Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Catholic Church on the Sun, Slavery, and Sexuality

Some people of different religious faiths see homosexuality as a sin.  The Catholic Church in particular claims that being a homosexual is not a sin but that engaging in homosexual sex, like engaging in adultery and premarital sex, is a sin. Not all Catholics agree with their Church's views about homosexuality, mind you, but when I was a Catholic, I certainly did.  One reason I believed the Church's view that homosexuality was a sin was because I thought the Church, through the doctrine of infallibility, could never be wrong about moral issues. But the Catholic Church has proven itself fallible indeed, and it's views about sexuality in general,  and homosexuality in particular, are as flawed today as its views about the universe and slavery were in the past.

Consider the Church's historical view of the heavens, what Hamlet called "this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire." Until the 16th century, most people believed that the Earth sat at the orbital center of all celestial bodies. This 'geocentric universe' was considered obvious by most people because Earth was seen as God's favorite marble, the center jewel in the crown of His creation, and humanity was His favorite Claymation. Galileo, on the other hand, saw things differently
Like many people before Galileo, I always believed heterosexuality sat at the center of the sexual universe.  It never occurred to me to question this fundamental assumption because, quite frankly, it never occurred to me that my "belief" was nothing more than a 'fundamental assumption.' To me, being a Catholic meant the Catholic Church's view of sexuality was as unquestionable as the Church's view of the universe before Galileo. The Catholic Church, however, had not only been wrong about morally neutral questions like whether the Sun went around the Earth or vice versa, it had also been wrong about very moral questions as well, like whether God was a fan of slavery.

 The Catholic Church did not finally declare slavery to be an "infamy" without qualification until the Second Vatican Council in 1965.  Only then did the Church conclude that slavery "dishonored the Creator and was a poison in society."   Before that, people like Thomas Aquinas argued that slavery was permissible in the eyes of God, within certain parameters, and Pope Paul III even sanctioned the enslavement of baptized Christians in Rome.  Papal bulls such as Dum Diversas, Romanus Pontifex, and their derivatives, were issued during the Age of Discovery to sanction and justify the enslavement of natives whose lands were being appropriated. In fact, nearly "all Christian leaders before the late 17th century regarded slavery as consistent with Christian theology while today, nearly all Christians are united in condemning slavery as wrong.”

The fight for equal rights by newly freed slaves in America faced similar hurdles after the Civil War in part because the Jim Crow south, while largely anti-Catholic, held with religious conviction the belief that God was a White supremacist. This was based, naturally, on a self-serving interpretation of a Bible story called the "curse of Ham." Ham was cursed by Noah, so the story went, when the former laughed at the drunken nakedness of the latter. Ham, it was argued, was "black skinned" and that therefore Noah had, in effect, cursed the "black skinned" race.  There was no basis for such an interpretation, of course, but we're discussing the Bible here. 'Basis? We don't need no stickin' basis!"

 In similar fashion, Puritan John Winthrop's sermon in 1630 produced the widespread belief that America was "God's country," because, metaphorically, the United States was a "Shining City upon a Hill."   From this grew a sense of "American exceptionalism," and the vocation of "manifest destiny" inspired Christians to practice genocide from "sea to shining sea." 

Nor have such grim services been performed for God's glory only in the backwater of history. In the 1950's, for example, the Catholic Church in the Netherlands castrated at least 10 boys to cure them of their homosexuality, or to punish them for accusing clergy members of sexual abuse. A report states that “surgical removal of testicles was regarded as a treatment for homosexuality and also as a punishment for those who accused clergy of sexual abuse.” No records were kept of which reason the boys were castrated.Only in the service of a morality for the Most High could such horrors be performed with such pious and time honored devotion.

Such examples do not demonstrate that Christianity as a whole, or the Catholic Church in particular, is wrong about everything they believe. But it does prove that the Catholic Church is certainly not the 'infallible' north star of moral truth I had always been raised to believe that it was. The Catholic Church is, in fact, largely a group of men who, by the scalpel of a sacred vow,  have chosen to live like eunuchs in a matrimonial union with their own spiritual Mother. Yet it is these same men, who see their own renunciation of sex as "natural," who proclaim that homosexuality is somehow "unnatural." 

But rather than worrying about the speck of homosexuality in their neighbor's eye, these men should be trying to remove the plank of an Oedipus complex from their own.  Indeed, people on the whole should stop asking the question of whether homosexuality is the result of 'nature vs nurture,' and wonder why we nurture our nature to ask such silly questions in the first place.


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