Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sexuality in the priesthood

In November 2005, the Vatican released a document stating that men who have "deeply rooted homosexual tendencies" are not to be allowed to enter the seminary. (Those with transitory urges can enter the seminary, provided that they have been "overcome" for at least three years.)

Holding aside the fact that I don't agree with the moral censure of same-sex sexual and romantic relationships, I still wonder:

Given that all priests take a vow of celibacy, why does it matter what "tendencies" they have? Clearly, priests are not supposed to be sexually active, whether hetero- or homo-, but that applies equally to those with deeply rooted heterosexual tendencies. Why deter those who have same-sex sexual desires, as long as they can resist expressing them -- why not have the same behavioral standards for everyone and not worry about their sexual orientation?

Ok, let's say that the answer to that question is that homosexual desires are immoral, but heterosexual desires are not, and those with immoral desires can't or shouldn't be priests.

Then we need a similar stricture against all those who have deeply rooted desires which are considered immoral by the Catholic church -- lying, cheating, desire to use contraception, you name it. Heck, they need a screen for those who have deeply rooted masturbatory tendencies, since those are considered immoral, too!

I know the document specifically states that the church "deeply respects" the homosexual persons in question (while at the same time specifically excluding them from the seminary). But I can't see respect here. I only see prejudice and discrimination. And I am deeply disturbed by it.

What would you do if you were brave?

Listening to music I haven't heard in a while, a song by the Four Bitchin' Babes which has a refrain of, "What would I do today if I were brave?"

If I Were Brave
Jane Stanfield, Jimmy Scott

What would I do if I knew
that I could not fail?
If I believed would the wind
always fill up my sail?
How far would I go, what could I achieve
Trusting the hero in me?

If I were brave I'd walk the razor's edge
Where fools and dreamers dare to tread
And never lose faith
even when losing my way
What step would I take today if I were brave?

If I refused to listen to the voice of fear
Would the voice of courage whisper in my ear?
What would I do today if I were brave?

This assumes, I guess, that you aren't already brave (big assumption) and that fear is a substantial barrier to one or more of your actions. I actually think that my biggest barrier is time, not fear, but fear is relevant, too.

Where fear is a barrier...
If I were brave(r), I'd make more art. I'm afraid of making the "wrong" choices and wasting my (sometimes irreplaceable) supplies.
I'd probably publish more -- getting those negative peer reviews and rejection notices really makes it hard for me to persist in submitting the work.
I would be faster at completing a variety of tasks if the anxiety were removed; I do find that worries about doing something "wrong" makes it harder to finish tasks in a timely way.

Where fear doesn't deter me...
I'm not generally afraid of speaking out and expressing my opinion, unless I don't think I have enough knowledge to formulate an informed stance. I've never had a significant fear of public speaking (which is good, since I do it all day for my job!).
Although I'm usually nervous before performing, I don't let that stop me from singing, acting, or dancing in public performances.
I've never been deterred from asking someone out by fear of rejection (at least that I can remember). Right, Q? :)

Well, what would you do if you today were brave?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Inclusion or exclusion in this holiday season

A number of Christians have been expressing offense (or even outrage) at the use of "Happy Holidays"; instead they want people to say "Merry Christmas." There was discontent at the First Couple's holiday card, which did not specifically mention Christmas. Some have stated that they will refuse to shop at any store that has no specific mention of Christmas.

For those who are used to being in the cultural mainstream and having most of the surrounding cultural discourse support their cultural practice, it can be disconcerting to become de-centered. To suddenly become merely one religious/cultural tradition among many, with no special status, seems to connote disrespect.

But only if you are used to being in the cultural mainstream. For those who are accustomed to lack of cultural recognition, the intensity of the outrage seems odd.

No one is claiming that there isn't a Christmas tradition for some people -- merely that it is part of a broader winter holiday season that includes New Year's, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Ramadan, etc... But that lack of privilege, the lack of exclusive recognition, the inability to ignore other traditions -- that is what is most likely the galling aspect.

It strikes at the heart of the key difference in viewpoints: Do we acknowledge and respect diverse practices and cultures, or do we ignore cultural diversity and recognize only the dominant majority?

For those in the dominant majority, there is always the option of ignoring the minority traditions. Those in the minority, however, have no choice but to confront the dominant traditions in everyday life (e.g., Christmas specials on TV, etc.) and to be reminded of their marginalized status. Those in the majority may not even notice these references to their cultural traditions -- they are just "normal" -- but they may become deeply upset at the hint of removing any of these references. We don't notice the culture when it coincides with our worldview, but we notice any perceived "loss" of these cultural supports.

I believe in acknowledging and supporting diversity. I believe it is worth sharing the stage, instead of hogging the spotlight. I recognize that people find meaning in a variety of cultural and religious practices, and I am willing to support their path as long as it doesn't harm others or exclude others' paths. I'm not offended when someone wishes me "Merry Christmas", or "Happy Kwanzaa", but I am sensitive to the experience of being unrecognized and marginalized. And so my reply will typically be "Happy Holidays," with that meaning that you should find joy in the holidays you celebrate. And if you take offense at that, I think you have missed the point.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Abstinence only sex ed: biased, inaccurate AND sexist

It's old news that abstinence-only sex education is chock-full of scientific and medical inaccuracy. In a report prepared at the request of Rep. Henry Waxman (a champion of science) in Dec. 2004, over 80% of the abstinence-only curricula in the study contained "false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health." These programs, which are heavily funded by the federal government, imply that condoms are ineffective at preventing STDs/STIs and pregnancy (in contradiction to actual scientific data), include false information about the sequelae of abortion, and blur religion and science.

I knew about that part of the report.

What I hadn't heard about until reading articles in Salon and Harper's is how incredibly SEXIST these programs are. They are purveyors not only of conservative sexual morals, but also of gender stereotypes. Here is one of the parables that is provided to our youth:

Deep inside every man is a knight in shining armor, ready to rescue a maiden and slay a dragon. When a man feels trusted, he is free to be the strong, protecting man he longs to be.

Imagine a knight traveling through the countryside. He hears a princess in distress and rushes gallantly to slay the dragon. The princess calls out, “I think this noose will work better!” and throws him a rope. As she tells him how to use the noose, the knight obliges her and kills the dragon. Everyone is happy, except the knight, who doesn’t feel like a hero. He is depressed and feels unsure of himself. He would have preferred to use his own sword.

The knight goes on another trip. The princess reminds him to take the noose. The knight hears another maiden in distress. He remembers how he used to feel before he met the princess; with a surge of confidence, he slays the dragon with his sword. All the townspeople rejoice, and the knight is a hero. He never returned to the princess. Instead, he lived happily ever after in the village, and eventually married the maiden—but only after making sure she knew nothing about nooses.

Moral of the story: Occasional assistance may be all right, but too much will lessen a man’s confidence or even turn him away from his princess.

What? I don't even think I understand what the point of this is, particularly in a sex ed curriculum. I guess we need to restate that men need to be in charge and to seem more knowledgeable than women. Women, hide your wisdom! Men need to know more, or at least think that they know more, so if you want your knight in shining armor, play dumb.

Oh, yeah, that's a good message to give young people. That furthers gender equality and sexual health. Ladies, don't tell your man how to please you or suggest he wear a condom, because that will lessen his confidence. Hey, what about *her* confidence, huh? It's sure to be bolstered by the reminder that she isn't as bright as he is.

Here's another gem:

While a man needs little or no preparation for sex, a woman often needs hours of emotional and mental preparation.

5 Major Needs of Women: Affection, Conversation, Honesty and Openness, Financial Support, Family Commitment

5 Major Needs of Men: Sexual Fulfillment, Recreational Companionship, Physical Attractiveness, Admiration, Domestic Support

So, women don't need sexual fulfillment and men don't need affection or honesty? I'll remember to lie to my sweetie as I'm admiring his big muscles and draining his wallet dry. That's the ideal relationship for me!

[Sarcasm mode disengaged.]

The really depressing part is that some people believe this *is* the right message to give the next generation, and it's being given out on a massive scale.