Saturday, April 19, 2008

Pope's moralistic sermons still a bit ambiguous for LGBT people


The Pope apparently waved at Dignity and kept the tone of his moral remarks within bounds. He talked about balancing “rights and responsibilities” and the human tendency to appeal to relativism and “lower common denominators,” the need to understand the downstream effects of one’s choices, and most of all to honor “Divine Plan” which includes family identity was well as an individual’s.

This is not to pay undue heed to the priest’s scandal, which is not anymore a “gay problem” than the recent takeover of an FLDS compound in Texas is a “straight” one. (In saying this I have to take the state's "probable cause" at its word, and maybe it's early to do that -- Larry King Live has presented the women's side; see here, toward end of posting. Also, the overwhelming majority of perpetrators on NBC’s Dateline TCAP stings were heterosexual.) I personally think that banning married men from being priests is like banning gays from the military – even though there are theological doctrines. There’s more about this on the issues blog Feb. 22.

No, the Pope’s multiple sermons on this visit seem to address the futility of human attempts to design absolutely perfect social justice on his own terms. There is always some kind of ideological rationalization for any political solution (and the history of the past century with Communism, which Pope John helped President Reagan bring down, and Fascism), which will justify the worst kinds of totalitarianism (which is almost never tolerant of gays). I’ve noted on these blogs that the arguments about individualized social justice get tricky indeed. They go beyond taking responsibility for personal choices (whether supporting children one has fathered or preventing STDs and pregnancy with “precautions”) to a broader sense of sharing both responsibility and risks (which procreation inherently does, something the Vatican always points out), and accepting some contingent level of interdependence even while expressing freedom. I’ve sometimes called this the “pay your dues” moral philosophy.

Even these arguments, however, probably don’t fully respect the inherently transitory nature of self-interest. When I prance on the disco floor at the TownDC, the assembly of people, mostly young adults (men) that I see still represent a snapshot in time. They were kids once, and most of them will be old some day, my age. That’s basic modern physics, call it general relativity. Religious faiths constantly seek to give men institutions (marriage) that coax them to change their perception of self-interest. Anti-gay "Levitical" moral codes (whatever the distinctions between "identity" and "conduct" and all the stuff about "objective disorders" from the 1980s) often seem like a convenient canard for keeping the moral ideas "simple" enough for the majority of people to follow, when the details about how real peoples' lives play out get very complicated. Institutionalism tries to tell the majority of people "how to live" to meet majoritarian needs, and is counter-libertarian.

I’ve said that a proper moral debate would focus on what “society” should expect of and how it should treat someone who is differently wired, in such a way that he or she will not approach taking on family responsibility in the “normal” way. Yet, it seems that the Pope’s comments ultimately leave this up in the air, as “divine purpose” and institutions deal only with large numbers of people. That is one reason it is so hard to win the gay marriage debate on the grounds of just “individual rights and responsibilities.”

I have an older essay on Vatican ideas of sexual morality here (2004).

Picture: GLBT issues presented in Free Speech exhibit in just-opened Newseum in Washington DC.

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