Friday, November 26, 2010

Condom as Gesture Toward Humanization of the Already Immoral and Diseased

I just realized the point last night: the condom suggestion presupposes Christian anthropology as moral criterion. Benedict XVI is silently referring back to the beginning of his 1990 Address to the bishop's workshop in Texas (reprinted in the 2007 Ignatius book "Conscience"). In brief, the conscience of right and wrong is driven by the life style of giving self or not giving self. This life style is the experience which determines the consciousness of the moral agent. Reread the first part of the paper: "Conscience and Truth." Everybody I've read on the condom issue is assuming (of course) that the moral criterion is the Greek/Stoic notion of "nature." Therefore, to mention condom is to mention contraception, and from there on it is knee-jerk reaction to the condom. Even if it is a gay prostitute, the use of a condom can only be against nature, and therefore it is immoral. Period. The Pope made a mistake and was imprudent!

However, if the ontological moral criterion is the person as relational being, then the damage done to that relationality can be healed by acts of self-donation even concomitant with an intrinsically immoral act of homosexuality. The question is not whether gay sex is right or wrong. It is wrong. It violates the ontological structure of the human person as image and likeness of the divine Persons. The question is whether a gay prostitute can turn from seeking self and absorption with self to a beginning of concern for another by the use of a condom to prevent spreading AIDS to another. Such a turn would not make a homosexual action good. But it could be the beginning of making a homosexual person better as person with the makings for a possible future conversion.

Consider the profound point Ratzinger-Benedict brings up in the beginning of the Address on "Conscience and Truth." He hears talk among theology students in Germany that Hitler and Stalin were probably invincibly ignorant due to the historical milieu in which they found themselves. He writes: "Since that conversation, I knew with complete certainty that something was wrong with the theory of the justifying power of the subjective conscience - that, in other words, a concept of conscience that leads to such results must be false. Firm, subjective conviction and the lack of doubts and scruples that follow from it do no justify man." Becoming acquainted with the work of the psychologist Albert Gorres, Ratzinger found there that "the feeling of guilt, the capacity to recognize guilt, belongs essentially to the spiritual make -up of man. This feeling of guilt disturbs the false calm of conscience and could be called conscience's complaint against my self-satisfied existence. It is as necessary for man as the physical pain that signifies disturbances of normal bodily functioning. Whoever is no longer capable of perceiving guilt is spiritually ill, 'a living corpse, a dramatic character's mask…”[1]

The profound point is this: consciousness and conscience follow on the experience of the self as being. “No one is good but only God” (Mk. 10, 18). We become conscious of the good only in the action and the experience of that action that is in accord with our ontological structure and orientation as relation or self-gift. We are free, and therefore, responsible for achieving that consciousness of the good. To be a gay prostitute speaks of a deadened conscience with regard to the truth of sexuality. Ratzinger quotes Gorres: “Monsters, among other brutes, are the ones without guilt feelings. Perhaps Hitler did no t have any, or Himmler, or Stalin. Maybe Mafia bosses do not have any guilt feelings either, or maybe their remains are just well hidden in the cellar. Even aborted guilt feelings… All men need guilt feelings.”[2] It is in this context that the pope observes that “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.” He is not suggesting the condom as morally acceptable for any form of contraception nor is it the real way “to deal with the evil of HIV infection.” He concludes: “That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality” which consists in the mutual gift of self between a man and a woman. The use of the condom in an already immoral act, he remarks, is not “a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Conscience” Ignatius (2007) 18.

[2] Ibid 18.

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