Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sex, Satan, and Me: Getting a Grip

This post is about sex, Catholic Style.

Now that I've got your attention, a little background.

I'm a Catholic: an adult convert, so I'm rather gung-ho about my faith.

This post is longer than most 'Sunday' ones: mostly because I discuss a recent Supreme Court decision in the context of love, free will, and Addams Family Values:
There are a few things I must believe, and must do, if I'm going to be Catholic.

For starters, I must love God, love my neighbor, see everybody as my neighbor, and treat others as I want to be treated.

That's not easy, but it's a requirement. (Matthew 5:43-44, 7:12, 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31; Luke 6:31, 10:25-27, 29-37; Catechism, 1789)

More accurately, I must try. I've talked about faith, works, and very bad ideas, before. (March 22, 2015; March 15, 2015)

I also must respect Tradition, with a capital "T:" a living transmission of our faith, managed by the Holy Spirit. (Catechism, 77-79)

Lower-case "tradition," clinging to the world of Leave It to Beaver and Happy Days, is something else. We can't bring back the past. (July 5, 2015)

Accepting the status quo isn't an option, either. One of our jobs is building a better world, moving ahead. (Catechism, 1928-1942, 2419-2442)

I also must believe that I can decide what I do or don't do. I can accept or refuse truth. I have free will. That freedom includes responsibility for consequences of my decisions. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 144, 150, 1730-1742)

Next, why I think Satan isn't a good role model.

Satan, Sin, and Being Human

Angels had free will,1 like us: but unlike us, they don't have bodies. We're very different kinds of creatures, and that's another topic. Topics. (Catechism, 328-330, 355-373)

Satan is our name for an angel who decided that he'd reject God. The first of us, like dummkopfs, listened to him: and we've been dealing with consequences of that decision ever since. (Genesis 3:5; 2 Peter 2:4; Catechism, 391-395, 412)

Satan is not God's evil twin, an opposite and equal power of darkness. He is a powerful creature: but just a creature, a created person like each of us. (Catechism, 285, 395)
"...'The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.' "
(Catechism, 391; quoting Lateran Council IV (1215))
Okay — Satan is a fallen angel, and angels are creatures with no bodies. Then why are there so many pictures of angels and their fallen counterparts?

Short answer: the pictures are visual metaphors. A metaphor is "a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable." (Oxford Dictionaries)

I could decide to follow Satan's example, and say "no" to God: but that doesn't make sense. Not to me. Satan is powerful; but just a creature, like me.

In the end, each of us decides whether we say "yes" or "no" to God. I think following Joshua's and Peter's example makes sense. (Joshua 24:15; John 6:68-69)

That's because I like truth, and think what I do should make sense. Besides, I've found that truth is easier to deal with than lies: in the long run.
"Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as 'an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.'121"
(Catechism, 1849)
We can sin by using our bodies: but our bodies aren't bad. Genesis sums up God's evaluation of the universe, and us:
"God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good...."
(Genesis 1:31)
We're creatures made of the stuff of this world and in the image of God: body and soul, matter and spirit. What we do with our body, mind, and soul — is up to us. (Catechism, 355-373, 1730-1742)

Not Living in the Past

It's been more than a decade since some folks made a big deal out of "family values" — I'll get back to that — and Scott Rudin produced "Addams Family Values."

Some of the "family values" stuff was probably just another campaign slogan or marketing gimmick. But I suspect that other folks who declared their support for "family values" wanted America to return to the 'good old days' of the 1950s.

Ancient Greeks called their 'good old days' the Golden Age, Χρυσὸν Γένος Chryson Genos: a mythological time when everything was spiffy. Other folks had pretty much the same idea, expressing it differently.

Some of my ancestors apparently thought that gullaldr would come after Ragnarök: which they were looking forward to.

That was then, this is now, and I'm a Christian: a Catholic. I take the Bible, Sacred Scripture, very seriously. (Catechism, 101-133)

But I don't assume the Bible was written by a poetically-challenged contemporary Westerner (September 19, 2014)

Getting back to the idea of a Golden Age, what I gather from Genesis 3:1-21 is that the first of us lost no time in messing up our original harmony. (Catechism, 398-400)


Considering the craziness surrounding science and religion since the mid-19th century, I'd better repeat my views —

I could be a Christian, following my Lord, if I believed that we live on a flat plate with nothing but a solid dome between us and the cosmic ocean.

But my faith doesn't depend on ignorance of what we've learned in the last two dozen or so centuries. (March 29, 2015)

I think the universe is billions, not thousands, of years old; Earth isn't flat; Adam and Eve weren't German; poetry isn't science; and thinking is not a sin. (November 21, 2014)

Respect, Dignity, and Drunk Driving

An important 'family value' is respect. Bear with me: this isn't the old fashioned 'I'm your father/husband, so you serve me' thing. Respect goes both ways.

Children have duties, including respect for parents. (Catechism, 2214-2220)

Parents have duties, too. We're to see our kids as children of God, and respect them as human persons. (Catechism, 2221-2231)

The respect between parent and child has its limits. For example, I can't tell my kids to get married — or not get married. Deciding what their jobs will be is out, too: even if it's a family tradition. (Catechism, 2230)

Not all parents observe these principles, more's the pity.

I'm also expected to show respect for the dignity of the human person. (Catechism, 1929-1933, 2284-2301)

The love and respect I should have for others, all others, doesn't include unthinking approval. You may be too young to remember the old "friends don't let friends drive drunk" campaign: but that's the sort of love I'm supposed to have.

Love isn't necessarily approval. Not letting a friend drive drunk is tacit disapproval of his or her decision: but it is, arguably, a loving act. Labeling someone a useless drunkard, maybe not so much. (March 15, 2015)

Attitudes about drunk drivers have changed a lot since the 'good old days,' and the change didn't come easily. Not letting a sozzled buddy have the keys may have ended some friendships: but I'm guessing that it saved a few lives.

Chastity: It's Not What You Think

Sex is not a mistake.
"God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them....

"God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good...."
(Genesis 1:27, 31)
First of all, forget that dusty 'Lives of the Saints' book with its 19th-century illustrations. Not all Saints were darling children dying horribly, or socially-challenged recluses.

True, St. Catherine of Vadstena is notable because she and her husband took a vow of absolute chastity: but she's a daughter of St. Bridget of Sweden.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Thomas More, and Saint Monica, are other married Saints: and so is St. Gianna Beretta Molla, whose canonization ceremony was attended by her husband and children.

Married Saints make sense: given the Catholic idea of chastity.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines chastity as "the state of not having sex with anyone."

As Catholics, my wife and I are supposed to live chaste lives: which, according to Merriam-Webster, would make our kids very hard to explain.

The answer involves what we believe about humans.

We think humans are animals, but not just animals. We're a special sort of animal: endowed with reason, capable of understanding and discernment. (Catechism, 1951)

We think we are people: rational and therefore like God, made in the image and likeness of God; created with free will, masters over our actions. We think all humans are people, with equal dignity: no matter where they are, who they are, or how they act. (Catechism, 360, 1700-1706, 1730-1825, 1932-1933, 1935)

Mind you: being rational, having brains, doesn't mean that we must act rationally. Like I said, we have free will: and can decide to do something daft, or not.

Being animals, humanity is male and female: men and women with "an equal personal dignity."2 (Catechism, 2331-2336)

I've discussed clownfish, banana slugs, the New Mexico whiptail, and getting a grip, before. (April 3, 2015)

That gets me back to the Catholic meaning of "chastity."
"Chastity means the integration of sexuality within the person. It includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery."
(Catechism, 2395)
Someone who lives without sexual intercourse may be living a "chaste" life: or not.
"19 'You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'

"But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
(Matthew 5:27-28)
That does not mean that every time I feel affection for my wife, I'm digging a deeper pit for myself in Hell. Sexuality is part of human nature. We're supposed to be sexual creatures. However, we're also supposed to be rational creatures: making decisions with our brains, not our glands.

Human sexuality is part of our nature. It's good, it's special. But like anything else, it can be misused.3 (Catechism, 2331-2336)

Law, Love, and Nine Judges

If the United States Supreme Court had ruled that OSHA regulations 1926.502(a) through 1926.502(c)(2) were "unconstitutional"4 — I might be explaining why guardrails and safety nets are still a good idea.

That hasn't happened, and I doubt that Congress will try to repeal the law of gravity. But the Supreme Court did decide that same-sex marriage is legal.

I think that's a bad idea, since I think marriage is a profoundly human, sexual, and blessed, union between two people: a man and a woman. (Catechism, 1601-1617, 1621-1624)

My country's highest court has made regrettable judgments before, and probably will again.

I'm nowhere near as upset as some folks apparently are: partly because I've been paying attention to judicial antics for about a half-century now, partly because I know a bit of America's history.

I'm confident that the universe, and humanity, will endure: and that we will still be sorting out this mess a century from now.

Resources listed under "Background," below, show what Catholic bishops in my country and state say about marriage, family, and the recent Supreme Court decision.

I'm not happy about the Supreme Court decision, but — I don't hate people. I'm not allowed to.

If I hated used car salesmen, redheads, or judges: my job would be rooting out that hatred, not expressing it. It's that "love my neighbor" thing.

I certainly don't hate folks who experience sexual urges which aren't just like mine. That'd be daft: and quite hypocritical.

Despite the impression some folks apparently have, the Catholic Church isn't — as far as I can tell — obsessed with sex, and is even less focused on homosexuality. Only three of the Catechism's two dozen or so paragraphs discussing the vocation to chastity, in the Catholic sense, deal with folks who experience homosexual attraction. (Catechism, 2337-2359)

One of those paragraphs includes very direct instructions for everybody else who claims to follow our Lord:
"...They [folks with deep-seated homosexual tendencies] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided...."
(Catechism, 2358)
That "respect, compassion, and sensitivity" has been notably lacking in assorted rants and screeds I've seen since June 26, 2015.

What can I say? Some Christians, including Catholic Christians, aren't exhibiting the love and heroic virtue shown by Saints. And that's another yet topic. (September 1, 2013)

More of my take on life, love, and not being daft:

1 Verb tense is awkward, when describing creatures who live/exist outside time.

Angels, those who decided/decide/will decide/have decided/continue to decide that saying "yes" to God makes sense, are always with God. The angels who decided/decide/will decide/have decided/continue to decide that they'd rather say "no" to God — don't.

"God is infinitely greater than all his works.... To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy...." (Catechism, 300, 600)

The angels who were/are/will be/continue to be with or apart from God — can and do interact with us, but they're not 'inside' space and time as we 'currently' are. (Catechism, 300, 328-333, 391-395, 600, 1085)

2 "Equal dignity" doesn't mean that humanity is — or should be — a bunch of mass-produced identical clones. Some of us are smarter, or less intelligent, stronger or weaker, richer or poorer, more or less talented; than others. Again, that's okay. (Catechism, 1934-1938)

3 Definitions:
"Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes."
(Catechism, 2351)

"SIN: An offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God. In judging the gravity of sin, it is customary to distinguish between mortal and venial sins (1849, 1853, 1854)."
(Catechism, Glossary, S)

4 Give me a running start, and no sense of responsibility, and I might cobble together an argument that gravity is "unconstitutional:" based on emanations from the Constitution's Preamble; and Article I, Section 8. The text mentions liberty and weights — add generous dollops of imagination and pretentious syntax, and gravity might seem optional.


nothingprofound said...

Brian, fascinating how I, an atheist, can agree with you on so many fundamental points, but of course not all. I always enjoy your writing style, how clearly you state your views, and with equal measures of seriousness, sincerity and humor.

Brian Gill said...

Thank you, nothingprofound. That's pretty much what I try to do.

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

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Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.