Friday, July 20, 2012

Dear friends,

I have not updated this blog in FOREVER. And I found doing so more and more difficult, especially since my theology has evolved and has been evolving for some time. I thank you for your patience with my updates, since they were so few and far between. But for those of you who still want to hear me ramble on and on and on and on ad nauseum, slide on over to my new project: The Marian Menagerie. You'll figure out why it would be irresponsible for me to continue this blog once you start reading what's over there.

Again, thank you all for the time we spent together. Love you all. God bless!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Catholic traditional theology, Catholic liberal politics.

I have been thinking extensively over recent poll results that show that American Catholics are more accepting of homosexuality than any other religious group in America. Here's one result breakdown:

You have to scroll pretty far down to see the religious results, but they're there. In all, it's a very interesting article.

At any rate, it's interesting to note a dichotomy in Catholic thought on these issues. If you speak to a person who self-identifies as Catholic, and politics become the nature of the conversation, it's inevitable that you will suddenly be hearing a lot of liberal views (especially if they're younger). But when it comes to articles of faith, you'll get a very traditional, very conservative defense of things like transubstantiation, confession, the Marian dogmas, etc. In any other setting, in mainline Protestantism and charismatic Evangelicalism in particular, when you encounter strong and avid defense of matters of faith, you get very conservative politics that go along with it. Is this an expression of a disconnect between Catholic teaching and the laity's application to the world? I posit that it's not, and there is a very reasonable and rational explanation for this.

Generally speaking, post-reformation churches are Once-Saved-Always-Saved (generally). It is a common, unifying article of theology that the grace of Christ pardons all sins, past, present, and future. So, you are forgiven if you sin. It makes matters such as sexual sin (fornication, homosexual interaction, adultery, etc.) a lot easier to discuss frankly. In Catholicism, however, we do not believe that you are guaranteed immediate heaven simply because you were baptized. We believe we must take responsibility for our actions, no matter the sacraments we have received. Because, if we willingly indulge in sin with full knowledge of the sinfulness of our behavior, we run the risk of going to hell. Not a pleasant thought.

So why do we suddenly show a rise in support for things like gay civil unions? Mind you, Catholics tend to get uppity when you use the term "marriage" and don't support it as much. But that's a discussion for another day. Well, as the survey results point out, the rise in support is mostly amongst those who do not attend Mass weekly. And the less one attends Mass, the more noticeable the change. At first glance, this looks like a lot of Christmas and Easter Catholics taking surveys. At a deeper level, it's not just the Christmas and Easter Catholics. It's the younger Catholics. The ones who have not yet finished growing physically, mentally, or spiritually.

Catholicism approaches the nature of sin in a very convoluted matter. Most Catholic parents will be generally frank with their children in regards to sexual behavior. But outside this closed familial setting (and even between the various children of the family), the subject is strictly taboo. The closest thing I have ever heard in a priest's homily concerning sexual behavior was an explanation that Mark was not condemning marriage, but saying it's not for everyone. By contrast, you are almost guaranteed on a fairly regular basis in a Protestant or Evangelical church a lecture on sexual sin. The difference is that Catholics, in preparing their children for the world, equip them with the knowledge, but then immediately try to shield them from what that knowledge pertains to. Problem? Well, yes and no.

A friend of mine referred to Catholics as the "whores of Christendom". And the stereotype of the Catholic school girl/boy is not ill-founded. There is a tendency amongst Catholic youth to lose their virginity earlier than most, or to suppress their sexuality until very late and lose their virginity far later. We are the outliers in surveys for losing your v-card. Why is this? We are equipped early with the knowledge of how our bits work. We are also indoctrinated from an early age that it's simply not something to talk about. Friends, family, that girl you like on the bus, nope. We're not discussing it. Sex does NOT exist. So when a Catholic encounters it for the first time, there are really only two choices available: indulge or run. This initial reaction will determine future reactions for years to come.

What are we doing, then? On a deeply psychological level, we are experiencing intellectual dissonance. What we are doing doesn't make logical sense, even within our own mental framework. But anything dealing with mental dissonance of any kind shows that the more you engage such dissonance, the quicker it resolves itself. Hence, the ones who run from their early sexual experiences don't lose their virginity until their thirties. Those that engage immediately find themselves more ready to handle a mature sexual relationship earlier than their peers. Dissonance in music operates in much the same way. Ignore it, and the grating lack of proper harmonization continues. Engage, fight it, and overcome it, and you get chord resolutions that sound delightful. Much more delightful, even, than if the dissonance didn't exist in the first place.

So, in response to our bizarre method of "Inform, then Suppress", we are actively arming ourselves with the ability to engage that which we have to struggle against. Early Christian mystics made similar statements. To overcome sin, you must understand it, or remove yourself from the world entirely. The only way to understand would be to engage it. Latin Christendom didn't like this approach to much, so we argued to suppress it. But in Orthodoxy and the Eastern Churches, you have the concept of the Holy Fool who sleeps with dozens of women, eats meat on Fridays in Lent, and is still considered holy. In the West, you have a serious plethora of monastic orders.

But for those of us who cannot join a monastery or a convent, we are, in our own way, acting out the role of the holy fool. We may end up in the confessional way more than our priests would like, but what we are seeing is that sin is sin and no sin is worse than any other. This is a realization that is lost entirely in those churches that make it their mission to "cure" homosexuality or otherwise spend inordinate amounts of time battling it. All sexual sin is fornication. So the pulpit from which the fiery sermons of "gays in hell" originate should also be condemning premarital sex in high schools, divorce, adultery, and every other form of sexual sin. But if this was so, homosexuality would be lost in the din. So Catholicism, in its way, recognizes that sin is sin and doesn't try to adopt a particularly strong issue on one over all the others. And it allows the laity to engage in a way that is forbidden elsewhere, and develop a much more mature understanding of the world around them.

There isn't a change in Catholic teaching. The homosexual union would still be seen as sinful in the eyes of the Church. But to treat a fellow human being as less than equal would go against everything Christ stood for. And the laity, I feel, is realizing this and finally expressing it. Thank God for the Holy Fool, and the engagement of sin to overcome it, rather than the complete ignorance of sin found in so many other communities.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A non-biblical, non-traditional, reasonable defense of Catholicism

I got the idea for this post from reading a philosophical discourse on the ontological argument for God's necessary existence. It didn't delve into established philosophical schools or even establish a logic proof (those are fun!) one way or the other. It made a succinct and simple appeal to logic and reason. Why should I do the same for Catholicism? Two reasons.

1. Biblical defense of the Church is limited, because we also hold Sacred Tradition to be, well, sacred; and
2. Biblical defense relies heavily on how one interprets the scriptures.

For example:

"I name you Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (paraphrased).

The Catholic interpretation is that the physical and spiritual Church was established as a unit. I have an earlier post about a holistic treatment of these two concepts and my own musings on the hypostatic union being mirrored in the Church. I believe such a concept to be sound exegesis and not in conflict with Catholic doctrine. No Bishop has come forth to say that I have erred, so we will assume it to be sound.

The Protestant and Evangelical argument is that this foundation applied only to the spiritual Church, and so, by the time the physical Church was hijacked/corrupted/lost/supplanted/usurped/etc. by the Fourth Century, it didn't matter because Christ was talking about His spiritual Church only (and we get yelled at for over-complicating Scripture).

This presents a problem. Catholics use this a proof text for the legitimacy of the Church itself, regardless of Tradition. Protestants write it off because, simply, they need an explanation for why God would have waited 1500 years (or more in many cases) to reveal the "true" Church in the face of such a long-reaching and fundamental corruption. It is this insurmountable conflict of interpretation that necessitates a Scripture-free defense.

So, let's begin.

In the first, we have two suppositions:
1. God is infinite, and there is no other being greater or more perfect than He (also the foundational supposition of the ontological argument)
2. God was made incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who inspired the Gospels and the whole of the New Testament.

Building upon these, the Church that is developed from this person is largely reliant on two things: the written record of his life, and the handing on of information from first hand accounts. The historical record holds that Christianity in its early years spread rapidly throughout the Levant, Egypt, and Anatolia--modern day Turkey. Seutonius refers to it as a minor sect and mentions it only one time in his classic biographical "Twelve Caesars". So given its rapid spread (which, taking the Epistles as historical documents, suggests a rapid spread into Anatolia within a single generation, let alone the many generations separating the Apostles from Seutonius), its influence within the Roman Empire was low even after such a monumental expansion.

We do not have the development of an established scriptural canon until (possibly) the Council of Hippo in 393 AD, which we know was reaffirmed at the Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419. The Decretum Gelasianum, if correctly associated, describes the Council of Rome in 382 issuing an identical canon. So, it is a reasonable (and arguably correct) assumption, that until the Fourth Century saw general agreement on the canon of scripture, a great deal of discrepancy necessarily existed. This also sheds light on the necessity of the Epistles that make up the bulk of the New Testament.

Within a largely illiterate and spread-out community, it would have been impossible to enforce orthodoxy of belief without some kind of clarification on a number of issues. Examples of early controversies are the requirement of Christians to adhere to Mosaic Law (covered in Acts), the nature of Jesus of Nazareth (fully human, fully divine, both, or neither), the role of works and grace in the plan of salvation, etc. Without an established canon, there was only one authority to which the new Christian sect could turn--Apostolic authority.

It is for this purpose, and this is generally agreed amongst the majority of Christian denominations, that the Apostles fanned out and established their various bases (or, more properly, Sees) throughout the Christian world. Notable ones are Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Rome, among others. Each of these Sees were overseen by a Bishop who was tasked with enforcing orthodoxy amongst its jurisdiction, and each of these Bishops could trace their lineage back to one of the original Apostles. It was because of this that the Bishops could speak authoritatively on matters of faith and orthodoxy, and it is for this reason that it was Bishops who assembled and still assemble at the various councils to establish doctrine and dogma.

Of great importance for those who subscribe to the corruption-of-the-Church theory is that, though Constantine called the Council of Nicaea and proceeded to declare Christianity the state religion of the empire, not being a Bishop meant he could not vote on anything that came up in the council. For all intents and purposes, the same Apostolic authority that gave the Bishops the right to be present also gave them the special privilege of deciding what came of this particular council. No interference from Constantine allowed.

It is only after the Council of Nicaea that a strict reference to scripture is made possible within Christian exegesis and theology, because it is only in the post-Nicaean world that Christians could exercise their faith openly without fear of repercussion. It is also only in the post-Nicaean world that written records weren't constantly in danger of being confiscated and otherwise destroyed. Hence the incredible lack of documentation of the intervening years between 33AD and 325AD. Almost three hundred years of development and barely any shred of evidence to prove that anything happened outside the scriptural record. Until one remembers that the Bishops spoke with the authority of the Apostles, and didn't have an established canon to reference at all times. Time to delve into that thorny business of the Bishop of Rome.

It will be remembered that the Apostles fanned out and established their bases of operation. Each chose an administrative successor, who was thus ordained and raised to the status of Bishop to be able to oversee his jurisdiction. Peter established himself in Rome. How long or how well established this power base was is understandably under debate, considering Peter is, himself, a sainted martyr. But this is where not only Sacred Tradition, but also those scant fragments of documentation from the first few centuries AD, start to shed light.

Pope Saint Clement, around the year 80, wrote an Epistle to the Corinthians. Corinth was not under the jurisdiction of the See of Rome. Yet they appealed to Rome for Rome's intervention, and Clement consented. In it, he writes "But if any disobey the words spoken by Him [Christ] through us [gotta love the Royal "We"], let them know that they will involve themselves in sin and no small danger." Barely fifty years after the death of the Christian Messiah, the Bishop of Rome (still the official title of the Supreme Pontiff) was exercising special jurisdiction over the other Apostolic Sees.

Why would this be important? If Jesus had established His Church solely in the spiritual sense, and the established norm for Church-wide decision making was the council, the role of any individual Bishop would have necessarily remained purely administrative at the respective local level. If Jesus established his Church both in the spiritual and physical sense, and issued this powerful decree to a single Apostle, it stands to reason that he was naming not only the CEO of this new faith, but he was issuing a powerful statement about succession of leadership. Where the Twelve had looked to Jesus as their spiritual guide, after His death, they were to look to where Peter established himself. They were to look to the only Bishop to have been awarded the title "Vicar of Christ". They were to look to Rome.

Now wait just a second, says the Sola Scriptura nay-sayer. Even a spiritual Church needs to be led by somebody, because you can't be calling councils every twenty minutes! This is true. But if Christ was only establishing a spiritual Church, and did not establish a physical hierarchy to run the worldly affairs of His spiritual Church, then the only authority in the lack of any authoritative canon would still have been the Apostles. Or worse yet, a Messiah who did not, does not, and seems likely never to have a telephone. So we return to an earlier point--who then speaks with authority than the Apostles? Who then speaks with authority when the Apostles have died but their successors? And who advises with authority in the interim between councils than the successors of the one Apostle who was given the greatest responsibility of all in being the rock upon which the Church was to be founded?

At this point, it becomes moot whether or not Jesus was speaking of a strictly spiritual, physical, or united Church because the point remains valid that authority had to come from somewhere in the absence of Jesus, and then it had to come from somewhere else in the absence of the Apostles in the time before the canon was established. Vis-a-vis, the Bishopric, and the special status afforded Peter and his successors.

Another historical document from the period that makes explicit reference to the succession of Peter (establishing in the first two Centuries Apostolic Succession as an historic fact) is "Against the Heresies" (180 AD) by Pope Saint Irenaeus:

"The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate . Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy [2 Timothy 4:21]. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric."

From here, history takes over and you can read all about the development of the Church after Nicaea. The various councils that established all the doctrine and dogmas of the Church have all drawn their authority from the same source as the earliest Bishops who had to make rulings and decisions in the absence of a scriptural canon. Because this can not be adequately refuted without twisting and reinterpreting scripture, one must necessarily ignore history to alter this basic philosophical and reasonable authority.

It is for this reason that most Protestant Churches refute Apostolic Succession entirely. If they accepted it, then they have to explain why, for the better part of Christian history, the successors of the Apostles had been getting it wrong. Likewise, they lose any authority to rule on Sacred Tradition, and must similarly abandon it. This secondary effect makes it easy to simply ignore historical articles and records contained in the writings of the Church Fathers. If the Church Fathers lacked any kind of authority, how could they record history correctly? From here, the errors of Consubstantiation and (the worse error) denial of the Real Presence, denial of confession, denial of Mary's perpetual virginity and immaculate conception, and all other errors of Protestantism stem.

To defend Catholicism without reference to the Bible requires only two suppositions:

1. God is infinite, and there is no other being greater or more perfect than He (also the foundational supposition of the ontological argument)
2. God was made incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who inspired the Gospels and the whole of the New Testament.

Whereas to adequately defend Protestantism and post-Reformation theology at all, a third supposition is required:

3. The Biblical Canon has always, and without alteration, existed from the time of the Apostles until the present day.

Without this third supposition, a whole host of problems arises in explaining how the body of scripture can be authoritative if it didn't exist as a body until after the "corruption" of the physical Church.

And history, no matter how scarce and faded the record, refutes this third supposition entirely, invalidating any arguments (and doctrines) derived therefrom. Ultimately, occam's razor comes into play here. In the absence of objective truth, the simplest explanation must be correct. A rational, appeal to reason in defense of Catholicism 1) uses only two suppositions, and 2) does not rely on the interpolation of hypothetical, entirely faith-based phenomena and interference, whereas a rational, appeal to reason in defense of Protestantism 1) uses three suppositions, and 2) must allow the interpolation of hypothetical, entirely faith-based phenomena and interference. The former is simpler. The latter is complicated. For all its pomp and glory and ritual that is confusing to people who don't have a handy Catholic friend to explain it, Catholicism is the simpler defense, and therefore stands on a more solid foundation.

I'm going to end this not with a Lady Gaga reference, but with the Prayer for Pope Benedict XVI. I hold true that he is the successor of Peter. He is the Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ, and is guided in all things by the Holy Spirit to speak infallibly on matters of faith and morals, and I encourage his work, and pray for the Holy Spirit to continue to guide his way.

Lord, source of eternal life and truth, give to Your shepherd, the Pope, a spirit of courage and right judgement, a spirit of knowledge and love.

By governing with fidelity those entrusted to his care may he, as successor to the apostle Peter and vicar of Christ, build Your church into a sacrament of unity, love, and peace for all the world.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

(Prayer sourced from

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Atheism, Inclusiveness, and Reason

Or, "Why Inclusiveness is Excluding Everyone But Me"

I like stumbleupon. I like it a lot. Especially when it gives me something like this: http://www.laughinginpurgatory​.com/2011/06/we-need-atheist-m​issionaries.html

The title was thought provoking and humorous. The title of the blog "Laughing in Purgatory" made me chuckle considering I'm Catholic and believe in Purgatory. Realizing it's an atheist blog made me laugh even more, and this is all before I started reading the article. Seriously, this many layers of cleverness before you ever read what this blogger has to say? Awesome. And then I read it.

First of all, I want to point out the fact that this is a serious polemic. Polemical writing is, by definition, not the most reasonable. Here are highlights (you really can't take words like these out of context, so don't yell at me for not providing any. It's a short blog and I gave you the link if you care so much):

Christocrats (what does this even mean?)
Theocratic safe havens
Christo-fascists (really?)

Well, maybe you can take "barbarian" out of context, so here's the passage from which it hails:

"And they need to go and deconvert the barbarians and turn them into atheists or at least less toxic theists."

I agree with the sentiment that this blogger presents. Kansas and other states that require the teaching of Creation Science/Intelligent Design alongside Evolution are hideously misguided. Even though Catholicism teaches that you can believe in Evolution without contradicting your faith so long as you believe also in the "Unmoved Mover" of God, we are very careful to explicitly maintain that Evolution as a scientific theory exists in the realm of science and God's pushing it into action exists in the realm of faith. We do not conflate the two like the state of Kansas.

However, in keeping with the spirit of intellectual and well-reasoned debate, I would like to invite the author of "Laughing in Purgatory" to define his perfect world. While he does not explicitly say he wants an "inclusive" world, he does say that he wishes a "one-two punch of inclusiveness and scientific reasoning would shed light on all the theist strongholds in the US, and people would wake up".

The fact that he wishes this "wake up" would equate with everyone in America turning into an atheist overnight begs the question--is that a punch of inclusiveness? Or is it the same exclusion that people like Dawkins hawk as inclusiveness?

The basic, underlying philosophy of inclusion is one of accepting and tolerating other people and their opinions. These opinions include matters of faith and non-faith, political affiliation, skin color, sexuality, and preference for juice and bagels. The underlying philosophy of exclusion is not accepting and tolerating a certain group of people. When someone is promoting a view point that advocates the conversion of a group of people to their way of thinking, this is not inclusion. It is blatant exclusion because it refuses to accept that said group of people can be accepted or tolerated.

The fact that he refers to "theists" means that he is not excluding just Christians (no matter how ridiculously they treat their faith), but anybody who believes there is a god. Notice I used a lowercase "g". He is not excluding Christians. He is excluding Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Wiccans, anyone who holds to any set of Aboriginal or Indigenous or Folk beliefs, and anyone anywhere who so much as holds a faith in any kind of higher power above man as the microcosm. The fact that he conflates Christianity and theism throughout his post shows 1) that he cannot see past the arch-nemesis of Christianity and 2) that he is grossly ignorant of what these terms mean and how to apply them properly.

So, in closing, I am once again disappointed in people's approach to reasoned debate on inclusion, tolerance, and reason. I've given up on Christianity in general. There are many of us who are devoted Christians who have the ability to reason and debate without turning into a polemical screaming match, but Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and others rule the airwaves and more and more people buy into their filth every day. Unfortunately, the same is true for atheists. Dawkins screams the loudest, so they think that's what atheism represents.

I'm sorry to inform you all, but the same dogmatic approach to faith that you hate in Christianity is usurping the famous reasonable, intelligent inclusion of atheism. It's just a different ethos and set of morals.

And for the record, Purgatory is a place of purification. It prepares you for entry to the light of God. If you are wallowing in self-pity about these "theistic" strongholds, you're hardly being purified and you've misappropriated a religious concept about which you know nothing. Given the rest of the entry, that's hardly a surprise.

"The problem with atheists isn't that they believe in nothing, it's that they'll believe anything." --G. K. Chesterton

Friday, July 29, 2011

Non-Denominational Christianity and Why I Like it

So, there is many a person out there that is well aware of my deep adoration for Catholicism. I have an intellectual and spiritual reason for holding fast to the Church's claim to the fullness of truth. But no matter how many times I attend mass at the same church, I am endlessly and always awe-struck by the inherent beauty of it all. It is not the songs, it is not the ceremony, it is not the homily that strikes such a chord with me. Deep underneath the ritualistic trappings of the mass is an holistic approach to faith and spirituality. Not only is the physical Church united with the spiritual body of Christ, but we are every day (yes, every day, not just every Sunday!) continuing, reaffirming, and reenacting Christ's passion. His sacrifice was once, sufficient, and eternal, but we daily renew it and celebrate what He did. Make no mistake, though, outside the Catholic Church there is another physical body that inspires awe.

This is a body that goes under the general nom de guerre of "non-denominational Christianity." Mind you, non-denominational Christians tend to just label themselves "Christians" (my own linguistic and cultural argument against such a practice should be reserved for another time), and most non-denominational congregations could be lumped into their own respective pseudo-denominations. But inherent in all of them is something else entirely. Forget dogma and doctrine, forget trappings and ritual, forget sola scriptura versus Sacred Tradition and consubstantiation versus transubstantiation versus denial of the Real Presence. Forget all that. Where Catholicism has beauty and majesty that soars above and beyond what any rational thinker of the twenty-first century would call necessary, I have yet to find a non-denominational Christian that lacks in innocent love for what they hold to be universal truth.

Two of my best friends in the world are non-denominational Christians. We actually developed our friendship to a large degree through long hours of intense theological debate over coffee. Seriously. Weirdest start to a friendship ever. Though I disagree (a LOT) with what they hold to be true, and have had occasion where my disagreement has almost spilled over into insult, I have found in them the same innocence that I have found in every non-denominational Christian I've met. No matter how hokey their pithy sayings are, ("What has Jesus done for you today?") or how annoying their soft Christian rock sounds to me, or how pushy they some times appear to be, there is an innocent and longing desire within them to know that you have accepted at least a kernel of universal truth. And this really is, deep down, not an arrogant "soul quota" they are trying to fill. They genuinely care about your salvation (my comments on this, also, should wait for another time). As annoying as it is, it's quite touching.

I guess, despite Catholicism's rigid stance against "once-saved, always-saved", there is a tendency within the laity's thought in Catholicism to think "I was baptized and confirmed. And I will confess on my death bed. All's well," so we don't ever think about our friends' and family's salvation. We harden ourselves to the task of evangelizing, not just to non-believers, but to each other. When was the last time I was pulled by the ear to confession because my mother/aunt/sister/grandmother caught me lying? When was the last time a friend held a rosary close to his/her heart after I told them a problem and told me they would pray the Efficacious Novena of the Immaculate Heart of Mary with me? When was the last time I did these things for someone else?

At the end of the day, though they are "saved", my non-denominational friends have more at stake because they let themselves care so deeply. And I, with full knowledge that, though baptized, I can still choose to go to hell, arrogantly assume that I can waltz right into heaven because I have the BRPG--Big Red Phone to God (confessional, bitches!). It's completely backwards from an intellectual standpoint. And it makes me envious of my non-denominational friends.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if Catholicism was reinvigorated with that same innocent wonder we had so many centuries ago when the miracle of the transubstantiation was performed, and we truly went out of our way to purge ourselves of sin to make ourselves worthy enough to accept Christ's sacrifice? This kind of wonder, this kind of care, though it may seem arrogant, is perhaps one of the most humble mindsets possible. And though Catholicism chases its adherents with the Big Stick of Catholic Guilt, do we let ourselves be cowed by it? Or do we shrug off the beating we have received for so long?

I think I'm tired of shrugging off the beatings. I think I've been tired of it for a long time. I don't really know how I want to conclude this blog entry. But our non-denominational Christian brethren, our seventy-six-times-removed-cousins-in-Christ, have given me something to be envious of. And if the Catholic Church is smart, the Vatican would encourage such envy, and then watch the blossoms of faith spread like wildfire.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Life, epiphanies, and the people who give them to us


Proceed with caution.

There are two types of epiphany in my book. Public and Private. A public epiphany is one where you realize something that has a profound impact on the world at large, and leads to a great discovery that helps people, communities, nations, or just your neighbors and friends. There is also the private epiphany. This epiphany is harder to grasp because there is less tangible product at the end of it. But you can feel it. I have had two such epiphanies in my life.

1. It's ok to be gay. Believe it or not, this one was the hardest to accept, and I spent close to seven years vilifying every other gay man I met because of my own self-loathing. This past year has been incredibly liberating, which leads me to the second one:

2. The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.

I recently started a relationship with a beautiful, vivacious, and absolutely wonderful man. Because I like anonymity and delightfully archaic pseudonyms, I'm calling him Ovid. You can ponder why, but I guarantee it's not the on-the-surface apparent connection between my love for him and the fact that Ovid wrote love poems. There's a much deeper meaning that you will only grasp if you know the kid. But I digress.

I have spent the first month of our budding relationship feeling inferior, desperately seeking his approval because of a great iniquity I felt within myself. Here he is, someone that has made me feel in such a way that I have never felt before, looking at me with true acceptance of me as a human being of actual value when I don't deserve it. I have done more to fuck up my life than anyone else could have possibly hoped to do to me or themselves. I have done drugs, both soft and hard, I have lied and cheated and stolen, and right when I decided to get my shit together, I squandered the one chance I had to redeem myself in the university system. Now teetering on the bare minimum of my GPA and facing the end of everything I have ever wanted, I am finding out that love conquers all. And not just my love for Ovid, but love for myself.

It began with an HIV test. Ovid is perfect for me, and I felt this going in to this test. Friends will tell you how nervous I was about it. Having been sexually active far less over the past twelve months than I've ever been, you would tell me I shouldn't be. But in the weekend running up to last Tuesday, literally a week before our one-month anniversary, my anxiety was such that I woke up crying every day and used every ounce of strength to get through the day. Because Ovid deserved to know the truth, and as much as a positive result scared me, I had to do it if I love Ovid the way I say I do. So I did.

It came back negative. Though the counselor didn't see it, my heart jumped farther and higher than it has ever jumped before. I almost sang out loud. Why? Because a part of me believed, deep inside, that Ovid would leave me if I came back positive. But even if that was the case, if I loved Ovid the way I said, it was something I had to do.

Fast forward to Saturday night. This is the first time Ovid has spent the night in my bed. The tenderness of simply sleeping next to another human being, a human being for whom I have such strong feelings and such strong emotional ties, was beyond explanation. I was genuinely bittersweet that I had to take him back to Columbus so early the following day. But I get to see him Tuesday. And though I will only get to see him for a short time before I have to head back to Columbus for work, it will be absolutely worth it. Because he has taught me to love myself.

How did he do this? Well...I can't explain it. It was when I looked and saw that, after seven years, I will be graduating in June of 2012, that I realized all of my self loathing (see point 1 above) had finally melted away. Believe it or not, this realization has little to do with my graduation, but it was the realization that, no matter how much I've fucked myself, I am genuinely achieving what I set out to do that finally crystallized in my mind that I haven't done anything wrong. I may not have the GPA to jump straight into grad school, not by a long shot at any rate, but nothing will stop me from setting money aside to pursue another two year bachelor's in a related Slavic field. Nothing is stopping me from pursuing my research in comparative linguistic history. Nothing is stopping me from pursuing my dreams.

At the core of this is the knowledge that Ovid loves me. And I love him. And it is not that he is deigning to love me, but that he and I look at each other and see equals. We each see a person worthy of dignity and respect. Neither of us is deserving of scorn or reproach. My graduation just helped me see it a little clearer.

So here's to you Ovid. And here's to us. And here's to private epiphanies that wash over you and keep you on an emotional high like you've never known. Even when you're away, I am happy. I am so happy. And since I've started ending my blogs with appropriate Gaga lyrics, I'm going to run right to, to the edge with you, where we can both fall in love. I'm on the edge of glory and I'm hanging on a moment of truth, I'm on the edge of glory and I'm hanging on a moment with you.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pride Protesters and Why I Love Them

First things first, Columbus Pride 2011 was awesome. It was also a time to reflect on a couple of issues. First and foremost, Columbus Pride turned 30 this year, the same year we (unfortunately) celebrate 30 years since the first diagnosed case of HIV/AIDS in this country. The same year funding from the federal government may get slashed, right when we are on the cusp of finding a cure and/or a vaccine. Bittersweet, but that's a political diatribe for another time.

The other thing that made me reflect on what it means to be an out and proud gay man were the protestors. I was saddened that I didn't get to see them march in the parade of drag queens, topless women, and men in their underwear (and the dozens of cute couples on "Anniversary" floats celebrating anywhere from 25 to fifty years of partnership. So cute! <3.<3). But I did get to see them at the corner of High and Goodale streets shouting about how "filthy" and "vile" we are, holding their signs that said things like "G.A.Y.: God Abhors You" and "Jesus' Blood is not HIV" (I wonder if they knew I'm Catholic and found the transubstantiation joke hiding in there) and "No Parking in the Rear: Penal Code Lev. 18:22" (my personal favorite!). I also saw the gaggle of children they had brought along, teaching them to be some of the most intolerant people on the planet at such a young age.

I also saw several people baiting them, shouting at them, treating them the way they were treating us. One man was yelling about how being "a faggot is better than an idiot". The fact that the security people standing between us and them were so relaxed made me feel better. There hasn't been a history of violent confrontation at Columbus Pride, and there was no reason to expect one this time. In fact, once the man with the megaphone was done yelling about how much "gay sex has no future" and "leads to extinction", they quietly and politely packed up their things and embarked on the walk home. Peaceful assembly for us, and peaceful assembly for them. Nice.

Now, the question is, who offended me more? The sign-toting Christians who said "Homos Need Help, Not Rights" or the half-naked man trying to bait them into a confrontation? I'm really disappointed that I need to say that it was the half-naked man.

For thirty years, Stonewall Columbus has been organizing this event so that we as a community can express how proud we are to be who we are. For thirty years we have fought to be treated as equal on every level. But do we really know what that entails? What is Pride? What is gay pride? Do we wear our sexuality as a badge of honor? A badge to be flaunted and thrown in the face of anyone we pass? Or does it imply something bigger? Something less flashy? (OMG, a gay man saying that something needs to be less flashy! Abomination!)

Pride to me is less that I am proud of my sexuality and more that I am proud that I can be gay and still contribute on an equal level in society. I can volunteer at a hospital or animal shelter and not have to hide who I am. I can attend the same university as everyone else and receive the same healthcare at the hospital without fear. It also means I can proudly enjoy an event that is all about my community, and know that people who disagree with the morality of the whole thing can stand there and simultaneously express their opposing view.

Pride is not a lifestyle. It is a community. Pride is a community that does not discriminate, though I think a large part of this message has been lost. As homosexuality becomes more and more ubiquitous, the question of the relevance of Pride comes to the fore. Why do we do it? If it's simply to show off that we're gay, we have no pride. We have self-indulgent attention-seeking complexes that should be examined by a professional. But if it's to celebrate diversity, and I mean TRUE diversity, and all it entails, be it black, white, gay, straight, atheist, christian, tolerant, or intolerant, and we allow everyone their voice no matter the message, then I think we have a great deal of pride because it shows we are mature enough to handle what it means to demand acceptance. If we can demand it, we can dole it out when the picketers decide that calling us names is the right thing to do.

So, to all you half-naked men and women who think it's your civic duty to shout down the protesters--you have no pride. You defeat the purpose of what our struggle has been about. You set back to the clock to the days when the only way to get anyone to even look at us with any degree of seriousness was to get violent. 1981 is a long time ago. Lessons have been learned on both sides. But to what degree these lessons have been internalized and retained by the community at large? That's a completely different question that we have to answer ourselves, and then put the right answer into action.

So here's to an amazing (and violence-free) Pride 2011. May there be many more, and may the protesters always be there to remind me that their protest and their right to protest legitimizes our right to stand up, speak out, and be heard. We're here. We're queer. And we support your right to say and be anything you want, cuz, baby, you were born this way.