"In our nation's culture wars," wrote Thomas Wenski, the Archbishop of Miami, in an editorial in Saturday's Sun Sentinel:
...the two sides are fighting about the understanding of man and his relationship with reality. One side -- and today, "gay marriage" is its poster child -- holds that anyone can essentially create his own reality. This side holds for a radical autonomy by which truth is determined not by the nature of things, but by one's own individual will. The other side holds men and women are not self-creators, but creatures. Truth is not constructed, but received and thus must reflect the reality of things. Or, as the Book of Genesis says: "Male and female he created them." (Genesis, 1:27)
Just to be clear, Archbishop Wenski believes that a virgin gave birth to a deity who was nailed to a piece of wood to save us from the wrath of his father; and that this deity rose from the dead, floated in the air, and ascended through a magic portal to heaven. I mention this not to cast aspersions on Wenski's faith -- I'll do that in a moment -- but to underline what Wenski means when he asserts that it's his side of the culture wars that is concerned with the "reality of things."
Wenski's Saturday editorial is a brief diatribe against gay marriage, and as that quotation suggests, its construction doesn't demonstrate a tremendous amount of authorly self-awareness. (Nor does it demonstrate much editorial self-awareness, for I doubt the Sentinel realizes that Wenski has been republishing this exact same article in different news outlets for at least three years.) Wenski does not believe gay marriage is good, just, or right -- he believes its acceptance signifies an erosion of the bedrock values upon which our society is based -- but his essay fails to argue this point convincingly, or even coherently. It is six paragraphs long, and makes four claims. Three of these are senseless, and I'll address those first. They are:
- Queers are intolerant. Wenski: "Those who see 'same sex marriage' as progress toward a more 'tolerant' society will, with characteristic intolerance, label their opponents as 'intolerant,' 'bigoted,' 'homophobic,' and so on."
- Queers should be grateful they're not being arrested anymore. Wenski: "And even those Americans who hold homosexual activity to be immoral and sinful are increasingly tolerant of homosexuality as a 'private' phenomenon. They might invite the person who experiences same sex attractions to conversion ... but they do not invoke the coercive power of the state to force such a conversion."
- The purpose of marriage is child-rearing. Wenski: "Marriage has been primarily about the raising of children ... The state has had a legitimate interest in favoring such traditional marriages as a way of investing in the future of society."
A few brief responses:
- Wenski accusing the gay-marriage-crowd of intolerance is almost pure gibberish, akin to saying that blacks who opposed Jim Crow were intolerant of Southern whites, or that women who fight for wage equality are intolerant of sexist CEO's. Both statements are technically true, and both statements make useless hash of the word "tolerance." The argument would have some bite if gay activists were trying to force Catholic clergy to perform same-sex marriages, but they're not. Catholic clergy ought always be free to marry whomever they choose, and no one argues otherwise.
- Wenski's second point, that queers should be grateful that the world's decent folk aren't monitoring and punishing their bedroom activities, is even less sensible than his first. As it happens, queers are grateful for the strides that have been made towards equality, and our memories are long enough to remember who opposed those strides. Wenski seems to suggest that the outcome of the Supreme Court case which legalized consensual sodomy, Lawrence v. Texas, was an example of Catholic compassion and moral largesse. That's not the case. If Wenski and his co-religionists had their way, private, consensual homosexual acts would still be illegal.
- It really could be said that the purpose of marriage is to create environments in which children may be healthily reared, and Wenski is more than welcome to his opinions about what such an environment might comprise. But the child-rearing argument is really a moral one, and its validity is inherently subjective. For example: Most heterosexual married couples -- including those for whom the Archbishop performed the nuptials -- would insist that their marriages are about a great deal more than child-rearing. And whose opinions are more trustworthy? Those of actual married couples, or those of an unmarried, self-proclaimed virgin?
But we can't say the Archbishop is exactly wrong on any of these points, because he takes no ownership of them. He insinuates and infers, dancing around his own conclusions -- as though afraid that committing them to paper in short, declarative sentences would too easily expose them to refutation. Only at the end of his essay, in outlining his fourth argument, does Wenski take a clear position:
That marriage is a life-long union between a man and a woman is certainly part of Catholic teaching, which holds it to be a sacrament. However, marriage as an institution predates both church and state. Since it is not a creation of church or state, neither has any authority to change the nature of marriage.
Even here he is begging the question -- saying, in effect, that tradition is good because it's traditional -- but at least his opinion is clear. However, grownups cannot beg the question and expect to be taken seriously, so the argument would be beneath rebuttal if Wenski, while making it, hadn't demonstrated such extraordinary ignorance of his own religion.
Apparently, the Archbishop is unaware that early Christians, beginning with Paul, absolutely loathed marriage. They saw it as an excuse to fornicate. In the second century, Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, wrote:
The first decree commanded to increase and to multiply; the second enjoined continency. While the world is still rough and void, we are propagated by the fruitful begetting of numbers, and we increase to the enlargement of the human race. Now when the world is filled and the earth supplied, they who can receive continency, living after the manner of eunuchs, are made eunuchs unto the kingdom. Nor does the Lord command this, but He exhorts it."
In other words: Getting married is okay, but God would prefer you not.
For obvious reasons, the spread of Catholicism necessitated a gradual softening on marriage and all its filthy attendant sex. By the ninth century, the Church was even performing marriages. (Prior to that, the Church mostly just recognized local marriage customs.) The form of marriage the Church ultimately propounded -- indissoluble, monogamous, and with a dowry -- became the template for modern Western matrimony. You'll note that Wenski implies, but doesn't quite say, that these monogamous, heterosexual marriages have been the norm in recorded history. Wenski doesn't quite say it because it's a lie. Wenski's own holy books document a long history of polygamy, most of which was approved by Wenski's god. The biblical David, the shepherd boy who felled Goliath and became king, had eight wives, and his nuptials predated those performed in Wenski's churches by several millenia. What could be more traditional?
Of course, this history is one that Wenski would rather elide, historical elision being a necessary pastime of professional Catholics everywhere. There is something repellent about a man assuming moral authority by virtue of his rank in an organization which, when it had the power, spent a millenium burning women and subjugating "savages," and which is now engaged in an international cover-up of the rape and torture of children.
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Let me rephrase that: Wenski has a platform in the Sun Sentinel not because of his stature as a journalist, or as an essayist, or as an ethicist, but because he has risen to prominence in an organization which has institutionalized and then lied about the rape and torture of tens of thousands of children. To treat such a man as a moral authority is laughable. If he possessed any true moral authority, he'd have cut and run long ago -- or, at the very least, have the decency to use his Sun Sentinel platform not to pontificate, but to apologize.
UPDATE: The Catholic blogosphere has responded to this article, and I've responded to its response. Click here for more.