THE PREVIOUS POST closed with a list of three options that apply in all cultural choices: individualized nominalism (one makes it up on their own), emergent nominalism, (one makes it up with the help of others), or objective reality (one gets to make up reactions to something that existed before one got here). The first option is an outright impossibility beyond the walls of an asylum. That’s the only place where what one says goes and is – without question – the law of the land. After the Introductory post, part 2 tried to highlight the insanity of I Define Me all by myself. This post will focus on option 2 – the emergent nominalism. The final post will share my own journey out.
Finding people to affirm you, to support you in your decisions requires a culture. This, in turn, requires compromises from the culture and from you. If one is engaged in a back-and-forth consensus of some sort then the map that arises is of shared construction. It’s not a case of “I made me” but “we made me”. This is also an engagement in peer pressure: each supports each, all support all. This is the constant affirmation needed to hold a lie in place: I affirm you. you affirm me. We validate each other. Our reality is thus only a consensus, and very fragile. Those on the outside can “attack” insiders by simply not saying yes when an assertion is made.
Needless to say, one person backing out of the consensual reality creates a drama for every member of it. We hold each other in place because if you run away, I will fall. Don’t shatter the sense of “Us-ness” by admitting that you refuse to allow your feelings to define you – or that your feelings have changed. These feelings are still your own feelings: but your feelings better be exactly the same as those the rest of us share. This process is very evident in the current gender crisis as it was in the marriage crisis in the early 21st Century: as the social media-driven sense of who “we” are changes, the “hive mind”, those who think differently or arrive at other conclusions get thrust out. Those who hold the right ideas are affirmed. Those who “think different” are named haters – just for thinking different.
In indulging the cravings they can construct a false me, like a bad costume at a party; but the real me, fully human, as God has patterned is encased, squashed, and nearly destroyed. I have not yet even met me and may not in this world unless I work at it really hard. If I’m not careful, I could die with this false self holding me down, the real me smothered under tons of blanketing lies inside, condemned to indulge cravings that have become addictions – what the Church calls passions. All it takes is following the fake pattern and ignoring the real me for long enough, that it becomes a habit to continue to do so. I become convinced that the real me is all these petty desires that can change with the weather or the physical characteristics I sexually crave. I define “Me” as “what I like about you”. I can thus objectify you and me both, claiming, “That‘s who I am”. I get to be a list of wants: you are a list of satisfactions. Ever try a hook-up app? It’s exactly the same game for same-sex or opposite-sex attractions: I am a list of wants. You are a list of satisfactions. “You can’t order people like out of a catalog” said a wise man once. We try to, though.
An instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education (2005) notes a difference between the sense of same-sex attraction and the beingness of the person who feels them.
In the light of such teaching, this Dicastery, in accord with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, believes it necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called “gay culture”.Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies
In fact, if one insists on the beingness of these things – if one insists these feelings are the very core of one’s being – it results in “deep seated tendencies” that the document is trying to avoid.
There is an ongoing discussion now among some Christians who experience same-sex attraction regarding the labels that should be used. Is “Gay Christians” a better choice? Queer? What? Some prefer to say they “experience same sex attraction” while others go all-out: saying “Queer” or “LGTB” using even other additions to that neo-acronymic salad. Hyphenating the faith seems to be the way to go. They seek to “affirm” their identity and “express solidarity” with the oppressed. We don’t hear many discussions about calling for “Sodomite Christians” or “Catamite Christians”, but the world is broken down even further: you’d have to avoid a lot of television comedy to not have heard of “Gay Bears”. There are “Christian Bears” too. These are part of the emergent nominalism: we are still making up our own reality, but we’re doing it together. Christian Orthodoxy is rejected as a group.
Christian tradition, contrary to modern culture in all its aspects, challenges us to listen not at all to our inner voices, our feelings, our desires, our internalized sense of self, our self-identity, or our pride. The idea that simply because we desire something the desire, itself, is good is alien to Christian thinking. It is a different form of the Prosperity Gospel which teaches that if we follow God, then our desires are good and he will fulfill them. Yet desire always leads us around by our nose, our belly, or our eyes are a violation of the divinely given human freedom. The existence of our petty desires – even for things that might otherwise be good – is a sign of our failure to live up to the divine pattern set for us. Christian tradition – embodied in the Saints, the Scriptures, and the Canonical texts. We fail to trust God and, instead, “do what we want”. Meanwhile, our tradition says exactly that we are to mistrust our bodies not because they are “dirty” per se, but because they tend to be wrong, misguided, selfish. In the created order we were intended dance within the will of God without necessity or desire. In the fallen order our desires become our masters and we become the slaves of our body and our passions.
In The Voyage of the Dawntreader C.S. Lewis wrote of the salvation of Eustace Scrubb. Eustace knows all the liberal “education” bywords of his day and believes them. It’s a bit humorous because the words he uses are very dated but the concepts he imagines to be true are exactly like those of our Millennial “Special Snowflake” folks today. He knows to run crying to Mommy (his real one or else the State) whenever anyone challenges his world view. Even though his real Mommy never enters the story, he threatens everyone to call her. She’s a good symbol of the UK Nanny State that was growing up in Lewis’ day. If the story was written today, I think that Mommy-The-State would have to be on every page.
When Eustace stumbles into the magic land of Narnia everything sucks because no one will cater to him. No one will tell him he’s special unless he actually does something special. No one will do as he wishes merely because he wishes it. At almost every turn it seems as if should he want something, he will either have to get it himself or else let it go. This realization makes him angry. He acts selfish rather well, but he can’t act self-sufficiency at all. (The joke is on him, of course, because real sufficiency is a product of community not self.)
In the end, grumbling, whining, and greedy, he finds himself turned into a Dragon. If you read the right sort of books, of course, you realize that dragons are a perfectly wonderful symbol for human selfishness. The story of his salvation is the story of his Un-dragoning.
First he must see that he needs others at all. Then he must communicate this to them safely (they don’t really like or trust dragons, you see, and, even the folks who charitably liked Eustace don’t know this dragon is that boy). Then he must continue as a dragon-attempting-to-be-human for a chapter or two. He’s learning what his humanity really is all this time. One night God (the Lion, Aslan) peals away the reminder of his dragonish disguise to reveal a little boy inside.
For anyone, the fake self-identity created by our sins and desires is exactly like that dragon. It scares some folks off but some folks are able to love us in spite of it. Some folks of course will love us exactly for it: Eustace was very attractive to other dragons! We have to love people through it, through their dragon skins, through our own dragon skins. Eustace was able to do things that only a dragon could do to help his friends: at one point he finds and brings a huge tree to them to replace the mast of their ship. Yet at the end of the dragon story the reader – this reader anyway – begins to weep, as the nearly human dragon is not good enough, and still has to be torn apart by the Divine Lion to let the really human-and-not-dragonish-any-more boy out.
In novels and plays, in songs and activities, “Gay” is defined as “What Gay People do”. “This is gay – the community is building it.” This creates a false sense of identity based on a new collective thought: no longer is our family, church, marriage, etc, defining us, but now it is our bar buddies and sexual playmate who do so. That redundancy is never called into question – to do so is to question everyone playing the game. One becomes so attached to the false self he or she has created that they are convinced this self is the real self. And even in departing from the City of Gay (in contrast to the City of God), everything must come with us. Yet, when we desire to stop being defined by our desires, our cravings, and live in, through, and for Christ – he is Objective Reality – what are we to call ourselves?