Fans of To Kill a Mockingbird are aghast at the revelation that Atticus Finch, the noble protagonist of that celebrated book, becomes a segregationist and Klansman in his dotage in Harper Lee’s new book Go Set a Watchman:
Section 2358 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about the plight of LGBT people in this well-known and often quoted text:
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
What we have is the church trying to maintain a “middle road” between the notion of “gay liberation” and the hardline evangelical view that considers LGBT people as an existential threat to “traditional values” and “traditional Christianity.” Conservotrads like to use this passage to show that the church really does care about LGBT people and doesn’t wish them any harm. However, if this is true, then why is it that the Catholic church always supports measures that aim to codify discrimination against LGBT people? Conservotrads would probably answer by saying that these “religious freedom” bills are necessary to protect religious organizations and religious people against discrimination lawsuits. But if your actions are putting you at risk for lawsuits, doesn’t that mean that you are by definition engaging in discrimination? I would say so.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines discrimination as, “the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people.” Refusing to serve someone because of their sexual orientation constitutes treating a group of people unfairly. As many people have pointed out, even if a business owner find gay people objectionable from a religious standpoint, it begs the question of why he or she isn’t refusing service to other categories of “sinners” like divorcees, gluttons, heterosexual adulterers, Sabbath breakers, liars, inhospitable people, etc. Why is the “sin” of homosexuality to be treated so differently than others? I suppose that much of this is due to the fact that LGBT people are a relatively small minority, whereas divorcees and gluttons are so numerous that their “sins” don’t even seem like “sin” even to other religionists.
Discrimination is nothing less that institutionalized violence by the legal system against a particular group of people. For the Catholic church to assert that it doesn’t wish violence onto LGBT people while at the same time supporting laws that legalize discrimination against them is the height of absurdity. It’s even more ridiculous, given that prelates in Africa have gone on the record as supporting “kill the gays” bills or laws that would jail LGBT people for simply congregating in one place. One is reminded of the behavior of Yasser Arafat, who used to say one thing in English to the Western media and would then say the exact opposite in Arabic to the Middle Eastern press. However, the Catholic church in the West is still advocating for violence against LGBT people like it is in Africa, just in a different way.
The fundamental problem with the way the Catholic church deals with LGBT issues is that it regards such people as being outside of its moral concern, much in the same way it traditionally regarded Jews and similar to how the church in America traditionally viewed black people. LGBT people are a social and moral problem, not individuals in their own right, similar to how Western societies once spoke of “the Jewish question,” “the Negro question,” and even “the woman question.” While it is unclear if any of the a fore mentioned questions have adequately been answered, it is obvious that in 2015 “the gay question” is the major moral and political issue of our time. Since Catholic moral theology has traditionally seen homosexuality as a sin to be repented of or a crime worthy of death, it can’t easily assimilate the “gay liberationist” framework into its thinking. Given how much time and energy the church has investing in trying to spread the notion of LGBT people as “objectively disordered” it can’t exactly back away from its position without alienating conservotrads or looking stupid. My guess is that in 50 years or so, the “objectively disordered” language will be de-emphasized, and conservotrads will insist that the church always taught LGBT equality. Until then, the Catholic church can’t claim that it is against violence towards LGBT people while support legalized violence against them.
One of the major themes in the pontificate of Benedict XVI was the notion of “the dictatorship of relativism” in which society recognizes no objective moral truths and each person is free to define his or her own truth. The dictatorship of relativism is supposedly the result of the secularization of formerly Christian societies that exalt human reason and passing intellectual fads over timeless religious truths. Supposedly the only thing that is taboo in the dictatorship of relativism is proclaiming that objective morality exists. This line of thinking was once quite attractive to me, but I became disillusioned with it once I realized that for conservotrad Catholics, the only things that are always wrong in all times and all places are abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and pre-marital sex (slavery, racism, and the odd genocide are okay, as long as your group isn’t affected). However, after the Hobby Lobby decision, I now realize that the real dictatorship of relativity is found in the demand for so-called “religious liberty.”
Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said (or is supposed to have said) that, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts.” Regardless of who actually made this statement, it’s a good rule of thumb to live by. Unfortunately, it seems that Americans are increasingly demanding the right to have their own facts, even if they fly in the face of reality.
Yesterday, the always excellent Bill Lindsey asked why the business community in Arkansas didn’t come out against that state’s sweeping anti-LGBT law as it did in other states where similar legislation was proposed (see http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2015/02/quote-for-day-itsnotover-backlash-is.html). I wrote a response to this question on the post itself, but I want to expand my thoughts on this matter into a full post.