March 29, 2008

God’s Judgment on Heterosexuality

and the Church’s Caring Response

Saturday Satire

by Tobias Haller BSG

[This satirical piece made its first appearance on my Geocities website nearly 15 years ago. Since then it has appeared in a number of forms around the web, including translations into Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and what I think must be Hungarian. A shorter version also appeared in the "Marriage" issue of The Witness in December 1995. It has occasionally been plagiarized. I thought now might be an appropriate time formally to introduce it to the blogosphere. And so, here it is, along with its original short caveat:]

Caveat lector: The following is intended as a work of irony. The author is particularly anxious that readers not impute to him any of the opinions expressed therein. While he agrees with some premises and conclusions advanced, many are far from consistent with his attitude or opinions. The author does, however, feel that what follows is no more selective in its use of Scripture, casual in its logic, condescending in its attitude, erroneous in its conclusions--nor less guilty of asserting bare notions as if self-evident truths--than countless similar essays prepared by the committees, congregations, curiae, and theologians of the numerous scattered members of Christ's church.


The church is faced today with a pastoral problem of significant gravity. It has become more and more apparent that many heterosexuals have come to consider themselves to be faithful members of the church, while committing acts at variance with the church's solemn teaching. The problem is far from new; both the Scriptural witness, and the unbroken tradition of the church attest to the ongoing nature of this tragic discontinuity. The matter has only come to the renewed attention of the church in recent years due to the efforts by some heterosexuals who seek not only to defend but to justify their behavior.

Origins in Creation

The inability of heterosexuals to form lasting, stable relationships has long been noted. A survey of the biblical material provides a sad witness to this inability -- and one explanation for its source -- in God's judgment upon Adam and Eve. This judgment provides a climax to the creation account in Genesis (3.16) and may therefore be taken as substantive testimony to God's eternal plan for humanity. This passage explains the tragic inability of heterosexuals to work together as equals: the female is cursed by being placed under male rule, rather than coexisting as the full and equal partner that a healthy and life-giving relationship requires. This divinely mandated order or hierarchy -- which has institutionalized a veritable "civil war of the sexes" -- fosters the incapacity for mutuality that renders stable heterosexual relationships nearly impossible -- a fitting punishment for the failure to act in obedience to the God who welcomed his creatures into a relationship based on mutual trust and responsibility.

The rest of the biblical material portrays the unfortunate consequence of this constitutional incapacity. Even the patriarch Abraham, who in all other respects was a model of fidelity, was willing to deny his wife and turn her over as a potential concubine. (Gen. 12.13) The overwhelming majority of heterosexual relationships portrayed in Scripture are devoid of any appearance of human care, affection, mutuality, concern, or love. Few of the heterosexual relationships that do evince a degree of personal commitment are monogamous. For example, Elkanah shows real fondness for his barren wife Hannah, but not enough to refrain from having a second wife to bear him children. One is hard pressed to find even a handful of faithful, loving, lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual relationships in the whole of Scripture.

We must remember, however, that God's power is perfected in weakness. The people of Israel departed from the true path time and again, yet were capable of repentance and redemption. So too, God will be patient with erring heterosexuals who repent of their sinful behavior and return to God. The analogy between Israel's corporate misbehavior and the personal behavior of heterosexuals is firmly and dramatically linked in Scripture: heterosexual adultery and prostitution are types of idolatry on Israel's part throughout the prophetic and poetic literature, so much so that at times it is difficult to determine if the acts under condemnation are cultic or sexual in nature. The heterosexual activity (real or figurative) is almost always paired with a call to repentance, and an offer of divine forgiveness. A striking example of this in the New Testament is Jesus' forgiveness of the woman taken in adultery. The Lord forgives her, while making it clear he considers her behavior to be "sin." This is one of the few times the Gospel directly and specifically designates any behavior by the title of "sin." Indeed, of all specific individual acts identified in the Gospel as "sin," half are heterosexual in nature; the others relate to the denial and betrayal of Jesus himself. It is a sign of God's great mercy that the former sins are forgiven while the latter are retained: this fact should serve as a reminder of the gravity of heterosexual sin in God's eyes as well as God's patience with the sinner.

Disease and the other consequences of heterosexual acts

It is incumbent upon the church to avoid suggesting that the high frequency of infant mortality, death in childbirth (which until the introduction of antiseptic procedures was common worldwide), and sexually transmitted disease represent in some way God's specific punishment of individual heterosexuals for their sinful behavior. All human beings share in common mortality, fall prey to disease throughout their lives, and ultimately suffer death. Disease and death may therefore be seen as a tragic consequence of Original Sin rather than of the particular sins of any individual or group.

However, we would be negligent in our task were we to fail to note the biblical witness on this matter. The "knowledge" of good and evil that results from tasting the fruit of the forbidden tree is intimately linked with the shame in nakedness that leads to the effort to conceal the secondary sexual characteristics that distinguish heterosexuals. The taking of the fruit of knowledge leads almost immediately to Adam's first heterosexual experience after the Fall, in which he "knows" his wife. The Fall also results in God's double curse upon Eve: sexual longing for her husband coupled with submission to his domination, rendering a mature love based on equality virtually impossible.

In God's judgment upon Eve, travail in childbirth is singled out as a means to punish womankind for having led mankind astray (Gen. 3.16). It is true that this judgment is partially deferred in the Deuteropauline literature, where it is promised that a woman believer will be "brought safely through childbirth"; that is, a woman's faith will preserve her through this difficult trial, her faith serving as a balance to Eve's primal infidelity. (1 Tim. 2.12-15) Finally, though we refrain from making any direct connection at this point, it must also be acknowledged that at least one instance of child mortality is explicitly related to heterosexual sin: the death of the child born of the illicit heterosexual liaison between David and Uriah the Hittite's wife. (2 Sam 12.14)

Thus procreation, while necessary for the continuance of the human species, is forever tinged with shame, imbalance, and danger as a result of the actions of the first heterosexuals. Heterosexuality is shot through-and-through with mortality, and in the New Testament becomes a type for the world that is passing away. Jesus affirms, in Luke 20.34-35, that heterosexuality -- "marrying and giving in marriage" -- belong to this age, and that those who are worthy of a share in the life of the world to come do not become entangled in the snares of this sort of behavior. While the church has not gone so far as to take Jesus literally at his word on this point, a degree of caution is nonetheless prudent. Jesus' preference for and counsel to celibacy is both a choice and a sign of the Kingdom in which heterosexuality will cease to exist, and, in his words, those worthy of resurrection will be like angels, freed from the mortality for which heterosexual procreation was the remedy. (Luke 20.36)

Moreover, it would be irresponsible of the church not to warn heterosexuals of the dire medical consequences their behavior might cause. When medical conditions (childbed fever, sexually transmitted disease, ectopic pregnancy, cervical cancer, and so on) can clearly and directly be linked with a preventable form of behavior the church is obliged to provide at least warning and counsel to avoid such acts, if possible.

Relevance of biblical material

Many today would argue that the injunctions placed upon heterosexual contact in the Law of Moses are no longer relevant to a discussion of heterosexuality. We must point out, however, the general ritual opprobrium attached to heterosexual acts. All heterosexual acts render both parties unclean at any time, due to emission of semen (Lev 15.18), and abominable at other times, due to contact with menstrual blood. (Lev 15.24, 20.18) The continued fervent condemnation of the latter abomination in the prophetic literature (Ezek. 18.5-13; 22.10), and in church tradition down through the ages (e.g., the Didascalia, Jerome, Clement of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, and Thomas Aquinas) warrants our caution in discarding the Mosaic material as simply "cultural baggage."

Heterosexual Behavior vs. the Heterosexual Condition

Some argue that while heterosexual behavior is sinful, the heterosexual condition is not, and that heterosexuals are capable of leading normal, full, and happy lives within the moral framework determined by the church.

While this is to a large extent an accurate understanding, the church must also warn of the dangers of sin at the level of volition that precedes action. Both the Old and New Testaments warn of the insidious nature of such heterosexual sin. The Tenth Commandment (Exod 20.17) clearly places the mental act of coveting one's neighbor's wife in the same moral universe as outright adultery. Jesus repeats and emphasizes this connection in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5.28). Given this Scriptural witness it is difficult to see that heterosexual inclination is in any way less culpable than heterosexual action, unless involuntary and immediately rejected by an exercise of the will and moral judgment. Such an understanding must rule as sinful, therefore, all pornographic or semi-pornographic material so widely available in our society. (The latter includes much advertising that appears, at first, to be completely unrelated to heterosexuality, but uses a heterosexual subtext in order to market a product.)

The church may be informed, if not guided, by the findings of science on this issue. However, the scientific community is not yet in full agreement as to the etiology of heterosexuality, or the treatment of its more egregious manifestations. While it appears that heterosexual behavior is to a large extent genetically conditioned, and early environmental factors play a significant part in its development -- for neither of which an individual could be held responsible -- still the possibility to refuse to engage in heterosexual acts is always available to the adult person capable of exercising reasonable and free choice. Despite the intensity of the heterosexual inclination, the exercise of the will and moral judgment can assist all but the most clinically unstable heterosexual from committing acts judged to be immoral by the church. Because of this, there can be no question about the position the church must take when dealing with unrepentant, avowed, overt and open heterosexuals who not only commit such acts, but go so far as to brag about the number of their sexual liaisons (many of them made through contacts in such sordid institutions as "singles bars"). The danger to the young -- quite apart from the risk of becoming objects of predatory heterosexuals, and perhaps by this means being recruited to their ranks -- is multiplied by the bad example heterosexuals might present if their behavior were to be mistakenly considered worthy of emulation. For this reason, any toleration of heterosexuals or heterosexuality must be examined with great care and precise clarity, lest the wrong message be sent to our young people, who represent the future of the church and society.

The marriage of heterosexuals

Given the statistics on infidelity, divorce, abortion, rape, the abuse of spouses and the predatory assault upon children by heterosexuals, it would appear that few heterosexuals are capable of the fundamental, mutual self-giving required to support a lifelong, committed relationship. The biblical material on this matter is again unambiguous. When Jesus told the disciples that the only permissible exercise of heterosexual behavior was within the context of a lifelong, faithful, monogamous marriage, his disciples exclaimed that it was impossible. Jesus went on to assert that while not impossible, it was a supernatural gift only a few could be expected to accept. (Matt. 19.10-11)

The Pauline material does not forbid heterosexual marriage, but certainly does not encourage it. Paul's preferential option is for abstinence. Paul spent much of his ministry dealing with the weaknesses of heterosexuals in the early church, counseling them, if at all possible, to avoid entering marriages he knew few of them would be able to sustain, yet allowing it for those unable to control themselves. (1 Cor 7) At the same time, Paul warned against any heterosexual activity outside marriage. Clearly this creates a pastoral dilemma for the church, and an opportunity to exercise forgiveness for those incapable --through no fault other than the constitutional weakness that afflicts so many heterosexuals -- of achieving the highest standards of Christian behavior.

The ordination of heterosexuals

The question of the ordination of active heterosexuals is not a new one. While it appears that some apostles were married (Mark 1.30), Paul clearly regards the practice with unconcealed condescension. (1 Cor 9.5) The Deuteropauline material relents slightly, and allows bishops to be married "only once." (1 Tim. 3.2) The early church allowed married persons to be ordained, except those who had gone so far to marry twice, even after being widowed; and any ordained person who sought to marry was deposed. It was soon found that stricter regulation of heterosexual tendencies was required, and the catholic church, in its wisdom, determined within a few centuries of its institutional life that bishops (and in the West, all clergy) should permanently abstain from all heterosexual activity. Since the Reformation, some churches have decided once again to permit avowed, open and active heterosexuals to serve as ministers, often with disastrous consequences, as the natural tendency toward infidelity and instability evinced by so many heterosexuals emerges in socially and morally inappropriate ways.

The heterosexual agenda

Even considering the church's call to forgiveness and understanding, it would be highly inappropriate to support the so-called "heterosexual agenda" in the secular arena. The church was, to a certain extent, taken unawares when the greatest victory of the heterosexual special interest group was achieved: the liberalization of divorce laws in many parts of the world. Similarly, heterosexual lobbyists have been hard at work mounting efforts to decriminalize heterosexual acts still forbidden by statute in many states, to lower the age of consent for sexual activity between persons of the opposite sex, and to legalize prostitution and the distribution of pornography. Heterosexuals are also fervent in their efforts to retain the special rights that they have managed to secure, rights not afforded to other citizens.

The heterosexual lobby operates politically, but a more insidious influence may well be through the disproportionate heterosexual representation in the entertainment field and in the media. Heterosexuals hold tight control over almost every communications medium, and the proportion of content favorable to heterosexuality is overwhelming. Scarcely a television program or film is released to the public without at least one major heterosexual character, often the hero or heroine, and the effects of this culture-war are already becoming evident in moves towards greater toleration of heterosexual excesses. A sign of the influence of the heterosexual movement is the growing use of the term "straight" to describe heterosexuals. This novel meaning given to a perfectly ordinary word is an example of the attempt to "mainstream" the heterosexual lifestyle, and it is fundamentally misleading -- relationships as intricate, complicated and twisted as those of most heterosexuals would scarcely be called "straight" in the ordinary sense of the word.

The church and the heterosexual

The church is not only competent to forgive the moral error involved in heterosexual acts, it is also able to appeal to the state for mercy and some consideration of the broken condition of the heterosexual offender. The church should model its behavior on Christ, who while acknowledging the sinfulness of the woman taken in adultery, enjoined the crowd to remit the punishment justly due to her. However, it would be improper for the church to seek completely to prevent the exercise of secular law, which may serve--if not as a corrective--at least as a warning of the consequences of immorality.


After all is said and done, we continue to affirm that heterosexuals, despite the sinfulness of their behavior, are children of God, and worthy of our care and pastoral concern. They are more to be pitied than censured. With the pastoral care and counsel of the church, firm in its resolve that there will be no outcasts, they may grow to that "full stature of mature manhood in Christ" promised to all faithful believers.

Promulgated by the Sacred Congregation for the Defense of What I Say is True is True Because I Say It

Copyright © 1994 T. S. Haller BSG


Anonymous said...

Rude, smarmy, and unhelpful. Even if others have been that ways to gays, it does not give you license to do the same. For Pete's sake, you're a priest.

Two wrongs do not make a right.

And please think about the virtue of earnestness urged on us by the NT and the calling of the church, surely there is such a calling, to be against the excessive (and often nihilistic) deployment of irony, esp when it is mocking irony.

A word of advice: delete the post,

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Interesting anonymous comment. Do others feel that way?

I do not consider irony to be a tool ruled out to priests; especially Anglican priests -- in the tradition of Swift. Mockery of folly is surely a Gospel value. I do not consider it rude at all; as it merely holds up a mirror to the wrong that is being done. It seems to me to be characteristic of Jesus' rhetoric and Paul's -- if you want to look at NT earnestness.

The difference between my ironic article and the horrific statements by the self-styled "orthodox" is that theirs are actually intended seriously, and do real harm. If I can defuse even a single weapon in the arsenal of harm the church has deployed, I will be content. To ask me to put down my plastic sword while others are swinging weapons of steel is rich beyond compare.

I normally don't allow anonymous comments, and I was sorely tempted to delete yours. But on second thought I let it stand, as a testimony.

G said...

Br Tobias, have you read Dextera Domini: the Declaration on the Pastoral Care of Left-Handed persons? (Click)

June Butler said...

Tobias, this is 15 years old? Wow! You were way ahead of the curve.

My vote is against deletion. I'll admit it's shocking, but shocking in a way that I needed to be shocked. If the irony is shocking, then all the more is this true:

The difference between my ironic article and the horrific statements by the self-styled "orthodox" is that theirs are actually intended seriously, and do real harm.

I'm quite an empathetic type, and I've tried to put myself in the place of those on the receiving end of the bashing of gays and lesbians, but nothing, so far, made it real like these words.

Allen said...

Too bad, Tobias, that we live in an age when an excellent piece like this has to be preceded by your caveat lector. Unless it, too, is satirical, the response by "anonymous" demonstrates just how much literary illiteracy (if I may use such a phrase) there is around.

Swift lived in an age when it was expected that intelligent readers could recognize satire for what it is. Of course it's true that many, even in Swift's time, missed the point of satire.

Pointless irony may indeed be nihilistic, but this post is not pointless.

Even if others have been that ways{sic] to gays, it does not give you license to do the same. Translation: If somebody has used scripture to malign gays, you don't have the right to use satire to expose the silliness of their arguments. How ridiculous!

Two wrongs do not make a right. Who, pray tell, is hurt by this gentle piece of satire?

Thanks for this, Tobias.


Anonymous said...

Br. Tobias -

It is a brilliant post, one of considerable subtlety, and true to the very extent that it offends.

Thus, it is in the best tradition of Godly prophecy.

Leave it up.

fwiw, I am a "straight" sinner repulsed almost equally by the self-righteousness of both simplistically-delineated camps in the present fracas.

I am earnest in my appreciation of irony; only those who love deeply can laugh at their love; if truth comes out, tolerance of rude language is the least we can pay.

Bruno said...

Thanks for the post, and thanks for keeping the anonymous comment up.

Phil said...

I think this was a delightfully funny piece. The absurdity of it kinda takes the "umph" out of the more ugly things that some people say.

Fran said...

I am a bit pressed for time and probably should not comment until I have read the piece more thoroughly, however...

Somehow that whole irony angle that you presented at the beginning of the post sunk in, so I read this as such.

Understanding irony as I do, well - I read it with that in mind and found the piece to be, well - brilliant.

So I do not agree at all with the commenter.

I will say I detect some anger in the voice of the commenter.

Also what is up with anonymous. If people have strong opinions, they should put their name.

Just my opinion FWIW.

gerry said...

Leave it up, please!

If anonymous cannot appreciate ironic humor, they are in need of our support and prayers. In places I was laughing out loud.

Let us sing a new song...

Anonymous said...

John 2007 (anonymous only b/c I forgot to type my name) writes: I stand by my original first posting and estimation of the piece by TH. I think priests are called to a higher standard of life, one that calls for earnestness. I don't disagree that the piece is clever in some measure but, aside from the hubris in comparing oneself with Swift or FTM even digging up the compostion to say in effect 'See how clever I am', my point is that it's really kind of embarrassing for an ordained leader in the church to make mocking fun, as he does, of the brokenness, failures, and misdoings of many people (in this case heterosexuals)when, near as I can tell, the ordination vows and the NT to which he claims allegiance urge him to take a less ironic stance.

I think BTW, to respond to one post above, with 2 degrees in literature, and an ABD in philosophy that I think I understand irony from a couple of perspectives. As a Christian, I have grown very suspect of it's deployment (and its pervasiveness) and if I were TH's close friend, or bishop, I would drop my comments about it being a rude and smarmy rant, but I would honestly urge him to do otherwise. If I were his parishioner I would be disinclined to trust him.

R said...


Bravo, and I say again. . .Bravo!

Sauce for the goose. . .and for the gander.

Erika Baker said...

This is priceless, thank you!

And if the anonymous commentator feels deeply offended, maybe she will begin to understand, at least a little, how lgbt people feel about the tripe the church keeps throwing at us and our loves.

PseudoPiskie said...

"Rude, smarmy, and unhelpful"? Anonymous should learn to put itself in another's place once in awhile. This is priceless, especially given the age. By all means keep it up.

Anonymous said...

I actually agree with about 2/3 of this piece, despite its mocking tone, so it falls short with me as satire. The story of heterosexuality in Scripture and history is one of grave sin committed widely, with a relative few couples seeming to live up to God's standards for what He has called healthy sexuality to be.

Mark me as another vote for leaving it up.


Anonymous said...

Tobias, when you wrote this piece I was an oh-so-earnest gay rights activist headed to law school to change the world. I lived in Jesse Helms' North Carolina at the time, and was so despondent over the state of the union back then (after such high hopes had been raised with the 1992 elections only to be shattered by the Culture Wars and the Contract on America.)

We were so angry, many of us! And rightfully so. Still, many kudos to you for having had your tongue firmly in cheek even back then - even as many of ours were wagging in anger and earnestness at the injustices around us.

Country Parson said...

How terribly Augustinian of you.
I may have to print this out.

Suzer said...

Wonderful piece! I suspect those who will be bothered by it will generally be the ones using Scripture to condemn homosexuals, and who can't stand the mirror being held up to them once in a while. While I find the piece quite the opposite of "rude, smarmy, and unhelpful", those would be the mildest terms I could use to describe some of the hateful posts and comments directed toward homosexuals on other supposedly Christian sites.

Thank you for this.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the many comments. John2007 has now identified himself, and offered a further explanation, but it appears to me that in spite of his telling us about his degrees, he still has missed the point of this piece. Satire is an honored technique designed to hold up a mirror to the thing satirized, in this case, with the earnest hope that those who engage in the condescending judgment of others might see how they appear to those being judged, as well as to folks in the moderate middle. I consider satire to be among the gentlest of weapons in the arsenal of argument, as (when it works) it allows the opponents to see for themselves the flaws in their position.

His suggestion of nihilism is also very far off base. I have, if anything, a rather traditional view of ethics and moral theology. This is, in fact, why I am urging the church to review its teaching on same-sexuality, as it appears to me (and others) that this teaching rests not on sound principles of morality, but upon a holdover from a false world-view based on dualism and faulty understanding of biology. (The "biblical" understanding of biology is no more sophisticated than its understanding of cosmology. The church is required to be informed by the discoveries of the secular sciences, or it risks becoming not merely irrelevant, but absurd.)

As to whether it is hubris to compare myself to Swift -- it was his Anglicanism to which I was making the comparison, not his skill -- though I do note that this essay has been widely published, cited, and translated, so people must think it worth doing so -- and I have no doubt that his "Modest Proposal" probably engendered responses not unlike John2007's to this piece, when it first appeared. A priest suggesting cannibalism! Shocking!

Of course, Swift was no more suggesting cannibalism than I am actually condemning heterosexuals in this satire. The object of my critique is the hubris of judgment (the real hubris in this case). I simply don't buy John2007's assertion that "earnestness" (whatever he means by that) is somehow the only form argument can take based on the NT. As I note, Jesus' parables, and the rhetoric of Paul, both make use of a satirical or ironic edge to make their point -- not, again lest John 2007 misunderstand, that I'm putting myself in their league, merely in their stylistic universe.

Finally, kudos to FrMichael and Country Parson for recognizing that about 3/4 of this piece is actually sound doctrine from the Augustinian tradition, and actual Church teaching until relatively recent years, when in reaction to perceptions of same-sexuality as a "threat," the Church began to exalt heterosexuality itself as if it were virtuous. (Remember, Augustine held that sexual relations, even within a faithful marriage, were licit but still sinful: sin, for Augustine, is inescapable.)

As to why I dug the piece up after 15 years, it is in part to address the plagiarized versions that have popped up here and there. It is also brought up at this point because I feel it still to be timely, even as many among the self-styled orthodox advance teachings on sexuality that are actually very much out of keeping with the tradition; in some cases wandering perilously close to gnosticism or the concept of the hieros gamos.

Finally, thanks Rosie for the reference to Dextera Domini. I enjoyed first seeing it some years ago. Actually, in some venues it was attributed to me, perhaps because it first appeared on the internet about the same time my satire did. I would love to take credit for it, but it is someone else's work. I would also love to know who wrote it, as it is a delightful piece much in the same spirit of satire as I was attempting.

Christopher said...

Fr. Tobias,

I loved this piece when I happened on it some time ago and still do. It argues in a way I have done, but through satire rather than more systematic discourse.

I would remind that in the Augustinian view as well that taken to fruition, as many fail to do, celibacy is no guarantee of sinlessness in sexuality either. The celibate and monastic was long held up as to him or her self be celebrated. We've simply shifted to heterosexual marriage and heterosexuality since the Reformation. Neither understanding reflects a complete Augustinian framework. For anyone who doubts it, ever met bitter or controlling celibates? That want to control, Cassian would suggest, is itself rooted in sexuality and the consequences of sin. We can't escape sin, but we can minimize effects and we can orient toward love. It's time all of us got off our pedastals in this regard be we celibate or married, bi-, hetero-, or homo- sexual.

Marshall Scott said...

Ah, the good, old Baltimore Catechism: how I miss it! he wrote, tongue planted firmly in left cheek

Reprebus Dewi said...

While I appreciate the message, I'm going to have to side with (the anonymous) John 2007 here.

The problem with satire (and I would argue this post is closer to sarcasm) is that, although it can convey an important message, the true purpose is mockery; an obviously unchristian motive.

As difficult as the subject is, and as unreceptive as the other side has been, a post such as this does not in fact promote discernment, improve communications, or solve any issues of substance. It is a self-gratifying jab for those who are frustrated and may have been slighted/jabbed previously. Any valid points are drowned out by the implied haughtiness of the satirical vehicle used.

As Christians we are often asked to be silent victims ourselves, but outspoken advocates for those we feel are being victimized. This is not an easy balance to maintain, but might I suggest that a more appropriate, and still intellectually stimulating, approach would have been to use a parable.

In Peace,
Reprebus Dewi

PseudoPiskie said...

Martin Luther said something about not wanting to go to heaven if there is no humor there. I have personally been the brunt of God's sense of humor a number of times and laughed at it. Perhaps it is the humorless and easily offended who don't really know God at all?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


I assure you, mockery was not and is not my purpose. That would be immoral. My purpose is reform and provocation.

It is a bit concerning to me that you are unable to perceive the difference. An atheist of nihilist might merely mock. My purpose is to recall those who have erred to a reformation and realization. Quite a different thing.

As has been pointed out, this can hardly be considered sarcasm, since about 3/4 of it is perfectly acceptable Christian doctrine. Is it mockery to remind people of that? I hope not, if only to remind them of where they have been, and how much further we need to go.

Again, if you want true haughtiness, you might review the pontifical documents because of which this piece was originally written. The ones that refer to fellow Christians as "intrinsically disordered" might be a good place to start. Again, that obscene statement was intended seriously; therefore their sin is the greater.

Reprebus Dewi said...

Br Tobias, on this issue I am happy to be a reason for your concern! I do understand your stated purpose; I'm simply questioning it and the potential consequences. As you yourself indicated a nihilist would merely mock; you are mocking (sorry, satirizing) with the express intention of provoking. (Now I'm guilty as well...)

My concern really stems from the relationship between a satire and its intended audience. As a "shot across the bow" it MAY be effective, but it is more likely to inflame than illuminate. Perhaps it is just me, or perhaps this issue has become too polarized for humor, but the post seems to be meant more as an inside joke, a self-righteous justification for the 'left', than a true argument to present to the 'right.' If that is the case then John 2007's reaction is quite understandable.

Similar self-gratifying arguments are made regularly on the other side and I simply expect more from those of us espousing to be about true Christian tolerance.

Also, I personally believe the best sarcasm to be 1/2 truth, 1/2 fantasy, and 1/2 careful misrepresentation.

And finally, don't misconstrue my concern as support for the pontifical position, but your last paragraph seems to imply that there is a difference in degree of sin depending on intent or omission!?

Anonymous said...

Funny and thought provoking. And even before I began to read through the comments, I'd already been thinking that this was in the vein of Swift.

It's true that sarcasm can become an unholy enterprise when it is simply meant to be hurtful or mocking. I'm sure that I've done my share of this, as have many of us in the blogosphere, out of our frustration. But I did not sense that this was that kind of message at all. If anything, it's a clever way of reasserting some theological arguments that have gotten lost in the current atmosphere of Us vs. Them.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


I appreciate your comment, and even though I am not a consequentialist I do take your point. But if I am to judge from the responses to this work, even from the side to which it is addressed, I have to say the response has been positive; that is, over the years I've received notes of gratitude from people who found this approach persuasive in helping them to see past their assumptions into a greater truth and toleration. That is my purpose, and it is to some extent fulfilled.

Naturally, some will not respond to satire any more than they will to reasoned argument. I have deployed both in different forums over the years, and they both have their purposes, their successes and their failures. Again, mere mockery is not my metier; and it is seldom effective. But satire can, and does, in my experience, often produce the desired effect. In this case, I have seen the fruits of the effort, and they have been positive. As I say, if even one person, content in a self-satisfied judgment of others, can for a moment find himself stopped, I will have achieved an important goal. In the case of this present little essay, I know that I have reached more than one such person, and probably many others of whom I know nothing. (The fact that people felt it worthwhile to translate the essay into at least four other languages attests, I think, to its possible reach.)

It is also quite true that satire can be a form of encouragement to one's own side of the debate. But I see nothing wrong in that. Moreover, in the sexuality discussions it is often the case that those on my side are in serious need of such encouragement, if nothing else in dealing with their own internalized homophobia, to say nothing of the continued assaults on their dignity from the other side. So there is a positive element to such satire even there, in encouraging those who need such encouragement.

On the final point, I think it well-recognized that intent is related to sin -- that is, there is a moral difference between an intentional harm done vs. an unintentional one; or, in this case, between an intended good that leads to bad (in the false judgment of the Church leading many to despair rather than repentance) vs. a satirical essay that makes no real judgment about anyone, but merely allows those who might see themselves in it to perceive their error. This is exactly the parabolic technique that Jesus used in convicting at least some of the Pharisees, and winning them to him.

Anonymous said...

Tobias, this is a brilliant piece of writing, prophetic in its impact, and very much germane to the current situation in our church. It is not mocking, excessive, nihilistic or haughty, but earnest in its intentions and appropriate in its form. I think you just struck a nerve with a couple of your critics. Don't even think of taking it down. I'm sure you could have written a parable on the subject that would have made the same point, but it would have been so incisive that reprebus dewi would probably have found it just as disturbing as this piece. I suspect that the complaints are not really to do with the genre you've chosen, but with the fact that you really, really made your point!

As for the first anonymous's (John 2007) comments, I find it hard to understand how, despite having two degrees in literature, he has difficulty with this approach. I am also struck by the extreme specificity of his notion of "the calling of the church, surely there is such a calling, to be against the excessive (and often nihilistic) deployment of irony, esp when it is mocking irony". Can anyone point me to a source for this view of the mission of the church? Do the OT prophets hold back in mocking what is wrong? Where in scripture or in the Church Fathers do we find the limits of irony spelled out?

Thomas Williams said...

Goodness, I would have thought the studied blandness of your tone in this piece would have been sufficient by itself to secure you against charges of mockery. This kind of piece functions (and clearly is intended to function) as a kind of shorthand for a full-scale reductio of the "by parity of reasoning" sort. Instead of saying "Here's how people argue for p; but that same pattern of argument would also support q, and you surely wouldn't want to be stuck with q," you just present the argument for q as though in earnest, and let your reader fill out the enthymeme. It's about the most inoffensive way to present an argument I can think of. If that's banned, then no error may be licitly confuted.

And to insist that the obligation to perpetual "earnestness" (which I have trouble finding in the authoritative texts) bans the sort of thing you've done here is to fly in the face of a long history of theologians of unquestioned sanctity who have argued far more vigorously, directly, and pointedly against fellow Christians whom they took to have departed in some way from important truths. Read Anselm against Roscelin, or Aquinas against the Latin Averroists, and tell me that their arguments would have passed muster with your more restrictive commenters.

Fran said...

Fascinating post and what a comment thread.

Thank you Tobias.

Anonymous said...

John 2007 responds to this:
"As for the first anonymous's (John 2007) comments, I find it hard to understand how, despite having two degrees in literature, he has difficulty with this approach. I am also struck by the extreme specificity of his notion of "the calling of the church, surely there is such a calling, to be against the excessive (and often nihilistic) deployment of irony, esp when it is mocking irony". Can anyone point me to a source for this view of the mission of the church? Do the OT prophets hold back in mocking what is wrong? Where in scripture or in the Church Fathers do we find the limits of irony spelled out?"

1. On irony: it is my judgement of the current culture(s) we inhabit that irony and sarcasm (not to mention polemic) are widely and often poorly deployed and that the calling of the church--something sorted out by taking on the biblical witness, thinking and praying through things--is to model the kind of earnestness enjoined upon us by the NT. Read the Pauline epistles on how our speech should be edifying. And, tho' this is anathema to many in ECUSA, consider how the Puritan tradition so emphasized godliness in speech. To ask, as you do, "Can anyone point me to a source for this view of the mission of the church?" sounds like you want a prooftext. I don't have that, tho' surely you can find your way around the NT enough to land on verses about gentleness of speech, earnestness, avoiding quarreling in the like. There are, of course, Fred Phelps conservatives that I would not trust as ministers; but, again, I wouldn't trust someone with this kind of scorn and sarcasm, either. Too much unfinished business it seems in the soul.

If you think the world, our culture, our era, and our denomination, needs Swiftian irony . . .well, I can only say, I am seeing a greater need for truth in love and earnestness and this would preclude setting out, as your piece does, to mock--yes, it mocks--others. It mocks many of us who, while hardly convinced of the propriety of your sexual ethics, have shown consistent compassion, toleration, and "care" for gays. That many in the church have tried to make "caring responses" is beyond doubt, even if the press doesn't get this.

And FWIW I side with the post above whose author detects mainly sarcasm and not irony.

2. I don't think the piece is that clever.

3. I also think that while we can see its appeal to LBGT's, it really doesn't work if you examine its conceit(s)line by line. Abraham's willingness to betray his wife has nothing to do with 'heterosexuality' per se. The piece trades, as I mentioned earlier, on human culpability spread throughout all relations and, of course, does nothing to bolster any case for same-sex sexual relations.

But, hey, what do I know? You think its clever. And you probably like all this attention, too. I think the piece is not commendable.

WSJM said...

Tobias, I had not seen this piece before, and I think it's a hoot! "Smarmy"??? Oh, give me a break! And if the irony is mocking, the mockery is certainly well deserved!

As I believe you or one of the other commenters pointed out, there are more than a few Fathers of the Church who would have no difficulty agreeing with this essay, only with a straight face.

Although the early church permitted clergy to be married (that is, married men could be ordained), and later, concubinage by parish clergy was tolerated (wink wink nudge nudge), I am not aware of any evidence that clergy were ever allowed to enter matrimony after ordination, prior to the reformation in the sixteenth century. Let's hear it for Article XXXII.

Anonymous/John2007 and Reprebus Dewi, I'm sorry, my brothers, but you really do need to get over yourselves.

Paul Davison said...

I think it says something about the lack of humor these days that, even with a preface stating that this was irony, people miss the point.

I think it's excellent (not to mention that it was standard doctrine not that long ago). Perhaps some didn't like the view in the mirror...

I have sometimes thought about how handedness (I'm a leftie) could be used in these discussion, but I had never seen Dextera Domini.

Anonymous said...

"if you want true haughtiness, you might review the pontifical documents because of which this piece was originally written. The ones that refer to fellow Christians as "intrinsically disordered" might be a good place to start. Again, that obscene statement was intended seriously; therefore their sin is the greater."

Toby, I think your memory is playing you false. "Intrinsically disordered" didn't modify "persons," in those documents, but "acts" and "inclinations." If one sees procreation as being essentially associated with right sexuality (as the Catholic Church does, and as you obviously don't, of course) then it's pretty much a no-brainer than certain kinds of sex are not, in their nature, ordered to that.

The problem with your piece here is that you seem to truly see some sort of "orthodox" exhaultation of heterosexuality as such, which the then-Cardinal Ratzinger seemed to take some pains to deny:

"The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a "heterosexual" or a "homosexual" and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life."

--rick allen

Dennis said...

enough with earnestness.

Leave it up.

It makes a damned good point.

Erika Baker said...

A piece like this will affect three groups of people differently. It will confirm those who have always agreed with the position, and possibly make them feel slightly smug. I confess to more than one smug and un-Christian chuckle...

It will offend many of those (not all!) who are deeply entrenched on the other side and who see it as vitriolic criticism of their stance. Because it's humorous, they can dismiss it as unbecoming or un-Christian without having to engage with the actual points made.

Then there's a third group, those in the middle, who are still thinking, or who do not have completely confirmed beliefs yet. Those people can genuinely be moved to sense the emotional truths underpinning the piece, and become aware again that Scripture can, indeed, be used and misused to prove all things.

The approach reminded me more than a little of the times when the first feminists would consistently substitute he for she in an attempt to make a patriarchal society understand that women do not feel included in a purely male focused language system.
Then, too, those already converted to the idea cheered, those wedded to the old structures claimed with derision that women ought to be able to see that the issue was purely one of neutral grammar and that they were always included in the generic “he”. Yet, it influenced enough of those in the middle to make sentences like “this view of the authority of the Bible may constrain the man, but it does not enlarge him” an impossibility today.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the additional comments. John2007, your minority report has been received. I think you've made your point.

Rick, I believe you fall into the same fallacy that Benedict fell into: the notion that acts can exist apart from actors, inclinations from those so inclined, or, if you will, sin apart from sinners. (This is why Jesus never actually said, Hate the sin, love the sinner -- it is impossible. Those who begin by "hating the sin" often end by burning sinners at the stake.

You will note as well, that in the recent implementation of policies concerning seminaries and ordination, that even celibate persons with a homosexual inclincation are dissuaded from following a course they might be unable to complete or maintain. This rather gives the lie to Benedict's protest that this isn't about people, but behavior.

I know you accept the current RC teaching; but I utterly reject is as mistaken. It is based entirely on the begged question that there is a divine "order" to sex that is somehow "disordered" in homosexual acts. That is a premise, not a conclusion -- and it is not far from being on the order of "if God had wanted us to fly He would have given us wings." But as you know, I have argued this out with great care in the articles on my sidebar, and you have yet to provide any evidence for your (and the Roman Church's) position other than mere assertion and repetition, while I have offered considerable evidence that the sexual act is not in fact always ordered towards procreation -- by divine plan, if you will. That is a scientific fact, not an unproved premise. There is a world of difference between the reality of sexual reproduction and the idealist view promulgated from the time of the Fathers, based on primitive science.

Finally, I am not trying to "prove" that in this essay; I merely point out some of the implications of this view when applied in another direction. It is, as the Postulant rightly points out, a form of reductio, in this case, a finely reduced sauce for goose as well as gander.

G said...

This rather gives the lie to Benedict's protest that this isn't about people, but behavior.


Anonymous said...

There's a brief essay on disagreement germane to our discussion here. In particular, it deals with the distinction between an argument's form and content, and its content and central point. Disagreeing with the form of an argument tends to be less convincing. In other words, saying "you're mocking us, and that's wrong" is always less effective than saying "your central point is wrong, and here's why".

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Marketsquare, for noticing how very much this discussion has focused on objection to form as opposed to content. This is a rather classic dilatory technique. Not that critique of form is always inappropriate in the case of faulty syllogisms and such. In this case we are dealing with genre, as a subtype of form. One might say, for instance, that the effort to compose a Limerick Bible is at cross-purposes, for example.

Rick, I did a little checking on the Googlematic, and find that Benedict and his coterie quite frequently makes use of the phrase "homosexual person" -- in spite of his effort to make the distinction, he does fall very clearly into the trap of confounding the very thing he mistakenly believes he can keep separate.

As to the premise of the RC teaching on sexuality being a no-brainer if one accepts it, I prefer to use my brain. That little sentence, Rick, in itself is a classic example of petitio principii, echoing the principle I satirize in the closing line, "What I say is true, is true because I say it."

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

Regardless of what anybody thinks about Tobias' piece, I find it difficult to accept the proposition that Christians cannot and/or should not employ satire and irony - or, on occasion, even sarcasm and mockery - as rhetorical strategies.

Note, for example, the way in which many of the Church Fathers wrote against heresies. It's been a while since I read some of that stuff, but I don't recall them going out of the way to be particularly nice about it.

Or what about Martin Luther's tirades against the perceived abuses of the Roman Catholic Church?

Or John Calvin labeling his opponents as "dogs"?

Or, in our own day, the bombastic prose and public presence of theological ethicist Stanley Hauerwas?

Or, again in our own day, when N. T. Wright - the Anglican Bishop of Durham - writes in his recently published book Surprised By Hope that New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan displays "a total misunderstanding of what Christianity is all about" (p. 189)? (Can you say "Ouch!"?)

It's hard to not draw the conclusion that the real objection is not to the rhetorical strategy employed by Tobias, but to the substantive implications of his piece.

Anonymous said...

This post, apart from its other virtues, would have been justified simply by the fact that it could stimulate a discussion involving the term 'enthymeme' (thanks, Postulant!).

Anonymous said...

Toby, I know that “Hate the sin; love the sinner” has become a smarmy and trite truism. I don’t see, however, how one can seriously argue against it—if I love a murderer, must I therefore love murder? Was it necessary that Jesus love adultery in order to love and forgive an adulterer? Surely the mandate to love one’s enemy itself presumes that we must love those persons doing the things we hate, be they great sins like warmongering and oppression, or small sins like slander and contempt.

But my post was responding to your apparent assumption that there is something inherently sinful in attributing to Christians “disordered desires”—as if there were not a long and profound tradition, going back to the Hebrew prophets, proclaiming and decrying the force and effect of our variously-directed cravings. I know that you have studied Augustine’s exploration of human concupiscence, and seem familiar with St. Thomas’ lengthy exposition of human passions and habits in his Summa (where indeed, he expressly refers to desires, under original sin, as “inordinata,” “disordered”).

I am not interested in arguing with you about this traditional Christian anthropology. My only point is that understanding and accepting the “disorderedness” of human desire—even if you reject it--is in no sense a “sin” against anyone, but part of what Christians have always believed we, universally, must be saved from (obviously it constitutes an even more fundamental assumption for Buddhists).

I am still puzzled by how you feel that science settles these kinds of disputes. Science cannot tell us the purpose for which things come to be. At most it can tell us facts and relationships, from which we can do our best to glean purpose. It is a common fallacy to think that evolutionary biology assigns purpose to changes, when, at most, it can note the reason why one mutation happened to result in a better chance of survival for the resulting organism. Those of us who think the universe infused with purpose may reason about the structure of change, and may use the data and processes revealed by science to bolster that reasoning, but science gives us no final answer one way or the other. Science is a great thing, but it can provide us neither with ethics, nor politics, nor religion.

-rick allen

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


The comment thread has grown rather long, so I will post my response as a new item.


Doorman-Priest said...

A fantastic piece because it is so thought provoking. I don't doubt that some will find it threatening, but in my experience such folk are never open to an alternative perspective.

Anonymous said...


Classic! Well worth a read (okay, multiple reads, so I'm bookmarking it), and I will recommend it to others. It's witty, well tought-out, and clever without any personal meanness; the piece gently and humorously invites the reader to put the shoe on the other foot (and walk a mile in the shoes of our LGBT friends!). In all, a delightful change from some of the more rancorous discussion on both sides of the debate.

While I have not read Swift's "A Modest Proposal" in many years, your piece immediately brought it to mind.

I'd like to add another thought to Erika Baker's "three groups." I'm certainly in the first group, as the father of a lesbian daughter, and as one who absorbed the lessons of the civil rights movement at a young age.

I agree with Erika that some who are "deeply entrenched on the other side" will take offense. Frankly, the majority of these folks are intransigent, and with many of them there is little hope of of a useful dialog. Fortunately, there are a handful of folks in this group who are still willing to engage in civil discussion, and I think that some of them will see the humor as well.

Ah, but the second group - the undecided ones who are trying to figure it out! That's where your satire can have real impact, Tobias! While they are chuckling at your cleverness, they will also be thinking about the points you raise. Some of them will also put on that "shoe" and, I expect, gain a bit more insight into how silly are many of the standard claims made about homosexuals.

Laughter is a wonderful gift! Thanks again, Tobias!