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The Pope Pontificates Again: Gays as Threat to World Ecology

Benedict and Cardinals, Christmas 2008

I had a teacher in college, a brilliant, multi-lingual Jesuit, who once told my class about a stunning poem he had written. He had awakened in the night with the poem complete in his head, Athena springing full-clad from Zeus’s brow. He wrote the poem down and went back to sleep satisfied that he’d captured a dazzling insight that would surely change the course of history.

Then he got up in the morning. He read what he’d written in the night and found it was total gibberish—a mix of six or seven different languages that didn’t make a whit of sense in any or all of them. The lesson our teacher told us he drew from this experience: be careful about those stunning inspirations that promise to cap every argument, explain everything for everybody, or provide the singular key that unlocks all mystery.

And I’ve been thinking of this story as I read that yet again, Pope Benedict has linked same-sex marriage to destruction (and here) of the environment. He did so several days ago in an address he gave about the global ecological crisis to world diplomats.

It appears that those of us born gay, who want to want to live in stable, legally recognized public relationships, pose a very serious threat to the world and its ecological structures: we “strike at biological difference”—and the world falls apart, without that difference.

In his address to diplomats, the pope notes,

Creatures differ from one another and can be protected, or endangered, in different ways, as we know from daily experience. One such attack comes from laws or proposals which, in the name of fighting discrimination, strike at the biological basis of the difference between the sexes.

Everything hinges on biology, you see. Though reasonable people have long since given up the argument that women are made biologically weaker than men, and that everything hinges on recognizing this biological fact and on the subordination of the weaker sex to the stronger, when it comes to same-sex marriage, everything still hinges on biology.

The world will fall apart—literally, ecologically—if men marry men or women tie the knot with women.

We’ve long since rejected the spurious biologistic argument that people of color are less advanced on the evolutionary scale than white people are, and so they need the helping hand (aka colonial captivity and enslavement) of the white races to “advance.” But when it comes to sexual morality, the Catholic church is intent on holding a line that its leaders alone see clearly, even when vast numbers of the faithful have long since crossed that line: every sexual act is gravely disordered and intrinsically evil if it is not open to the possibility of procreation.

I thought, maybe, that when Benedict first offered the world this stunning pearl of wisdom—gays are a singular hazard to the environment—at Christmas time 2008, he’d learn something useful from the negative response his wisdom elicited. I thought, sadly, that he might choose his words with more care in the future, be less quick to make a correlation that appears to reasonable observers downright silly, and to many of us, downright noxious.

But I thought wrong. A year later, and we hear the same nonsense all over again. I have to suspect that (with his advisers) His Holiness believes he’s latched onto a brilliant argument here, one that stops all other arguments about homosexuality.

Who can argue with biological imperatives, after all? And who can argue with biological imperatives on which the whole of creation rests? That’s the “logic” this argument wishes to push, and if a whole segment of humanity happens to get in the way as it’s pushed, then too bad: biology must rule, after all.

I suspect those advising Benedict to push this argument are bishops listening to folks like Robert P. George, the grave guru of American Catholic neocons, who believes he has the gays-and-reason argument all wrapped up, with his insistence that the sustenance of the cosmos hinges on recognizing that men are men and women are women. Just as those trying to stop the movement of women’s rights once argued that the world revolves around women’s subordination to men, or as those seeking to halt the progress of civil rights maintained that everything depends on the domination of people of color by white people.

As Geoff Farrow notes in an incisive posting about George recently, George’s “reason” selectively focuses on hot-button issues like same-sex marriage, while ignoring the much more pressing moral issues of exploitation of the poor by the rich or the lack of health coverage for million of citizens of the U.S. It is, in fact, a quasi-rational cover for neoconservative economic and political tenets that are exceptionally difficult to rationalize in the Catholic worldview. The obsessive focus on gay lives and gay relationships diverts attention from the strongly critical focus that Catholic social teaching brings to bear on unfettered free-market capitalism which ignores the effects of laissez-faire capitalism on the poor.

What Benedict wishes to keep saying about gay lives and gay relationships puts him in very strange company, indeed—if he’s really as concerned about the environment as he claims to be. If he’s really interested in addressing the ecological challenge, he’d surely be well-advised to turn his obsessive focus away from gay people as a threat, and to those economic forces and interest groups that Robert P. George and his rhetoric about “reason” and “nature” are designed to protect.

Those are the real threats to the world’s ecological balance. Not gay men and lesbian women in loving, generative relationships. This pope’s strange, seemingly personal and fanatical, focus on “objectively disordered” gay people and gay relationships as threats to the environment is as nonsensical as the multilingual gibberish my wise Jesuit professor wrote down one dream-haunted night when he convinced himself he had captured an insight that would alter the course of human history and save humanity from itself.

(Cross-posted from Bilgrimage, 12 Jan. 2010)


8 Responses

  1. I think if Pope Benedict XVI was raised in a society where all people were seen as being equal in human dignity that his views on this would be different. As it is, the Pope was raised in a toxic environment in a Fascist state. Homosexuals and Jews and others were considered “untermenschen.” Sadly, Pope Benedict still has this view of gay people. But it is interesting that he measures his words so as not to directly malign gay people but tends to throw in slightly disguised barbs.

    • Mark, thanks. I agree: I think the worldview the pope incorporates does, in some ways, reflect the culture in which he came of age. And you’re exactly right: like Jews (and Slavs, gypsies, the physically and mentally challenged), gay folks were seen as Untermenschen by the Nazis.

      It also seems decisive (to me, at least) that so many of the leaders of the Catholic church are closeted, non-self-accepting gay men. I think there is a strong mechanism of unhealthy projection at work in the obsessive focus of many Catholic pastoral leaders on gay folks.

  2. The argument that “homosexuals” are a threat to creation is based on the idea that if everybody were so, then the human race would die out. there are two obvious flaws to this reasoning. First, is that the fundamental principle behind environmental health is that of biodiversity: so a world in which everyone were heterosexual would also be “unbalanced ” in terms of ecological principles.

    But the identical argument about threatening the future of the human race applies also to celibacy. If we all adopted celibacy, then humanity would be equally doomed. But we do not hear Benedict, or anyone else, condemning celibacy as a threat to creation.

    Celibacy is recognized in Scripture not as a threat, but as a gift. Jung and other psychotherapists, as well as many social systems around the world, similarly recognize that homoerotic relationships frequently co-incide with special spiritual gifts.

    • Terry, excellent points.

      First, as you say, environmental health requires respect for biodiversity. But the pope’s view that gay people are objectively disordered and a threat to the environment moves in precisely the opposite direction–and so constitutes a threat in its own right to environmental health.

      And, second, the church promotes celibacy, but if everyone in the world chose celibacy as an option, the future of the world (biologically speaking) would be imperiled.

  3. Mr. Lindsey,

    Do you have the reference to the entire document?

  4. I read the text at the Whispers in the Loggia site, Mr. Ludescher. The full text is in a window for the Jan. 11 posting, which is entitled “The ‘State of the World,’ 2010 Edition.” The link to that posting is http://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com/2010/01/state-of-world-2010-edition.html.

    Zenit also often publishes at least part of (or summaries of) papal texts, as does L’Osservatore Romano. There’s an English edition of both publications online.

  5. Read in the context of the speech, I don’t understand how one can justify any of the comments made here. The reference made was inconsequential to the speech, referred to a wholistic understanding of creation, and noted that some attacks against creation simply ignore the biological differences between sexes.

    • Sorry you don’t see the point.

      As my title makes very clear (the pope pontificates about this topic again), I’m reading the speech in the context of an ongoing series of statements to the same effect. What Benedict says in this address, he said a year ago at Christmas time.

      And all of this echoes what he began saying in 1986 in his letter on the pastoral care of gay persons in the church. That’s a long, well-established context. One of the first principles one follows in reading church statements is to read them in context–not as statements in and of themselves.

      As I’ve repeatedly told you as we discuss these matters on these threads, what you see as a heterosexual man in the church may be very different from what I see as a gay man. And what women may see. Or people of color.

      A church catholic welcomes and listens carefully to all the experiences of the faithful–not just to those who happen to have power and privilege in society.

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