sisters tend to look at Tradition as a bad word, and so it is easier for them to reject certain practices of the Church as archaic and irrelevant. But doing so is dangerous, because even if each individual change seems subtle, eventually it all adds up, and theology will change as well.

The issue of women or homosexuals being ordained seem to both be related to our understanding of gender and sexuality. Modern culture tells us women should be exactly the same as men, and that discriminating against anyone based on gender is wrong. That "discrimination based on gender" is where the homosexual issue comes up, too, because to insist on marriage or any sexual relationship being only between a man and a woman is to discriminate against those who choose a partner of the same gender. So, the logic goes, that if women are ordained because it is unjust for them not to be, then [practicing] homosexuals may be ordained, because it is unjust to discriminate against them based on sex.

But the Church must not be swayed by this, because it reaches far into our understanding of Christ (does He have one nature, or two?) and of His relationship to His Church, which is often illustrated in Scripture as that between a male Bridegroom and His female Bride. It's not because we want to be old-fashioned or bigoted or unfair that we cling to Tradition. It's because we believe in Truth above all else, and understand how important it is to preserve what we have been given.

Anonymous said...

Here's a good dialogue with Rod Dreher and Tony Jones on Gay Marriage:

Carol said...

I'm not sure if anyone is still reading here, but I'd like to respond to Anonymous' post (the one posted at "9am" in reply to my comments about female ordination.)

Anon's first paragagraphs articulate the standard argument against female priests. I've heard all this before and it still raises questions. But, for now, I'll leave those on the back burner.

I'll respond only to Anon's comments on the analgoy of homosexuals and females. Anon (he? she?) seems to be saying that if women are ordained, homosexuals must be also because it would be unjust to "discriminate against them based on sex."

However, as I said in my earlier post, homosexualtiy is not a "sex." Anon himself (herself?) even refers to homosexuals as "those who choose a partner of the same gender." Choose? Did any of us choose to be male or choose to be female? Can a person "choose" his/her sex?

I don't object to the homosexual/female analogy because it is unfair. I object to it because it is a not true!

There may be good reasons for barring females from the priesthood. But comparing females with homosexuals (who "choose" to be what they are) is not helpful.

If we are truly concerned with Truth, let's start with something that's true. There are two sexes : male and female. "Homosexual" is not a third sex.


Anonymous said...

Carol, you seem to be the only person posting here with more than half a brain. Good job. Keep it up. All these other arguments are confused, self-justifying nonsense.

DStall said...
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DStall said...

Christianity is about loving spousal relationship, not jurdical law court moral 'code'. Christ came as 'male' Bridegroom because men are icons, 'types' of divinity (God being 'male' initiator in this relationship), while women are icons, 'types' of humanity. It's not about 'sin' or one gender being better or above the other, but about prophetic communication of oneness, as in Holy Communion, so that humanity may be one (through unCreated Divine energies, not self-righteousness) as the Trinity is one, and so that Creation may also be one with God and humanity, through human oneness with God.
See link at page below to talk given by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo -
Mystery and Meaning of Gender and Marriage
and the following links as well
Gender as Prophecy and Revelation
The Mystery of Gender and Human Sexuality (towards bottom of page)
Directory of links for Archbishop Lazar Puhalo
(Sorry for post deletions, I had problem getting the links to publish due to code error.)