According to Pope Benedict XVI, God actually does make mistakes. Despite what most religious people from practically every tradition have believed for millennia, the all-knowing and all-powerful Creator of the Universe isn’t quite perfect after all. That’s the only logical conclusion one can reach if one takes at face value Benedict XVI’s recent statements regarding same-sex marriage during his annual Christmas message to the Roman Curia. (The full text in the media and from the Vatican is worth reading, as well as the story as reported, with excerpts, in the Vatican’s Daily Bulletin.)
Referring to “a very detailed and profoundly moving study” by the Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernstein, that describes “the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family,” Benedict states that:
“…it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. … According to this philosophy [of gender], sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. … People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God.”
Benedict is clearly an intelligent man, but there are so many problems with his words here that it’s almost hard to know where to begin. The fact that he questions sex as something that we have “to personally make sense of” boggles the mind and makes one wonder how, or if, the pope has ever explored his own sexuality! Gender or sexual identity is not something that people “make…for themselves,” nor is it given to individuals by society. It is, rather, something that individuals discover for themselves. Certainly one’s physical body is an essential element of this discovery, and for many millions of individuals, this journey of discovery follows a similar trajectory, finding themselves attracted naturally to members of the opposite sex and forming relationships that lead to what is so facilely labeled “the traditional family.”
Benedict, however, seems unable to recognize that within the immense diversity of God’s creation there is more than one possible expression of human sexuality, more than one possible path our journeys of self-discovery take. In addition to the physical body we each have, our own individual psychology and character, indeed our very souls, are essential in that self-discovery, helping find answers for ourselves to the eternal question, “Who am I?” The nature of the individual person fully includes one’s body, but it is not defined by one’s body; reduced to a sort of biologism that is behind this line of papal thought. One’s sexual identity is part of who we are as individuals, and it is an identity that is discovered and embraced, not created or chosen at will.
Who among us has stood back from our own life and experience, surveyed a smorgasbord of gender options and pondered the question, “Hmmm? What gender should I choose for myself?” and then moved into action based on that choice? Ask any human adult on the face of this earth, “when did you choose your sexual orientation? what factors went into your deciding to be attracted to men/women? how old were you when you said to yourself, ‘I think I’ll be heterosexual (or homosexual, etc)’?” Any honest person will say, “I never did such a thing; I never made such a choice. It’s simply something I came to know about myself; it’s my nature and part of who I am.”
Benedict goes on to state his continued critique of what he understands as a flawed perspective even more bluntly:
“From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be.”
The pope claims that those who recognize the reality of gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation have reduced the human person to a mere abstraction. For those who are familiar with the pope’s appeals to Natural Law theory in support for his condemnation of the rights of God’s homosexual sons and daughters, could the papal logic be more mixed up than this? It is precisely the “abstract human being” that the pope himself wants individuals to be, fitting into his notion of a generic version of human nature, based not on the lived experience of flesh and blood human beings, but on his abstract and generalized pictures of male and female. Human persons, however, are not abstract; we are concrete, individual, flesh and blood creatures — billions and billions of us as diverse as are the combinations of genes that make us who we are. And, each and every one of us as individuals — not abstracts — represent the image and likeness of the Creator.
The pope’s words reveal a conflict between two positions that the Church wants to hold — two positions that are inherently contradictory. The first is the Church’s rightful recognition (as seen in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC) that sexual orientation is a God-given reality; and the second is subsequent statements that a homosexual orientation (or “inclination,” to use the Church’s word) is “disordered.”
You can’t have it both ways — unless you believe in a God who make mistakes. If sexual orientation is a choice (and no one is claiming that it is), then Benedict’s conclusions about a homosexual orientation/inclination as “disordered” could arguably be correct (but then it wouldn’t be correct to describe it as an “inclination,” would it?). If, on the other hand, sexual orientation is not a choice, but a God-given reality, then by that very fact it is good, no matter where on the spectrum of possibilities we find ourselves as individuals.