The causes of homosexuality are infamously difficult to pin down. Science (in the American Psychological Association) and religion (in the Catechism of the Catholic Church) have agreed that, in the current state of things, there is no single cause to which we can definitively point and say, “Here, we have found it!” Indeed, in some circles, the discussion is about homosexualities, to remain open to the possibility that one person’s homosexuality might not have the same origin as another person’s homosexuality. These questions never cease to intrigue, and once again, they have hit the news with a new study suggesting that epigenetics may lie at the root of the development of homosexual orientation.
Investigations of the etiology of homosexuality may be interesting, especially insofar as they shed light on the origins of human sexuality in general. However, these investigations have tended to be ideologically driven on all sides. This has particularly tended to manifest around the idea that one is “born gay,” with many gay activists flatly refusing to consider the possibility that a gay person is not “born gay,” while many religious conservatives have responded with a mirror refusal to consider the possibility that one is. What exactly is meant by “born gay” often seems to have little significance; the phrase itself becomes the shibboleth which one camp must blindly accept and the other must utterly anathematize.
This ideological commitment to a particular answer to these questions suggests underlying premises. It seems that all are agreed that, if one is born gay, it would necessitate revising traditional morality in ways which one side wants, and the other does not. There seems to be an echo of the old zoological argument, where one points to homosexuality among bonobos and dolphins to prove that it should not be opposed among human beings. There, the traditional moralist was usually quick to see through the facade, and see that “nature” was being used equivocally.
But the fact that we are now talking about human beings does not mean that our understanding of nature is in any more danger than it was with the bonobo. From a theological perspective, “natural” does not mean “biological” or even, despite etymological origins, “inborn.” The Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et Spes tells us the kind of questions we really need to look for, if we are to understand nature theologically. “What is the ultimate significance of human activity throughout the world?” Indeed, “What is man?” The same document provides us with the answer we seek to these questions: “Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”
The normative status of Christ’s humanity is not only expressed in the head, but in the body as well. It is expressed in Christ’s example and the teaching of the Church he established, with the firm assurance that “the gates of Hell will not prevail against it,” that we learn the answer to the questions at hand. What does it mean to be a human being? What is the end to which human beings are called? How are human beings to order their lives and affections?
Because our answers to these questions are not fundamentally biological, but teleological and mediated through the teaching of Christ’s Church, the questions that fall within the scope of science offer no threat to our perspectives on sexual ethics. This is not to say that there is no value to the investigation. Scientific inquiry is capable of functioning as an act of worship to the Creator of an intelligible world. What it does mean is that our theological anthropology is not changed by the outcome. Where the obscure origins of homosexuality can seem like a darkness, our guiding light is not biology, but Christ and his Church. This light is not swallowed up by the darkness, but shines through it, lighting our path so that we need fear nothing hidden by the shadows of uncertainty.
Joshua Gonnerman lives in Washington, D. C., where he is a doctoral student in historical theology at the Catholic University of America.
Study Finds Epigenetics, Not Genetics, Underlies Homosexuality
Homosexuality as a Consequence of Epigenetically Canalized Sexual Development
Alan Yoshioka, The Latest Gay Genetics Claim—Chill, People
Joshua Gonnerman, False Hope
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