Wednesday, July 23, 2008

With the Prospect of Having to Give a Class on Homosexuality: Re-reading Old (2003) Musings

The Wall Street Journal has published two op ed pieces[1] that basically say the same thing: Conservatives should have no argument with gay marriage since the protagonists serve the country, raise children, share financial responsibility, are personally responsible for the other and others, produce emotional stability, protect individual liberty, stabilize American families, protect religious freedom, guarantee states’ rights. So what’s the problem?

The New York Times editorial of November 20 drew a parallel between the situation of gay marriage and overcoming racism legally. It said: “When the rights of disadvantaged groups are newly recognized, there is often opposition, some of it fierce, and the road ahead may be rough. But like the early court rulings striking down segregation, this has the feel of a legal revolution beginning.”

What seems to be the problem is the dumbing down of the perennial and universal experience of spousal love between a man and woman to the thin abstraction of civil existence. At this level the human person is synonymous with a numerical individual where ciphers have no color and one must be understandably colorblind. This is to reduce the thickness of the sexual existence of the self to the thinness of an exterior black, white or yellow and demand that everybody see gray. When will the child announce that the emperor has no clothes? Such a dumbing down reduces human sexuality to a combination of platonic friendship and animal titillation.

The actual experience of human sexuality in the immense majority of people is mutual self-giving which involves asymmetrical donation and reception. In every homosexual union there is an absence of genital gift as in lesbians or reception as in homosexuals. That reciprocal but asymmetrical complementarity of bodies in the human is fundamental for the difference of the experience of personhood in man and woman.

Even on the level of "myth," the account of that most ancient of documents, Genesis 2, speaks of the first human as neither male nor female. This first rational human, Adam, was commanded by the Creator to till the garden and name the animals. In the act of obeying, Helen Keller like, “he” suddenly experienced self as different from the rest of creation, and in a unique sense, alone. The Creator pronounced this to be inadequate for a being created in the image of a “We,” and re-created the human as male and female. Thereupon, they entered into a sexual union with their entire selves as embodied personalities and reached fulfillment as image of the divine.

Sexuality, in this account, is pervasive to the very “I.” The very self is masculine or feminine. “The difference between man and woman is a metaphysical one. A long time ago the Pythagoreans divined this when they placed male and female among the Categories…”[2] As a result, on the level of experience and not by abstract thinking – variations to the contrary being pathological -, the self experiences itself as male or female. It is not a neutral structure to which sexuality is added. “Conjugal love is so far from a compound of friendship and sensuality.” It is an act that is different from every other form of love in that it is the very gift of oneself in such a physical way that one becomes one being, one flesh, with another, and in the process engenders new life. It is a mystical experience of self-transcendence whereby the two become one flesh. There is no escaping the longing to become the other, to be one body with the other. As body, the “I” and the “you” meet on the level of sperm and egg in the engendering of a new person. Rather than seeing this as an evolution of animal sex, it is the mystical experience of persons in ecstatic love that is only image in animals. In persons, it is love engendering personal life. In animals it is a populating of species.

This is not the rational abstraction of a calculus of civic virtues such as “emotional calm,” “social stability,” “service to country,” “raising children,” etc., which provokes the scandal at and dismay of the opposition to gay marriage. It is the perennially lived experience that has been so damaged by the acquisitive culture of non-gift that it has been vulnerable to the gay critique.

And it seems to have no conceptual rebuttal once the argument is couched in the abstract terms of reductive civility. As Guerriero says, “How can conservatives disagree?” or Sullivan, “What is the social conservative position on civil unions?” “What aspects of them can conservatives get behind?” “What details are they less convinced by?” The wings of reason have been clipped by the long-standing alienation from the experience of the self as transcending in sexual self-giving. “What details are they less convinced by?”

C.S. Lewis says, “We castrate, and bid the geldings be fruitful.” The self has been locked in on itself since the first sin and the continuous self-deflations of personal sin in the erotic and economic autonomy of the last centuries. Sex has become a self-indulgent contact sport. We live in flatland giving reason no context of consciousness in which to orient itself as to meaning. We have no north. The argument from the Supreme Court Case “Lawrence” in Texas that decriminalizes homosexual acts, and Massachusetts Judge Marshall who provides homosexuals legal access to civil marriage, diminish and flatten the question to the thin prism of legality for individuals from whom sexuality has been abstracted out. The legal must be based on the real dimensions of life where the overwhelming and universal life experience has been the anthropologically thick sexual differentiation and complementarity. Once you strip real life experience out of the argument and you work with the abstraction of civil individuals relating as abstracted individuals – neither male or female – the argumentation becomes disingenuous. Having forfeited the absolute that reason feeds on, the mind is left to struggle only with a calculus of proportionate or disproportionate values or consequences. It is only with the heart that one sees rightly. One cannot reason well about the human person independent of the experience of being a human person. And that involves sexuality.

Sexuality removed, we are now reduced to the civil issue of black, yellow and white. Once we have removed the experiential difference between male and female as irreducibly different ways of being equally human, they have been flattened out and abstracted as mere accidental differences of race. We are out of contact with the being that is ourselves. Once the public is led across that epistemological threshold, the entire issue is a no-brainer. The legal obstacles to homosexual marriage and its legal and financial consequences will be removed as if they were of the same genre as the laws prohibiting interracial marriage. However, the real has a relentless way of re-entering the equation. The human experience of being an embodied and sexed person seeking completion in complementary sexual union will out.

[1] Andrew Sullivan, The State of Our Unions, WSJ, Wednesday October 8, 2003, A 24; Patrick Guerriero, ‘Til Death Do Us Part, WSJ, Thursday December 4, 2003 A 16.
[2] Dietrich von Hildebrand, Marriage, The Mystery of Faithful Love, Sophia Institute Press (1984) 11.

No comments: