Personhood, sexuality, and Phil Robertson.
Let me start by saying that I feel a bit unqualified to address the issues I am addressing here, but I’ve been mulling over this topic for years and I think I’d like to choose this moment in time to share some of my thoughts with more specificity. As a Catholic Christian in America, I also wish to address a hot-button topic (specifically, Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ) with care, concern, and humility, so anything written here is the fruit of time, prayer, and much thought, and (I hope) my efforts to glean from the wisdom of others who have gone before me.
Major religions have, many times through the centuries, held certain disagreements with societal thought about sexual morals. This is nothing new. Many of the same questions have been asked for thousands of years, the same conclusions drawn on both “sides” of the questions. As a child of fundamentalist Evangelicalism, I experienced a lot of confusion about this stuff—particularly in the area of sexuality and personhood, and how they integrated or related. Did they? In what ways? To what degree did my sexual attractions define who I was, or how God perceived me? Questions from me on these topics were met by leaders in my community with hushed tones and well-meaning, but severely misguided, instructions “not to wonder about these things.”
As a Catholic Christian at thirty years of age, I counsel myself (and others) very, very differently these days. Do—do wonder. Wonder about your sexuality, your sexual struggles, your sexual desires—about what they all mean in relation to your personhood. Ask, think, research, read. It is not only the answers to these questions that reveal who you are—it’s the questions themselves. It is not a coincidence that dogs and cats don’t look at their genitals and wonder what they’re for and why they were born with this kind as opposed to that kind. It’s no evolutionary hiccup that little rats and raccoons don’t ask their parents where babies come from. We are different. We are beings of reason, of soul. We wonder these things, very early and very often—and this is crucial to understanding who we are. Sex is not just about rubbing body parts together or perpetuating the species, though it encompasses both of those (dare I say?) perks—sex and sexuality are gateways to the truth about who we really are, and we ought to see them as such.
“The fact that theology also considers the body should not astonish or surprise anyone who is aware of the mystery and reality of the Incarnation. Theology is that science whose subject is divinity. Through the fact that the Word of God became flesh, the body entered theology through the main door. The Incarnation and the redemption that springs from it became also the definitive source of the sacramentality of marriage…” (TOB April 2, 1980) p. 88
“Understanding the fundamental meanings contained in the mystery of creation, such as the nuptial meaning of the body…is important. It is indispensable in order to know who man is and who he should be, and therefore how he should mold his own activity.” (TOB Feb. 13, 1980) p. 74
“The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God [God’s love for man], and thus to be a sign of it.” (TOB Feb. 20, 1980) p. 76
-the quotes above have been drawn from http://www.jp2.info/Theology_of_the_Body.pdf
This—believing that in the mystery of the physical and sexual makeup of the human body lies deep truths about who we are, who God is, and why He made us—is not to say that sex, gender, or sexuality defines us. If there is any common thread to the collective orthodox and historic Church statements on this topic, it is that these things do not define us completely. They are very closely tied to our core personhood, but they are not quite that. We see this idea lived out in our current society’s admirable fight for gender equality—for example, women are not prohibited from working because they have uteruses and bear children. If sexuality was completely core to our personhood, then gender would be the deciding factor in these issues (as it has been in other cultures, and in our own, in the past)—but, we argue, a person ought not to be reduced to their sexual organs and treated only in consideration of what those organs permit them to do. A man doesn’t bear children, so it’s technically easier for him to work. But even though a woman’s sexual function is different, and presents some obstacles to working outside the home, we argue, it should not prohibit her from achieving similar, and sometimes same, goals and dreams. This is a very good conclusion, because it resists the temptation to reduce each person to his/her sexual makeup and function. And the Church should protect and uphold this objective good in the world, as John Paul II affirms so eloquently in his letter to women. (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_29061995_women_en.html)
All of that being said (that was a very long preface), I’d like to comment on Phil Robertson’s recent comments in GQ.
In case you haven’t read them, here are a few of them: I’ve also linked to the interview in question at the bottom of this post.
“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
To recap—what have we, the Church, been trying to tell the world in both word and deed?
“Sex/sexuality isn’t just about rubbing body parts together.
Sex/sexuality isn’t just about what feels good or what your urges are.
Sex/sexuality isn’t just about copulation.
Sex/sexuality isn’t just about what and/or whom you are attracted to.
Sex/sexuality doesn’t define you.”
I feel that Phil Robertson’s tone in commenting on these things unintentionally flies in the face of those tenets we have been fighting to communicate in love—against the respect of personhood the Church clings to so dearly—against the deep commitment we ought to have to protecting, upholding, and affirming each person’s equal dignity. Here’s why: Phil’s comments, and the tone in which they were uttered, effectively reduce people with same sex attraction to their sexual impulses. Any of us who has a homosexual friend, neighbor, or relative, probably knows that these comments are offensive not as much because of their eventual point (that homosexual sex is objectively immoral) but more because of the way that point is arrived at. Phil’s comments could be boiled down to this: “Dude sex is immoral and gross, because homosexual men like man butts more than they like lady parts, and that’s just weird and disgusting, kind of like sex with animals.”
I take major issue with the ease of thought that leads anyone to the conclusion that the desires of homosexual men are that simplistic and fickle—that they are merely urges which could be changed by thinking about vaginas more clearly or more often, as if all homosexual males woke up one day and just forgot about how awesome lady bits are. It’s demeaning to homosexual people, not to mention lady bits, and the ladies to whom they are attached, to suggest that vaginas are the key to “keeping men straight.” And though bestiality is listed in Corinthians as a sexual deviation, along with homosexual sex, it is not Christian teaching that the two are the same. They are different things. Anyone of sound mind should be able to detect the line of thought beneath Robertson’s comments and reject it, even if they don’t reject his overarching viewpoint on homosexual sex. It’s not sound.
The tone and reasoning in these comments, and the comments of many others, is an affront to not only people with same sex attraction, who are not by default sex-crazed maniacs or bestial animal-lovers any more than heterosexual people are, but to heterosexual people as well—again, we must resist the temptation to peg people as one thing or another based on whom they are sexually attracted to. When we do this, we effectively look at them as merely animals with sexual organs, and define them ultimately as such, and begin to treat them accordingly. This is not merely a simplistic way of thinking about homosexual people, but about people in general—and it can very quickly and realistically lead to things like bullying, homophobia, and violence. How we reach conclusions about these things is crucially important.
Of course, I could sit here and blather on about the media and their seemingly willful disregard of any of the more historic Christian views on the subject of homosexuality and sexual morals—but I don’t want to beat that dead horse. I’m not responsible for their behavior, I’m responsible for mine. For my part, I want to uphold the dignity of each human life—and as a part of that commitment, I strive to resist the tendency to reduce people to their sexual drives, homosexual or heterosexual or otherwise. Phil Robertson’s perspective on the morals of homosexual marriage may overlap with mine, but I do not arrive at my conclusions about that, or my beliefs about human sexuality, in the same way that he seems to.
Phil Robertson seems like a good man. I don’t think he is hateful. I do think he is in the same boat as a lot of us who were raised in an evangelical Christian subculture, in that we don’t really have a solid anthropological view on sexuality, and we don’t know how to explain why we think marriage should be between a man and a woman except to say “the Bible says.” I don’t think he’s a villain—I do think he, like many of us, is a product of a subculture with a sad lack of compassionate and sound thought on the subject.
I’d love to see a world where we could manage to dialogue about our views on sexuality and sexual morals in a way that doesn’t dehumanize or reduce any human being, but that views them each as individuals created with Love and stamped with the dignity of God’s image, and treat them accordingly—even on the internet.
Read More http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson#ixzz2nwPKriBi