Concupiscence and the Myth of “Straight” Sexuality

lust

I wish to offer some thoughts on the topic of homosexual desire from a Christian perspective. I am no expert theologian or natural law jurist, so I may very well be swinging wide with what I say.

When Our Lord, in His Sermon on the Mount, says that “whoever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” He articulates a standard of Law which does indeed condemn sins of the heart, i.e., “disordered desires,” if we wish to speak more classically/Platonically. The Christian shorthand for this is simply “lust.”

So, what if a man looks at another man lustfully? Would it not be accurate to say that he “commits sodomy in his heart”? In both cases the sin of lust is the “genus”, and by itself it condemns us, regardless of whether or not it is augmented by further sins of commission, and regardless of whether these sins of commission are described using the Hebrew logism “sodomy” (which Merriam-Webster says was first used in the 13C.), the Greek-derived “pederasty” (which isn’t as specific, as it refers to a form of homosexual pedophilia), the British “buggery,” or some such like. We might define lust simply as “desire for that which is not given.” Sex with women who aren’t your wife? Not given. Sex with men? Not given. Sex with animals? Not given. Sex with yourself? Not given. Indeed, these are all species of porneia, “sexual immorality.” St. Thomas Aquinas calls them “sins against nature” for they all separate the expression of sexuality from its telos.

Porneia, “sexual immorality.” That’s pretty general, and I think it can afford to be: the Law that’s written on men’s hearts can fill in the specific content, and the Decalogue (and Leviticus) can further deprive us of the excuse of ignorance. No man is unaware of what his sex-organs are capable of. We might have a debate about whether genitalia are “for” procreation in an overarching sense or whether procreation is merely one of their purposes that is separable from the rest. Frankly, I’d like to avoid that discussion at least for now. Whatever one thinks of that whole matter, no man worries (or hopes) that he’s going to get another man pregnant. I guess you could say that sodomy is kind of, you know, a failsafe contraceptive, if that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for.

Back to the subject of lust. Still being theological, and hopefully logical…

Here’s one line of argument:

1. Homosexuality as ontological category:

Say you’re a man who’s sexually attracted to other men—you’re a homosexual.

But, of course, desire is not static. The foregoing line of argument makes use of “homosexual” as an ontological signifier—a category, if you will. But what if we considered the phenomenon of “homosexuality” rather than the category of “homosexual”?

2. Homosexuality as phenomenological event:

Say you’re a man who’s sexually attracted to other men—you’re experiencing homosexual attraction.

Kind of a truism. But this raises further questions. Will you experience it tomorrow? Are you experiencing it all of the time? Did you experience it at one point? Were you sexually attracted to a specific man, but not men in general? We could ask a thousand more such questions, but, O-K, this is getting a little Dostoevskian.

All I know for sure is that you can’t necessarily extrapolate that such a man is a “homosexual.” He could be. But he could also just be sixteen and at a public high school. He is, quite simply, a man. Homosexuality thus considered is an event, not a condition. The condition is simply the human condition; it is, by nature, complex. This seems to me to be much more honest as a starting-point, whether you’re a psychologist, a philosopher, a theologian, or what have you. If you press me, though, I’m going to say that in the final estimation, “homosexual” is at best a description of certain desires, not of certain people. This isn’t a religious statement: sound psychology and biology attests the fluidity of sexual attraction. Sexual orientation is a fiction: one’s sexual desires are not fixed the way one’s ethnicity is. However, the LQBTQ(…) lobby defends with religious zeal the contention that “sexual orientation” is a thing every bit as intrinsic to a man’s humanity as his ethnic extraction.

I firmly believe that it is just a matter of time before pedophilia, necrophilia, bestiality, kleptomania, pseudologia fantastica, psychopathy, etc., all acquire a similar blessed and protected status. In the United States there exists this marvelous legal penumbra from Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which has without a doubt primed the pump for such acceptance: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” So that’s what’s at the heart of liberty! Now you know. If evidence of birds coming home to roost need be adduced, look no further than the fact that in December of 2012 the APA classified pedophilia as a “sexual orientation” in the DSM-5. While they ultimately reneged on this phraseology in the face of public outcry, I expect that it’s only a matter of time before “pedophilia” is removed from the roster of mental disorders completely, just like “homosexuality” was back in 1973. So it goes.

But I digress. Something remains to be said regarding the hamartiology of homosexual lust, as this is my main concern as a theologian and seminarist. What stays the same regardless of whether one employs ontological language or phenomenological language as one’s rubric when speaking of homosexuality is this:

Say you’re a man who’s sexually attracted to other men (consistently or episodically, it does’t matter) and you lust after them and/or commit sodomitical acts with them—the Law says that you’re a sodomite. Say you’re a man who’s sexually attracted to women (consistently or episodically, it does’t matter) and you lust after them and/or commit heterosexual acts with them—the Law says that you’re an adulterer. What do the adulterer and the sodomite have in common? Neither shall inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. So, yes, mere homosexual attraction (considered under rubric A or B) is a theological fiction. But, by the same token, so is mere heterosexual attraction. Yet all across the world, adulterers walk into the temple and say, “I thank thee, Lord, that I am not like this sodomite.” And now, all across the globe, we have the singularly historic phenomenon of sodomites walking into the temple and saying, “I thank thee, Lord, that I am not like this adulterer.”

My friend Theodore sent me a sermon that was preached at his Anglican parish in Washington, D.C. Although to me as a Lutheran the concept of an hour-long sermon was completely foreign (I get the fidgets after about fifteen minutes—twenty, tops), and although it was also far less homiletic than what I’m used to, it was by all other accounts an excellent presentation of the theological problems raised by the categories “homosexual” and “heterosexual.” The real genius point that Fr. Matthew raised is that “being sexually attracted to women” is not some moral high ground! It’s higher in the qualified sense that it is capable of being brought to a natural good. But even with that caveat, it’s still just the prettiest dwarf. That a general appetitiveness for the opposite sex garners the epithet “straight” is a supreme irony. Our culture describes as “straight” both the chaste married man with kids and the frat-boy who’s banged every co-ed on campus and sports an alphabet-soup of STDs. They’re both straight! Yay for being straight! Yeah, right. The only things that straighten out our crooked human sexuality are marriage or chaste celibacy. And even then, we’re all still lustful and crooked this side of the Resurrection.

Our sexual attraction is never morally neutral. This is where I depart from Roman Catholic moral theology. Concupiscence is not just the tinder that occasions or gives rise to sin; it is itself sinful. Since the fall into sin, not a single one of our desires is pure. Why? Because “pure” does not admit qualification. It’s all or nothing.

+VDMA

4 Comments

  1. Trent,

    I appreciate your refreshing approach to the subject. However, I’m not entirely sure where you’re going with your argument but you conclude with “It’s all or nothing,” so I think I have an idea.

    True, sin qua sin incriminates us regardless of specific manifestations. But, I would caution the use of “It’s all or nothing” language in the LGBT debate since the debate pertains primarily to society and not exclusively to the church (especially since one can get married without the church these days). If we were talking about this topic in the context of the church and whether there are tiers of sin, I would be sure to explain that murder and murder in the heart have the same effect of condemning the sinner. I would say the same for adultery and adultery in the heart.

    However, since this issue is primarily a social and legal issue I do not believe it true or helpful to say “It’s all or nothing.” To be sure, man cannot earn his salvation. There is no amount of restitution that one can make to clear his name in a soteriological sense. However, in society there are provisions that allow one to make restitution for their transgressions. Given the subject you wrote about, I think the best example to illustrate my point is from Exodus 22: ” “If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins.” However, the same rule does not apply to a man who sleeps with another man. Leviticus 20: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” The difference between these two sins is that one is able to be righted, in a social sense, and the other is not.

    To say that it’s “All or nothing” is to only view the issue with a “2nd use” perspective and nothing else. Again, I appreciate the more calculated approach you took with this post but, it seems to be limited in its scope.

    • Brodi,

      Thanks for your comment. You are of course correct — my scope was intentionally limited. This post is an adaptation of a discussion I was having via email with some friends, and the conversation was particular.

      I agree with your observationse, and I wholeheartedly concur that state-sanctioned sodomy is far more deleterious and pernicious than other errors on account of its effect on the cultural fabric which clothes the body politic. I wrote about that very thing a number of years ago (and, incidentally, got fired from a job when the piece was discovered and passed on to my supervisors).

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Clarifications:

    1) I was rushed when I posted my comment so I wasn’t as thorough as I should have been.
    2) I realized on my drive home that you had stated up front “from a Christian perspective,” so I’ve been kicking myself since then.
    3) πορνεία -ας, f. was one of my vocab words a few weeks ago. My textbook translates it as “unchastity, immorality.”
    4) I look forward to reading the linked article.

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