Monday, December 5, 2011

The risk of being heroes

I’ve made two additions to my blogroll that you should read: Steve Gershom’s Catholic, Gay and Feeling Fine, Thanks and Richard Evans’ Catholic Boy Richard. Although both describe themselves as “gay”, they also practice continence: Steve made his decision almost as soon as he became aware of his same-sex attraction (SSA), while Richard turned to continence after many years as a gay-rights activist.

This leads to two points. First, I’m not sending you over there to clog their comboxes with arguments as to whether they should call themselves “gay” or not. Steve only uses the term sporadically, generally preferring the shorthand “SSA”; I don’t know what Richard’s rationale is, and I don’t intend to beard him on it either. And while I generally reserve “gay” for people who are practicing homosexuals, I don’t insist on it … it’s just not that important.

Second point: I’m not asking you to go over to “get a load of the freak shows” or to make poster boys of them. They’re both truly intelligent, well-spoken people who write things about life in the Catholic faith worth reading. Say to them, “Hi, Tony sent me;” read what they have to say, then comment on what they’ve said. It’s that simple.

The injunction against making tokens or freak shows of these men is especially important. On one of Steve’s posts, which addressed another person’s statement “The best a gay Catholic can get is not-masturbating” (please read the post for the context), one reader, Ron, snorted: “Oh, please ... That shows the bias that all people with SSA are a bunch of sex-always-on-the-brain, ready-to-jump-in-the-sack people. We are capable of so much more than that, capable even of heroism.”

Ron hits a very tender spot here. First of all, while I have seen a few gay men and women in my life who seemed bound and determined to live up (? or down?) to the stereotypes and even blast them in straight people’s faces (cue photo of Carson Kressly) — men and women who set off gaydar in three or four surrounding counties — there are others that don’t set it off, or at best nudge a mild “ping”.

Yes, gay couples on average don’t stay together as long as do straight couples; yes, there’s more infidelity and promiscuity among gays and bisexuals than among straights. But we’re still talking statistical averages;[*] gay people are bound by neither law nor their orientation to have sex, let alone have sex frequently or with multiple partners.

Now, I’ve seen an argument for gay marriage that, reduced to its essence, runs thus: “You say gay marriage will wreck the family; well, you Christians have already done most of that with divorce, adultery, child abuse and such. Why shouldn’t we get an at-bat?” And while the argument undermines itself by reinforcing the good of the traditional family unit, the central charge still bears weight: it’s a call to either walk the talk or shut up.

This past few months, I’ve seen more references to St. Thomas More than in all the thirty years plus/minus since I first read A Man for All Seasons. In “A Man for All Seasons and the Call to Fanaticism”, Joseph Susanka defines St. Thomas’ rigid commitment to the papacy as a kind of good fanaticism. I disagree; St. Thomas was a man of strong, vibrant loyalties, who stayed within the law as much as he could from faithfulness to his king even while that king was trying to force him to betray his Church. By definition, the fanatic’s cause will admit of no other loyalties, whether they conflict or not.

More to the point, in playwright Robert Bolt’s conception, St. Thomas had a clear conception of self, and knew what he could give away without putting his self-conception in jeopardy. Bolt (who in his preface said he was “not a Catholic nor even in the meaningful sense of the word a Christian”) believed that modern Man was losing — had already lost — a clear idea of what it meant to be a human being, that because of that loss we were not only producing fewer heroes and martyrs but also fewer people who could live up to commitments, tell truths and stand up against social pressure.

But here’s the centerpiece: Margaret Roper, St. Thomas’ daughter, argues with him in his prison, “In any State that was half good, you would be raised up high, not here, for what you’ve done already. It’s not your fault the State’s three-quarters bad. Then if you elect to suffer for it, you elect yourself a hero.” And More replies:

That’s very neat. But look now … If we lived in a State where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us good, and greed would make us saintly. And we’d live like animals or angels in the happy land that needs no heroes. But since in fact we see that avarice, anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and stupidity commonly profit far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude, justice and thought, and have to choose, to be human at all … why then perhaps we must stand fast a little — even at the risk of being heroes.[1]

People like Steve, Richard and Melinda Selmys (yeah, read her too) have “denied themselves and taken up their crosses” (Mt 16:24; cf. Mk 8:34, Lk 9:23), embracing all the virtues, becoming holy in order to become whole. It’s easy and cheap to earn the enmity of anti-Christians by shooting off one’s mouth; they’re earning it the hard way, by becoming signs of contradiction through faith authentically lived.

We straight Christians need to walk the talk too. Even at the risk of being heroes.

[*] I used to have a buddy who, although he was gay, had absolutely no problems with politically-incorrect jokes; Sean would never have let this line slide without a pun on deviation. “But that was in another country; And besides, the wench is dead” (Christopher Marlow, The Jew of Malta).

[1] Bolt (1960), p. 81; bold type mine.