Magazine article The Spectator

The Gay Lobby Should Rejoice at the Pope's Argument That God Makes Us the Way We Are

Magazine article The Spectator

The Gay Lobby Should Rejoice at the Pope's Argument That God Makes Us the Way We Are

Article excerpt

I have been puzzling during the winter holidays over Pope Benedict XVI's Christmas message. You may remember that it was interpreted as an attack on homosexuality, provoking the usual outrage. Most people, it seems, saw the response. Few bothered to study the message itself.

I have done so. Not only (as Roman Catholic spokesmen protested at the time) does the Pope never in fact mention homosexuality, it is far from clear he meant his remarks to be interpreted in any such light.

Study the remarks themselves, for they present a picture troubling in a quite different way from that suggested by spokesmen for gay and transgender organisations. The address seems to betray a Church mind confused about the implications for morality of rival scientific theories, and plumping in its confusion for the variant most dangerous to church teaching.

In order (I believe) to take a swipe at an idea the Vatican finds immediately irritating -- that women could be priests -- the Pope has sided with arguments in medical and social science which, properly understood, present real difficulties for traditional Church morality in the longer term. He has undermined the belief that people can change. He has sided with those who suspect that people can't -- or not as much as required. I think he is right. But he is sawing off a branch on which Catholic ethics sit.

The question under scrutiny is to what extent a higher animal, human or otherwise, is the product either of its inherited genes, or of its environment and upbringing. Essentially this is the old nature vs nurture debate.

The theory the Pope chose to attack this Christmas was what he rather obscurely called 'gender theory'. There's really no such thing, but it's true that in the social sciences, especially feminist studies, there's a good deal of hypothesising about gender. Much of this gives more weight to social conditioning than to inborn nature as the principal determinant of what it is to be a woman or a man.

At its extreme is Simone de Beauvoir's view that 'One is not born a woman, one becomes one.' Put crudely, the attraction of the nurture-not-nature theory to feminists is that it seems to confound the belief that there are things women 'can't do' (or can't do well) just because they are women. In fact, runs the argument, aptitudes are suppressed by social conditioning.

Irritated by this approach, the Pope declared in the Vatican's Clementine Hall that it is not 'out-of-date metaphysics' to 'speak of human nature as "man" or "woman"'. When the Roman Catholic Church, he said, defends God's Creation, 'it does not only defend the earth, water and the air. . . but [it] also protects man from his own destruction.' Critics seized on passages like this to interpret Pope Benedict as asserting that procreation is man's divine duty, that men and women have been created differently in order to fulfil it, and that the Church must resist teaching that we're all the same, or that gender is secondary. How the gay lobby got it into its head that this was an attack on homosexuals I am unclear, but it was certainly an attack on those who think we can all become whatever sort of human being we want, if only we get the right attitudes and try hard enough to change.

Which is odd, because on the gay debate that is precisely the Roman Catholic Church's position. …

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