Sunday, April 19, 2009

Comments on Chapter 12: Heirs of the Promise

Please post comments or questions on Chapter 12 here. I will then be able to start a new thread, coded with the appropriate label, to continue the discussion


Erika Baker said...

I have now finished the book and I would like to congratulate you and thank you for having written it.

I think I have made most of my comments already on your blog when you first sketched the chapters, but there is one additional point I would like to make.

You say "Many, perhaps most, attempt to live a heterosexual life at least for a part of their lives. Some are able to maintain a sexual relationship with the person of the other sex, and sometimes it is a deeply meaningful relationship".

If people are genuinely able to maintain a physically and emotionally satisfying relationship with a person of the opposite sex, then they are not gay but bisexual.

It may be a small point but I do believe it to be very important. If homosexuals and heterosexuals understood bisexuality better, there would be much less fear from straight people who have some bisexual leanings, that they might become gay if they didn't suppress those feelings with all their might, and there might be a much better understanding of what the supposedly successful ex-gay movement is all about: If you can genuinely "change", you were largely bisexual all along. It really does not mean that those who are predominantly gay or straight can follow your example.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Erika. Point taken. I think part of the problem is that bisexuality is poorly defined, in no small part due to the fact that most people do not have a sexual orientation that is absolute or polar, but lies somewhere on a continuum. My impression is that rather than being a bell curve, there are probably very few people who are truly and completely "bisexual" right at the center, and that most lie to one side or the other of that divide.

In this instance, I was addressing people who are -- and know or come to know themselves to be -- primarily oriented towards a person of the same sex, but who are nonetheless capable of maintaining a relationship with a person of the opposite sex, but only at a great psychic and/or emotional cost. Eventually they realize that it isn't ultimately fair to them or their partner. (I think this is particularly true of people of a certain generation -- from societies in which heterosexual marriage was the expectation, and who may have married out of that expectation (and perhaps their own internalized homophobia and desire to "change") and who may have found some joy in that marriage -- even great joy -- but who know, deep down, that this is not where they belong. I think, in short, that there is a different between capacity and vocation. I don't want to limit "gay" and "lesbian" only to those who are incapable or a relationship with a person of the opposite sex; especially when, as in the ex-gay moevement, this capacity is measured purely in terms of external behavior (as I note earlier in the chapter, where a man can achieve sexual intercourse with a woman only by fantasizing about men.)

Moreover, I think a bulk of the ex-gay movement lies in this area on either side rather than among true bisexuals right in the middle -- which explains the very high proportion of those who eventually return to acting in accord with their real orientation.

Thanks again for the input! All the best.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Under the Errata heading, Paul A. asked:
Query page 154 lines 11-12 as inconsistent with church doctrines described page 154 lines 20 to 34, or is "spiritual" being used in a mysterious sense?
"... as far as the church is concerned, there is no spiritual difference between men and women."
"The church . . . embraced beliefs . . . of women as 'defective males' . . . codified by Aquinas . . . ."
These differences were not "spiritual"?

I respond:
Actually this is all part of the same thought: Aquinas knew that there was no "spiritual" difference between men and women; but he believed there was a "natural" difference. And the influence of that teaching about the "natural" came to infect the "spiritual" rather than the other way around, with the spiritual informing the natural -- thus the spiritual office of priest is forbidden to women on the basis of the "natural likeness" the celebrant is to have to the [male] Christ. Though the spiritual should have primacy, the physical (even when it is based on a mistaken Aristotelian natural science) gets in the way.

A similar thing happens with Aquinas’ teaching on sexuality: he acknowledges the physical, emotional, and moral levels corresponding to the "ends" of marriage (procreation, fellowship, fidelity) but then places the emphasis for humans on the point of congruity with animals, rather then looking to the qualities that make marriage uniquely a human phenomenon.