Against Obsessive Sexuality

From Web Exclusives

For the March issue of First Things, I wrote an essay called “Against Heterosexuality.” In brief, my argument was that the concept of sexual orientation is not historically inevitable, not empirically accurate, and not morally useful. The heterosexual-homosexual dichotomy is counterproductive to encouraging the virtue of chastity, so we Christians should do our best to eliminate “gay” and “straight”—especially “straight,” actually—from the way we think and talk about sex, always with prudence directing us as to the particulars. Continue Reading »

Against Heterosexuality

From the March 2014 Print Edition

Alasdair MacIntyre once quipped that “facts, like telescopes and wigs for gentlemen, were a seventeenth-century invention.” Something similar can be said about sexual orientation: Heterosexuals, like typewriters and urinals (also, obviously, for gentlemen), were an invention of the 1860s. Contrary to our cultural preconceptions and the lies of what has come to be called “orientation essentialism,” “straight” and “gay” are not ageless absolutes. Sexual orientation is a conceptual scheme with a history, and a dark one at that. It is a history that began far more recently than most people know, and it is one that will likely end much sooner than most people think.Over the course of several centuries, the West had progressively abandoned Christianity’s marital architecture for human sexuality. Then, about one hundred and fifty years ago, it began to replace that longstanding teleological tradition with a brand new creation: the absolutist but absurd taxonomy of sexual orientations. Heterosexuality was made to serve as this fanciful framework’s regulating ideal, preserving the social prohibitions against sodomy and other sexual debaucheries without requiring recourse to the procreative nature of human sexuality.On this novel account, same-sex sex acts were wrong not because they spurn the rational-animal purpose of sex—namely the family—but rather because the desire for these actions allegedly arises from a distasteful psychological disorder. As queer theorist Hanne Blank recounts, “This new concept [of heterosexuality], gussied up in a mangled mix of impressive-sounding dead languages, gave old orthodoxies a new and vibrant lease on life by suggesting, in authoritative tones, that science had effectively pronounced them natural, inevitable, and innate.”Sexual orientation has not provided the dependable underpinning for virtue that its inventors hoped it would, especially lately. Nevertheless, many conservative-minded Christians today feel that we should continue to enshrine the gay–straight divide and the heterosexual ideal in our popular catechesis, since that still seems to them the best way to make our moral maxims appear reasonable and attractive.These Christian compatriots of mine are wrong to cling so tightly to sexual orientation, confusing our unprecedented and unsuccessful apologia for chastity with its eternal foundation. We do not need “heteronormativity” to defend against debauchery. On the contrary, it is just getting in our way. Continue Reading »

Some Millennial Frustration with America’s New Evangelization

From Web Exclusives

I have an awkward confession to make. When I hear American Catholics cheerlead the New Evangelization, I’m sorry to say, I become very skeptical very quickly. As they unpack their bold vision for evangelical reform, I start feeling a lot like Mugatu, who, in an exasperated breakdown at the end of the 2001 film Zoolander, famously exclaimed, “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!” Continue Reading »

Sexual Disorientation: The Trouble with Talking about “Gayness”

From Web Exclusives

In the wake of Pope Francis’ virally circulated airplane interview, orthodox Catholic writers from every corner of the blogosphere have united in defense of our Holy Father, against the bizarre and ignorant statements of the popular media. Whether attacking the Times et al. for skewing the story to advance their own agenda, or complimenting the pope for using an unsuspecting press to help him broadcast Gospel truths, almost all such authors have agreed in insisting that there was nothing contrary to doctrine in the matter of our pontiff’s remarks. On this point, I certainly agree as well. “Judge not” is hardly foreign to Christianity… . Continue Reading »

The Dominic Option

From First Thoughts

Along with a couple members of the First Things editorial staff, I was blessed to spend this past weekend on the gorgeous Maryland coast. The occasion was the first annual Fare Forward Summer Symposium. In case you missed the First Thoughts and While We’re At It write-ups a while back, Fare . . . . Continue Reading »

Love God and Do What You Will: Avoiding Over-Devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Discernment

From Web Exclusives

In so many Christian contexts today, it is almost impossible to avoid hearing about the importance of discerning one’s “personal vocation.” This label, apparently, is meant to denote the specific calling God gives to each individual, through which each is to live out his own particular call to holiness. Yet this language reflects only a half-truth. We are indeed meant to follow the will of God in all that we do. But such popular talk of one’s “calling” also betrays a crucial misunderstanding of discernment, a cardinal error that is entirely foreign to the great tradition of the Church… . Continue Reading »

Peace If Possible; Truth At All Costs

From Web Exclusives

“Peace if possible, truth at all costs!” Thus heralded Martin Luther half a millennium ago, and let no man accuse him of failing to practice what he preached. Of course, whether or not a Christian agrees with Luther’s particular interpretation of truth will determine whether he is a Catholic or a Protestant. But less obviously and perhaps more interestingly, whether or not a modern American agrees with Luther’s principle”that despite the very real goodness of peace, truth trumps it each and every time”will in large part determine whether he is a conservative or a liberal… . Continue Reading »