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Saturday, May 07, 2016

Guarding our neighbor's pride--yet another response to Morgan Guyton

If I'm not careful this blog will become nothing but a parasite on Morgan's. He raises such good questions in both his blog and his FB comments, and I find myself responding on Facebook at such length as to warrant a blog post of my own. I'll try to blog about other things as well. . . .

Most recently, Morgan has raised the question of how his sense of the need to affirm "queer pride" relates to his theological belief that we need to be willing to "renounce everything about who we are in order to become a Christian disciple."

I think there are two issues here:
1. The question of whether "pride" has the same negative connotation for people (especially but not exclusively people who belong to disadvantaged social groups) whose temptation is to self-contempt as it does for people whose social location and/or psychology make them more likely to be tempted to arrogance.

2. Granted the traditional premise that pride is bad, the paradox arises that humility for me means, in some sense, respecting the "pride" of the other.

I think 1 is resolvable by recovering the fully orthodox Christian doctrine of human nature--i.e., rejecting the Calvinist and to some extent also the Augustinian (though there's a lot of value in Augustine) claim of total depravity. I can distinguish, for myself (though of course it's not easy), the line between affirming my value as a good creation of God (over against the voices in my own head or coming from other people that tell me I'm no good) and a sinful arrogance that lords it over others. I think (and there's plenty of support for this in Augustine and even in Calvin) that a mark of pride in the sinful sense is that it leads us to be abusive toward others. Pride is the chief characteristic of tyrants--which is why, in case anyone reading this should have any doubts, it's always a bad idea to vote for a person who says he has never needed to ask God for forgiveness. Psychologically, I think it's sound to say that pride in the sinful sense is always the result of a lack of confidence in one's inherent dignity as God's good creation. (The promise of the serpent, "you will be like gods," implies that the dignity Adam and Eve already have as God's creatures and stewards of the earth isn't enough--that they are really inferior beings who need something more that the serpent can offer in order to have real dignity.) If you have inherited vast wealth and feel the need to prove to yourself and the world that you are more than just the spoiled scion of privilege, you will be tempted to become the kind of person who is always bragging about being a "winner."

The trickier problem, as I see it, is no. 2. Humility, for me, means in part that I submit myself to the wisdom of the Christian tradition, on sexuality and on other matters. But at times this may involve me in complicity with the abuse of others. I find the Christian (and specifically Catholic) picture of what human sexuality is supposed to look like profoundly compelling, and I find that it speaks effectively to my own potential to abuse others. But I hear the point that Morgan and many others are making that when I, as a heterosexual male, affirm the eternal validity and authority of this ethic, I am contributing to a way of thinking that causes gay people to fall into despair, lose any sense of their dignity as children of God, and in some cases kill themselves.

An issue that touches me more closely is women's ordination. I find it arrogant of me to assert, over against the Catholic Church, that the practice of ordaining only men is theologically flawed (even though my own theological reasoning would lead me to conclude this). But it is more poisonously arrogant of me to affirm, over against my wife and other women who feel called to ordination, that their calling is invalid because a theological system that I find personally compelling says so. The conclusion I've come to with regard to Catholicism is that I can submit my own "intellect and will" to the Church, but not that of my brothers and sisters in Christ (particularly, in this case, my sisters in Christ). 

I don't think there's an easy answer here. I come down on a different place with regard to how this applies to gay people than Morgan does, but I'm deeply conflicted about it precisely because I fear that I'm actually exercising a form of arrogance in trying to be humble vis-a-vis the historic Christian tradition. One of the reasons I find Morgan's presentation of the "pro-gay" case much more compelling than that of many other progressives is that Morgan clearly recognizes the conflict from the other side. 

1 comment:

Sophia Montgomery said...


"2. Granted the traditional premise that pride is bad, the paradox arises that humility for me means, in some sense, respecting the "pride" of the other."

Pride would have you believe that. :)
If one is busy fearing (being in awe) of God, one simply has no time for thinking about the pride of others.


"The trickier problem, as I see it, is no. 2. Humility, for me, means in part that I submit myself to the wisdom of the Christian tradition, on sexuality and on other matters. But at times this may involve me in complicity with the abuse of others. I find the Christian (and specifically Catholic) picture of what human sexuality is supposed to look like profoundly compelling, and I find that it speaks effectively to my own potential to abuse others. But I hear the point that Morgan and many others are making that when I, as a heterosexual male, affirm the eternal validity and authority of this ethic, I am contributing to a way of thinking that causes gay people to fall into despair, lose any sense of their dignity as children of God, and in some cases kill themselves."

The problem is that the issue is usually conceived in terms of the superficial difference heterosexual vs. homosexual -- which is misleading.

When women are expected to risk health, life, and having unwanted children -- all this for the sake of living up to the social standards of heterosexuality, that, too, can cause them "to fall into despair, lose any sense of their dignity as children of God, and in some cases kill themselves."
But who cares about that? Nobody, except maybe a few conservatives from various religions. Even though this is far more common than the social problems faced by homosexuals.

In our culture, and among Christians in general, there is a big stigma attached to celibacy, especially to celibacy in marriage. Why? Why is it considered so wrong to engage in sex only for producing children that the parents are willing and able to raise in proper awareness of God?
Why are women expected to risk their health, life, and the lives of unwanted children for the sake of living up to the social standards of heterosexuality? How has this expectation become so normal, even among people who claim to be religious?


"The conclusion I've come to with regard to Catholicism is that I can submit my own "intellect and will" to the Church, but not that of my brothers and sisters in Christ (particularly, in this case, my sisters in Christ)."

I wouldn't want a female priest, nor a married or otherwise sexually involved male priest. This isn't because of some specific religious affiliation of mine, but because I expect that a priest should be able to maintain a certain level of renunciation of worldliness.