Letters to the Editor: April 2020
The Devil’s Word Games
In his excellent article “‘Homosexuality’ as a Philological Problem” (Jan.-Feb.), R.V. Young says that the term homosexuality first came into English in 1892, in a translation of Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathologia Sexualis, which treated sodomy as a medical problem rather than as a sin, and that Havelock Ellis took it up “enthusiastically” in 1897, in his Studies in the Psychology of Sex. I would like to add the following note to Young’s mention of Ellis, the atheist lover and mentor of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood.
According to Ellen Chesler’s Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America (2007), Ellis taught Sanger from 1914 onward that sex was only a matter of biology and anthropology. Chesler, who made use of the archives in Smith College and the Library of Congress for her definitive biography, says it is “virtually impossible to overestimate” Ellis’s influence on Sanger. In the course of their adulterous relationship, Sanger ingested Ellis’s research and theories uncritically and made them the “scientific” foundation of her life and work.
Ellis produced the first clinical study of homosexuals, “claimed their orientation was genetic, and demanded legal protection for them.” From his pseudo-scientific viewpoint rooted in Herbert Spencer’s evolutionism, he championed sex-education for children, supported organized feminism, and denied that sadism and masochism were perversions.
Besides filling Sanger with his radical views, Ellis also introduced her to occult spirituality, explaining that “science” and this sort of “mysticism” were not in conflict. Sanger was long plagued by dejection, and she ended up seeking out psychics and theosophists for the next 40-plus years, up to the end of her life.
Young is absolutely right that the term homosexual “does not reflect reality, and, therefore, results in moral confusion.” My late husband, Tom Gardiner, absolutely refused to use the term. He said that the words “homosexual and heterosexual reduced perverted and normal to vanilla and chocolate.”
Anne Barbeau Gardiner
Brewster, New York
R.V. Young’s article on homosexuality as a linguistic nightmare was spot-on. At the heart of homosexuality is the issue of sodomite lust. It is reprehensible that the word sodomy cannot be found in the index of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
In the 11th century, a Benedictine monk and bishop, St. Peter Damian, pleaded with successive popes of his era to eradicate the sodomite clergy who were running riot throughout the Church. In his Book of Gomorrah (published ca. 1049), St. Peter Damian writes, “A certain most abominable and exceedingly disgraceful vice has grown in our region, and unless it is quickly met with the hand of strict chastisement, it is certain that the sword of divine fury is looming to attack, to the destruction of many. Alas, it is shameful to speak of it! It is shameful to relate such a disgusting scandal to sacred ears! But if the doctor fears the virus of the plague, who will apply the cauterization? If he is nauseated by those whom he is to cure, who will lead sick souls back to the state of health? The cancer of sodomitic impurity is thus creeping through the clerical order, and indeed is raging like a cruel beast within the sheepfold of Christ…. And unless the force of the Apostolic See opposes it as quickly as possible, there is no doubt that when it finally wishes for the unbridled evil to be restrained, it may not be possible to halt the fury of its advance.”
Have we arrived at that point today?
This is the article I’ve been waiting for! When my deacon used the word gender, I asked him why, and he said because when sex is used, people think of the sexual act and not what sex really means. Talk about “the damage being done by dubious terminology”! The Devil is playing word games, and Catholics have fallen for it hook, line, and sinker. I try to teach my children that words have meaning. I pray that one day it’ll sink into their heads.
Want to change the culture? Change the meaning of words. And go after the children. Ever wonder who played this game before?
Ed. Note: In case readers can’t come up with a ready reply to Mr. Szwajkowski’s question, associate editor Michael S. Rose, in his latest Literature Matters column in this issue, offers an illuminating exploration of how altering the meaning of words affects a culture.
While accompanying my granddaughter for some testing at the University of Minnesota, I bumped into one of the leaders of the university’s famous “Twin Study Program.” We got to talking about identical twins raised apart, and eventually I asked him if there is scientific proof that homosexuality is genetically determined. He said there is some evidence that males might be predisposed to homosexuality because of their genetic makeup, but there is no evidence that women are genetically predisposed. He said the genetic origins of homosexuality are not proven science at this time, but it is not ruled out.
The study of identical twins raised apart is rarely used to discuss the hows and whys and wherefores of homosexuality, as it threatens the pro-gay lobby. More study in this area could clarify the issues surrounding homosexuality and help separate fact from fiction.
St. Paul, Minnesota
R.V. YOUNG REPLIES:
I am most grateful to all these correspondents for their kind words about my article “‘Homosexuality’ as a Philological Problem” and for the further information and insights they have provided about the subject. Nothing is more gratifying for a writer than to see that his work has inspired astute reflection among his readers on the topic he has broached.
Anne Barbeau Gardiner usefully expatiates on my curt reference to Havelock Ellis by reminding us that the man who introduced homosexuality into English did so in the service of an especially pernicious agenda, and that, through his intense influence on Margaret Sanger, he bears grave responsibility for the mass murder of unborn children through abortion as well as the normalization of perversion. Hence, he is implicated in two of the sins “crying to Heaven for vengeance”: the shedding of innocent blood and the sin of Sodom.
Carl Sundell reminds us that the problem of sodomy, especially among men in holy orders, is not new by calling our attention to St. Peter Damian’s polemic against this vice in the 11th century. It is worth pointing out that a new translation of St. Peter’s work, with a solid introduction and commentary by Matthew Cullinan Hoffman, is available as The Book of Gomorrah and St. Peter Damian’s Struggle Against Ecclesiastical Corruption (2015) in both print and eBook editions.
Darren Szwajkowski provides a concrete example of the moral deception effected by verbal manipulation and raises a pertinent question, “Who played this game before?” My first thought was Satan, especially as portrayed by Milton in Paradise Lost, as a serpent tempting Eve. When she hesitates to eat the forbidden fruit, because the penalty for disobeying God’s prohibition is death, Satan assures her that God could not possibly forbid her to eat what would increase her knowledge, as knowledge is a good; hence, a God who offers such a prohibition could not really be divine and, therefore, ought not to be obeyed. Actually, Satan continues, God must be issuing empty threats to keep Eve fearful and subordinate, because she, too, could be divine. The tempter concludes with a classic bit of redefinition: “So ye shall die, perhaps, by putting off / Human, to put on Gods, a death to be wisht” (IX. 713-714). When I taught this poem to university students, I used to quip that Satan was the first modern theologian.
Finally, Arthur Bowman proffers the sensible suggestion that longitudinal studies of the sexual behavior of identical twins might furnish a practical means of determining whether a “homosexual” disposition is innate (God made me this way, as “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg would have it) or acquired from external influences. I should point out that on August 29 of last year, the journal Science published a massive study of nearly 500,000 genomes, which suggested that though “sexual preference has a genetic component,” no single gene has a determining effect on sexual behavior, and none of the genetic “markers” are reliable enough to predict someone’s sexuality. The commonsense inference to be drawn is that sexual conduct, like almost every other human practice, has both genetic and acquired aspects, neither of which is dispositive even in our fallen world. We are, after all, creatures with free will.
Once again, I thank the writers of each of these letters for their thoughtful contributions to this discussion.
Ed. Note: For a consideration of the genome study and how it relates to free will, see Christopher M. Reilly’s article “The Short-Lived ‘Gay Gene’” (Nov.).
Why the Trigger Warning?
I noted with some dismay that the editor thought it necessary to attach a “trigger warning” to R.V. Young’s article “‘Homosexuality’ as a Philological Problem” (Jan.-Feb.). When did the NOR begin giving ground to political correctness? And when did the NOR readership become the sort of people who need be warned that they might find an article regarding sodomy less than pleasant reading?
Br. Rex Anthony Norris
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
Believe it or not, this wasn’t the first time we’ve “warned” readers that an article contains explicit descriptions of sexual acts. In fact, we’ve done so on several occasions throughout our history — most notoriously (and most amusingly) when then-editor Dale Vree, of happy memory, appended the following precautionary note to “A Rosy Future for Same-Sex ‘Marriage’?” (June 2005) by Leland D. Peterson, also of happy memory: “This article contains sexually graphic content, which is unavoidable given the topic. This article may make you throw up, in which case YOU SHOULD NOT READ IT. If you do read it, don’t send us any letter of complaint. You’ve been forewarned.”
We don’t think it’s PC to warn readers that such content could trigger upset stomachs or indigestion!
Conservatism’s Unintelligent Design
The extraordinary Jason M. Morgan has written another illuminating column, this time on the failure of a species of conservatives to anchor their conservatism in God (“Conservatism: The God That Failed,” Cultural Counterpoint, Dec.).
There is no question that Christianity since the 19th century has been preempted by Flannery O’Connor’s “Church of Christ without Christ,” and that within this pretend Christianity, all manner of false prophecies of dawning utopias have been made, some based on a world of free sex and free-trade libertarianism, a “let’s-all-just-get-along” communitarianism, a John Lennon “imagining” of an earthly Eden, and other excesses. Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche predicted that such nostrums could not fill the void left by God’s demise, not to mention how such nostrums would empty the pockets of productive people.
Morgan thinks that George Will, the late Charles Krauthammer, and Jonah Goldberg have ignored that prediction. I agree; indeed, I stopped reading Will and Krauthammer some time ago. What finally put me off was their failure to understand “intelligent design,” each parroting the rumor that intelligent design is an anti-science shill for “creationism.” Did their atheism dictate that science deal exclusively with material causes and ignore final causes? Apparently, they are unaware that science, from its inception in Europe’s medieval universities, dealt with final causes; thus, they themselves are anti-science.
Morgan puts Goldberg in the same category as the former duo because each wrongly traces his intellectual lineage to the Enlightenment. However, in Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism (2008) and Suicide of the West (2018), his atheism remains ambiguous, though both books show a deep understanding of how modern gnosticisms like progressivism, Marxism, and fascism fill the spiritual hole caused by God’s absence. (The late A. James Gregor, an NOR contributor, is a significant source in Liberal Fascism.)
Morgan concludes by calling for a rebuilding of the Church. Will the body politic in the form of a refashioned Republican Party under Donald Trump be a significant force in this rebuilding? The President’s most loyal supporters are social conservatives, though they are routinely scolded for supporting such a renowned scofflaw.
However, consider the lives of King David and Paul of Tarsus. If still unconvinced, try Morris West’s The Devil’s Advocate for a portrait of how a fallen man can attain sainthood.
JASON M. MORGAN REPLIES:
I am humbled by Mr. Scambray’s kind words and gladdened that my column has hit home for so many [see, e.g., “If Not ‘Conservative,’ Then What?” letters, March — Ed.]. On intelligent design, I have long enjoyed the works of William Dembski and the Discovery Institute. Edward Feser’s most recent book, Aristotle’s Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science, has a very good section about intelligent design and teleology that reaffirmed for me that the recovery of a real science — the reintegration of human reason into the design of God — is crucial for rebuilding a human civilization.
As for Trump, I would argue that he is not a conservative at all but a deeply flawed Christian. That gives me enormous hope. An ideologue is unreachable, but a broken man is a man ready to be redeemed.
This is where we must all start, isn’t it? Not with the repair of a political program but with a turn of the heart. When a false god fails, let us remember our birthright and go back to our Father’s house, leaving all the old idols behind.
Shame & Surety
There is much of value that I would agree with in Casey Chalk’s column “Overcoming the Evils of Ecclesial Division” (Revert’s Rostrum, Jan.-Feb.) if it were not so choked with weeds in its expression.
For example, Chalk writes, “Christian disunity must be something for which we should all feel a sense of shame.” Why should I feel “shame” for the choices of those who created or maintain Christian disunity, especially when I support and seek to promote unity as best I can? Yes, I have sorrow and regret for any defects in my attempts to replace the darkness of error with light, but I decline to confuse such faults, serious as they are, with ignoring, defending, minimizing, encouraging, or promoting disunity.
Chalk also writes that “most Catholics who criticize perceived inadequacies in Protestantism…haven’t read Luther or Calvin” (emphasis added). It’s true that I haven’t read a word of the writings of Luther or Calvin. And I have absolutely no desire to do so. Why would any sensible person want to immerse himself in an ably written source of material loaded with deadly errors? I have listened to and read many other Protestants’ deeply flawed theories throughout my life, beginning soon after my conversion to the Catholic faith just after graduating from high school.
Most egregiously, Chalk writes, quoting Karl Barth, “‘If a person is absolutely sure that he will be vindicated when confronting the other, he can afford to let himself be subject to the give and take of questioning without ever growing less sure of his own position.’ Yet such ‘absolute surety’ undermines any ecumenical dialogue before it begins because it demonstrates an unwillingness to be transparent about our own intellectual vulnerability. Such openness is fundamental to our faith” (emphasis added). The well-concealed, effective meaning of that quote translates as: There can be no ecumenical dialogue unless you first doubt the gift of faith you have from God. Such doubt is fundamental to our faith.
Let me be clear. There is an enormous and sinful difference between doubting the faith that we believe is a gift from God and recognizing the obvious fact that because we are fallible it is possible that we might be wrong in what we believe is true faith. Huge numbers of people are obviously wrong in what they believe is true faith from God. Thus, I fully recognize the possibility that I might be wrong, without doubting in the least the faith that I believe is a gift from God. Nor would I have any difficulty in exchanging details of our differing faiths with anyone who starts from the one shared view of faith.
James J. Harris
San Diego, California
CASEY CHALK REPLIES:
I’m grateful to Mr. Harris for acknowledging the value in my column, despite its apparent “weeds.”
Why should Catholics who are affiliated with an institution that is the locus of ecclesial unity feel shame? First, because our own Catechism states that all sides share blame in our current ecclesial divisions: “In subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church — for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame” (no. 817). Second, because ecclesial division is part of our shared inheritance as members of Christ’s body, even if we have not contributed to it personally. By analogy, we feel shame for any of the sins of the Church: abuse, corruption, or violence. We are all members of the mystical body of Christ, and thus we share in both its sufferings and its joys (cf. 1 Cor. 12). We are not, pace much of Protestantism, atomized and self-sovereign Christians, but mystically united in Christ.
If Luther and Calvin are wrong, asks Harris, why study them? Of course, many a confident Protestant — and I myself was one! — would say the same thing about Catholic writings. The Protestant views many conciliar documents, both pre- and post-Tridentine, as erroneous, if not a bunch of superstitious, extra-biblical rubbish. Yet, if the Protestant wants to engage in charitable, mature dialogue on what Catholicism teaches, he needs to know about them, which presupposes reading them. And this goes far beyond ecumenical dialogue. I disagree with the philosophical tenets of Marx, Nietzsche, and Foucault, yet my disagreement will be more informed and carry more weight if I have actually read them.
Harris also claims that when I argue, citing Barth, that Christians need to approach dialogue with something less than absolute surety in the truth of their own convictions, I am, in effect, arguing that we should “doubt the gift of faith” given by God. Yet I did not argue that Catholics, or any Christians, should “doubt” their faith. Rather, I posited that we need to be open to the possibility of errors in our own thinking. For a Christian to enter a conversation and be willing to consider the possibility of personal error is not the same his doubting his convictions. Doubt is a state in which one’s mind is suspended between two contradictory propositions and unable to assent to either of them. One can still assent to tenets of the Christian faith while contemplating the possibility of their error. The person with “absolute surety,” as Barth defines this phrase, can’t do this because he can’t genuinely contemplate the possibility that he might be wrong.
A common trend among Protestant fundamentalists, speaking as a former one myself, is this conflation of doubt with contemplating the possibility of error in one’s beliefs, as if just imagining that one is wrong would open the door to Satan’s machinations. Thus, it seems that Harris’s criticisms evince a Protestant paradigm more than a Catholic one.
Insightful & Inciteful
I thoroughly enjoy your publication. The articles are insightful — and inciteful! Here in the Texas State prison system, we are truly a “captive audience” informed by the mainstream media and the few periodicals that take us outside the box of groupthink.
I am grateful for the NOR’s scholarship subscriptions available to persons such as myself, and I request your generosity continue to be extended uninterrupted.
May God continue to turn His face toward you and bless you and those who use this medium to engage the ignorant world.
Alfred D. Hughes Unit
I would like, first of all, to thank you for my subscription to the NOR. I have read each issue cover to cover for the past year. Once I am done, I share them with our daily prayer group participants.
Your magazine has been inspiring, concise, and provocative at times. I love it!
If it is possible, I would like to respectfully request another year’s subscription.
My prayers and those of our daily prayer group are with all of you at the NOR.
South Florida Reception Center, South Unit
I am serving a natural “life” sentence in a Louisiana prison for something I never did. I would like to share my story and life-changing experience, and talk about the person responsible for my living and growth — a person NOR readers know quite well.
In the beginning, we were four siblings, three boys and a girl. Our dad passed away in 1983, leaving us to a life of sexual, physical, and mental abuse. My younger brother and sister both committed suicide years ago. Then I tried twice (here in prison). My older brother committed suicide last year.
I had given up years ago. Then God sent an earth angel my way, Anne Barbeau Gardiner. She, being very patient, understanding, and wise, helped me rebound and find my way. I started seeing value in myself, loving life, and believing again. I got my GED (in six weeks) and finished at the top of my class. I took vocational classes and several self-help classes, transition classes, life-skills classes, pre-release classes, etc. I also studied psychology and human behavior, trying to figure out where we went wrong.
I am a Catholic. I read and study constantly to better my understanding and growth, and to keep my sanity and hope. I know I’m a good person, full of life and love. I pray for one chance to live.
I owe my life and growth to Mrs. Gardiner. Were it not for her, I would have joined my siblings by now. She sees value in me, somehow, and she has encouraged me to look at life differently, to keep hope, to believe in miracles, and to trust in our Blessed Mother. Mrs. Gardiner is a wonderful person and a wonderful Christian, a true value to life itself. Please pray for her.
Our Lord knows the truth of my case, life, heart, mind, and being. I just go forth with that. May God have mercy on me, and may He bless you all.
Elayn Hunt Correctional Center
St. Gabriel, Louisiana
Ed. Note: The first two of these imprisoned correspondents are beneficiaries of the NOR’s Scholarship Fund, through which gratis subscriptions are given to those who cannot afford them.
To submit a Letter to the Editor, click here: https://www.newoxfordreview.org/contact-us/letters-to-the-editor/
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