Striking a balance

Perhaps the eager/anxious anticipation of the Supreme Court decisions on California’s Proposition Eight and the Defense of Marriage Act moved Elizabeth Scalia to write about why, confronted with an accusation of hypocrisy by an unknown internet scold, she nevertheless would neither condemn a gay friend’s decision to “marry” his partner nor offer him her felicitations:

First, I will not be held hostage to an ascendant social mood toward compulsory conformity; I will not give up my own (imperfect but free) thought and reason, whether it be to anonymous e-mailers who want me to prove my faith, or to an over-emotive era that demands that I prove my love. To the former I offer the words of Christ Jesus: “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy.’”

To the latter I offer a simple truth: Real love models God. God loves us unconditionally, and accepts all we are, but not all we do.

Secondly, I do not wish to surrender to the twin tyrannies of sentimentalism and relativism that overwhelm our society; within them resides neither justice nor truth …

Thirdly, I did not offer my friend public felicitations because I do not wish to be misunderstood, or to further add to the diminution of the concept of agape—the God-rooted depth of friendship that we have undervalued and left under-explored. Our pop culture portrays every first kiss as leading to a sexual tumble, and our society has largely adopted that mindset and practice. To us, it seems inconceivable that any love goes unconsummated or unconditionally approved. This makes it difficult for us to believe, or even to imagine, that sometimes God has other plans for love …

There follows a remarkable illustration of her third point. Do read her wonderful column, and don’t miss her self-referential link to an inspired bit of madness, “Jesus Never Said I Couldn’t Paint the Baby,” from April 9. (During the day, after I started writing this but hadn’t finished, Rod Dreher weighed in.)

What Scalia calls the “diminution of the concept of agape” others, like Robert P. George et al, see as threatening a drought of deep friendship, as here:

Misunderstandings about marriage will also speed our society’s drought of deep friendship, with special harm to the unmarried. The state will have defined marriage mainly by degree or intensity — as offering the most of what makes any relationship valuable: shared emotion and experience. It will thus become less acceptable to seek (and harder to find) emotional and spiritual intimacy in nonmarital friendships.

On the same day as Scalia’s “On the Square” column, Daniel Mattson adds there an installment to a slow-motion discussion of the appropriate vocabulary for discussion same-sex attraction (and its overt symptoms). “The danger [of adopting the language of our fallen experience] lies in getting mired in faulty narratives created by fallen man, which lead men and women to be at cross purposes with their divinely created nature.” “Hard teachings” can nevertheless be part of the Good News.

Mattson is opposed, he acknowledges, by “gay but chaste” voices like that of Eve Tushnet:

Eve Tushnet, for example, shows great disdain for the Church’s language when she writes, “the ‘intrinsically disordered’ language sucks and is a mark of privilege, the kind of thing you only say if you don’t feel it yourself or don’t care about the other people who feel it” and believes that part of her mission, and of others who think like her, is to work to “come up with a vastly broader and better set of vocabularies than the ridiculously, painfully limited set the Church is working with right now.”

It really does seem to be an important discussion, which is being carried on with commendable civility among people, most of whom have a very strong personal interest in the topic because they experience same-sex attraction.

The goal, I think, is not a compromise or via media – unless by via media is meant a course that is neither reflexively homophobic nor homophilic. The goal is truth, perceived in a way that can be taken in as pastoral by those who are willing to entertain the possibility that they, like every other sinner in the world, have their own mix of besetting sins and temptations, and that it’s not forbidden for a physician of souls to call your temptation a “temptation” instead of a “gift.”

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.