Tearing Up the Memo, as Seen in an Animal Video

credit:  Catholic Standard

At the bottom of this post is a video of dogs and cats who apparently never “got the memo” that they are supposed to fear and hate each other. As the video makes clear, they are bosom buddies who love to romp, play, wrestle, and even snuggle. How unlikely! And yet there it is before our eyes.

While the interactions between animals are mysterious and not to be compared with human relationships, I can’t help thinking of humanity as I watch them. What would things be like if some of the “memos” we pass back and forth were torn up, lost, or never received?

I remember some years ago when the former Yugoslavia broke apart. It was good news, as Soviet-style rule there ended. But then a horrible bloodbath ensued and the Bosnian, Serbians, and Croatians turned on one another, rekindling old hatreds going back hundreds of years. I remember wondering how people who had lived largely without violence for so long could still hate one another so. It seemed that the injustices of the past predated most of the people who were alive at the time.

Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian babies are not born hating one another; it must be instilled by someone. When the longtime “strongman” Tito died in 1980, dormant hatreds that had been handed down from parent to child surfaced.

I realize that I may be oversimplifying things, but there is also the tendency to overcomplicate matters. The fact is, children do not enter this world with an intrinsic hatred of an entire group of other children. Someone teaches them that. That part isn’t complicated.

When I was a child, I lived in Chicago, Illinois. I don’t remember my parents ever telling me to hate or even be wary of black people; I give them a lot of credit for that. Neither do I remember any awareness of racial tension or hatred in my neighborhood. However, I was still very young and the racial riots that followed Dr. King’s assassination did not really register in my 7-year-old mind.

In 1969, though, we moved to Northern Florida (think “Southern Georgia”). There, racial tension was always in the air. I remember being bewildered by the unexplained resentments and fears. I guess I was too young. In addition, I was a newcomer and had not “read the memo” telling me that I should be suspicious, that I should hate, that I should in no way mix with “them.” I remember once seeing some black children across the playground who were playing with what I thought were some “really cool” toys. Intrigued, I went over to join them. I was rebuffed not only by fellow whites but also by some of the black children, who seemed to consider my “incursion” unwanted and even threatening.

It’s crazy stuff. We are not born hating any person, any race, or any ethnicity. Someone teaches us that. This very fact increases the total disgrace that such hatred is. You may call me naive and simplistic—even myopic—but I wonder what might happen if we could just “tear up the memo.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes some very helpful observations:

Deliberate hatred is contrary to charity. Hatred of the neighbor is a sin when one deliberately wishes him evil. Hatred of the neighbor is a grave sin when one deliberately desires him grave harm. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (CCC #2303).

Respect for and development of human life require peace. Peace is not merely the absence of war, and it is not limited to maintaining a balance of powers between adversaries. Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, and the assiduous practice of fraternity. Peace is the “tranquility of order.” Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity (CCC #2304).

Injustice, excessive economic or social inequalities, envy, distrust, and pride raging among men and nations constantly threaten peace and cause wars. Everything done to overcome these disorders contributes to building up peace and avoiding war: Insofar as men are sinners, the threat of war hangs over them and will so continue until Christ comes again; but insofar as they can vanquish sin by coming together in charity, violence itself will be vanquished and these words will be fulfilled: “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (CCC #2317).

Well, if nothing else, enjoy this video of animals who never “got the memo” that they are supposed to be mortal enemies and consider joining me in the dream that we humans will do the same.

Demonstrating Nature in Airport Design

credit: Mike, flickr

In our culture, many battles are fought on the question of nature. The word “nature” comes from the Latin natus, which means “birth.” Thus, nature is what we are intrinsically born with, what we are born to be. Church teaching and traditional philosophy insist that things have a nature. That is, they are endowed with certain fundamental traits that make them what they are.

As such, nature is something to discover and study. We go out to reality, study it, and obey its demands. Things (including people) have a nature, a purpose; we do well to respect that nature or we will suffer the consequences. God may forgive, but nature does not.

Yet in increasing ways, many people today deny that things have a nature. They argue that most of what has traditionally been called the nature of things is simply a human construct. And if we have constructed something, then we can tear it down; we can “deconstruct” it. As we all know, there is a lot of tearing down going on regarding the meaning of sexuality, gender, marriage, family, and so forth.

In terms of our human nature, there are some legitimate questions as to its interaction with roles. Traditionally, men assumed roles that were dangerous or physically strenuous. For example, many considered it unbecoming for a woman to be a firefighter, soldier, or iron worker. More recently, there has been greater acceptance of women undertaking such roles. These are roles, however, not nature per se. Masculinity and femininity provide a natural delineation. While roles can vary, we are not free to wholly cast aside the fact that there are two sexes, male and female. These are not mere constructs, they are inscribed in our nature, in our very bodies.

As most of you know, I like to keep my Saturday posts light, often featuring a video. In that spirit, I do not intend to go into a deep discourse about the deconstructionism of our times. Instead, I will simply offer an interesting video on airport construction! You may wonder what this has to do with nature, human or otherwise. To answer simply, it shows that those who design airports study human nature very carefully.

We humans behave in certain predictable ways because we share a common nature. Airports are designed to bank on our predictable behaviors. This underscores that nature is not a merely human construct that can change on a whim, but a stable and consistent reality that is common even across individual human variations. The fact is, we behave within a predictable range; those who have a financial interest in how we behave study human nature extensively. They cannot “afford” to entertain deconstructionist theories, which hold that our nature is a mere human construct. No indeed. To those involved in the marketplace, reality is very important; the deconstructionist view doesn’t help the bottom line.

Watch the entire video if you have the time. If not, even the first few minutes should get the point across.

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.