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Now on the website: John Corvino on what social conservatives get wrong about sexuality:

[In First Things this past March], Michael Hannon argues that religious conservatives should embrace queer theorists’ view that sexual orientation is a social construction, rather than a natural and inevitable feature of persons. Furthermore, they should stop categorizing anyone as gay, because doing so organizes that person’s sexual identity around a particular temptation to sin, leading him to believe that he needs that sin in order to be fulfilled. Finally, and most important, they should stop categorizing anyone as heterosexual, because doing so lets people off the hook as “normal,” thus blinding them to their own sin. The general idea is that shedding these labels will enable people better to focus on the proper Christian grounding for sex and marriage.

Hannon, who is a candidate for religious life with the Norbertine order, is hardly the first Catholic to invoke queer theory in support of conservative causes.... What’s interesting about Hannon’s version is how far he goes in revealing what’s troubling social conservatives today: what they fear, what they really want, and why they’re unlikely to get it.

Read all of "Thinking Straight?" here.



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I read John Corvino's very sane piece in Commonweal and then I read (or tried to read) Michael Hannon's piece in First Things. Corvino writes about things as they are. Hannon, it seems to me, writes about how things theoretically might be if people who believe as he does could achieve the same kind of social controls something like Orwell's 1984. Of course Hannon does not advocate tyranny, but it is difficult to see how such a radical change in outlook could be accommplished and enforced other than by having "thought police" and other mechanisms for suppressing freedom of thought and expression. As Corvino says:

For another, there’s no putting the toothpaste back in the tube: Unless Hannon manages to burn down the libraries and obliterate the internet and silence vast portions of the population, young kids with inchoate gay feelings will eventually discover that gay identity, along with the sense of community it provides, is available to them.

Corvino does something very valubable, in my opinnion, by describing his incipient feelings of same-sex attraction (seeing the neighbor boy cutting the grass). What it seems to me that anti-homosexual advocates never do is let on they have feelings. (Hannon never suggests that a homosexual orientation is a choice, as do so many conservatives, but I am always mystified by that claim. Do concervative heterosexuals actually experience their sexual orientation as a choice? I sometimes wonder if at least some of these people actually have no sexual attractions one way or the other and actually do choose to engage in heterosexual activity without sexual urges.)


Hannon seems to me to be out of step with Catholic teaching, as I understand it. Why exclude homosexuals, or even men with deep-seated homosexual tendencies, from the priesthood if there is no such thing as orientation. Hanlon seems to want to abolish the consideration of sexual attraction altogether and replace it with a duty to chastity. It doesn't matter what a person feels. What matters is what a person does. Male-female marriage is not exactly in the nature of things. It is what God commanded. If we are able to suppress or obliterate the idea of homosexual and heterosexual feelings and inclinations, we can just have Christian life and Christian chastity, where the only permissible sexual behavior is male-female sexual intercourse. 


I say Hannon seems to be out of touch with Catholic teaching because, as I understand it—and to put it in my own words—the Church seems to maintain that men are to be "father types" and women are to be "mother types." Those are the basic roles. Heterosexuality seems to be an essential component of being a "father type," since (as I understand it) men incapapble of marriage physically or psychologically cannot be ordained priests. One of the key notions is "affective maturity," which (as I understand it—and I am open to correction if I am mistaken) would seem to include heterosexuality. 


The candidate to the ordained ministry, therefore, must reach affective maturity. Such maturity will allow him to relate correctly to both men and women, developing in him a true sense of spiritual fatherhood towards the Church community that will be entrusted to him.

It seems to me that to the Catholic Church, a "real," "normal" man is a man who is sexually attracted to women and who could, if he so chose, enter into marriage, become a biological father, and act as a "father type," relating "correctly" (as a heterosexual man, right?) to both men and women. So I don't see how Hannon's ideas of the withering away (or suppression or abolition) of the idea of sexual orientation is compatible with the Catholic view of the "affectively mature" man, or the "father type." I would note that I disagree with the Catholic idea that affective maturity requires heterosexuality, but I do think it is accurate to say that it does, which is why I think sexual orientation is in reality a key concept in Catholic understanding of manhood (or "father typeness").

I am not going to repeat what I said in response to Corvino, but I would say that although he takes a very roundabout route to getht there, Hannon is far more interested in coralling male/female sexual relations, and straitjacketing everyone else is just a collateral (but very necessary) effect.  He is not, however, straightforward, and his use of queer theory is mostly a long footnote explanation for why it has become so difficult to gain the assent of men and women attracted to each other of the need to limit their own sexual activity so that it is strictly integrated with marital procreative possibility. 

This was an excellent piece on a very wrong-headed article.  I agree with David Nickol that Hannon, though trying to preserve Catholic teaching, actually fails to recognize the extent to which the category of heterosexual is assumed in much official teaching.  Without heterosexuality, as Nickol points out, John Paul II's Theology of the Body and the ban on gay priests--not to mention much more--simply don't make any sense.  I would be quite happy to let them go, but I don't think Hannon realizes the breadth of change, beyond sexual identity labels, that he is suggesting.  Corvino cites John Boswell (who was accused of essentializing sexual orientation) as saying that there are no pure essentialists.  Yet, to my reading, JP II's Theology of the Body is essentialist all the way down: you have these organs, so you have these roles, and you have these sexual desires.  Any deviation in any of these cannot be accounted for in terms other than sin.  It's poor anthropolgy leading to poor theology.

Corvino has done a great service with this essay, not least by clarifying what the language of social construction does--and more importantly, doesn't--mean.

I do have to wonder if people like Hannon are asexual, given that they can believe that sexual feelings can be programmed.  In a way, what he believes *does* match some Catholic beliefs about sex and love and marriage .... the ideas most recently advocared by Muller and Pope Francis ... that love is not a feeling but a willed act, that people should stay married even if they aren't in love, that marriage/procreation is a duty to society.  This is where the Theology of the Body comes in ... those creepy Christopher West classes that try to teach Catholics how to *do*  heterosexual desire in the very teeth of obliged marriage ... yikes!    Hannon and those like him remind me of clmate change deniers ... thier desperation is palpable as they try not to admit  their ship has so sailed.

Human bodies are a wonderfully concrete expression of what we are.  Feelings can obfuscate our bodies but not change physical reality.  We are created beings, and cannot re-create ourselves.  We can only reimagine ourselves which is not reality.

Bruce, How can you know that what you take to be your created beingness is not merely the first reimagination of creation, or original sin?

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