We Need To Recover a Natural Understanding of Human Sexuality

I want to recommend a book by Daniel Mattson that can help us greatly in addressing the sexual confusion of our time, but first let’s do a quick review of where we are and what seems to be the central problem.

The rise of “transgenderism” and the widespread approval of homosexual acts represent a resurgence of the oldest heresy the Church has had to face: Gnosticism. Gnostic dualism divorces the body from the soul and the “knowing self” from the natural world. Our bodies of course are our first and deepest encounter with the physical or natural world.

Gnostic dualism says, in effect, “I am not my body. I am only my feelings, my thoughts. My body is at best irrelevant and at worst a limiting cage against which I must rebel.” In this way, some people today claim the ability to be whatever they imagine themselves to be.

Just a few years ago, if one heard that a certain man had declared that he was a woman trapped in a man’s body, the reaction would likely have been to conclude that the man had some form of mental illness (“gender dysphoria”) as he was obviously out of touch with reality. Most people would not have taken such a claim seriously, as it was nearly universally agreed that the physical body provided the definitive indication of one’s sex.

About five years ago a tipping point was crossed in our “culture,” and the belief in gnostic dualism reached critical mass. Whether this was of demonic origin or just the accumulation of darkened intellects resulting from the sexual revolution (see Rom 1:18ff) is not clear, but the idea that the body is irrelevant in determining one’s sex is widespread. Even suggesting (let alone asserting) that the body reveals and determines one’s sex is greeted with blank stares at best and accusations of hatred or bigotry at worst.

Today, a male who says he is a female trapped in a male body is taken seriously by many people. If an “unenlightened troglodyte” does not play along, and instead says, “No, your body indicates you are actually a male,” the retort will be this: “My body? What does my body have to do with anything? It is what I think and feel that matters.”

This is Gnostic dualism in all its deceptive fullness. From a Christian perspective, it is seen as an almost complete disconnect from the body as revelatory of who and what we are. Gnosticism amounts to a reduction of the human person to merely our soul, or our thoughts and feelings. And while it is true that we are not just our body, we are also not merely our thoughts or feelings.

The glory of the human person is in the uniting of two orders of creation: the physical and the spiritual. We are not merely persons with bodies; we are bodily persons. Though we can distinguish soul and body in our mind, we cannot do so in reality. Consider the analogy of a candle flame. In our mind, we can distinguish the heat of the flame from its light, but we cannot physically separate the light and the heat. They are so together as to be one. It is the same with us. Our body and soul are so together as to be one. The separation of body and soul is the very definition of death and it is why our bodies must rise for our salvation to be complete.

The proponents of transgenderism will have none of this. The body is irrelevant to a person’s “self-definition.”

This disconnect and dualism is but a doubling down on the gnostic premises involved in approving homosexual acts. Here, too, pointing out that the very design of the human body indicates that the man is for the woman and the woman for the man leads to blank stares or the outright dismissal of the body’s relevance in something as obviously “embodied” as sexual union. The same basic claim is made, “What does my body have to do with anything? It is my feelings and attractions that matter. I am my feelings. My body does not matter and has nothing to say to me in this regard.” So insistent are many that they craft an entire “identity” based on an attraction, a feeling. The primary way they wish to be known is as “gay.” This amounts to a remarkable reduction of the human person to one aspect (and a disordered one at that) of who they are.

Gnostic dualism is alive and “well” in our times. We must continue to insist that the body matters, that the body is revelatory, that the body has things to teach us about who we are. It is no mere container or cage. I am my body along with my soul and its faculties.

Daniel Mattson has some helpful insights in his book, Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexual Reality and Found Peace. On this subject, he writes both credibly and articulately. He speaks not only from experience, but from a good command of the philosophical, theological, and anthropological matters at stake.

Defining reality based on my feelings seemed a rather unconvincing premise on which to build my life. My father taught me this at a very early age. In the planetarium where he worked, I would often sit next to him as he gave presentations to visiting schoolchildren. My favorite part of every program was the moment when he made the star projector spin speedily, round and round, making it feel as if all of us in the auditorium were spinning. … And though we knew we were seated firmly in our chairs, it felt as if we were dizzily careening through space. … “Feelings are important,” he would say, “But they don’t always tell us the truth.”

I want to live my life according to reality, not based on what I feel reality to be. … I feel our society is in need of a return to sexual sanity, rooted in embracing and accepting the truth that the sole sexual identities that are objectively true are male and female, designed for union with each other.

… Man’s greatest freedom comes from living in accordance with the truth of sexuality revealed to us in the nature of our bodily design. One of the many reasons I joined the Catholic Church is her unambiguous embrace of the objective reality of man’s sexual nature as revealed to us in our bodies. … My body, and the sexual organs that are part of my body, are designed for union with a woman and designed for the propagation of the species through procreation. That’s my sexual nature, and every other man’s nature.

Nature matters … [Today] we care immensely about the environment … [but] with man’s sexuality, however, society seems to want to ignore nature in favor of supposedly new and improved constructions and design. … When we oppose or question or seek to change our created nature, we necessarily live in dissonance with reality (pp. 89-94).

Mattson also quotes Pope Benedict XVI:

… [A] point that seems to me to be neglected, today as in the past [is that] there is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate it will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled (Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Bundestag, 2011, quoted in Mattson, p. 94).

I highly recommend Mr. Mattson’s book. He makes good sense, both practically and philosophically. It is light amid the darkness, from a credible source who has personal knowledge of a subject that has affected many, whether they have same-sex attraction themselves or family and friends who do. His teaching is also helpful in addressing the wider sexual confusion of our times.

15 Replies to “We Need To Recover a Natural Understanding of Human Sexuality”

  1. Thank you for this lucid explanation, Msgr Pope! When I look at all the confusion and pain spewing from the sexual revolution, the thing that seems to unite all the various kinds of dysfunction is a refusal to accept the limitations of the human body–limitations that give it dignity and beauty and coherence.

    Like the attempt to separate sex from lifelong commitment, which leaves people (and especially women) wondering why they tend to get deeply attached to intimate partners who hurt them–because the body can’t help but bond with the other. Or how people seem to think that artificial reproduction is just fine because only love and choice make a family–but then the child conceived from the anonymous donor feels the loss of his biological parent acutely, and wonders about all the other blood relations to whom he owes so many parts of himself. A woman who purchases eggs from a young donor says, “her DNA doesn’t matter; I’m the mother because I carried the baby and it was my choice to make him.” But the woman who uses a surrogate says, “she just gestated the baby; I’m the mother because My DNA and choice made the baby.” As you say, it’s as if the bodily realities of filiation simply don’t compute.

    One of the things that made me appreciate the beauty of the catholic faith, as a revert, was its insistence on the importance of the body and our integrity as embodied souls.

  2. This gnosticism applies to how we define death. Look at how many medical professionals define death as brain death, regardless of the beating heart. I used to be in favor of organic donation- not any more. Too many people that were declared brain dead have recovered and told how they could hear everything. When body and soul separate it is obvious.

    Msgr Pope, I would love you to expand upon my little attempt in a future post.

    Thank you for all you do. Good Bless.

    1. “Brain death” as a legal definition of death was developed not as a natural and better understanding of the distinction between life and death, but precisely in order to increase the availability of organs to harvest.

      Certainly, if organ donation is ruled out, no one would think of embalming and burying someone who is declared to be “brain dead.” Instead, they would wait for irreversible cessation of the heartbeat.

  3. I recently read an article about a mother and son who were both having operations, etc., at the same clinic. They would then be father and daughter, so to speak. That’s enough evil for one day. But what really got my attention was the language used in the article. The surgery was not referred to as sexual reassignment surgery. It is apparently now known as gender confirmation surgery. The word “assignment” was used, but now assignment is what happens at birth when the birth certificate is created. As if the sex was something the doctor had come up with. The body means nothing.

    1. People in the medical and medical insurance professions should be ashamed of themselves.

  4. Monsignor, you wrote, “[T]he idea that the body is irrelevant in determining one’s sex is widespread. Even suggesting (let alone asserting) that the body reveals and determines one’s sex is greeted with blank stares at best and accusations of hatred or bigotry at worst.” — If I’m not mistaken, though, I think the claim is that there are two different things: 1) one’s sex, which is determined by biology, anatomy, DNA, etc., etc., and 2) one’s gender identity, which is determined or constituted by one’s feelings, thoughts, etc. To put it another way, I suppose the claim is that one’s body can be male, while one’s soul can be female, and vice-versa. I think understanding the claim is important in discussing it, etc.

    And then, of course, I guess at the heart of many of the debates over things like bathrooms, locker rooms, sports teams, etc., is this question, which people often seem to skip over: if we grant that biological sex and gender identity are two different things (and of course not everyone grants that), which one should be used in grouping people into “men” and “women”? It seems like people on both sides of the debates often skip that step in their arguments.

    1. Human beings have a sex, not a gender. Gender is a term of grammar used of nouns and adjectives in certain languages. If some one has a male body but want to pretend to be something else, it is simply not reality, whether they want to pose as a woman or some made-up thing (e.g. the coming and going gender). To insist on living is a fantasy such as this is unhealthy at best and mental illness at worst.

  5. Here is another quote from Pope Benedict on the issue —

    it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. . . . what is put forward today under the term “gender” [is] a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious.

    People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.

    According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist.

    Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. . . .

    When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. . . . And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.

    1. Also, we should be happy to see this strong stand from Cardinal Wuerl, who has said,

      The body is the outward visible sign of the reality of the person. . . . In a particular way, the body also reveals to us the innate truth of our human nature that we are from the beginning made male or female. Before all else in this world, before we are able to form a single thought or make any decisions, from the very moment of our origin and conception, we have a body that is intrinsically sexually differentiated and constituted male or female in a way that cannot really be changed. . . . This is the objective, intrinsic, self-evident truth of who and what we are. . . . one’s subjective choices or beliefs cannot alter this reality – what is revealed in the body as one sex cannot be changed to the other.

      For its part, religious faith confirms and expands upon this truth of human nature. Scripture teaches that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Humanity is explicitly made male and female and inherently in relationship. . . .

      It is the Church’s duty “to serve humanity in different ways, but one way in particular imposes a responsibility of a quite special kind: the diakonia of the truth” (Fides et Ratio, 2). Central to this mission is proclaiming the truth of the human person. It is only in this truth that one can be free. . . . .

      “It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality,” says Pope Francis on this very issue (Amoris Laetitia, 56). . . .

      In the face of this cultural divide, the Church will do what we have always done – what we can only do – and that is to be a beacon of truth in the darkness, lovingly giving voice to what it means to be authentically human and helping people to appreciate themselves as they were created (cf. Amoris Laetitia, 285). This means standing firm in the truth that sexual differentiation is not a construct of the mind, much less a social construct, but is a permanent reality revealed in the body, male or female, whether or not one chooses to acknowledge or accept this reality (Id.). (The Nature of the Human Being, Male or Female, emphasis added)

      There is a cultural onslaught that is coming (and is in some places already here), where people of faith and the institutional Church and its ministries, etc., as well as lay people in their own businesses and lives are intentionally targeted to try to force them to act like a male is really a female or vice versa. That is, to say that what is false is true. Thus, it is a relief to see this strong stand here in our local leadership. Besides, we do not do people any favors, mercies or charity by confirming them in false beliefs.

  6. I have always thought it sad when a person “decides” they are of a gender different than what their body is. I find it even sadder when a parent supports or even celebrates such a choice. To me it’s as if they are saying “Yes, I agree, you were born wrong. I have always thought you were a mistake.”

    I mean seriously…

    If you as a parent think you are helping them by validating these choices, think again. All you are doing is trampling all over an already broken person. You do not lift them up in co-dependency, you drag them down to an even darker place. That’s not love, but rather self-love.

  7. Thank you, Monsignor Pope and thank you readers. Those who agree with Monsignor’s brilliant insights into sexuality vs gender[ism]. Regarding these topics, I would like your opinion and your help concerning my latest book, Mary the Unwed Mother of God, or to be perfect is to have changed often, J. H. Newman (Xulon Press, June 2017). Please look it up in amazon.com or Barnes&Noble.com. Even though some may object to the title, I based my text exclusively on orthodox Catholic sources, AMDG, Gonzalo T. Palacios, PhD (C.I.A. 1970)

  8. I don’t see it as heresy, but as denial of science and philosophy. To wit:

    – We are Homo sapiens sapiens, a subspecies of Homo sapiens
    – We are unisexual: male and female oriented to each other for reproduction
    – We are sexual: we reproduce sexually by sexual intercourse
    – We are placental: gametes fuse to form zygote, a new organism (zygote is the beginning of animal life, health and development)
    – We are omnivorous: we eat animals and plants to survive and mothers share their food with their unborn children
    – We are viviparous: child grows in the womb and is born alive
    – We are iteroparitous: we can give birth to many children
    – We are monogamous: father and mother raise child
    – We are social: child socializes with family and other people
    – We are adrenarchal: puberty changes boys and girls differently

    – We are human beings, creatures made of matter and spirit
    – “body identity” denies science, “soul identity” denies philosophy
    – We can can think, study, and know by natural reason
    – We need food naturally, thus have the natural right to food
    – We need love to grow, thus have the natural right to love
    – Love is a virtue: a passion, feeling or emotion (will) and the resulting deed, work, or act (doing) – in short, a good deposition and habit that wills and does good
    – Rights and virtues are not unlimited but within the bounds of reason, hence it is evil to kill (we have the right to life and virtue of love and since love does good, not evil)
    – Rights and virtues do not conflict but cooperate as parts of our human nature, hence there is no right to kill or virtue of bloodlust
    – Rights and virtues cooperate with our needs and wants, hence we have the need for food, right to food, want of food, and love feeds the hungry
    – Children need parents, hence they have the right to be born of and reared by their own parents and the right to not suffer domestic violence, abuse, divorce, abandonment, neglect, etc.
    – It is the appeal to belief fallacy to claim one’s opinion is a fact (ex: “I’m a man in a woman’s body” or “homosexuality is evil because I think it is”)
    – It is the appeal to nature fallacy to claim other animals’ behavior is imitable or justifies human behavior, for we alone have human reason – other animals are amoral
    – We project ourselves onto other animals when we call their actions good or evil (hens protecting chicks isn’t good, wolves eating chicks isn’t evil, dolphins do not rape, chimpanzees do not do good deeds, etc.)

    In short, everything about human society proves homosexuality is unnatural. Yet thought gays may commit mortal sin, they are our equals as people, so we ought to treat them as we would wish them to treat us who commit sin too. So let us not obsess over their sin, but pray and do penance for and with them, just as we pray with the Church and the Church does penance with us sinners. Like Jesus, let us intercede for them; we know not which of them is the next Saint Paul, who persecuted the Body of the One Who was interceding for him.

  9. Keeping in mind, as St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out, that poetry, of all the sciences, has the least truth, this song, recorded 34 years ago, was way ahead of its time:

    The Replacements – Androgynous (REMASTERED) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8J9WssSj7Q

    “Here come Dick, he’s wearing a skirt
    Here comes Jane, you know she’s sporting a chain
    Same hair, revolution
    Same build, evolution
    Tomorrow who’s gonna fuss

    And they love each other so
    Closer than you know, love each other so

    Don’t get him wrong and don’t get him mad
    He might be a father, but he sure ain’t a dad
    And she don’t need advice they send to her
    She’s happy with the way she looks
    She’s happy with her gender

    And they love each other so
    Closer than you know, love each other so

    Mirror image, see no damage
    See no evil at all
    Kewpie dolls and urine stalls
    Will be laughed at
    The way you’re laughed at now

    Now, something meets boy, and something meets girl
    They both look the same
    They’re overjoyed in this world
    Same hair, revolution
    Unisex, evolution
    Tomorrow who’s gonna fuss

    And tomorrow Dick is wearing pants
    Tomorrow Janie’s wearing a dress
    Future outcasts and they don’t last
    And, today, the people dress the way that they please
    The way they tried to do in the last centuries

    And they love each other so
    Closer than we know, love each other so

    I gives thanks to the Almighty God that in not being part of the transgenderism movement I can walk around singing songs like this song and they can’t.

    1. I always thought that this song I posted, for 30 thirty years I thought this, that this song I posted was making fun of the androgyny/trans-sexual identity movement, but, apparently, some people think this song is celebrating that movement.

      Anyway, myself, I accept the teaching of the Catholic Church on this issue and not as a particularly difficult teaching to accept.

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