Friday, May 25, 2012

Reflections on Melinda's Reflections

UPDATE:  As time permits, I will continue to add to this post as I'm sure much of what I've said can be clarified or better expressed.

I recently read a blog post entitled “Heterosexual Bypass Surgery” written by columnist and author Melinda Selmys.  While reading Melinda’s post, several thoughts popped into my head and it’s taken me a little while to organize those thoughts and write them down.

First, I believe context is important to a proper understanding of Father Harvey’s statements.  I asked Melinda for the sources she used for her blogpost, and she graciously supplied them: In a 2006 Zenit interview, Fr. Harvey is quoted as saying, "The fact of the matter is that there is only one orientation, the heterosexual orientation. The homosexual tendency is an objective disorder, and if a person has this objective disorder, it is because other things have happened."  Later in the same interview, Father says "Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, founder of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, in Encino, California, says it best when he says that there are no homosexuals, just heterosexuals with a homosexual tendency."

In the Zenit interview, Father Harvey was asked to respond to a document issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on November 14, 2006 entitled “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care.”  Father Harvey explained that he views that document as a distinct improvement over an earlier document entitled “Always Our Children.”  Fr. Harvey had written detailed responses to both the original and revised versions of “Always Our Children.”  Instead of attempting to summarize Father’s concerns and observations about that document, I will simply refer the reader to both of Father’s responses – they can be found here and here.

It is necessary to read both those responses to understand Father’s statement that "there is only one orientation, the heterosexual orientation," and his agreement with Joseph Nicolosi’s statement that “there are no homosexuals, just heterosexuals with a homosexual tendency.”

Melinda says “Unless you happen to be talking to a very committed gay philosopher who believes that his homosexuality forms the ontological matrix of his personhood, this argument [Fr. Harvey’s statement above] commits a category error.” 

I don’t believe Fr. Harvey has committed a category error because he is in fact addressing those who hold that homosexuality ontologically defines their personhood when he makes the statements above.  One of Father’s concerns about the wording of “Always Our Children” was that it was vulnerable to misuse by activists who wish to promote homosexuality as a) a necessarily permanent and central part of one’s identity, and b) as being equivalent to heterosexuality, as though the term objective disorder no longer applied. 

Father Harvey would absolutely agree with Melinda’s observation that each person’s fundamental purpose is to be eternally united with Christ and, in doing so, to find a joy that completely satisfies all human desire and surpasses all human pleasures; however, the fact that a person is created for complete union with Christ doesn’t negate the original intended complementarity of man and woman.   Adam and Eve were created for companionship and a union that reflects divine love.  Eros was not absent from their union, but it was rightly ordered before the Fall.

Since the Fall, all human beings suffer from the effects of original sin.  It manifests itself in a host of ways.  Some human beings are drawn to seek sexual genital pleasure with their own gender.  A plethora of interwoven factors which vary from person to person can lead up to such temptations.  The inclination towards same-sex genital activity is objectively disordered because the sexual acts that one is tempted to engage in can never, under any circumstance lead to the creation of new life.  At the same time, the attractions themselves are often psychologically understandable when one looks at the various factors that can influence one’s psychosexual development.

Father Harvey has always stated that a person who experiences same-sex erotic attraction is under no moral obligation to seek to develop heterosexual erotic desire or affectivity.  What is obligatory is chastity, and the best way to develop interior chastity is through union with Christ and prayer of the heart.

Father Harvey also refused to identify any human being by his or her temptations because he held that a human being is so much more than his temptations.  He had also stated that he wished he could rename his first book The Homosexual Person to The Person with Same-Sex Attractions so as to put even further emphasis on one’s personhood.

Father believed, as the scriptures tell us, that humanity has been created male and female for a reason.  These male and female signifiers are not merely incidental, but essential to our personhood.  To be a human male or a human female is to be heterosexual, ontologically speaking.  By that I simply mean that male-female complementarity is part of the original plan and remains fundamental to each human being's true identity. This is objectively true, even when one’s subjective desires and erotic attractions may persistently be towards the same sex.   This is why Father Harvey says, “There is only one orientation, the heterosexual orientation,” and it’s also why he agrees with Joseph Nicolosi’s observation that there are no homosexuals, just heterosexuals with a homosexual tendency.”  For Fr. Harvey, what is ontologically true is what is essential in defining personhood.

Again, this does not mean that a same-sex attracted person is morally required to try to move towards heterosexual desire.  As Melinda says, "Instead of trying to reorient homosexual desire towards heterosexual desire, it is possible to simply bypass heterosexuality [heterosexual erotic desire] and move directly towards Goodness, Beauty, Truth." 

Fr. Harvey also recognized that our weaknesses can be a huge source of grace, because it is usually our own weaknesses that humble us and bring us to our knees.  Father believed that the person who experiences same-sex attractions could lead a chaste and holy life in union with Christ, and he encouraged us to say with St. Paul, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”  Not every same-sex attracted person who is living chastely is necessarily in a position to publicly boast about his/her weaknesses, but those who are can be a great witness and example to others.

I should also mention that Father Harvey would not encourage the use of the terms “gay” and “lesbian” for a variety of pastoral and philosophical reasons which I’ll have to address in another post.   Certainly, there are those who choose to publicly self-identify as “gay” or “lesbian” who have also publicly made known their commitment to chastity, and I have no doubt they are serious in their commitment - but there are other implications and possible consequences of the use of those terms which I think need to be considered; one example is the pressure upon teenagers to identify themselves as “gay” or “lesbian” when they are still in a very formative stage of their psychosexual development.  Again, this will have to wait for another post.

What I’ve written so far is a very incomplete analysis of Father Harvey’s thought as well as Melinda’s post, and there are several points which could be better expressed.  This is just my attempt to contribute in some small way to the discussion at hand before another month goes by!   


Terry Nelson said...

Tina, thanks very much for this valuable post. I hope to post a link.

doughboy said...

excellent post, tina.

doughboy said...

well written, tina. thanks for letting your light shine.