Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What would Jesus say?


Aww, isn't Jesus so cute!
A friend of mine posted the editorial cartoon to your left on Facebook.  I guess it’s not enough to insist that, where my faith and my Church are concerned, I do in fact have a sense of humor.  So let me point out what’s really funny about the cartoon: the nun is wearing a habit.  Definitely not representative of the LCWR.

To be effective at manipulation, you want to keep things simple.  So rather than portray the nun in an ugly pantsuit (far more common), you dress her in the almost-forgotten habit, just as you draw Papa Bene as if he were being cast for the next installment of Grumpy Old Men.  Then, to really demonstrate how shallow your theology is, you draw Christ the Lord as a cute little koala bear of a man with a smiley face, looking nothing at all like someone who could open up a can of whip-ass on moneychangers in the Temple (Jn 2:14-16) or condemn Chorazin and Bethsaida to a fate worse than Tyre and Sidon (Mt 11:21-22).

Of course the cartoon is meant to be ironic, in the sense that it supposedly demonstrates an incongruity or inconsistency in Catholic teaching.  After all, nowhere in any of the Gospels does Jesus say anything about homosexuality — good, bad or indifferent.  So isn’t the Catholic Church concerned with preserving his teachings over all others?

Just like young boys at a matinee movie showing like to supply “dialogue” (i.e., wisecracks, burps and other noises) to fill the gaps in the script, so people like to answer the question, “What Would Jesus Do?”, with all sorts of self-serving mishegoss.  Especially if the Gospels can’t contradict them with a direct quote.  Who cares what Ss. Paul, Peter, John and those other losers said?  Jesus didn’t say it!


Back in September, we talked about the silence of Jesus and why the argument from silence works in the Church’s favor.  But it would pay us to revisit the problem.

The argument from silence is a two-edged blade.  You could argue that, since you can’t find a text that proves Jesus taught/the apostles believed x, then they must not have believed it.  On the other hand, since you can’t find a text which proves that Jesus/the apostles denied or contradicted x, they must have believed it.

However, Jesus’ silence concerning long-standing sexual taboos is very much akin to the silence of the dog in the Sherlockismus.  Such a silence might have meant an implicit tolerance had Jesus lived and taught in the cosmopolitan, relatively gay-friendly environs of classical Greece, had he claimed divine Sonship from Zeus (whose young lover Ganymede has given us the word catamite).

Alas! Jesus lived and taught in the homophobic backwater of Judea, as the Son of the God who declared to the Israelites, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Lv 18:22).  The Jesus who didn’t hesitate to call religious leaders “you brood of vipers” and “hypocrites” (Mt 23:13-36) — nor to whip the aforementioned moneychangers out of the Temple — was brave enough to defy plenty of conventions, such as by dining with tax collectors and prostitutes (Mt 9:9-13); certainly, had Jesus said or done anything that could be reasonably understood as gay-positive, the Gospels would not be silent.

But let’s suppose Jesus did say something supportive of homosexuality, and the apostles/the later Church cut it out because — no, that’s industrial-strength silliness of the “conspiracy theorist” variety.  It’s ridiculous to believe that someone would rush past the “Bread of Life” discourse (Jn 6:25-71), with its implicitly cannibalistic theme, in order to excise a rhetorical flourish in praise of sodomy.  Someone so gimlet-eyed for social niceties must surely have noticed the indiscretion of letting Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus sit at Jesus’ feet while he taught (Lk 10:38-42); how, then, did that crossing of gender boundaries escape the red pencil when Our Lord’s exposition of queer theory didn’t?  To successfully prove that a jewel was stolen from the safe, you must first establish that the jewel was ever inside the safe.

In fact, to the extent that Jesus does speak of matters of the bedroom, if he’s at odds at all with the prevailing Jewish sexual morality, it’s in a stricter direction.  What else can we say of his declaration that “every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28)?  How else should we judge his equation of second marriages after divorce with adultery (Mk 10:11-12; cf. Mt 19:9, Lk 16:18)?  Or his insistence that those who can remain celibate “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” should do so (Mt 19:12)?  And after all that, we’re supposed to believe he said it’s “okay to be gay”?

Jesus did, however, say something worth thinking about in connection with another sexual sin, namely adultery.  When the adulteress’ accusers disbanded and left, their righteous anger withering from the acid of Jesus’ judgment, he said to her, “Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again” (Jn 8:2-11).  He didn’t hand her over to be killed … but neither did he endorse her behavior.

The problem has never been that Christians deny salvation to homosexuals.  No, the problem is that homosexuals deny dysfunctionality to same-sex attraction, just as single people rationalize cohabitation and married people try to justify infidelity.  A full discussion of this denial goes beyond my present scope; suffice it to say that, so long as so many people insist that there’s nothing inherently wrong with same-sex attraction, they will continue to find gay-positive interpretations in the silence of the Gospels.

But the Gospels aren’t really silent.  It only seems they are  … usually when you have your fingers in your ears.