Monday, 25 February 2013

Utter confusion (cf. profound insight)

Military music

1+1=3 (cf. A. Whitehead and B. Russell, Principia Mathematica).

Two words: Falk lands (cf. Oxford English Dictionary).

The element of surprise (cf. D. Mendeleev, The Dependence between the Properties of the Atomic Weights of the Elements).

If you have read this blog before, you won’t be surprised if I tell you that this post (like two previous ones - here and here) will be about the infamous “Faith and Reason” column in the “Our Faith on Sunday” newsletter that my parish subscribes to. To be more specific, it will be a rant triggered by the abuse of the imperative singular form of the Latin verb conferre - abbreviated as “cf.”.

Last week I was already on the verge of charging at the column’s previous installment, which argued that reason is what is best about being human, but I decided against giving such a blatantly narrow-minded idea air time. When the column continued along the same track today and when it went from just being blinkered to plain ludicrous, my blood-pressure rose, and when its author suggested that their stumbling echoed Benedict XVI’s masterful Regensburg address,1 I snapped!

So, what did the column say today:
  1. That “[a]s a result of the fall man’s reasoning faculty was seriously damaged.”
  2. That “even after baptism his capacity to reason is handicapped by the scars of Original Sin.”
  3. That “[r]ationality is “of the inner nature of God”, and so in assuming a human nature, He especially assumes that human attribute which is most like Himself and which is at the same time most constitutive of human nature.”
  4. That “[r]isen, ascended, and glorified, human Reason now resides in the bosom of the Father.”
  5. “(cf. Benedict XVI’s address at the University of Regensburg, 2006.)”
Instead of expletives, let me try and argue against each of the above points, which to my mind are even more confused that the typical militant atheist jabs at Christianity:
  1. The assertion that “[a]s a result of the fall man’s reasoning faculty was seriously damaged” conjures up images of Adam and Eve discussing the, sadly now elusive, Theory of Everything before the fall. Taking a bite from the fruit of the forbidden tree then turns them into gibbering savages who are barely in a position to count their own fingers. While this sounds like an entertaining sketch, it has nothing to do with Genesis or with its contemporary Catholic exegesis. In the Genesis account of the fall, the immediate consequences are the appearance of shame and knowledge of good and evil and the subsequent burdening with hard work, tensions between man and woman and expulsion from the Garden of Eden, meted out as punishment. At no point is there any mention or indication of an impact on rational faculty. Turning to the Catechism, the discussion of Original Sin (§396-421) there centers on abuse of freedom, and of God’s trust and friendship, with the consequences being loss of holiness and harmony (with God, between man and woman, …) and a distortion of God’s image. The only mention there of anything to do with reason is man’s being “subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death” (i.e., the building blocks of “concupiscence”). As far as ignorance is concerned, I’d be the last person to deny it, but it is hard to attribute it to the fall, since it was Adam and Eve’s pre-fall selves who were tricked by the snake in the Genesis creation myth …
  2. Saying that “even after baptism [the] capacity to reason is handicapped” also sounds bizarre, suggesting that baptism has - albeit limited - reason-enhancing properties! If that were the case, you’d expect for pre- versus post-baptism IQ tests to show statistically significant differences and one would have to think carefully when such a boost of intelligence would be most beneficial in a person’s life. Again, this is not only nonsensical, but also in direct contradiction with the Catechism, where §1264 says that “frailties inherent in life[, such] as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence” remain after baptism.
  3. The assertion that rationality is the human attribute that is most like God is akin to saying that the most important part of the human body is the brain. This too is absurdly reductive and I’d just let St. Paul counter-argue: “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (1 Corinthians 12:17).
  4. Suggesting that Jesus’s resurrection and ascension into heaven result in “human reason” residing in the bosom of the Father also smacks of great confusion. Is there a reason substantially different from God’s (as opposed to differing from it by degree) that before the resurrection was lacking in God and that the resurrection “imported”?
  5. Finally, let me turn to the part of today’s column that pushed me to writing this post: “(cf. Benedict XVI’s address at the University of Regensburg, 2006.)” When I read this I knew there was no way Benedict XVI could have said anything like the above - not even as a joke. Nonetheless, let’s follow up on the "cf." and see what the cited source has to say about original sin, baptism, human reason and the other topics that the column’s unknown author strung together. Interestingly the Regensburg address contains precisely zero mention of baptism or indeed Original Sin (even “sin” only occurs as part of the words “single” and “since,” each used precisely once). What about “human reason”? Surely that phrase does occur in a talk entitled “Faith, Reason and the University. Memories and Reflections.” Here I have to admit that it does … once: “[T]he fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.” Wait, what? “Human reason” is part of faith and “consonant with the nature of faith”? Yet our trusty anonymous illuminator places it outside God, brought within His remit only thanks to the resurrection … At best the reference in today’s “Faith and Reason” column to Benedict XVI’s gem is (as the Marxist2 saying puts it) like military music is to music or military justice is to justice - and that’s being a shade unfair to the military.

1 And I mean his actual talk, to which I will return in a future post, as opposed to the reduction of its misinterpretation as being anti-Muslim that gripped the media at the time.
2 Groucho, not Karl - obviously …

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Evening came and morning followed: the roots of science in Genesis

Day and Night

The hallmarks of the scientific method include its basis in empirical evidence and its reliance on repeatability for the sake of verifying or falsifying hypotheses accounting for and predicting observations that can be aided by measurement. An aspect of the above that has interested me for a while now has been the nature of repeatability (or reproducibility), which certainly does make good intuitive sense, but where I had questions about whether some other principle couldn't be used instead to form an equally consistent method of enquiry. Essentially, I was wondering to what extent the scientific method, as anchored in repeatability, allowed for a formalistic reading (like mathematics does - in contrast with conceiving of it as a form of realism).

The breakthrough for me came when my bestie NP wrote a soon to be published article to stimulate dialogue between science and faith and listed the following two of the assumptions of science: namely, that “the universe is intelligible […] and that it has a rational structure.” While both of these may sound self-evident and be taken for granted, having them called out made me think more carefully about intelligibility. What is it that renders an event or entity intelligible and how does a successful understanding demonstrate itself? Especially the latter is a staple of epistemology and the philosophy of science and I don't mean to review the literature on explanatory power or models of scientific explanation like the deductive-nomological one here. Instead, I'd like to focus on the role of repeatability and to argue that it is necessary not only for science but that it is inextricable from any expression of reason.

The repeatability of events, of the meaning of concepts and of the modes of reasoning is essential to rationality. If such recurrence and persistence of relationships and states did not exist, then each event would be a one-off and it would be impossible to conceive of it using human reason. Language would not exist since words would at most be labels for individual entities and the games it relies on would be impossible too since they require regularity and repetition. Understanding of any kind would also be impossible since reflection and either deductive or inductive modes of analysis would have a sole window of opportunity in which to relate to an event or entity. There would be no laws, rules, regularities or even statistics, since everything that would be, would be a unique, a one-of-a-kind. This necessity of repeatability and its being a constituent of rationality are also expressed in Einstein’s definition of “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

In science, the insistence on repeatability is then anything but arbitrary and instead becomes an expression of its rationality. It can even be seen as closing the loop that starts with the assumption of the repeatability and regularity of phenomena by requiring of a theory to be repeatably applicable to their recurrences to merit the status of scientific. In other words, the requirement of repeatability in science mirrors the assumption of the repeatability in nature to which it strives to correspond.1

With the above thoughts in mind, and having read and hugely admired John Paul II's analysis of Genesis from the perspective of the human person, I proceeded to attempt an imitation from the point of view of science, knowing full well that it could at best be as if seen through a mirror, darkly. Nonetheless, I believe that I have found – to me - surprising traces of the scientific method in the first chapter of the Bible.2 Before making these explicit, I would like to emphasize that I am not looking for a justification of science in the Bible (it is solidly derived from reason alone as sketched out above as well) and neither am I setting out to anachronistically twist the Genesis text to fit contemporary thought (although I am necessarily looking at it from a contemporary perspective). Instead, inspired by John Paul II, I am attempting to look for the roots of what today is the scientific method and I would have been unperturbed even if I had found no traces of it there.

The first thing that struck me when re-reading Genesis 1 over the weekend is its use of the following, exact sentence to conclude the account of each “day” of creation: “Evening came, and morning followed—the [n-th] day.” (verses 5, 8, 13, 19, 23 and 31). Instead of the creation myth3 being a single “poof” event or a random sequence of entities popping into existence (à la Eddie Izzard’s great sketch4), it has a repeating structure as its backbone. Once set up on the first day (“God then separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.”” 1:4-5), the alternation of day and night repeats itself and becomes subject to predictability and intelligibility.

The second feature of Genesis 1 that is worth noting in this attempt to trace the roots of science in the Torah is the repeated reference to visual observation. As early as verse 4, after the creation of light, we hear that “God saw that the light was good” and as far as the various translations and analyses I have seen, the term translated into English as “saw” does refer to ocular perception as opposed to just understanding in the abstract. Then, in verses 10 (after dry land is separated from water), 12 (after the introduction of vegetation), 18 (after the sky is populated), 21 (after fish and birds are created) and 25 (after animals living on land enter the scene) we are told repeatedly that “God saw that it was good.” From this perspective of visual perception, it is also worth noting that it is employed in a categorically different way once the two first humans are present.

Instead of vision only being a means for God to assess His own work, in His relationship with humans he calls them to use it as a source of evidence for His actions: “God also said: See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the wild animals, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the earth, I give all the green plants for food.” (Genesis 1:29-30). In fact, the very last verse of Genesis 1 (verse 31), brings both visual observation and the repetitive, predictable nature of the universe together: “God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed—the sixth day.”

What the above means to me is that Genesis, and therefore the whole of Judeo-Christian thought, is rooted in an account of creation that, albeit being in the form of a myth, has features that clearly contain two core aspects of the scientific method: repeatability and predictability on the one hand and sensory observation as a means of obtaining evidence on the other. While not a factual account of cosmogeny, Genesis nonetheless hints at how nature is to be approached also from the perspective of understanding it: that regularity can be expected and that the senses are a basis for engaging with it. Instead of being a source of superstition and confusion, the Bible to me is a source of gems that reinforce rather than oppose rationality.

1 I think it unlikely for this train of thought to be novel, so the absence of references is an expression of my ignorance rather than innovation. All I can offer here is the acknowledgement of Aristotle’s already realizing that “there is no science of the individual” (“If they are individual and not universal, real things will be just of the same number as the elements, and the elements will not be knowable.” Metaphysics XIII, 10).
2 I don't wish to scare you off by setting out to link science directly to the Bible. Let me assure you that my intentions couldn't be further from those who consider the universe to the 6000 years old or who run lunatic websites like (scarily that was the website that the vast majority of Google “science Genesis” searches point to). On the topic of, I was particularly struck by their attempt to distinguish between two flavors of science: historical (explaining past events) and operational (applied in the present for utilitarian ends). What the @#$%?!
3 I am using the term myth in the way in which John Paul II employed it: myth “does not refer to fictitious-fabulous content, but simply to an archaic way of expressing a deeper content.” (Man and Woman He Created Them).
4 “So then God created the world, and on the first day he created light and air and fish and jam and soup and potatoes and haircuts and arguments and small things and rabbits and people with noses and jam – more jam, perhaps – and soot and flies and tobogganing and showers and toasters and grandmothers and, uh … Belgium. And the second day he created fire and water and eggnog and radiators and lights and Burma and things that go “urh” and … and Colonel Gaddafi and Arthur Negus. On the third day he probably got lists and said, “I can't remember what I've invented now. I've just been ad-libbing so far.”” (Eddie Izzard, Glorious, 1997)

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Igino Giordani: the oxymoron of a catholic party


I have long been aware of the figure of Igino Giordani through his writings, of which the most beautiful one to me is his "Diary of Fire" and I also knew of his having been an MP in the Italian parliament, a journalist and an expert on the Fathers of the Church. It is only now though, after having read his memoirs ("Memorie d'un cristiano ingenuo" - "Memoirs of a simple christian") that I am beginning to realize more fully the enormity of his example. While in the past I have very much admired certain aspects of his life, I am now seeing that it is really his life as a whole that is an instance of his imitation of Jesus. To give you a sense of what I mean, let me pick out just a couple of moments from his autobiography.

While I don't intend to summarize his story, it is worth noting that Giordani (1894–1980) was the first of six children of a bricklayer and his illiterate wife and that he initially trained to become a bricklayer like his dad. Thanks to his father's employer, who provided him with the necessary financial support, Giordani ended up attending a junior seminary and eventually studying humanities at the University of Rome. On the verge of going to university, he was conscripted and sent to fight in the First World War. There a bullet shattered a ten centimeter segment of his right femur, requiring a three year stay in hospital and a series of 18 operations (the first of which was performed without anesthetics!).

It is at this point of exposure to war, that I was particularly impressed by the following passage, where Giordani talks about the impossibility he felt of "killing a human person: a brother":1
"The five or six shots that I fired, in the air, I did out of necessity: I could never aim the barrel of my gun at the enemy trenches, with the intention of killing a child of God."
Upon being discharged from hospital at the end of the war, Giordani immediately finds himself confronted with another battle: that of opposing the fascist regime and the alignment of parts of the Church with it. Here he speaks out against clericalism, which is:
"an exploitation of religious power for the political ends of a government, a party, a bank, … [… It is an] iron belt, disguised as gold, by which the freedom of the children of God was restrained, the proclamation of the Gospel deformed and the spirituality of the Church compromised."
And adds that:
"During other periods Christianity was being attacked in the name of reason and freedom, while today we can affirm that it is only by a destruction of reason and freedom that Christianity can be attacked."
A particularly poignant assessment of that period is also expressed by him as follows:
"Christ wasn't crucified because Judas betrayed him, but he was crucified because Pilate washed his hands of him."
Giordani's outspoken attacks against the abuse of clerical power and offenses against reason, published also in the monthly "Parte Guelfa" whose editor he was, led to a clear and direct condemnation by Church authorities in 1925. Instead of rebelling and placing himself in opposition against the Church, Giordani chose obedience and published one final issue of the magazine. There, on the first page, he reprinted the authorities' condemnation and added that the magazine "submits itself fully" to the Church’s judgment and "happily offers its loyal and disinterested allegiance," evidenced by its decision to shut down. This struck me in many ways like St. Thomas More’s silence, which in "A Man For All Seasons" was described as "bellowing up and down Europe!" or Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s obedient submission to being denied permission to publish his theological and philosophical works.

After the war, Giordani moves from being part of the antifascist resistance to joining the public political life, which results in his becoming a member of the Italian parliament. Here, the following reasoning about how the Church and politics are to relate struck me in particular (and I believe it prefigures the Vatican II position also expressed in Lumen Gentium2):
"The Church incarnates the Gospel: but it mustn’t become a party, confuse itself with a category (party or regime) because it is catholic, i.e., universal, and, as the mystical Christ, it must love all, serve all, even enemies."
All of the above paints a very clear picture to my mind of someone who was all about following Jesus, disregarding whether that brought him into conflict with state or Church, but also of someone who did it with tremendous humility and, as the memoirs’ title indicates, simplicity. A great example of this attitude is also the following event:
"One day Pius XII called me […] and asked me: "Giordani, but what have you written in that newspaper3 of yours? I have received complaints saying that you are a revolutionary" He then quoted a phrase from my latest cover story, where it says that the excess of the rich is the lack of the poor: that unjust or unjustly used property is theft.
"Holy Father," I answered, "that is a quote from Saint John Chrysostom."
"But you should have said so …"
"Holy Father, when an article is written in half an hour or an hour, there is not time for citing sources."
"True, true, " he said, beginning to smile, "They say that you are a revolutionary. But, don't worry, they also say that about me: what do you think? In fact, in these days, Roosevelt put it as "too radical""
"But," I replied, "a true christian is necessarily a revolutionary: don't we want to change the world? But, our revolution is beneficial, it builds rather than destroys; brings love instead of hatred, it brings society back together in solidarity."
There would be so much more to say about him (e.g., his life as a lay, married person and father of four, his establishing of the modern Vatican library (and publishing a journal of library science that both the Moscow and Beijing libraries subscribed to during the height of communism), his career as a writer, his encounters with the great minds of the 20th century, etc.), but that will have to wait for a future post. To conclude, let me instead leave you with the following poem by Igino Giordani, which also gives us a glimpse of his interior life:
"I have begun to die
and what happens,
matters to me no more;
now I want to vanish
in the forsaken heart of Jesus.
All this sinning,
by greed and by vanity,
in love disappears:
I have reconquered my freedom.
I have begun to die
to death that no longer dies;
now I want to rejoice
with God in his eternal youth."
It should come as no surprise that Igino Giordani - Servant of God - is in the process of being recognized as a saint - a saint I will be very proud of!

1 All the quotes from Igino Giordani here are from "Memorie d'un cristiano ingenuo," with the crude translations from Italian, for which I apologize, being mine.
2 "[T]he faithful should learn how to distinguish carefully between those rights and duties which are theirs as members of the Church, and those which they have as members of human society. Let them strive to reconcile the two, remembering that in every temporal affair they must be guided by a Christian conscience, since even in secular business there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God's dominion. [… I]t must be admitted that the temporal sphere is governed by its own principles, since it is rightly concerned with the interests of this world." (Lumen Gentium, §36)
3 "Il Quotidiano" was a daily newspaper, directed by Giordani 1944–1946.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Benedict XVI: Servant of the servants of God


The papal title that has always impressed me the most by far is Servus servorum Dei (Servant of the servants of God), first used by Saint Gregory the Great, and I believe Benedict XVI’s shock resignation today is an extreme expression of taking it seriously. When a servant can no longer serve, the ultimate manifestation of service is to resign. The Italian economist Prof. Luigino Bruni put this particularly clearly by saying that Benedict XVI’s humble decision has “shown us that the Pope is not a king but a servant.”

Having spent the day thinking about what to say, I have decided against the following, all of which would have been great choices:
  1. Reflecting on the specifics of his beautiful resignation message (a highlight being his affirmation that the Petrine ministry “must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.”).
  2. Reviewing the many heartfelt messages arriving from all around the world (a great example being Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger’s spokesman saying that “I think he deserves a lot of credit for advancing inter-religious links the world over between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. During his period there were the best relations ever between the Church and the chief rabbinate and we hope that this trend will continue.”)
  3. Surveying both the historical precedents (admiring in particular Saint Pontian, who in 235 AD “was arrested and sent to the salt mines, and in order for a successor to be able to be elected in Rome, […] resigned his office.”) and the canon law applicable in this case (pausing over the fact that for the resignation to be valid it does not need to be accepted by anyone).
  4. Arguing that at the heart of both Benedict XVI’s resignation and John Paul II’s persistence in spite of his crippling illness (retorting that “Christ did not come down from the cross either,” when asked whether he’d consider resigning), which prima facie look contradictory, lies a profound commitment to discerning and heroically acting on the will of God.
Instead, I will share with you those insights and teachings of Benedict XVI that have most encouraged, guided and delighted me:1
  1. His joint highlighting of the saints and of art: “[T]o me art and the Saints are the greatest apologetic for our faith. [… I]f we look at the Saints, this great luminous trail on which God passed through history, we see that there truly is a force of good which resists the millennia; there truly is the light of light. [… H]eart and reason encounter one another, beauty and truth converge, and the more that we ourselves succeed in living in the beauty of truth, the more that faith will be able to return to being creative in our time too, and to express itself in a convincing form of art.”

  2. His insistence on a fearless seeking of the Truth, backed by a profound trust in God: “[T]he search for knowledge and understanding always has to involve drawing closer to the truth. […] As far as preserving identity is concerned, it would be too little for the Christian, so to speak, to assert his identity in a such a way that he effectively blocks the path to truth. Then his Christianity would appear as something arbitrary, merely propositional. He would seem not to reckon with the possibility that religion has to do with truth. On the contrary, I would say that the Christian can afford to be supremely confident, yes, fundamentally certain that he can venture freely into the open sea of the truth, without having to fear for his Christian identity.”

  3. His freedom to recognize truth even in sources that don’t have the Church’s approval, such as quoting Origen attributing the following saying to Jesus: “Whoever is close to me is close to the fire” - a statement not found in Catholic canonical Scripture, or praising Teilhard de Chardin’s vision that “At the end we will have a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host.”

  4. His clear denunciation of fideism, by affirming that Catholic tradition “has always rejected the so-called principle of ‘fideism’, that is, the will to believe against reason. […] Indeed, although a mystery, God is not absurd. […] If, in contemplating the mystery, reason sees only darkness, this is not because the mystery contains no light, rather because it contains too much. Just as when we turn our eyes directly to the sun, we see only shadow - who would say that the sun is not bright? Faith allows us to look at the ‘sun’ that is God, because it welcomes His revelation in history. […] God has sought mankind and made Himself known, bringing Himself to the limits of human reason.”

  5. His passionate emphasis of the centrality of joy: “Joy is at the heart of the Christian experience. [W]e experience immense joy, the joy of communion, the joy of being Christian, the joy of faith [… and w]e can see the great attraction that joy exercises. In a world of sorrow and anxiety, joy is an important witness to the beauty and reliability of the Christian faith.”

  6. His proclamation that closeness to God is not contingent on a belief in His existence:2 “[A]gnostics, who are constantly exercised by the question of God, those who long for a pure heart but suffer on account of our[, the Church’s,] sin, are closer to the Kingdom of God than believers whose life of faith is “routine” and who regard the Church merely as an institution, without letting their hearts be touched by faith.”

  7. His insight that faith is not a subscription to this or that dogma, but an encounter with the person of Jesus: “[M]any Christians dedicate their lives with love to those who are lonely, marginalized or excluded, as to those who are the first with a claim on our attention and the most important for us to support, because it is in them that the reflection of Christ’s own face is seen. […] It is faith that enables us to recognize Christ and it is his love that impels us to assist him whenever he becomes our neighbour along the journey of life.”

1 Thanks to my bestie PM for this great suggestion!
2 The truth of this was yet again brought home to me today, when my expressing admiration for Pope Benedict was met with understanding from an agnostic and an atheist friend of mine and with mockery from two Christian ones …

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The identity of discernibles


If two men or two women want to make a life-long commitment of love and support to one another, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, why shouldn’t that be called marriage? Why do many religious people have an issue with this and why don’t they just recognize and appreciate the love and commitment such couples have for one another? Doesn’t a lack of support for same-sex marriages show an elitism, judgment and discrimination that are foreign to Jesus’ message? As heterosexual couples can marry, why should that right be denied to homosexual ones? And why is it that same-sex marriage should be a threat to the very idea of marriage?

Questions like the above have, I believe, a great deal of profound Christian appeal: love, commitment, not judging, equality and taking the beam out of one’s own eye before proceeding to the splinter in another’s are all deeply Christian principles and when Christians are criticized for their seeming lack, they better take them seriously. Actually, when I say they, I mean me, so let me make this train of thought more personal. What do I think? Where do I stand?

First, let me be super clear about one thing: I believe God has a plan for every single human being and loves each one of us immensely. The late Patriarch Athenagoras saying that “God loves everyone equally, but secretly each one of us is his favorite,” Martin Luther saying “It is not because we are beautiful that God loves us, but because God loves us that we are beautiful,” John Paul II adding that “The person who does not decide to love forever will find it very difficult to really love for even one day,” and Benedict XVI tweeting yesterday that “Everything is a gift from God: it is only by recognizing this crucial dependence on the Creator that we will find freedom and peace,” sum it up for me. Everyone is loved by God, who sees beauty in them, and my love for all mustn’t be selective, jealous or fretting either. So, I believe God loves homosexual men and women and I too need to do the same to call myself a follower of Jesus.

I am therefore vehemently opposed to any lack of love shown towards homosexual persons and am strongly against homophobia, bullying, marginalization or any other respect and care that is not extended to them. Violence against homosexual men or women horrifies me, with cases where it is the state that fuels it (as in Uganda and countries where there are criminal penalties for homosexuality) being particularly abhorrent to me. This is a position that I hold beyond doubt and one in which I feel fully in line with the position and teaching of the Church.

The Catechism states clearly that homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2358). Several bishops have emphasized that there is good in relationships among homosexual men or women, such as Bishop Woelki of Berlin saying “I also try to acknowledge that they take responsibility for each other on a permanent basis, have promised each other faithfulness and want to look after each other,” the Bishops of England and Wales stating that “We also recognise that many same sex couples raise children in loving and caring homes,” or the late Cardinal Basil Hume affirming that “Homosexual people […] can, and often do, give a fine example of friendship and the art of chaste loving.” As recently as last Monday, there is also the determination by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, for the Church to “do more to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in countries where homosexuality is illegal. […] In the world there are 20 or 25 countries where homosexuality is a crime, […] I would like the church to fight against all this.”1

So, am I in favor of same sex marriage then? Actually, no … My reason for this is that marriage is a lifelong commitment of one woman and one man to each other. This commitment results in the birth of a family, which, at least in principle, is open to the procreation of children. As this is what the concept of marriage means, it is not applicable to same sex couples. But isn’t this discriminatory and doesn’t it fly in the face of everything I have said above? I honestly don’t think so, and I am fully in agreement with the Bishops of England and Wales, who say:
“We disagree that the signal that is sent currently, by restricting marriage to opposite sex couples, is one of disparagement of same sex relationships. The basic argument that is advanced in favour of same sex marriage is one of equality and fairness. But we suggest that this intuitively appealing argument is fundamentally flawed. Those who argue for same sex marriage do so on the basis that it is unjust to treat same sex and heterosexual relationships differently in allowing only heterosexual couples access to marriage. Our principal argument against this is that it is not unequal or unfair to treat those in different circumstances differently. Indeed, to treat them the same would itself be unjust.”
This to me is the crux of the argument: the outcome of even the commitment expressed by marriage vows results in two different states depending on whether it is done by two people of different sexes or the same sex. While there are similarities (i.e., the value and sincerity of the commitment and the love that it springs from and subsequently supports), there are categorical differences too (i.e., the possibility of bringing children into the world and the complementarity of the male and female sexes). Ignoring such differences is the beginning of a loss of clarity of thought and consequently of judgment and action. It is akin to suddenly deciding that we will call an ear an eye - they are both organs and result in sensory perception and surely the ear is just as good as the eye. It is certainly possible to do this, but it will result in confusion (were all the pre-ear=eye statements about eyes meant to apply to the new eye or only to eye-eyes and not ear-eyes?).

The motivation for extending marriage to same sex couples may in many cases be good and be underpinned by principles that I fully subscribe to, but the result is a delusion and a divorce from reality.

Nonetheless, I believe that many homosexual men and women do not feel welcomed by the Church, which to me is similar to the lack of unity among Christians - both pain me, but for both I place myself firmly inside the Church and try to understand what it is that I can do towards overcoming them. With Christian unity too we could decide from one day to the next that we will declare ourselves to be united, that we’ll just change the definition of a couple of terms so that they span previously exclusive concepts. But what would we achieve with that? Not only nothing, but it would be a step back, as it would hinder a true understanding of underlying reality and efforts to arrive at a loving solution that has its eyes wide open.2

1 Even though it is not the topic of this post and addressing it even just briefly would make it way too long, I can’t not mention the Church’s classification of homosexual relationships as “objectively disordered.” This, I have to say, is an unfortunate choice of words. Cardinal Hume felt the same and provided the following reflection:
“The word ”disordered” is a harsh one in our English language. It immediately suggests a sinful situation, or at least implies a demeaning of the person or even a sickness. It should not be so interpreted. First, the word is a term belonging to the vocabulary of traditional Catholic moral theology and philosophy. It is used to describe an inclination which is a departure from what is generally regarded to be the norm. The norm consists of an inclination towards a sexual relationship with a person of the opposite sex and not between persons of the same sex. Being a homosexual person is, then, neither morally good nor morally bad.”
This is an argument I do agree with: the sexual relationship between a man and a woman is constituent of what it means to be human, while such relationships between persons of the same sex are a departure from the inherent purpose of sexuality (without meaning to restrict it to its procreative function). I do believe this to be a fact, but that does not mean that homosexual men and women should not be welcomed by the Church in more effective and constructive ways than is the case today. What these ought to be is not clear to me, but I am convinced of their necessity.
2 Thanks to my überbesties KM, PM and MR for reviewing a draft of this post and for their great feedback!