(Piny just posted on this, but I was working on a longer post so I figured I’d finish it.)
When I heard earlier this week that Ratzy was railing against the gays again, I didn’t really take much notice. What else is new? I guess it’s soooort of interesting that the Catholic Church has managed to jump on the bandwagon with a few other religious denominations in publicly acknowledging the necessity for ecological conservation, unlike some of the conservative religious right in this country. As a result, we get a papal analogy of saving the rainforest to saving mankind from the Horrible Creeping Plague O’ Gayness. How about they figure out how to save altar boys from predatory priests first, etc. etc. usual accusations of hypocrisy, blog post over.
Yesterday, I saw a more complete translation, and the controversial part of his annual Christmas proclamation caught my eye:
And in so doing, it ought to safeguard not only the earth, water, and air as gifts of creation, belonging to everyone. It ought also to protect man against the destruction of himself. What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man, understood in the correct sense. When the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected, it is not the result of an outdated metaphysic. It is a question here of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation, the devaluation of which leads to the self-destruction of man and therefore to the destruction of the same work of God. That which is often expressed and understood by the term “gender”, results finally in the self-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator.
Watch out for gender this Christmas, kids!
Of course, it’s not hard to grasp that he doesn’t mean gender is dangerous in the sense of “the power structure through which bodies are classified as male and female, and assigned sets of gender roles, proscribed and mandatory behaviors, and different levels of privilege, creating an upper class and a lower class.” He means that naming this system, questioning it, attempting to empancipate yourself from it,
Or at least that’s what I thought. According to another Reuters story, in Italy “gender” is “a broad term that includes anyone who doesn’t identify entirely with their assigned sex and can include homosexuals, bisexuals, pansexuals and others.”
(I have a sneaking suspicion that this is a bad translation or a bad understanding of how the term is used, so if there are any Italians in the house who want to clarify, especially if you know how and when people use the term for themselves, it would be much appreciated.)
So really, the Pope is warning that various kinds of gender weirdos threaten the destruction of human nature as surely as deforestation threatens the destruction of ecological nature. No big surprise, but I have to admit I’m interested in the argument he’s making and what you all think of it.
Big Infallible Dom goes on explaining why “genders” are messing everything up:
Man wishes to act alone and to dispose ever and exclusively of that alone which concerns him. But in this way he is living contrary to the truth, he is living contrary to the Spirit Creator. The tropical forests are deserving, yes, of our protection, but man merits no less than the creature, in which there is written a message which does not mean a contradiction of our liberty, but its condition.
The great Scholastic theologians have characterised matrimony, the life-long bond between man and woman, as a sacrament of creation, instituted by the Creator himself and which Christ – without modifying the message of creation – has incorporated into the history of his covenant with mankind. This forms part of the message that the Church must recover the witness in favour of the Spirit Creator present in nature in its entirety and in a particular way in the nature of man, created in the image of God.
In other words, it’s not just that the Bible says you have to respect the established order of gender and gender roles. There’s also a message written into Creation itself, a kind of instruction manual written through the Way Things Work, that it’s the Church’s job to interpret. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad idea. But since, along with most people, I don’t really consider the church or the pope to be literally infallible (and yes, nitpickers, I’m aware this message was probably not ex cathedra) I think it’s quite possible that they’re reading the instructions wrong — at the very least, missing a lot of the fine print that deals with the exceptional. Part of the wonder of the natural world is the tremendous diversity and plasticity of life, all the differences and exceptions that make every individual in every species distinct. Surely that’s part of the order of creation as well?
Pope Benedict has really taken an opportunity to incite people against trans folks, giving fodder for hatred and prejudice, as the news reports point out. The really stupid thing is that he didn’t necessarily have to. Despite age-old currents of homophobia and reviling of gender-variance in many religious traditions, there have always some religious leaders who found an “out” for trans people, usually by acknowledging that although God doesn’t make mistakes, there are still things like birth defects that it’s are perfectly all right to heal and repair. Of course, this argument has its own flaws in my opinion. It only applies to transsexuals and it’s usually only extended to those who fully transition, for reasons of maintaining the same social order. The Ayatollah Khomeini used it to build an exception for transsexuals that has resulted in an even more destructive form of homophobia. But even Jerry Falwell once extended compassion to transsexuals in this way. Not that I necessarily think any of this is a good thing; homophobia is usually part of the package, and I would much rather believe that every human being should be able to determine their own relationship to gender, as opposed to being coerced into any of it, as an essential tenet of freedom and liberation.
Nor does this have to mean liberation from the messages of creation and of God’s plan. For one thing, it begs the question of how anything we do can really be outside of the planning of an omnipotent, omniscient Creator, but even putting that aside, why should we be surprised that human beings appear and grow and change in so many different ways? I’m reminded of parts of an article by a Christian third-wave feminist that my roommate sent me recently:
When I was a teenager, I remember being given specific instructions for how women should follow Jesus. One Saturday, the girls in my Bible study were actually invited to a church tea party. Over scones and Earl Grey, we learned how to fulfill our feminine roles. God would send us husbands, we were told, and we would live out our calling as Christian women in submission to our husbands and in service to our families. We were taught to have gentle and quiet spirits and to live always under the authority of the men in our homes and churches. It was assumed that following Jesus meant embracing our roles as wives and mothers and turning from “worldly” pursuits of careers outside our homes and churches.
But I never could quite swallow the instructions. What I was being told did not fit how God had made me, nor with the interests and abilities God had given me. […] Can we find ways to honor family life without creating man-made rules about roles? What if indeed God wants a woman to finish her degree and use it on behalf of others? What if a husband and wife could find better ways to co-parent, while supporting one another’s tasks outside the home, too? It is not that I want to dismiss the priority of family life. I want to esteem motherhood and fatherhood and caring well for our families. But as Jesus reminds us, our families are not just our nuclear, immediate families. We have a global family to care for, too; and it has never been more urgent that Christians embrace seeing themselves not just as individuals but also as members of a community.
This isn’t hard to understand. It isn’t hard to extend the same idea, that there are many different kinds of “instructions” for life, not only to the difference between a calling for the clergy or to secular family life, not only to the balance and choices between career and family, but to many other walks of life as well. This isn’t the destruction of mankind; it is the flowering of a great and varied meadow of beauty, all created by… well, whatever you believe created everything.
For that matter, if you really do believe that God has a plan and that it’s possible to stray away from it, I’m not sure why that’s automatically a bad thing either. We’re talking about God in capacity as Creator of the universe. In an infinitely lesser way, I am also in the business of creating universes and designing the way things work, as are many other artists, designers, and authors. Perhaps unlike an omnipotent creator, it is very easy for human beings to create things that grow to be larger than ourselves, to create the unpredictable. I know that for me personally, one of the chief joys of creation is in watching the creation get away from me — watching things happen that I didn’t predict.
This is especially probable when you are creating complex and unpredictable systems like games, and then letting players with their own agency run amok in them. It’s certainly true of many technological creations (hacking, modding, hybridizing) and it’s how many new creations emerge. But I’ve certainly heard authors talk about this phenomenon as well — the moment when characters come to life. If we are really made in God’s image, and this is such a moment of joy and wonder that’s part of the creative act, why should we think that God feels so differently? Do theists really believe that God is the kind of unimaginative, joyless Creator who frowns on anyone who doesn’t follow the Original Equipment Manufacturer instructions and guidelines?
That’s a pretty silly form of religion, if you ask me. But there are a lot of things I don’t really understand about religion, especially Western religions. I often feel like a Martian when I’m trying to understand why Christians believe things, since I wasn’t raised with any of it. If there’s a theist around who’s willing to humor me, I’ve been trying to puzzle out a lot of questions lately. What exactly is the appeal of this whole all-powerful creator of the universe thing anyway? It doesn’t seem to make any sense, even in theology.
COMMENT POLICY: This should be obvious, but anti-gay comments that just spout about how gayness is a sin without showing evidence of having read and attempting to engage with the contents of this post will be deleted. If your religious beliefs support the Pope’s words or are somehow opposed to “gender,” I’d be interested in hearing them, but only if you actually bother to stay on topic and demonstrate reading comprehension. Otherwise I’ll just consider you a troll.