Sunday, July 6, 2008

Left Brain Theology Taken To Another Confusing Dead End.

Yesterday I wrote a piece about the tendencies between left brain thinking and right brain thinking. Today and tomorrow I want to examine how this left brained tendency of the hierarchy is impacting one particular issue mainstream churches are trying to grapple with, and how maintaining an absoulitist straight line left brain approach leads to some interesting moral conundrums for the confused laity. The following extract is from Catholic Spirit the official publication of the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis, and is written by Archbishop John Nienstedt:

• Those who actively encourage or promote homosexual acts or such activity within a homosexual lifestyle formally cooperate in a grave evil and, if they do so knowingly and willingly, are guilty of mortal sin. They have broken communion with the church and are prohibited from receiving holy Communion until they have had a conversion of heart, expressed sorrow for their action and received sacramental absolution from a priest.

The first thing one has to note about this teaching of the Bishop is that it is not about active homosexuals, but about their ecouragers and promoters. They too are cooperating in grave evil, guilty of mortal sin, and self excommunicated until they have had a conversion of heart, express sorrow and recieve sacramental absolution. What Bishop Nienstedt has done here is taken the next left brained logical step in annunciating the Church's official position on homosexual activity.

Unfortunately it caused quite an uproar in his archdiocese because many parents of gay children wanted to know if supporting their gay children was now a mortal sin. Since this letter was printed right before Thanksgiving and Christmas, it caused an even bigger uproar. Were parents supposed to tell their partnered gay children to leave their partners in the closet. Were they supposed to provide separate bedrooms, and as part of their conversion of heart lecture the partners on the evil of their ways? If their gay children didn't listen, were they to toss them out of the house like the Church had tossed them out of the Church? What if one knowingly employed a partenered gay person, did that put them at risk for mortal sin as well? Was providing economic support a form of 'grave evil' support? If you were a friend of a gay person and didn't condemn them did that make you gravely evil as well? What if you actually liked their partner, was that supporting even more grave evil?

That's the trouble with left brain thinking taking an absolutist position to the next logical step. There's a lot more trees than just the ones Bishop Nienstedt thought he was cutting down. Interestingly enough the Archdiocese has not clarified any of these above raised concerns. However it does tout some of the worst thinking on this issue in the form of praising the efforts of the basically twelve step group Courage, the family support group Encourage, and citing the research of the mostly professionally disregarded group NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, I'm not stating my personal opinion about Courage and NARTH, but the overwhelming opinion of the professionals in the medical, psychiatric, psychological and sociological fields. No, I'm discussing a left brained judgment here, and once a position has been arrived at, no evidence to the contrary will compute, no matter how overwhelming. Only the evidence which supports the accepted 'truth' will be allowed to influence the matter precisely because it doesn't influence the matter, it supports the already arrived at conclusion. It's all very circular. Courage and NARTH certainly fit this bill.

So the families, friends, and employers in Minneapolis are left wondering how sinful they really are, and how should they proceed if they wish to stay in communion with their parishes and the Archdiocese. Well, if they follow the teaching they will be tossing out their unrepentant children, stopping their friendships, and firing their gay employees. Now where it gets really interesting is that this left brained thinking will call these seemingly draconian steps, love for the gay person:

One is not harming gays at all, certainly not in any homophobic sense, but demonstrating the kind of love Christ had for sinners. Hate the sin, love the sinner. No enabling behavior on our watch, just tough love. Any scriptural passage which may contradict this view of Christ will not be cited because it doesn't compute and doesn't fit the circular logic supporting the main premise.

This whole teaching is perfectly logical and consistent, but only if you buy the main premise that homosexuality has always been condemned by God. If you buy the premise that lustful sexual acts between heterosexual men was the activity condemned by the scriptures, then you can come to a completely different understanding of this entire issue. Maybe homosexuality isn't about sexual acts, but about the same kind of love heterosexuals feel for each other, and maybe gays are just as capable of loving committed relationships, and maybe letting gays marry isn't such a horrid threat to heterosexual marriage after all, and maybe even, there is more to hetersexual sex than procreation or why would God make homosexuals. Just what is their witness to the Divine plan?

Those what if questions are, of course, more the domain of right hemispheric thinking than left hemispheric thinking. But this is a switch in thinking that's not ingrained in the magesterium, it's actively discouraged, and is probably why Hans Kung did everything in his power to stay out of the magesterium. Hans Kung clearly saw the trap, the one he avoided, and the one Nienstedt, Burke, and even Benedict did not.

But what is it about this particular issue that seems to elevate it to a somewhat undeserved status in the realm of sexual morality? This is an issue which really doesn't apply to the vast majority of Catholics, less than 10 percent. Why isn't the issue artificial contraception for instance? Is it because if I let my left brain proceed on Nienstedt's condemnation of enablers there wouldn't be too many people left in the Archdiocese of Minneapolis? Why is homosexuality apparently ontologically so much worse than say clerical pedophilia or heterosexual rape, especially to the Roman Catholic Church? I suspect this has something to do with the percentage of gays in the priesthood, which far exceeds the percentage of gays in the main population, and that phenomenon is not limited to Catholicism, it's true for all mainstream Christian religions. Then why the persecution of gays you might ask? Because by and large we are not talking psychologically healthy gays, but that's tomorrow's article.


  1. Very, very enlightening Colleen! Terms like 'disconnect' have a new meaning and understanding now.

    Left brain activity determines activity on the right side of our bodies I think, with regards to movement of the body. If one has a stroke on a certain part of the brain it will eliminate use of activity on the other side of the body. It is all so fascinating that there is a tendency for left brain thinkers to be right wingers and right brain thinkers to be left wingers.

    In my childhood I was very apt to being a daydreamer and this continued into adolescents. I was very creative and musical and wrote poetry and lyrics, but was a terrible test taker and did not read a lot of books when younger until out of high school and I leaped to writers such as Walt Whitman and would write songs with his words almost effortlessly. Not till later years did I really see a need to do more reading, but was very attracted to writers who were creative and of the right brain sort, because I understand them and they make sense to me. Writers such as Thomas Merton in later life I believe helped me immensely to bridge the right and left brain activities, thoughts, logic and writing of thoughts and feelings.

    The term "stuck" also has more relevance after reading this insightful analysis. Perhaps to be truly Christian we need to extend an internal and interior olive branch to the other side of our brain that for one reason or other has been truncated or left dormant and closed due to the prejudices set in by the building of fences and walls within or by exterior forces such as the Magisterium or tradition. "Clearing the cobwebs in our brain" is another of those terms that comes to mind. "Born Again" is another. Adams hands reaching for God's hand in Michaelangelo's painting is an image that comes to mind in thinking about the interior type of work and stretching & exercising our brain power that must be done to truly "love one another as I have loved you."

    This is definitely brain food for thought Colleen, and oh, so inspiring. A huge Thank You!

  2. Yes Colleen, very enlightening, especially the comparisons you made between the right-brain and the legalistic and fundametalistic attitudes that men in positions of authority so often demonstrate.

    It really can be summed up quite succintly - "management by fear". Fear seems to be a right-brain trademark as much as creativity is a left brain trademark.

    I wonder if the same holds true for women. Over time as they move up in their respective (competitive) careers, spend more time outside the home and more time away from family, do they lose some/most/all of their right-brain qualities as they depend more and more on their left-brain talents for their success?

    What bothers me about this issue is that the heirarchy rarely goes down a path such as this for a single issue. I find myself wondering where we are going to see this show up next, and what illogical rationale will be used to justify it?

    An example is the increasing use of the term "self-excommunicated" over an increasing spectrum of sins? Another example is the increasing number of issues that are becoming "mortal sins". What will the next "self-excommunicating mortal sin be"?

    Birth control?
    Sex outside of marriage?
    Sex inside of marriage?
    Speaking against the leadership?
    Not obeying doctrinal teachings?
    What movies can catholics see?
    What books can catholics read?
    What candidates can we vote for?

    An interesting side issue here, the "mortal sin" concept is dependent on the concept of hell. It worked because the laity believed if they commtted a mortal sin they would end up in hell. Now that hell has been debunked officially by the pope, what is the point of classifying something as a mortal sin?

    It really isnt that big of a leap to see where this is going. A future potential is already showing up in some of blog postings of those who consider themselves the "faithful orthodox".

  3. Butterfly I don't want to get to long in response to your comment because you bring up things I will continue to address a long the lines I have written of here. I will say this much however, if I was in charge of a seminary, I would make it mandatory that all seminarians take a semester course in "Drawing From The Right Side Of The Brain". This is a phenomenal first step in understanding how the different hemispheres 'see' things and a great step to integrating the input from the entire brain. I am not surprised with your past history. In a sense it's mine as well, except I was expected to go into math and chemistry by my family. I had a horrid time with Algebra and Inorganic Chemistry, but was considered brilliant in Geometry, Biology, and Theology. In college I had to teach myself Differential Equations and Calculus via Euclidian Geometry rather than Newtonian Algebra. There was a reason for this and it had to do with processing things by way of patterns and not sequence.

    Interestingly enough, the US Military was the second entity I ran into that valued that trait. The first was my undergrad theology department. The Navy wanted me to go into Military Intelligence. I was actually offered an officers rank beyond the norm, but was too much of a rebel to accept their offer. I'm still not sure why I even took their battery of tests. In retrospect it might have been my first inkling that the military was way ahead of conventional religions in recognizing the power of the right hemisphere.

  4. Carl, management by fear is another topic in itself. That has to do with the primitive reptilian brain and has little to do with the upper, newer, aspects of cerebral brain funtion except that the left hemishpere will give the concious aspect of ourselves a whole lot of ammunition to support the fear center in the reptilian brain. This too, will be a topic I will get into in the future and some of it maybe tomorrow.

    As to women, it's a little more complicated than you present. Yes women will adopt to the male management strategy of left brain logic because they more or less have to in order to fit in. I'm not saying that they are concious of this proces any more than young males are as they take on the whole left brain mystique, but in many cases women will attempt networking rather than top down strategies and this can be seen in the exposion of conferences, other get professional get togethers, and the ubiquitous programs which insist on 'teamwork' in order to get the core message.

    Obviously teamwork is not a female perogative. It's one of the places in which males put integration into effect, and why I am an over-the-top fan of the Mike Illitch owned Redwings of the NHL and Tigers of the MLB.

  5. By way of contrast to Archbishop Nienstedt et al, consider these words of Jesus in yesterday’s Gospel (Matt 14) --

    “Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

    Jesus was specifically contrasting his “yoke” -- the yoke of love -- from the yoke of the Pharisees, the religious authorities who emphasized blind obedience to religious laws. Jesus’ invitation to us is no less pertinent today than it was 2000 years ago.

    In His rest, in His light of love, we discern what is psycho-sexually the way, the truth, and the life in our lives.

    * * *

    Are there sexual sins in the world ? Of course there are. Just turn on the TV or open the paper to see our salacious culture in pervasive psycho-sexual dysfunction.

    Are same-gender relationships sinful per se ? Right brain response: the Holy Spirit gives us many examples of heroic, loving, same-gender relationships, and saints “who actively encourage or promote … a homosexual lifestyle” (such as Mychal Judge).

    Left brain response: As Pope John Paul I said, the church’s admonition of same-gender relationships was always based more on Tradition than on a clear understanding of Scripture. And many theologians seriously challenge the traditional interpretation of Scripture in this regard.

    Jesuit John McNeill’s work, The Church and the Homosexual, is the classical work. Here’s another thorough scriptural critique by a Protestant theologian --
    (From the homepage: click “Read the Letter”. You may have to copy/paste the above into the web address box).

    * * *

    Do the words of AB Nienstedt and the Roman magisterium accurately reflect Christ’s will with regard to homosexual relationships ? Can the poison tree bear good fruit ?

    To repeat what I’ve said before, ”Between a third and half of Roman priests and bishops are homosexual (Sipe, Cozzens, and other researchers) -- and most of these are closeted and self-loathing.

    “This explains their homophobic attitudes and projections onto others … These self-loathing homosexuals suffered higher rates of arrested psycho-sexual development … The Bishop Dupres of the church are busy fighting gay marriage while protecting pedophiles because they are pathetic, arrested, self-loathing homosexuals.

    “This high rate of self-loathing among closeted homosexual priests and bishops also feeds into their lust for power (as a subliminal substitution for affection), and their general emphases on sin and obedience (as projections of their own joylessness).”

    Can the poison tree of pathology bear good fruit ? John McNeill points out a self-evident truth : “Whatever is psychologically toxic can never be spiritually healthy.”

    The alternative to eating Nienstedt’s poison fruit ? “Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest … for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

  6. Colleen, I'm catching up, and only now have read this. Powerful!

    I like your statement that this left-brained approach to issues cuts down more trees than we imagine we have to cut down, when we begin the process.

    As you say, if you start with a certain premise and apply it with inexorable logic, you end up with a perfect system--totally "rational," totally logical.

    And yet, totally INSANE. That's really the underlying problem with the whole natural law system of Catholic ethics: it takes an area of human life that is not lived according to reason and logic (but in which reason and logic play a role) and tries to subordinate that whole area to reason and logic.

    But no one lives this way. And so we have a "logical" and "rational" system of sexual ethics that fits the real-life experience of no one. It's a house of cards ready to fall down, and all the more so because the bishops and pope have hinged all their authority on this house of cards.