Ontology IV

After ten plus years in ECUSA and ten plus years in Orthodoxy, I'm starting to feel a transition out of the first into the second.  Finally.  Even in that lapsed period in the middle, I realized I no longer fit in an Anglican Ethos: something about me had changed.  So, now, I look at things a little closer and I can see where I am Anglican and where I am Orthodox.  I work hard on becoming more Orthodox.  It's a religion that needs to eat you whole: you can not be Orthodox in your head but not your heart, in your "thoughts" but not your body.  God wants all of you, wholly holy, as the old Aretha song says.   A lot of American religion is about the head or the heart: "a thinking man's church" or "happy clappy church".  But Orthodoxy wants you to change your very being, to bring it all in line with God.

I see conversations about human sexuality inside American Orthodoxy that are the same ones that happened in Anglicanism. It concerns me when we have conversations about sexuality without questioning our cultural assumptions about Ontology.

Ontology refers to "Thant branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being".  As I use the word it refers to "being human" and "being gay".  My primary point of wrestling with Christian doctrine is in the area of sexuality - although the passion that usually rules me in situo is anger, but that's a whole other issue for my confessor.  But the doctrine of human sexuality, as it deals with our person as well as morals and ethics, and our sense of communion with others, is where I have the struggle. Why? Because of being something.  In our culture we are convinced that one is gay in the same sense that one is black or white or Irish or Greek. We are so convinced of this that language about gay rights is often flavoured with language about race. Discussions about same-sex couples are compared to discussions about interracial couples, etc.

It's important because if one is gay the same way that one is male or female, then it does put a different spin on ideas of sexual morality.  Yes, St Paul was quite clear that gay sex was an abomination, but if God made us this way, then maybe St Paul was wrong or only culturally right.  Maybe there is an ethical, moral, and salvific way to engage sexual active same-sex couples in the Church, again: only if God made this.

The problem with this (and everything) of course, is science: there is no way that one might look at the genes of a man and say "gay".  Actually there is no genetic basis for race. Likewise there seems to be no genetic basis for sexuality.  Seems that the only thing that is genetic is our gender (and we pretend to change that in this era as well).  But these things we think of as "real" are not a part of our being.

The Church has always said this.  St Paul insists: neither Jew nor Greek neither slave nor free.  These are not ontology: the human being is NOT Jewish, Greekish, Slave or Free.  The third phrase in the Greek is usually rendered "neither male nor female" is, in fact, "not male and female".  Humanity is united in Christ, and neither the divisions we imagine (Jew nor Greek) nor the divisions that are real (Male and Female) are important in Christ.  Human ontology, human beingness, is only divided in two in God's plan.  Everything else is our fault. The modern temptation is to add "neither straight nor gay" as an inclusive affirming thing a thing like "male and female", but one might better add it because those things are not real, they are social constructs like slave/free and Gentile/Jew.

But if Gay is not like Gender (God-given) and is more like Race (social construct), what does that mean?

Sexual Orientation is, especially in the modern world, a culture. There is a Gay culture - although increasingly less so (we can cover that in a future post). There is a creole or pidgin spoken, filled with in jokes and social commentary. It's rather like Yiddish in that any native speaker can switch in and out of "American Gay" and "American English" ad libitum, and can hear the subtext in a room which straight people or non-initiated same-sex attracted people can not. As this language evolved in an era when women were at home and men were out and about, it is correct to assume that men and women have different access to this language and so even at a "gay party" some may speak in deep subtext while others are oblivious.

This language creates gay art and gay neighbourhoods - Gaybourhoods, as they are often called.  This helps you to get gay roommates without saying you won't let a straight boy in.  These concepts are not limited to American English: as an old man from Puerto Rico taught me, one can "ruffle the feathers" of someone to see if they are gay, or one might "drop a feather" if one was gay.  It's code, and it's fun to be on the inside.

But that doesn't mean that one is gay in one's being the same way that one is male or female.

What it does mean is that one can imagine that one is that way. Orthodox Ontology is very clear that our temptations come from outside of us: it's when we manifest them in ourselves that they are called "passions".  They become an addiction, a thing that we can not help ourselves against.  At that point they feel like they are really us.  In a recent talk on the passions, Mtr Kallistos made it clear however, that this passionate self is a false self, not really who we are. The ideas the sense of desire, the internal voice speaking of the rightness of this thing is all a lie. One becomes convinced that this thing is my being.

I live there struggling with that.  A deacon once asked me "Do you think you're different from me?" Did I think that as a gay man I was different from him as a straight man? No. My only difference is in my temptations. I know this is not my being: even staying out of the Gay Culture as much as I can.  What I find out is that I miss being on the inside, I miss hearing jokes that only I and someone else in the room can get. Yeah, Orthodoxy is like that sometimes, but not the same way: Gay jokes titillate.  I think that's important.

As American Churches began to discuss sex, this assumption (of sexuality = being) was never questioned. Anglicans had "conversations" where they were asked to "Listen the stories of gay people" without ever questioning the assumption that there were, in fact, "gay people".  Roman Catholics, alone, seem to have moved beyond the assumption of beingness, by simply discussing "What now".  I  experience life this way, but how to I live as a Christian?  How to I make Christ my being?

Gay culture makes everything to be about sex.  The Gay jokes, the random straight person caught in an all-gay George Burns / Gracie Allen comedy, the Abbot and Costello "Who's on First" being done as innuendo, the content of a good Lady Gaga video: all about sex, in one way or another.  Flirtation, implications and  sexual subtext are all important to this language.

I feel I'm getting into ranting again: which is a sign that I'm off course.  So I'll stop now.

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