Over the last couple years, and most recently in light of my Crisis essay on the August conference on same-sex attraction in Detroit (http://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/why-being-gay-is-not-enough ), I’ve gotten hammered publicly by fellow Catholics for challenging the views of some Catholics regarding homosexuality. This sometimes has gotten quite ugly, with much ink spilled accusing me of everything from hating “gays” and wanting them “disappeared” to tying heavy burdens on those with same-sex attraction who seek to live chastely to wanting an “apparently pretty f***ing small” echo chamber on this issue.
Man, I’m such a jerk.
But let me offer a counter-proposal to those who have chosen to publicly criticize me on this issue, from academics to dime-store “juice-box-theologian®” bloggers. I actually appreciate fair-minded criticism. It’s the unfair stuff that needs attention. So, here are my recommended suggestions:
Some readers make a truly fundamental error when they try to conflate pastoral ministry and “accompaniment” of individuals with the realm of public discourse. Writing essays for Catholic publications is not a pathway toward intimate, bridge-building, harmonious nirvana with those who may happen to be mentioned in that essay. Particularly when disagreeing with another person’s public views or actions, there is no corresponding obligation to go to such a person privately to try to “reconcile” the differing views. Just imagine if this were the obligation in academia—no public academic disagreements would ever be published, right? Rather, the essay is being written precisely to charitably inform other people of the differing views, such that the reader—not necessarily the person holding the differing view—will know where the author stands.
The emotional energy expended in Catholic comboxes and blogs is often breathtaking and appalling. We have truly lost the elegance of yesteryear’s gentlemanly but pointedly-clear expressions of public discourse (think Chesterton and Shaw, for example) in which participants never got their feathers ruffled and consistently stayed on point throughout an entire exchange. Can you imagine the likes of Cardinal Newman ever whining about those who were “mean” and “merciless” toward him? I can’t. For goodness sake, readers and writers, take a cue from a more decorous era and argue ideas rather than displaying all manner of unfettered emotionalism.
This is hugely, hugely important, and on constant display when feelings and not ideas reign supreme: some folks actually don’t disagree with the assertion you’re making, but instead disagree with you as to whether you really made the assertion in the first place! For example, if I say in an essay that I have “no personal animosity” toward someone, people will actually accuse me of lying about that. Or, if I say that my intention is to describe the sun as being bright and yellowish, one might say “No. I disagree. What you’re really saying is that it’s hot and volatile. I can tell.” No—and definitely no. Feel free to disagree with what I’m actually saying—which requires you to first recognize what I’m actually saying. But don’t try to tell me what I really am trying to say—I know what I’m trying to say because I actually said what I intended to say. Simple.
Here’s another simple one—if all you’re planning to do after reading my essay is tell me what I’m “really trying to say,” then, for the love of God and all that is holy, just stop reading. Just stop. Unless and until you choose to seek understanding, you actually have no right to comment on what I’ve written.
Regarding “gay” issues, the community well is often poisoned even before one begins writing—largely because disagreeing with someone with SSA regarding some aspect of homosexuality automatically means (in some minds) that you’re just an intolerant-conservative-compassionless-homophobic-pharasaical-bigot who ought to accept the explanation “Shut Up!” and just go away.
So, I’ve been thinking about the many, many friends I have who live often-joyful and deeply hope-filled lives despite their experience of same-sex attraction. Am I a jerk to them? No. At least they don’t seem to think so. The vast majority of them actually agree with me regarding what I’ve written about the “gay” phenomenon.
And for me, that’s enough. They pray for me and affirm my pursuit of truth.
For that I will always be grateful.
Note: (®Thanks for this one, Austin Ruse!)