Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The problems with Father James Martin

You may have heard something about Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest, who has written a book called Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. What's more, you may have heard that he was recently "disinvited" from some speaking engagements, and there are people who are upset about that.

To hear Father Martin's defenders tell it, the problem is that Father Martin is just too nice. He's too friendly to gays and lesbians, and "traditionalist" Catholics can't have that. Poor Father Martin versus mean old fussy traditionalist Catholic meanies.

Unfortunately, even Father Martin chooses to further that account, by blaming his troubles on "anger or fear" over his book, and that his critics are "motivated by fear, hatred and homophobia."

Here's the thing: there probably are some Catholics, somewhere, who would object to approaching "the LGBT Community" with "respect, compassion and sensitivity," but I will bet real money it's so small a number as to be insignificant.

And, to give Father Martin his due, this is a worthy subject to address. Our witness as Catholics will be greatly helped if we are more attentive to the needs and concerns of those who experience these sexual desires, and who have been drawn into various "communities" organized around them. It is certainly Christlike to seek people out, wherever you find them, and offer them friendship and what our Holy Father calls "accompaniment."

So far so good. But what many more people are saying is, well, it all depends on just what you have in mind, Father Martin; and specifically, whether it means calling Catholic teaching into question.

I haven't read Father Martin's book, so I will offer no commentary on that. But Father Martin has said things apart from his book, including in interviews about the book; those things I have read, so I will limit my comments to those remarks. And my assessment is that Father Martin is, at best, being deliberately ambiguous. At worst, he is indeed calling Catholic teaching into question.

There are four specific points Father Martin has made that I think are problematic; plus there are two notable problems of omission. I will simply mention them, and then give an overall response:

1. Father Martin faults those of us who don't use the terms "gay" and "lesbian" without qualification. He claims we're being needlessly rude.

2. Father Martin objects to the Church's description of homosexual sex acts -- and the inclination to them -- as "intrinsically disordered." He endorses an alternate formulation: "differently ordered."

3. Father Martin has spoken favorably -- but with studied ambiguity -- of the "love" between two men civilly married to each other as true love, and how can anyone object?

4. Father Martin has chosen to associate himself with organizations that dissent from Catholic teaching. That doesn't equal dissent itself, but it raises a flag, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, two notable silences on Father Martin's part:

... About the call for all persons to be chaste, according to their station, and

... About the unacceptability of a society redefining marriage to be other than based on male-female complementarity.

Now, a line-by-line explanation of these problems would be helpful, but it would also be very tedious; and in any case, it's all been said before.

But to boil it all down, what is really at issue here: will we adopt the ideological mindset driven by the Sexual Revolution, in preference to what is Biblical, Christian, and, in fact, better grounded in observable facts?

This is why calling people "gay" and "lesbian" is problematic. Indeed, calling people "heterosexual" and "homosexual" is likewise problematic, although few people point that out. Why is this? As I said, it defines people by their sexual appetites, even to the point of assuming there are actually two (if not more) sorts of human beings. The error of this sorting into two categories has now metastasized into "bisexual" and "fluid" and "transgender" and "polyamory," and so on. But none of this is really about science; rather, it's about affirming people's experiences and preferences, which is something else entirely. Meanwhile, in case you haven't noticed, the one bifurcation of humanity that really is grounded in science -- male and female -- is obscured, and is even denied, science be damned.

If what we cared about was real science, letting the chips fall where they may, wouldn't there be a great deal more concern about the hazards of contraceptives? Not only is there accumulating evidence of harms to women who take massive doses of synthetic hormones (something common sense would raise a flag about), but there is some evidence that these chemicals cause harm in the ecosystem. Trace amounts of lead and arsenic in drinking water are a crisis; but massive amounts of estrogen? Crickets.

So again, Father Martin suggests with colossal disingenuousness that "differently ordered" is just a nicer way to say "intrinsically disordered." Nay, rather it is to claim that God's design is not "male and female," but rather, this, that and the other thing. And to point out again, what Father Martin prefers is not biblical, not particularly scientific, but it is congenial to the reigning ideology.

Even more disingenuous is his lament that mean, "homophobic" "traditionalist" Catholics can't see any "love" happening between two men who are civilly married. (He made these comments at a recent forum at Fordham University.) This is so tendentious that I must attribute it to Father Martin not being very bright, or being dishonest, or else having a bad day that day. In charity, let's say it's the latter.

In the example given, Father Martin spoke of a couple in which one spouse is ill, and the other is caring for him. Well, of course there is "love" here. Who would say otherwise? Produce actual examples. I hereby offer a bounty of $1,000 for every example Father Martin can cite of a Catholic who will actually say that there is something immoral about gay people providing care for one another's illnesses. But my bounty comes with a kicker: if Father Martin can't produce as many as 20, then he owes me a bounty of $100,000. This is obviously a straw man, and Father Martin is too smart (isn't he?) not to see it.

What it looks like, to me, is a rather studied ambiguity; because what he spoke about was a generalized "love," which can mean acts of care and compassion (to which no one objects), to sexual acts proper to marriage, which are simply impossible between two men -- or two women, for that matter.

Is that what this "bridge" amounts to, deliberate ambiguity? People representing different points of view using the same words, but knowingly meaning different things? What's valuable about this?

Moreover, isn't this awfully condescending? Suppose someone comes to me, who appears to be male, and who gives the name "Eddie" -- but who I learn along the way is actually a female who "presents" as male (and perhaps has even undergone physical modification to that end). On a superficial level, I will call this person Eddie and I will be polite; but as we go beyond superficialities, at some point or another, my own honesty and integrity will force me to demur -- however politely and gently -- from Eddie's claims about his/her identity. I can't stop Eddie from claiming to be male; but I refuse to say I believe it, and it's mockery to all concerned to insist that I pretend.

As I say, this is all about the Sexual Revolution, which it is heresy to question. The fundamental issue is the truth of the human person -- and the desire of modern man to be liberated from the truth about himself. The complementarity of sex (i.e., that male is made for female, and vice versa) and the procreative reality of sex are the truths that modern humanity rebels against; as well as the consequence that sex can't be an end in itself. The Sexual Revolution is all about overthrowing these truths.

And for the moment, Father Martin seems to be seeing how much of the Catholic patrimony he can trade away in order to gain a hearing among the devotees of the Sexual Revolution. Let us assume he means well, and aims to trade away only the least amount. This is still a bad idea, and we all know it won't work. I hope Father Martin figures this out sooner, rather than later.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fr. Martin, thank you so much for this post. I am a 23 year-old Catholic male with SSA living in accordance with Church teachings by pursuing a chaste lifestyle. I am also an active member of my local chapter of the Courage apostolate.
I hadn't heard of Fr James Martin before today, but seeing his book online and watching a disheartening clip of him describing its contents was enough to leave me quite dismayed. He is certainly misguided, or deliberately so, and what frightens me the most is the thought that this sort of text could find its way into the hands of uncertain or poorly-catechized individuals who may be lead down a destructive path under a false pretense.
The beauty and reason behind the true doctrine that Our Holy Church professes is what rightfully deserves to be shared, so coming across your post not only reassured me but gave me extra hope knowing that obedient priests like yourself are still out there willing to shepherd the flock towards Heaven. Again, thank you for this post, and I think all we can do now is keep Fr. James in our prayers as well as all of those who may encounter this text.