Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

The Moral Obligation of Reality

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 23, 2011

If a person feels depressed and wishes to commit suicide, does it amount to a personal attack if I urge him to resist his inclination, to understand that his depression is a disorder, and to seek to remedy it? If a young man experiences an intense desire for a one night stand with every voluptuous redhead he meets, am I acting in a hateful manner if I encourage him to recognize that his affections are disordered and that, for the good of both himself and others, he should resist the temptations that arise from them?

To hear advocates of the gay lifestyle talk, this is what we would have to conclude. I’ve recently had a lengthy exchange with a gay man who is convinced that the Church is engaging in acts of hatred when she tries to explain that same-sex attraction is a disorder to be either corrected or resisted, both for one’s own good and for the common good. He insists that it is evidence of arrogance and hatred even to express sympathy for the “suffering of those afflicted” by same-sex attraction. He views any such statement as nothing more than a manifestation of the same attitude which leads to mistreatment or even physical violence against homosexuals.

On a purely cultural level, of course, this is understandable. The predominance of elite opinion in the contemporary decadent West is that homosexuality is simply an alternative sexuality, with no moral significance. In fact, this is now an orthodoxy enforced by both the throne and the fourth estate. Beginning in 1975, for example, the American Psychological Association conveniently changed its earlier viewpoint, proclaiming that same-sex attraction is not a disorder because—so their current web statement argues—it is found in a variety of places and times, it does not appear to be connected with psychopathology, and it therefore must be a normal form of human experience. But does not normal human experience include experience of disorders?

The APA and many others have simply adopted a position characteristic of the times, based on assertions made in the name of science about matters on which science has nothing to say. It is one thing to declare that same-sex attraction does not appear to be a “mental illness”. That may well be true, depending perhaps on the degree of compulsion involved or on how “mental” is defined; the Church does not insist on the contrary. But it is another to claim that it is not disordered, for the simplest reflection on reality tells us that sexual attraction is designed by God for procreation (or at least evolved by nature for the propagation of the species) and therefore same-sex attraction is flawed in its teleology. Thus, through sheer logic, same-sex attraction reveals itself to be deficient, lacking in some due good, that is, disordered.

This simple consideration brings us back to something which transcends culture, namely reality itself. The human person is unique in his ability to see beyond his personal desires and cultural predispositions in order to rationally assess his operations and inclinations in the light of reality itself. And at this fundamental level of reality, the automatic attribution of arrogance and hatred to those who consider same-sex attraction a disorder does not make any sense at all.

It is possible, of course, that those who read reality aright in this area might read reality wrong in others. They may think that disorder is not generally a part of the human condition and so conclude that those who exhibit this disorder are to be shunned or persecuted. They may not have sufficient self-knowledge to properly assess their own motivations. They may lack prudence. But the key point here is that whether an attitude or an intervention is objectively good or bad depends on something that goes way beyond our own feelings or even our own cultural myths. It depends on reality.

Moreover, reality imposes moral obligations. If in fact same-sex attraction is disordered—as bulimia is disordered, or sexual attraction to children is disordered, or narcissism or mania or depression—then the very dignity of the persons who suffer from the disorder demands that we assess it properly and help them to deal with it in the most constructive way possible. Properly motivated and sensitively implemented, this is not an act of hatred but an act of love.

But this does not change the fact that such love will not be appreciated by those who are in denial. When we are in denial, we hide within a pseudo-reality of our own construction, often aided and abetted by a culture which is itself out of touch with reality. What happens is that we more or less deliberately refuse to transcend our own feelings; instead we make them the standard for what is rational and normative. For exactly this reason, we regard another’s insistence on reality as an attack. In a sense, it is an attack, or more accurately a pursuit—a pursuit like that of the hound of Heaven.

Thus if we say to a person who advocates the gay lifestyle that a same-sex couple cannot marry, he will dismiss this as prejudice. It does not matter that the objective (that is, the only real) definition of marriage is a union between one man and one woman. To insist on reality is interpreted as an attack. This attitude may be reinforced, with little or no fault on the part of the gay advocate, by his past experience—or his received cultural narrative—of very real acts of prejudice and violence against homosexuals. But distinctions must be made on all sides. To mix principled concern together with hatred and abuse is a grave failing, but it is also a failing to attribute that mixture where it does not exist.

Ultimately, reality and the ability to read reality properly is the only differentiator. We are morally obliged to form our judgments and base our efforts to do good on a dispassionate analysis of reality, even if we receive no help in doing so from our culture, or from any particular philosophical system or church. In particular, since we are embedded firmly in nature, there are many things that, if we make the effort to be honest with ourselves, we cannot not know. Even when we experience strong passions, we fail in our moral duty if we do not seek to discern reality with the aid of reasoned reflection, and if we fail to make decisions according to what we discern.

Some are more successful at this than others. Some have more help in seeing clearly than others. Some deliberately make choices which render accurate perception more difficult—such as shunning religion, philosophy, reflection and anything else that might make it easier to transcend their own desires. But in the last analysis, it is reality itself that determines whether we are right or wrong in our judgments, and reality which imposes a moral obligation to try to help our neighbor when he is tempted to act contrary to reality, or to describe his actions as a morally-neutral alternative to reality. Such alternatives are, in fact, disordered. And just as when we yield to depression, when we embrace and encourage any of our disorders, they lead always to damage, destruction and death.

[See also the sequel to this article, in response to questions from readers: The Moral Obligation of Reality, II.]

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Dec. 04, 2011 3:54 PM ET USA

    Very true, Agnes Day. Sorry to jump in so late but to bservaes, man does not fly nor can he travel faster than his legs can go. Airplanes and cars are modes of transportation, that's all. They tell us nothing about our humanity, except that we are perennially dissatisfied. The gay lifestyle is one of frustration. Like, pardon me, the eunuch that cannot mate. It only serves itself and seeks itself. It is not sex in the real sense but a denial of it.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Nov. 28, 2011 1:05 PM ET USA

    bservaes4399, your logic is a little convoluted. Man does not have wings to fly, yet he has the brain to desire and develop a means to fly. I really think that Wolfdave is right, and that this is the pattern of all sin, not simply disordered sexual acts of all types. God condemns all sex outside the bond of marriage. That is reality. He gave us an additional nine commandments, and to the extent that we break them, we deny reality as well.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 28, 2011 8:36 AM ET USA

    bservaes - flying in airplanes does not defy reality, but comports with the laws of aerodynamics. Try stepping out of a skyscraper unsupported - or rather don't. Note Etienne Gilson's quote about law, posted below. We live with reality because not doing so results in our destruction - either swiftly or slowly.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 25, 2011 7:03 PM ET USA

    I remain unsatisfied with Dr. Mirus' exposition. So reality equates morality? What IS equals what SHOULD? The question I am left with is: so what? What and why does it matter that a behavior is in defiance of reality? Man is not made for flying, and still he does! He is not made to run fast, and still he can move in a car faster than once imagined. What am I missing? Would love to read part II of Dr. Mirus' exposition with apologies if I misunderstood.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Nov. 24, 2011 10:05 PM ET USA

    Catholicity fundamentally and necessarily involves the apprehension of reality. This essay elucidates principles that must animate all Catholics, and ideally, all people. In the words of Our Lord to St. Catherine: "...It is charity that binds you to true humility-the humility that is found in knowing yourself and me." And thus the pursuit and apprehension of reality demands that we "transcend our own feelings." There are some mighty important statements in this essay. Mighty important indeed.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 24, 2011 8:22 AM ET USA

    And that reality is expressed through law - physical law, natural law, and eternal law. "Nothing escapes law. When something claims to be escaping law, it is actually destroying itself in the measure that it succeeds in doing so." - Etienne Gilson

  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - Nov. 23, 2011 11:43 PM ET USA

    I would like to point out that singling out same-sex marriages is what proponents of same-sex marriage do. You can't have a Catholic marriage if you've been divorced. This fact shows how seriously the Church takes marriage. The fact that Kim Kardashian can get married as a publicity stunt shows how seriously society takes marriage. Marriage sans reality and children is nothing more than glorified dating, and the Kardashian incident is a symptom of the disease that is known as redefining family.