Sodom & the City of God
A RESPONSE TO THE NEW OXFORD REVIEW
Ed. Note: In the January 2003 NOR, in regard to the NOR’s use of the word “fag,” an Anonymous letter-writer who belongs to Courage (an orthodox Catholic group that helps those with same-sex attractions observe chastity) said: “Perhaps instead of spending many paragraphs engaging in a contrived linguistic exercise [about the word ‘fag’], you could run a piece about the ministry of Courage and how it has changed the lives of so many men and women.” We responded in the same issue: “We’re all in favor of Courage, and we’ve described Courage’s vitally important work in several issues of the NOR. No, we haven’t presented the kind of first-person account you’re asking for, but we’d love to print such a piece, even if pseudonyms are used….” Ron Belgau (not a pseudonym) has taken us up on the offer. His article is most riveting (and was written before our further comments on the subject in our May issue, pp. 14-17). While we still believe that the word “fag” should be kept in common parlance (though not abused in the way Mr. Belgau points out), we choose to honor Mr. Belgau’s courage and fidelity by not responding. Readers who wish to respond are free to do so.
The editors of the NOR say they would call a homosexually oriented man who belongs to Courage and is living chastely a “saint” (Nov. 2002, p. 6). I cannot of course speak for others in Courage; but for myself I deny the attribution categorically. The road to holiness climbs far beyond Himalayan heights, and I am yet only in the lowest foothills.
Leaving aside the other six deadly sins (all of which have a good record of pulling me off-track), there is far more to the perfected chastity of sainthood than abstinence from sexual acts with other men. For what the achievement is worth (and it is certainly not worthless), I have maintained that abstinence all my life; but I must still strive daily to achieve custody of the eyes, modesty in speech, and purity of heart. When I fail (as I often do), you will find me in church Saturday morning, standing in line at the confessional. A saint in the making I certainly strive to be. But a saint I most emphatically am not.
I was raised a conservative Protestant. This brought with it a very strong commitment to “family values.” But that term in itself suggests a problem. “Values” are subjective: I do not necessarily “value” the same things you do. There is a world of difference between Catholic sexual ethics (which are grounded in the objective revelation of God) and “family values” (which may in some ways resemble Catholic belief, but which are ultimately subjective and grounded in what I want, not what is objectively true). My church prized fidelity in marriage, but allowed divorce when the marriage got unbearable in the partners’ eyes (and hence not “valuable”); then, because we “valued” marriage, it was obvious that we should allow divorced people to remarry, because lifelong continence was impossible, unreasonable. From this emphasis on the subjective, it followed that children should only be “valued” when the couple wanted them; so contraceptives were accepted as a matter of course.
Natural Family Planning was unthinkable because it was too much of a burden for married couples to abstain for a week or so each month. But if this was so, it seemed to me a little unrealistic to expect complete abstinence from teens. And, indeed, many adults did not expect it: One youth group leader said that masturbation was O.K. as long as it was not lustful — a position which now seems about as logical as saying that swimming is fine as long as you don’t get wet, but which seemed very “practical” and “pastoral” at the time.
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