Crunchy Con

Damon Linker and "The Gay Fixation"

Tuesday March 24, 2009

Categories: Homosexuality

Damon has a longish post up thwacking me for what he calls my "gay fixation." Let's unpack this.

For starters, that title. I put nearly every blog post here that has anything more than a tangential relationship to homosexuality in the "Homosexuality" category (most posts have more than one category, you will have noticed). So I just did a search of everything I've posted in 2009 under the Homosexuality category. Know how many posts I came up with? Sixteen.

Know how many posts I've put up in 2009, total? 455. How many were in the Economics category? 103. But no one accuses me of having an "economics fixation." How many were about Media? 26. But no one complains about my "media fixation." How many appeared in the Food category? 20. Where are those who object to my "food fixation"?

What's more, my posts categorized in Homosexuality almost always had to do with the way homosexuality is related to broader issues -- of, say, politics, privacy and the Internet in the Eightmaps controversy, or on religious freedom, or, as in yesterday's bit about the gay man in Andrew Sullivan's reader's parish, which prompted Damon's post, about how long-settled moral doctrines of institutional churches get changed. It cannot be seriously denied that the greater acceptance of homosexuality in civic life, and the push for gay marriage rights, poses big questions for how we think about the human person, our relationship to traditional religion, the way we organize our society, and so forth. So why are we who wish to discuss this from a socially conservative perspective to be dunned for having a "fixation" on homosexuality?

The truth, I suspect, is that secular, or secularizing, liberals like Damon (and some readers of this blog) are the ones who have a "fixation" on homosexuality. How else to explain the disproportionate reaction to anything I post having to do with homosexuality? Homosexuality has been a main topic of 3.5 percent of the posts on this blog in 2009. I mean, really now. It seems to me that the moral licitness of homosexuality is such a non-issue in their intellectual world and social milieu that they cannot imagine why anybody else, especially people who seem to have more than a couple of brain cells to rub together, doesn't agree with them. Therefore, even the slightest peeps objecting to the homosexual liberationist line genuinely strike them as evidence of a "fixation." It's the whole "how did Nixon win I don't know anybody who voted for him" thing.

I would only ask: why this fixation with insisting that anybody who wishes to discuss homosexuality and the broader questions it raises from a morally conservative perspective must be marginalized and anathematized?

Now, to the substance of his post.

Damon:

But there's one thing about Rod -- and many other social conservatives -- that I just don't get. I don't understand his obsession with sex -- and in particular his conviction that the normalization of homosexuality in American culture should be viewed as a dire threat to the well-being of his fellow citizens, and especially children. Now, as Rod readily admits, he has a tendency toward apocalyptic thinking -- toward viewing every bit of bad news that comes down the pike (from temporary spikes in the price of oil to declines in the stock market) as a sign of imminent social collapse. Yet sex appears to reside in a category of its own for him.

Oh, I should note that if you add the Sexuality category for '09 to the Homosexuality category, you get nine more posts -- 25 out of 455. Still, yes, sexual morals are a particular concern of mine. Why does it surprise Damon that a traditional Christian, especially one with children, would be concerned about the role the collapse of traditional sexual morality plays in the direction of our culture? We live in a highly eroticized culture, in which the gift of human sexuality is debased as a way to merchandise products, and the false promise of sexual "liberation" serves as an affront to human dignity. I know this. I've lived it. People who don't grasp the power of sex to wreck lives and disassemble a tolerable social order simply aren't paying attention. You want to see what happens when the only rule guiding people's sexual behavior is their own desire? Check out inner-city America. You don't have to be a religious conservative, or any kind of conservative at all, to observe that a permissive sexual ethic is terrible for society, especially for the poor, and for girls. Caitlin Flanagan, who, I'm pretty sure, is not a Christian and no conservative, wrote movingly about this in The Atlantic a year or so ago. And I'm quite sure Damon would be as horrified as I if his children got sucked into a Rockdale County kind of morass. To think that this isn't a clear and present danger to the moral and spiritual (and physical) health of our kids is simply to live in denial. Of course it's easy to go overboard about this stuff, but I hardly think that's the greater danger in the United States, A.D. 2009.

Besides which, as a Christian, I believe that failing to live by Christian sexual morality contributes to the debasement of one's character, and the death of the soul. I certainly understand why people who don't share my faith in Christ wouldn't understand this, or agree with it. But surely anyone who knows a thing about Christian sexual ethics -- and Damon, having once been editor of First Things, certainly does -- cannot be surprised that observant Christians take this stuff seriously. And why shouldn't we? If the Bible is what we believe it is, and if the Church is what we say it is, then we cannot believe otherwise.

Sex, especially homosexuality, is a big deal because how one comes down on those related questions has a lot to do with how you view the authority of Scripture and Tradition. There's a reason why the churches today are breaking apart over homosexuality, and it has to do with the plain fact that there can be no compromise on this issue, as it goes to the heart of how believers understand ourselves, our relationship to God, and to the nature of truth. This stuff matters. It matters a lot. If you are a gay person, you know how much it matters to you. Why should anybody be surprised that it matters to traditional Christians, and for reasons that go far beyond any supposed anti-gay animus? Trads believe we do not have the right to ignore the clear and continuing teaching of Scripture and the Church because it strikes our contemporaries in this post-Christian society as correct. If you think about it, what's really surprising is not that people like us object, but that intelligent folks among us believe that the case for the licitness of homosexuality, which is something accepted pretty much only in the West, and even then it's controversial (in the US) outside of cultural elite circles, is so natural and obvious that 2,000 years of Christian moral tradition should be obviated without a fuss.

If homosexuality is legitimized -- as distinct from being tolerated, which I generally support -- then it represents the culmination of the sexual revolution, the goal of which was to make individual desire the sole legitimate arbiter in defining sexual truth. It is to lock in, and, on a legal front, to codify, a purely contractual, nihilistic view of human sexuality. I believe this would be a profound distortion of what it means to be fully human. And I fully expect to lose this argument in the main, because even most conservatives today don't fully grasp how the logic of what we've already conceded as a result of being modern leads to this end.

Toward the end of his post, Damon makes a fair point about how being postmodern poses radical questions about our relationship to authority, and its hold over us. It's fair to say that someone like me -- born Protestant, converted to Catholicism, and then to Orthodoxy -- stands on shaky ground when making an appeal to authority. But aside from mainline Protestant churches and liberal Catholics who dissent from their own Church's authoritative teaching, no Christian church argues for the licitness of homosexual relations. Prior to the mid-20th century, as far as I know, no church of any size anywhere did. That's because it is impossible to do from Scripture, without torturing the arguments into submission. Anyway, even if God doesn't exist, and Christianity of whatever sort is a sham, we're still faced with the question of how to live with sexual responsibility and integrity in a commercialized, consumerist, individualized culture that believes in no authority but the desiring individual will.

In other words, if the Lost Children of Rockdale County are wrong, why are they wrong? What could you possibly tell them to convince them to turn away from their orgies? "Because you'll get the clap," is hardly convincing.

There's a lot more at stake here than the clap. Like I said, I expect to lose this argument on a broad cultural level. But maybe I'll save my kids. Anyway, I'm not responsible for winning this war; I'm only responsible for fighting the best fight I can.

And with that, I will enter the 17th post in the Homosexuality category. My gay fixation continues unabated. Please watch how you discuss and debate this topic in the comboxes. I'm really in no mood for shrieking and trolling.

UPDATE: I find I can't post a comment in the normal thread, so let me add something here in defense of Damon. There have been a couple of hostile comments questioning his motivations for his post. I don't assume he posts in bad faith. I think Damon lives and moves in a world in which the traditional Christian concerns over and objections to the normalization of homosex really is bizarre. I know this because I've lived and worked in that world, and still do work there. There's a really interesting Baruch College study showing how over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, the mainstream news media wrote a very great deal about the growing influence of the Religious Right on the Republican Party, but failed to notice the concomitant rise of the Secular Left on the Democratic Party. The professors concluded that the news media didn't see this because (as has been exhaustively documented), they come at the world from a largely secular, largely liberal point of view. The rise of the Religious Right re: the GOP would have been clear to them, but the rise of the Secular Left re: the Dems escaped their notice, not because they're bad people, but because to them, that was simply ... normal. People who may have pointed out their own conceptual bias in this case might well have been dismissed as "fixated." You see? What I'm saying is that I don't think Damon is a bad person, or trying to "shut me up," or anything; I think he reflects the strong biases of his cultural class and environment.

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Comments
gwen
March 31, 2009 9:46 AM

There's a reason why the churches today are breaking apart over homosexuality, and it has to do with the plain fact that there can be no compromise on this issue, as it goes to the heart of how believers understand ourselves, our relationship to God, and to the nature of truth

It seems to me that there's a contradiction inherent in this sentence; the churches (assuming good faith, as I think it's fair to do) would not be breaking apart over this matter if there were available "plain facts" obvious to all Christians reasoning in good faith from scripture, tradition and basic morality.

I agree that compromise is difficult on this issue. But it's not difficult because the question is easy - it's not the kind of "no compromise" response that Christians would make if we had a faction of any church telling us that Christ died and was not resurrected. There would be no need for us to reconcile our faith with even the possibility of such a belief, to enter into argument with those who have such a view; it would be simple heresy because it contradicts the foundations of the faith itself. The Creed resolves all such questions for us. Anyone who says that Christ died and was not resurrected is right only if the entire Christian structure of thought itself is wrong; such a belief cannot even be contested within the framework of our faith.

Unfortunately, the Creed doesn't resolve the great problem of what to think about gender for us. The kind of direct Scriptural authority we have for the Church's most traditional position on gender relations is the same kind of Scriptural authority we have for the Church's traditional position on collective Jewish responsibility for the death of Christ. Many of us have abandoned the interpretation of the Gospel of St John that leads to a belief in a collective Jewish responsibility for the crucifixion on the basis of its inconsistency with the deeper meaning of more fundamental beliefs. Many people are now making the same argument about the status of women, the nature therefore of marriage, and the related issue of homosexual marriage. For me, personally, it boils down to how we are to interpret the Two Commandments as they relate to marriage: what version of erotic love is the fruition of charitable love, love that serves God's purposes for us, and what version of it is the opposite? It's a difficult question. It's hard to compromise on the answers once we've reached them. But it isn't an easy black-and-white and I think it's a bit disrespectful to other Christians to suggest that their different answers are frankly heretical, and easily dismissed as such, when this is actually the one of the hardest questions the churches have addressed since the problem of slavery.

Daniel
April 1, 2009 2:15 PM

I'm a little puzzled by the idea of the "purely contractual, nihilistic view of human sexuality". Haven't you read any novels or discussions of sexuality in which people work out their relationships with each other in the context of a serious moral framework that didn't include reliance on religious authority? I'm sure you've read "the Dispossessed". What do you think of LeGuin's discussion of marriage in her anarchist society?

Radar
April 2, 2009 2:08 AM

*sigh*

The fact that you continue bashing my people for loving others for WHO they are is your failing, not mine. Don't get defensive about it all just because you can't see through your own smoke screens.

Oh, and doesn't this article kind of contradict itself by fixating on mention of fixation? That's a bit unfortunate...

John Stanton
April 6, 2009 7:24 AM

The main reason Mr Dreher will fail in this debate is that his reading of homosexuality is "homo sexuality": that its legitimisation would be to make -

"individual desire the sole legitimate arbiter in defining sexual truth... to lock in, and, on a legal front, to codify, a purely contractual, nihilistic view of human sexuality".

Yet it is, ironically, he himself who is promoting a nihilistic view of human sexuality. He does not seem to understand that homogamous relationships are not ABOUT sexual desire. They are about love.

Gay
July 4, 2009 9:49 AM

I definitely agree with Daniel.I am a bit too puzzle about the things

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About Crunchy Con

Rod Dreher is an editorial columnist for the Dallas Morning News, and author of "Crunchy Cons" (Crown Forum), a nonfiction book about conservatives, most of them religious, whose faith and political convictions sometimes put them at odds with mainstream conservatives. The views expressed in this blog are his own.

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