Engaging a Secularist Regiment

July-August 1998By David R. Carlin

David R. Carlin is Associate Professor of Sociology and Philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island.

The Truth About Homosexuality: The Cry of the Faithful.  By John F. Harvey, O.S.F.S. Ignatius. 377 pages. $17.95.



Back in the days when Stalin was at the height of his power, murdering millions, there was in America a certain curious kind of liberal who was sympathetic to Stalin and Soviet Communism. What was so curious about these liberal “fellow travelers” was that they either didn’t know — or didn’t care — that if the Communists ever did seize power in the U.S., liberals would wind up being shot.

I am reminded of these old lunatic liberals when I observe the support that certain contemporary Christians — including many Catholics, not a few priests among them — give to a movement whose principal aims include the eradication of Christianity. The movement I have in mind is contemporary secularism. Today’s secularists, thankfully, have no plans to shoot Christians. But shooting, as the Communists learned, creates martyrs and stimulates resistance. It has its short-run advantages, but in the long run a more effective way of eliminating your philosophical rivals is by converting them.

In the 19th century the first generations of secularists (they of the “shouting atheist” variety) used to make head-on attacks on Christian doctrine. This kind of attack, however, has gone out of fashion: partly because it was so successful that it is no longer strictly necessary; and partly because it gives offense to the remnant of orthodox Christians and may stimulate a Christian counter-offensive.

The strategy of today’s secularism is instead to bring about a moral revolution that is flatly incompatible with Christian morality. If Christian morality follows logically from Christian doctrine (which it does), then if we reject Christian morality it follows that we should reject Christian doctrine as well.

From the very beginning of Christianity, chastity was considered a virtue. Therefore, say the moral revolutionaries, let’s de-legitimize chastity and thereby de-legitimize Christianity itself. Let’s promote teen sex, premarital sex generally, easy divorce, unmarried cohabitation, condom distribution in public schools, and more.

An unusual respect for life was another distinctive characteristic of Christianity from its earliest days. The new religion strikingly departed from the morality of the ancient Roman-Greek world by prohibiting abortion, suicide, and infanticide. Hence, quite logically, the contemporary moral revolutionaries promote all three.

Of the three, abortion has been marketed most successfully, and it is now as American as apple pie. The campaign to legitimize suicide is now in full swing. Infanticide, it is true, remains a touchy matter. Yet when we attempt to ban “partial-birth abortion” — a form of infanticide — the champions of the secularist revolution do not hesitate to defend the procedure.

It is easy to understand that when the moral revolution was in its early stages, about 30 years ago, many Christians may not have been able to get a clear picture of what was happening. Not seeing that a wholesale assault on Christian morality, hence on Christianity itself, was under way, and being of a tenderhearted disposition (as befits Christians), they understandably may have had a degree of sympathy for those who claimed to be in “pain” as the result of a “puritanical” moral code.

But what excuse do Christians have today? By now what is taking place should be plain to all: not a few debatable reforms, but the complete overthrow of traditional Christian morality. How can Christians, including many Catholics, remain unconcerned about, even be sympathetic with, a moral revolution whose final triumph, could it be carried that far, would mean the destruction of Christianity?

Much of the answer to this question lies in the fact that, under the impact of a couple of centuries of secularism, Christianity has been redefined in the minds of many of its professed adherents. They want to retain the name of Christian; at the same time they want to subscribe to certain non-Christian beliefs and values that have increasingly characterized the modern world. Rejecting orthodox Christianity, they have come up with a hybrid Christianity of their own invention: something that may be described as a quasi-secularist Christianity or a quasi-Christian secularism.

The center of this hybrid religion has been liberal Protestantism, which long ago made a great departure from Christian orthodoxy. In Catholicism the hybrid surfaced about a century ago in the Modernist movement, only to be squelched for a time by Pope Pius X. But it has vigorously resurfaced in the past few decades. Catholic neo-Modernism, which can be sampled each week in the pages of the National Catholic Reporter, is coming to rival liberal Protestantism as another center of hybrid Christianity.

And, of course, once you adopt this hybrid Christianity, it becomes hard to resist the unholy trinity of contemporary secularism — abortion, euthanasia, and homosexual “marriage.”

Mention of this last item brings us to the book under review here. From its earliest days Christianity has condemned homosexual conduct in no uncertain terms — a striking contrast to the rather tolerant attitude toward the practice in the Greco-Roman world. St. Paul mentions it with stern disapproval, and Jesus himself leaves no doubt that old Sodom (like pagan Tyre and Sidon) had been in dire need of repentance (Mt. 11). Thus, the homosexual movement — which has been demanding, fairly successfully to date, that state and society give their stamp of moral approval to homosexual conduct, thereby stigmatizing as “bigots” any Protestants or Catholics who adhere to the traditional Christian teaching on this subject — is one of the regiments in the secularist army attempting the overthrow of Christian morality.

Amazingly, however, many Catholics, including many of the clergy, fail to see this. Quite the contrary, they are convinced that it is their Christian duty to sympathize with the homosexual movement, to lend it at least their moral support, if not more tangible aid. They have bought the party line that those who openly disapprove of homosexuality are motivated by bigotry. Since bigotry is un-Christian, and since the homosexual movement is said to be in the forefront of the fight against today’s “bigotry,” then it follows that good Christians must support that movement.

Fr. John Harvey, the author of The Truth About Homosexuality, proves by example that one can show a Christian sympathy to homosexuals without becoming a fellow traveler of the anti-Christian homosexual movement. Fr. Harvey combines loyalty to traditional Catholic moral teaching with genuine sympathy for the plight of homosexuals. He regards homosexual conduct as immoral; he views the homosexual orientation not as sinful in itself but as tending to immorality; and as a pastor he sees it as his responsibility to help such persons lead moral lives — lives which, among other things, are free of homosexual conduct.

Unlike some Christians who pontificate on these matters, Harvey, who has spent decades doing pastoral work with Catholic homosexuals, is a realist. Living a Catholic life while having a homosexual orientation is, he knows, an extraordinarily difficult achievement. If you are a pastor looking for a quick and easy way of dealing with homosexuality, this is not the book for you. There is no quick and easy way.

Harvey is the founder of Courage (1-212-421-0426), an organization which, combining prayer with the 12-step method of Alcoholics Anonymous, encourages and strengthens Catholics of homosexual orientation who wish to lead chaste lives. Recently Courage has helped some of its members — but by no means all, for this is not a path realistically open to all — to achieve conversion to a heterosexual orientation. The homosexual movement, of course, holds that such conversions are impossible: “Once gay, always gay.” According to Harvey, the evidence indicates otherwise: Given the right combination of psychotherapy, group support (e.g., Courage), prayer, and patience, conversions are often achieved.

The book’s subtitle (The Cry of the Faithful) may be a bit misleading, since it suggests an emotional tone which is not at all present in the book. On the contrary, the book is dry — one might almost say too dry — except that in this case, dealing with a topic that is normally so laden with emotion, dryness is a virtue. The author’s intention, as his title says, is to present the truth about homosexuality, and this is best done in an unemotional way.

The book’s contents pretty much cover the waterfront. Its chapters deal at length with the following topics: the nature and history of Courage, the psychology of homosexuality, changing one’s sexual orientation, sexual abstinence for homosexuals, Catholic moral teaching on homosexuality, pastoral perspectives, politics and the homosexual movement, a Catholic view of same-sex “marriage,” and lesbianism.

The Truth About Homosexuality should prove useful for at least three sorts of readers: those engaged in Catholic pastoral work among homosexuals; Catholics confronting the homosexual movement on the plane of politics; and Catholics involved in the intra-Church struggle over how to deal with the question of homosexuality. Recommended. n



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