Monday, October 8, 2012

Catholic Imagination And The Gay Marriage Vote Leads To Pure Speculation

Jamie Manson just posted another wonderful piece at the NCR.  In this one she speculates on reasons for the majority of lay Catholics supporting same sex marriage.  She posits it's the influence of the Catholic sacramental view of life, or as Fr Andrew Greeley designated it, the Catholic imagination.  The following has been edited for length.

....In Catholic theology, grace perfects nature. Yes, human beings are a mess, and we're born into a very messy world. But because we are created by God and because everything God creates is good, there is intrinsic goodness in us. God offers us countless opportunities of grace to help us transform ourselves and to redeem us. (The concept of original ignorance as opposed to original sin, dovetails with the idea of intrinsic goodness.)

Catholics believe the finite is capable of the infinite. This is why Greely says objects, events and persons all have the capability to reveal God's grace to us. That grace can come in our experiences of love, forgiveness, compassion, justice, sacrifice, but also in the midst of suffering, brokenness and desolation.
It is the Catholic imagination that gave Dorothy Day the vision to see a prostitute with advanced syphilis as Jesus Christ on her doorstep.
It's Catholic sacramental view of the world that allowed Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to see that "Christ has a cosmic body that extends throughout the universe."
It is the Catholic theological tradition that made Thomas Merton see, in the middle of a Louisville, Ky., shopping center, that he was so in love with all of the people buzzing around him that he longed to tell them that "they are all walking around shining like the sun."

Those with a sacramental view of the world find it challenging to separate the sacred from the profane in this world. The theological ideas that support the Catholic imagination were articulated during the Reformation period as a response to the increasingly influential theology of John Calvin and other reformers.
Calvin's understanding of grace and nature was radically different from the Catholic tradition. He believed human beings are totally depraved and enslaved to sin. God saves human beings in spite of who they are, not because of any intrinsic goodness or merit that they have. Calvin believed God predestines who will and who will not be saved. In order to be redeemed, the human being had to completely die to the old, irredeemable self.  (Calvin saw all of humanity as depraved and enslaved to sin. Our Catholic authorities seem to be limiting this view strictly to gays.)

Calvinism still pervades the evangelical tradition and has helped shape the evangelical position on homosexuality. Given Calvin's theological understanding of the human person as being wholly depraved and irredeemable, it's easier to understand why evangelicals can justify their belief that no good can come out of a same-sex relationship.

But the affirming nature of the Catholic view of the human person and the core Catholic belief that all finite things are capable of the infinite makes the Roman Catholic position on LGBT persons and same-sex relationships much more problematic. (And it makes the alliances that some Roman Catholic bishops have formed with many anti-gay evangelical pastors all the more troubling.) (Actually it's not problematic if our bishops believe that the Calvinistic view of life really does pertain to gay humanity.)......

.....Those who possess a sacramental view of the world often realize that any human person or relationship that brings love, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, generosity or faithfulness into the world is a sign of God's grace. Perhaps this is the reason so many Catholics defend marriage equality: They have recognized these graces can come forth as much through same-sex couples as heterosexual couples. Those who have a Catholic imagination recognize that a couple's ability to enter into a marriage commitment is not contingent on their anatomies, but on the depth, strength and fruitfulness of their bond......


I would take Jamie's ideas a little farther.  Traditional Catholic teaching in sexual morality is based exclusively in biology and biological definitions of gender.  Biology determines everything about appropriate gender and sexual expression.  Catholic theology makes no room for an intrinsic spiritual reality of a person having any influence on the expression of one's sexual or gender expression. That intrinsic spiritual reality is what Merton describes as "all walking around shining like the sun." I don't believe biology creates this energy force which Merton saw. I think it's the intersection of that 'light' self with the biological expression which influences sex and gender expression.

In some indigenous traditions they talk about the 'two spirited'. This is not necessarily a description of a gay person.  It is a description of a person whose spirit seems to carry both male and female signatures.  When this dual spirit is manifested in biology it is not unusual for that person to be gay, bi sexual, or transgendered, but not always.  The two spirited were seen as great gifts to a tribe because it was believed these special people were bridges between the worlds of matter and spirit, but also between the sexes in the material world.

There was also a belief that the biological reality of men and women called for different paths in order to achieve mystical experiences.  Males needed a lot of rigorous discipline and physically demanding rituals in order to quiet the male mind to make contact with the spiritual self.  That sometimes took years and years of training to reach the same mystical experience Merton had.  For women, it was a different story.  They experienced the physically demanding ritual of birth, and needed no such long apprenticing.  If women wanted to they could connect with the spirit world on their own and their training would come from that realm.  In other words, there was a definite recognition that men and women were different spiritually and well as physically and different religious training was needed for each sex.  

The two spirited were generally allowed to determine their own path as to the spiritual and cultural expression of their gender and sexual orientationGifted Native practioners look for the expression of a person's spirit and mostly ignore the physical person sitting in front of them when mentoring, teaching or healing.  In a sense they are communing with what Catholics would call the soul, except indigenous practitioners see this aspect as much more interactive than the standard Catholic idea which leaves the soul at the mercy of the idiot human to which it's attached.  They would also agree though, that it is most possible for the idiot human, through misuse of free will, to utterly destroy the experience of his/her soul for that given lifetime. 

To make this post even longer, I've spent a long time thinking about the Native ideas on the connection between the light self and material self.  If Catholicism made room for a spiritual expression of gender, acknowledging that there is more going on than genetics and culture in gender expression, Catholicism might get  past it's biological fixations.  Imagine if Catholicism recognized that it was possible for two souls to interact with each other as well as two biological genders? It would be easier to make room for love relationships which don't fit the biological norms or even the head logic of the two people involved.  I doubt I'll see such a view evolve in my lifetime, at least in the institutional church, because so much of the doctrine is based in rigid gender definitions of male and female.  

I think Jesus was two spirited in the Native sense of the word, because he was both a bridge between the sexes, and between the spiritual and material realms.  I suppose that thought is some sort of heresy, but that doesn't make it a false speculation.  Plus he did say his Kingdom was not of this world, that it was found with in and that the love we showed others and ourselves was the entrance key.  When one starts to get this and it opens the doors to 'seeing' and 'hearing' as it did for Merton, it's just flat overwhelming.


  1. There is so much richness here for us, Colleen, to contemplate in regard to understanding the evangelical/Catholic split that Jamie and you speak of...I would add that in addition to the Church's sexual morality being based on biology and biological definitions of gender that the Church's claim of a Scriptural basis for its sexual teaching is based on a mistaken literal understanding of the ancient Old Testament system of Hebrew property and inheritance laws as universal for all times...well as ancient Hebrew efforts to define and separate themselves from their agricultural based neighbor's religious practice that had male AND female gods and accepted sexuality and integrated it into their temple worship in the form of both male and female temple prostitutes as a path to commune with the deities...

    Your reference to Merton's words - "all walking around shining like the sun" remind me of what the gnostics say about "the divine spark" - that part of the Great Mystery that we all have within us...

    And "Greely says objects, events, and persons all have the capability to reveal God's grace." Lakota people might say "O mitakuye oyasin!"...or "With all beings and all things we shall be as relatives." ...all things - even what westerners would consider inanimate objects - we can be as relatives and they can be a teaching to us...a gift of God's grace...even inyan, the stone, has a teaching for us if we but listen and open our hearts...a stone can be a relative to us?....that challenges us westerners a bit doesn't it?....and obviously you have listened to their teachings, Colleen, with the medicine of hawk, and with an open hand and heart you have come to understand the teachings of the elders...and are helping to bring these teachings of the western and native elders together to help both peoples grow in wisdom...Pila Miya!...I read 'Black Elk Speaks' in 1970...his words and my subsequent contact with two native teachers saved my life and brought me back to the path of you know Black Elk was a shaman of the old religion and a Catholic Catechist among the Lakota...Michael Ferri

  2. And oh yes, thank you for writing about two spirit people....'winkte', two spirit males, were very 'lela wakan' - very sacred to the Lakota...and in keeping with the Lakota spiritual premise of not taking ones self too seriously, they could also make fun of the winkte....

  3. Imagine some people who have never read a science book or done an experiment being declared the expert authorities on science. Does that make sense?

    Imagine some people who have never popped the hood on a car being declared the expert authorities on car repair. Does that make sense?

    Imagine some people who have never eaten anywhere but MacDonalds being declared the expert authorities on fine dining. Does that make sense?

    Imagine some people who have never been married, never raised children, and never experienced sex, being declared the expert authorities on marriage and family values. Does that make sense?

    1. Phil - Thanks for this post!

      Yes, and that is what is happening in the RCC right now. People who have not even a clue as to the truth, claim to contain all truth for all people everywhere!! This is ever so pronounced in Catholic blog sites with trolls holding the bible texts to snippets of the OT in one hand and in the other hand their rehearsed lines of the catechism written by those without the expertise to proclaim the truth about science, sex, relationships, raising children, being a real mother or father to real children. Truly amazing isn't it?


    2. But Phil, according to Sipe, only 50 % of the clergy are celibate at one time!! So it is worse imagine hypocritical men attempting to control sexual values!! Now the DA in Pennsylvania are looking into the child endangerment case against the dean (equivalent of Catholic Bishops) Imagine those who endanger children getting off without punishment and attempting to make sexual rules for the laity. To imagine that is mind blowing. Put the bums in Jail... Time to read more of Hans Kung. The RCC needs reform from below. Imagine not giving the Bishops one cent. Imagine sending them property taxes!!!! Imagine what the church could be with decent leaders. No need to imagine what the Church has become.... There is indeed a hell on earth and it was created by the Vatican.. dennis