Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Not Quite So Closed

I’d be the first to admit that I find most of the content on Gerald Augustinus’ blog, The Cafeteria is Closed, to be . . . well, not my cup of tea.

Yet recently it would seem that Gerald has had somewhat of a Damascus Road experience with regards to the issue of homosexuality. Not surprisingly, he’s been getting a lot of flak from, shall we say, more “traditionalist” Catholics, to the extent that he left a comment for me on this Wild Reed post, observing that: “I’m afraid I’ll be on the stake right next to you.”

Unperturbed, Gerald recently highlighted on his blog an astute observation by Fr. Joseph O’Leary on “sex and the authoritarian personality.” It reads as follows:

I have an idea today about what is wrong with the “puritans.” They lack the categories for the middle ground of ordinary human erotic sensibility. When sex is mentioned they think either of procreative marital sex or lustful congress. The ordinary currents of sexual feeling are repressed from consciousness, so that they sometimes speak in a far more erotic way than they imagine, and sometimes clamp down on something they may find “suggestive” with surprising violence. They suffer from a scotoma [i.e. a spot in the visual field in which vision is absent or deficient] that can be quite disorienting. In relation to gayness, whether themselves gay or not, they can think only in terms of “sodomy”, conceived in the crudest images, or “chastity” understood as total surrender to an absolute authority. The middle ground of relaxed sexual interest and affection between men or between women is not accessible to them. The authoritarian personality thrives on this limitation of sensibility.

(I’ve long thought along these lines, and have said as much here and here, albeit not as eloquently as Joseph O’Leary!)

After quoting Fr. O’Leary, Gerald adds his own two cents worth, reminding us that:

“Authoritarian personality” is a term Theodor W. Adorno (and colleagues) coined. It denotes a number of qualities, [and] predicts one’s potential for fascist and antidemocratic leanings and behaviors. These qualities are assessed by a coherent system – the “structure of personality” –which arises out of characteristic experiences in early childhood and the pattern of internal, psychological processing.

He then goes on to say, among other things, that:

Black/white is always easier than nuance. Indulgence and abstinence are easier than moderation. Strict thinking requires less work. The ability to differentiate and use nuance can of course ‘go bad’, then it results in passivity, an inability to decide and a tendency to relativism, the opposite being a tendency to absolutism even in relative matters.

Although he fails to make the connection between absolutist authoritarianism and elements of Roman Catholicism, perhaps a sign that Gerald is taking to heart his own counsel can be found in the fact that the banner on his blog no longer declares “The Cafeteria is Closed,” (an absolutist statement if ever there was one) but now says: “We, the People”! To which I say: Good on you, Gerald!

Now if you could just have a change of heart about
Barack Obama!

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Somewhere In Between
Real Holiness
What Is It That Ails You?


Clayton said...


Thanks for posting this; I hadn't seen this conversation. Gerald mentions that his development of thought on this matter had something to do with marrying a psychologist and the insights he's gained from her.

I think O'Leary is on to something with his critique of Puritanism as it relates to sexuality. I've sensed for quite some time that Americans have a very conflicted attitude toward sexuality that stems from a Puritan heritage.

The topic came up recently on Dreadnought's Facebook group. If you are a member of Facebook, you can view the discussion thread here.

The Puritan mindset is pretty deeply engrained in the American experience... arguably, it has led to a suspicion of all things relational, re-reading experience through the mind and heart given over to lust. The hermeneutic of suspicion can manifest itself in any number of ways.

The idea of Masters of Suspicion (a concept from Ricouer that John Paul II took up in his Theology of the Body) is unpacked in an article by Dr Donald MeMarco... on Reversing the Deculturation of Fatherhood which contains this quote:

The fatherhood of God conjoins authority with love. The Masters of Suspicion have told us that no such conjunction is possible, that all authority, by its very nature, is contrary to love. On the other hand, the Holy Father has told us that ethos and eros (law and love) are not only compatible with each other, but are essential to the integrity of the whole person. Ethos without eros (law without love) is identified with sin and thereby betrays the heart. The dignity and nobility of fatherhood lies in the ability to find a basis in the heart that is deeper than sin, one that unites love for others with an equally passionate concern for how they should live and where they are going. Fatherhood is neither lawless love nor loveless law. It is the unification in the person of affection and direction.

kevin57 said...

Inspiring and encouraging, Michael. It has often been said that anyone under 30 who's not a bit of a socialist has no heart and anyone over 30 who's not a bit capitalist has no brain.

A mature person, an integrated person, becomes more compassionate, more moderate, "grayer" in morality (and in hair color!), as he/she ages.

God's grace in action.