I have been teaching high school theology for 11 years and I noticed remarkable shifts in the minds of the youth. Some are positive. When I first began, they were about 50/50 on abortion. Now they are closer to 80%-90% pro life.
But there have been other shifts. On “gay marriage” the pendulum has swung the other way. When I started it was another 50/50 split. Now it is 90%-95% pro- “gay marriage.”
While this data is anacedotal to my classroom, I believe that it is symptomatic of the Catholic youth as a whole. Why is this?
I believe this change in perspective comes down to three things:
- The content of the Church’s teaching is not clearly and widely taught
- The popular culture is monlothic
- Lack of postivie emotion
I think that it is worth restating the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality. Before we do this, we should define our terms. I am in charge of the philosophy and debate club at my school and one of the most important things we can do in any debate is define our terms.
What does it mean to be “gay?”
Does it mean to have sexual contact with someone of the same sex? Or does it mean attraction to the same sex?
In today’s culture, we define “being gay” as having a homosexual orientation. That is why many people have no trouble talking about young children and pubescent, if they have any attraction to the same sex, as “being gay.”
So does the Catholic Church condemn “being gay” if that is our definition? The short answer is “no.”
The reason for this is that we may not be in control of our attractions. Some people are attracted to broad shoulders. Some to long legs. Can any of us honestly say there was a moment when we said to ourselves “From this time forth, I shall be attracted to… BRUNETTES!” I know I didn’t.
The Church acknowledges that we may not have any control over our orientation. She doesn’t say that we are definitely born “this way” or “that way” psychologically. She simply remains silent on the matter.
But all sexual contact outside the bonds of holy matrimony is sinful. Marriage is designed by God to be between one man and one woman for the sharing of love for the salvation of each other’s souls and the procreation and education of children.
Homosexual actions can never be life-giving. I have often heard the response: “By that logic, infertile straight couples could not get married.” Not so. In this case, the couple is working with nature, but there is some kind of impediment. And this impediment may be overcome. How many couples do we know of personally that have had unlikely or “impossible” babies?
A same sex couple is working against nature, i.e. the sexual expression between the two of them can never be life-giving. This thwarts the natural end of the act (This is why artificial contraception is wrong. Pope Paul VI predicted that if we accept contraception into the culture, we would have to accept homosexual sex as well. His logic was right on the money).
Finally, the Church reminds us that we are all made in God’s image. We are all children of God. We all have value. To be a child of God does not mean that everything we do is good. Far from it. We are all sinners. But we all must be treated with human dignity. No person, gay or straight, should be subject to anything that dehumanizes them.
So to sum up the Catholic Church’s teaching:
1. Homosexual actions are always sinful because it can never fulfill an essential purpose of human sexuality.
2. Homosexual orientation is not a sin. It desire for something not in God’s plan, but it may not be a choice
3. We cannot engage in unfair discrimination because someone is gay
The second issue addresses popular culture.
Pop culture has taken the position that the Church is wrong. Not only this, but many would make the point that the Church is now engaging in bigotry. (Which is theologically impossible for the true Church of God to do in any of its essential teachings, by the way.)
For those who do not believe that pop culture is monolithic in its position on homosexuality, perform this thought exercise:
Please name a single character from a movie, television show, comic book, play, etc. who comes out against “gay marriage” and is still portrayed in a positive light.
Take your time.
…Okay, now we’re back. Couldn’t think of one, could you?
Now of course some characters start off that way, but they soon learn the error of their ways. And if they don’t, their position is viewed not as a credible moral outlook on the world, but as a character flaw.
Many in the pop culture believe that the Catholic teaching on this point should not be given moral credence because it is bigoted.
But think about this: About half of the actual country opposes “gay marriage.” Every democratic vote on the issue in this country has resulted in it being voted down. This would mean that the majority of Americans are bigots. Perhaps you, dear reader, are ready to make that assumption. I am not.
But getting back to pop culture, it is clear that the moral code has been written, from which there can be no departure. It is one of the New Pop Culture Commandments: Thou Shall Not Judge Homosexual Actions as Sinful. If you violate this commandment, you will be branded a bigot.
Finally, I think the real heart of the matter is emotional.
In class, this is the most difficult section to teach. People’s hearts are stirred with passion and fire.
It used to be that abortion was the hot-button topic. But as mentioned at the beginning, we have made some great in-roads. Part of the reason why is because Pro-Life theology can attach a strong positive emotion to the cause. We talk of saving babies. We see strong ties of life and love. Movies like Bella and October Baby build their stories on these emotions. Even hollywood fare like Juno and Knocked Up understand that a main character getting an abortion will drain away much of the audience’s affection for her.
Whereas our heartstrings are pulled when we see that precious life come forth. Here the teachings of our faith give us an emotional lift.
But we don’t have that positive emotion with the teachings on homosexuality. There is no visceral positive emotion to attach to opposing “gay marriage.”
Young people want to be on the side of “love.” Many of them know people who are gay. They cannot see themselves standing in the way of their gay friend’s happiness. And they understand happiness will come from romantic love, which is strong, immediate, and emotionally uplifting.
Catholics need to acknowledge this emotion gap between the two sides. Truth is on our side, but reason appeals to the intellect only. We must remember that the hearts of our young people are inclined to compassion as best they understand.
We must win not only their minds, but their hearts.
We will lay out how to do this in a later column.
Copyright © 2012, W.L. Grayson