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Current events, especially when they are no longer current, should rarely hold our attention for long, unless through the passing of time we perceive some enduring truth. In that case, the ephemeral is worth our time, because through it we touch what matters. Since this is true, we do not do ill to reflect on events some months past, events that would be comical if souls were not at stake.
You remember, of course, when the news broke of the fall of Kevin Spacey: how decades ago he is supposed to have thrust himself on a 14-year-old male actor, how that actor recently came forward, how Spacey could not remember the misdeed but apologized, in a way, while coming out as a homosexual. You remember how Rosie O’Donnell cursed him, adding, “we all knew about u [sic],” and how she qualified this comment in the face of the obvious criticism that if she knew and kept silent she is culpable too—qualified it, you recall, by suggesting everyone knew Spacey was a sexual abuser, just not a sexual abuser of children. Whether that exonerates Ms. O’Donnell and the rest of Hollywood is more than a little debatable, but let us press on: she is an easy target, and the only comment or question I have in any case is whether she would extend the same clemency to our bishops that she evidently reserves for herself.
Rather, let us hasten onward to that infamous tweet alluded to above, in which Spacey apologized while coming out. “I choose,” he wrote, “I choose now to live as a gay man.” You recall the uproar this caused, which is where, by the way, the real humor lies: Spacey was accused of one of the few sins still recognized by the world, and took refuge in one of the world’s few “virtues”—and it backfired. This would be passing hilarious were it not, again, that souls are at risk.
Now, when Spacey offered this explanation, at least one writer lamented that he had “opened the door for people to conflate being gay with pedophilia—an old and pernicious myth.” Fearing Spacey had set the gay rights movement back, this writer assured us “that there is no known connection between homosexuality and pedophilia.” This writer can rest easy: I have never entertained the grave suspicion that homosexuals might be more prone to commit acts of pedophilia; I have, I fear, entertained the grave suspicion that they might be more prone to commit acts of homosexuality. It is not this alleged connection between homosexuality and pedophilia, whether tenuous or not, that threatens the gay rights movement. It is rather the implication of two words—“I choose”—that, if pondered for a bit, topples the claim that because one is “born gay,” it cannot be wrong to commit acts of homosexuality. Spacey’s words and his evident internal conflict and external conduct expose this argument as a lie, and do so even if homosexuality is not, as an orientation, chosen.
In “my life,” he wrote, “I have had relationships with both men and women,” yet “I choose now to live as a gay man.” This means that for years Spacey was divided: part of him preferred men, and part women. That he resolved the conflict one way and not another confirms he did so by his free will. For if his given, unchosen nature tore him in opposite directions, yet he still resolved the conflict, only a handful of explanations are possible.
If Spacey is equally divided in his orientation, half of him preferring men and half preferring women, how would he choose men over women except by an exercise of his free will? Otherwise he would remain in equipoise to this very day. If, instead, he prefers women to men, then plainly an effort—perhaps even a supreme, “courageous” effort—of his will was required to overcome the stronger impulse. Otherwise, it would be impossible for him to come to a settled preference against his dominant nature. If his physical, given nature prefers men to women, he should not speak of choosing at all. Instead, he should have tweeted: “I blindly follow Fate and live according to my ineluctably stronger nature as a gay man, which I cannot resist and yet somehow have resisted for about five decades.” And, finally, if he does not prefer men over women, but is attracted to men only, then there should never have been a conflict at all. No one who desires only beer with his dinner agonizes over whether to choose wine.
In reality, whatever his real orientation—whether it is entirely the product of choice, or entirely unchosen, or a combination of choice, nature, and environment—Spacey is a free moral agent, and his tweet shows that he knows it. “I choose,” not “I am,” and it is the former two words that truly set the gay rights movement back. For years we were told we could not condemn homosexual behavior (quite a different censure, you understand, than condemning homosexuals) because it was not chosen: a person’s orientation was supposed to be fixed by Nature, and so his actions in conformity with that orientation were supposed to be morally licit. Spacey’s words and, still more, his years of conflict, show either that his nature is not so fixed, or that it is, but may be resisted. Whether inveterate or inborn, then, man is free. It is only when he departs from this truth that he is “everywhere in chains,” or at least everywhere in contradictions.
For in some sense my belated commentary on a no-longer-current event may be still further out of date: has not the ground shifted and the argument changed? Man may now be whatever he likes, no matter what his given nature is. In our modern marvelously advanced society, we are neither Jew nor Greek, certainly not slaves and especially neither male nor female—but we are free, free to make or remake ourselves according to our pleasure and regardless of our unchosen nature. A man is free to become a woman, a woman a man. We have even reached that peak of Progress where he may become both. Surely my argument is outmoded, then, since a foundation of modern thought (especially manifest in gender ideology but not unknown in sexual orientation) is that man vis-à-vis Nature is free? So, Spacey may choose to be gay even if he is by nature straight: Nature is now irrelevant.
When I began this essay in my mind many months ago, and began setting it down on paper just recently, I thought the “enduring truth,” as I phrased it at the outset, to be gleaned from Spacey’s words was simply that man is a free moral agent with respect to sex whether or not his orientation is fixed by Nature—which is the only point of all that has been said thus far. But this shift in tactic just mentioned discloses a deeper truth, or at least a broader one. Spacey’s words, and the world’s reaction to them, and the “new” argument all reveal in this instance another eternal truth: that whenever and wherever you depart from the Catholic Faith, sooner or later your thought becomes self-contradictory.
For years we were told we had first to tolerate, then to approve, and finally to promote, homosexual acts (again, something quite different from a homosexual) because the person could not help it: his homosexuality was given by Nature, and Nature could not be wrong. Now we are told we must tolerate, approve, and promote changing his sex, because his sex, though given by Nature, cannot be right. These are incompatible positions to take, even though one involves sexual orientation and the other gender, since if in the one case physical, unchosen nature is dispositive, then in the other case physical, unchosen nature ought to be dispositive as well. It does no good to say instead that there is no contradiction, because in both cases it is the unseen inner person that is all right (“however you think I should act because of what you see on the outside, on the inside I prefer [or am] a man [or a woman)]”), and the outer physical nature that is all wrong, as if in some perverse play on Saint Paul’s words, the outer man is dead because of false genetics, while the inner man is being reinvented day by day. If that is true, then either that inner person is physical or not. If physical, there is still the contradiction in thought mentioned above, while if non-physical, then there is plainly present in man something apart from, and superior to, his physical nature that has both the right to make the physical nature conform to it and the ability to do so.
But this is just another way of saying that there is something in man that is above Nature and capable of disregarding it: that is, this is another way of saying man is free. No, the world cannot have it both ways: it cannot force us to call one evil good because Nature is always right, and then compel us to call another evil good because Nature happens to be wrong. In some areas, but not all, Nature may certainly go wrong as she may certainly go right, but the only way to know whether she has done so (or even can do so) in a particular case, and in what way she has done so, and what is to be done about it if she has, is to use one’s intellect to discern a moral standard and then to use one’s will to apply it. I am certain modern man still has the will; I have come to doubt whether he still has the intellect. In any case, I am certain he refuses to choose what his intellect perceives to be true.
But just as every departure from the Catholic Faith ends in illogicality, it does not happen without benefit to our Faith, so here as always we may profit from heresy. The very fact that a Spacey feels a conflict in his sexual attraction, or that a Chris can feel the urge to become Christine, really does show that there is something in man that is above Fate, that there is something in him beyond the mere concatenation of cause and effect. I have yet to meet the dog moping about the doghouse, casting a lugubrious look upwards, because he cannot climb trees. I have seen flying fish, but never a fish sulking in the shallows because he could not really fly. And nearly every time I mow my lawn, I am reminded that ants are still embracing their nature with violent gusto—though since I have generally just wrecked their homes, their bites, which are many, are forgiven them, for they worked much. No animal—indeed, no plant or mineral or gas or any other part of creation—feels itself out of place. No other part of nature is discontent with itself and tries to be something it is not. Only man does this because there is something in him that is beyond Nature, and capable of freely rejecting it? Paradoxically, then, the latest heresy reminds us once again of the inherent greatness of man.
Man is free; to disregard this truth ends, as all slides from the Catholic Faith always do, in contradiction; man’s conflict with himself and with Nature shows that he has within himself something beyond Nature; man is great—all these truths from a tweet. If there were a title to be bestowed in our religion of Unwitting Defender of the Faith, perhaps Spacey would have a persuasive case to have earned it. As it stands, he has something better: instead of adulation for choosing to commit homosexual acts, which would have confirmed him in sin, he has received scorn, which may lead to repentance. And if it does, he may join those who could well be among the brightest saints in heaven from our age: those who, though enjoying every inducement to sin and every praise for succumbing to it, nevertheless, by freely cooperating with God’s grace, manfully resist and endure to the end. For the greater the struggle, the greater the glory: and there could be no struggle were man not free, no glory were man not great.
(Photo credit: Washington Post /Youtube)