The flawed anthropology of “sexual orientation” & the need for a renewal of anthropology and chastity (4th of 7 in a series)
Aug. 28, 2013
Note: This post is fourth in a series of posts about what we can learn from the Supreme Court’s June 2013 DOMA decision, and how that can help us better promote and defend marriage. This series is based on a July 2013 talk by staff of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
- #1: Background to the Supreme Court cases
- #2: Unspoken assumptions & reframing the debate
- #3: What do you say that marriage is? The need for a comprehensive vision
In its decision on DOMA, the Court continued the trend of treating sexual orientation as a “class” marker. In other words, people who define themselves as having a homosexual orientation are de facto part of a “class” that deserves special protections from the government. The term “continued the trend” was used because it is common now to see, for example, in anti-discrimination legislation the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” used as two discrete categories of persons that may not be discriminated against.
The Catechism states that “every sign of unjust discrimination must be avoided” in regards to persons with same-sex attraction (no. 2358).
But the problem with treating “sexual orientation” as a description of a class of people is that it proposes a deeply flawed [understanding of] anthropology, or understanding of the human person. Christian anthropology teaches that each person is called to accept his or her sexual identity as a man or as a woman (Catechism, no. 2333). This is consistent with the understanding that man – male and female – is a unity of body and soul (Catechism, no. 362-368). Our identity as human persons is intimately connected with our identity as a man or as a woman. In short, the body matters.
What the language of “sexual orientation” does, anthropologically, is separate one’s identity from one’s bodily nature as a man or woman, placing a premium on one’s desires and inclinations. The body then becomes a “bottom layer” – essentially meaningless matter – over which one’s “real” identity – comprised of desires and inclinations – is super-imposed. 
Practically speaking, treating “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as classes of persons is problematic because courts and laws tend to treat these categories not only in terms of inclinations but also behaviors. This in turn leads to religious liberty conflicts, such as questions for Catholic institutions about non-discrimination in hiring those involved in same-sex “marriages”, since they could be (and have been) sued under non-discrimination laws for firing an employee who publicly entered a same-sex “marriage.”
Tip number three: Keep talking about Christian anthropology and chastity.
Even more than the question “what is marriage?” perhaps, the question “who is the human person?” goes unasked and thus unanswered (see FAQ #1). As Catholics, we have an immense treasury of insight into who the human person is – a study called anthropology, a treasury of truth about the human condition that applies to everyone, not only Catholics. As faulty anthropologies work themselves more deeply into our nation’s laws and policies, we must be tireless in present what Bl. John Paul II called an “adequate anthropology,” that is, an understanding of the human person that fits who man is as a unity of body and soul, created male and female and called to love (see Bl. John Paul II’s audiences of Jan. 16, 1980 and April 2, 1980).
Bringing it back to the human person also helps defend against the charge that the Church is being selective and only cares about married people. Not true. Christian anthropology, rightly understood, is a message of freedom for every person. In particular, Church teaching on the universal vocation to chastity is an avenue through which to approach questions of sexuality, gender, love, and marriage. Everyone – married and single, those who struggle with same-sex attraction and those who don’t – is called to chastity, because everyone is called to integrate their sexuality within themselves and to love authentically (see Catechism, nos. 2337-2347).
 Important here is the distinction between person, inclination, and act employed in the Church’s moral teaching. Every person, male and female, is created in the image of God with full human dignity. Every person is a gift, created to be a child of God. This identity of the person goes deeper than any inclination. Further, the Church teaches that, while homosexual acts are always sinful and contrary to the true good of the person, the experience of same-sex attraction is not sinful in itself. Because of free will, men and women can choose which inclinations or desires to act on. Actions – and the inclinations toward them – can be either objectively ordered toward the good, meaning toward the flourishing of the person, or not. But the person, regardless of the inclinations they experience, can never be described as fundamentally flawed or disordered. In other words, pointing out anthropological problems with the concept of “sexual orientation” does not mean that persons who describe themselves as having a particular orientation are problematic or flawed. Instead, it is questioning the underlying presuppositions about who the human person is (the philosophical field of study called anthropology) embedded within the concept of “sexual orientation” as it is generally used in law and culture.
Jan. 8, 2013
More from Illinois, which likely could face a marriage redefinition bill early in the new legislative session. Last week, we featured two letters from prelates in the Land of Lincoln: Cardinal Francis George of Chicago and Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois. Both wrote cogently to their congregants, urging them to resist the redefinition of marriage threatened by their state legislators.
As a complement to his letter, Cardinal George also has an article in the Chicago Catholic newspaper, Catholic New World. Entitled “Legislation creating ‘same-sex’ marriage: What’s at stake?”, the Cardinal’s piece does just that – examine what logically and inevitably follows from redefining marriage to include two persons of the same sex.
If marriage is redefined, argues the Cardinal, three things are at stake:
1. The biological, natural relationship between a child and his/her mother and father: ”If the nature of marriage is destroyed in civil law, the natural family goes with it.” In its stead will spring “alternative” family arrangements that cannot provide for a child the fundamental birthright of a father and mother.
2. The ability to believe in man-woman marriage without being labeled a bigot. Cardinal George minces no words here. If marriage is redefined in the law and fully accepted in culture, “Those who know the difference between marriage and same-sex arrangements will be regarded as bigots.” In other words, those who continue to believe and proclaim the true meaning of marriage will be treated with “social opprobrium” and become pariahs, “the equivalent of misguided racists.”
3. Our understanding of the human person: Quoting the Holy Father’s recent address to the Roman Curia, Cardinal George describes the end-game (and engine) of marriage redefinition as denying the created nature of the human person as male and female. Instead, man becomes an “abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be.” Acceptance of one’s sexual identity is rejected in favor of self-creation and manipulation.
The Cardinal raises many more valuable points. Read his entire article here.
Jan. 6, 2013
On December 21, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the Roman Curia on the occasion of their annual Christmas greetings. His address was something of a year-in-review, looking at key moments from 2012. One such key moment was the World Meeting of Families in Milian from May 30 to June 3, which the Pope said showed that “despite all impressions to the contrary, the family is still strong and vibrant today.” And yet serious challenges remain, challenges that threaten the family “to its very foundations.” Today’s Sunday Pope Quote is actually a collection of quotes drawn from the Holy Father’s Dec. 21 reflections on the family and the human person. Here he goes to the heart of the cultural crisis of marriage and the family: ultimately it is a question of who the human person is and whether the given reality of being created male and female is to be accepted…or rejected.
“The question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human.”
“Only in self-giving does man find himself, and only by opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting himself be changed through suffering, does he discover the breadth of his humanity.”
“The attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question.”
“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. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed.”
“Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned.”
“The child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. … From being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain.”
“When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defense of the family is about man himself.”
Aug. 2, 2012
Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, published a short article about marriage and civil society on the Chicago Catholic blog this past Sunday: “Reflections on ‘Chicago values’”
In addition to commenting on current events, the Cardinal outlines basic catechesis on marriage:
It might be good to put aside any religious teaching and any state laws and start from scratch, from nature itself, when talking about marriage. Marriage existed before Christ called together his first disciples two thousand years ago and well before the United States of America was formed two hundred and thirty six years ago. Neither Church nor state invented marriage, and neither can change its nature.
Marriage exists because human nature comes in two complementary sexes: male and female. The sexual union of a man and woman is called the marital act because the two become physically one in a way that is impossible between two men or two women. Whatever a homosexual union might be or represent, it is not physically marital. Gender is inextricably bound up with physical sexual identity; and “gender-free marriage” is a contradiction in terms, like a square circle.
Feb. 10, 2012
Today is the fourth day of National Marriage Week. On Tuesday, we reflected on what makes marriage unique, different from any other relationship on earth. Today the topic is more focused: why does sexual difference matter for marriage? In other words, why is marriage the union of one man and one woman?
What is sexual difference?
1) The call to accept one’s sexual identity as a man or as a woman
As we did before, let’s begin with the human person, with an authentic anthropology. Crucial here is the fact that to exist as a human person means to be embodied. (When was the last time you met someone without a body?) Echoing Bl. John Paul II’s terminology, we can say that the body “reveals” man and is “an expression of the person” (TOB, 9.4 and 27.3). In other words, encountering a living human body means at the same time encountering a human person. The body is not just a shell or a conduit for one’s “real” self but is intimately and inseparably united with one’s identity, one’s “I”.
Further, to exist as a human person means to exist as a man or as a woman. The human body is fundamentally a gendered reality, not a gender-less (androgynous) one. And because the body is a deeply personal reality and not just a biological fact, being a man or being a woman is not just a matter of anatomical features or “the shape of my skin.” Instead, one’s sexual identity – as a man or as a woman – affects a person at every level of his or her existence (biologically, psychologically, genetically, and so forth). As the Catechism puts it, “Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul… Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity” (CCC, nos. 2332 and 2333, emphasis in original).
2) An irreducible and dynamic difference
What does sexual identity have to do with sexual difference? Simply this: when we speak of sexual difference, we mean both the existence of two distinct sexual identities (man or woman) and the built-in mutual relationship between them. In other words, sexual difference has to do with the irreducible and dynamic difference of man to woman and woman to man.
Why “irreducible”? Because sexual difference is primordial, basic, and unique. It is fundamental to human experience and reality. Unlike other differences between people, sexual difference undergirds everything that we are as human persons, male or female. Sexual difference cuts across geographic, ethnic, and other differences, being in fact more basic than these other differences.
Why “dynamic”? Because sexual difference distinguishes in order to unite. In fact, sexual difference is precisely what enables communion between man and woman to exist at all. (More on this soon.)
Put another way, sexual difference is a mutually referential kind of difference – we know woman fully only by knowing man, and know man fully only by knowing woman. The differences between them do not just set them apart but hint at something more, at a call to communion between them. This call to communion inscribed in man and woman is part of what Bl. John Paul II had in mind when he wrote the following:
“The person, by the light of reason and the support of virtue, discovers in the body the anticipatory signs, the expression and the promise of the gift of self, in conformity with the wise plan of the Creator” (VS, no. 48).
Sexual difference, then, far from being merely a biological or anatomical fact, communicates a wealth of truth about the human person! If we have the eyes to see, as Bl. John Paul II urges us to, we’ll see in the human person’s identity as man and woman the “anticipatory signs” of the “gift of self,” or, using the language of the Catechism, we’ll see the call to love, which is the “fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (CCC, no. 1604).
Sexual difference and marriage
We are now well-poised to understand what sexual difference has to do with marriage. As a recap of Tuesday’s post, marriage is a unique relationship that has a number of essential characteristics (without which marriage wouldn’t be marriage):
- Marriage is total (gift of self)
- Marriage is faithful and exclusive (a truthful gift)
- Marriage is forever (the gift of one’s future)
- Marriage is life-giving (the gift of one’s fertility)
Sexual difference matters here: it is the ground (the foundation) of the capacity of husband and wife to exchange a mutual, total gift of their entire selves, a gift precisely at the center of what marriage is. Without sexual difference, this gift would not be possible. Put more specifically: the love between husband and wife involves a free, total, and faithful gift of self that not only expresses love but also opens the spouses to receive the gift of a child. No other human interaction on earth is like this!
Sexual difference, then, is not an optional “add-on” to an already existing entity called “marriage” (much like you might choose to add sprinkles to your ice cream – or not). Instead, sexual difference is at the very heart of what marriage is. It’s what capacitates man and woman to give themselves completely to each other as husband and wife. Sexual difference matters for marriage.
Interested in learning more? Check out the DVD “Made for Each Other,” its Viewer’s Guide and Resource Booklet, and all of the Sexual Difference FAQs. Also see the previous blog series on sexual difference.
 Even in circumstances when a person expresses ambiguous genitalia or departs from the XX/XY genetic standard, the anomaly is recognized precisely due to its discordance with healthy, normal presentation as male or female.
Nov. 21, 2011
Today’s post is the first in a series about sexual difference. Stay tuned for more!
First, let’s clear the pathway, so to speak, by thinking about popular notions about sexual difference and where they fail to capture the full truth.
Is sexual difference a wound or a curse?