I like and respect Rod Dreher. We've known each other for a long time and gone through some spiritual trials together. And for the past few years I've read his Crunchy Con blog nearly every day, appreciating his honesty and learning from his fresh take on a wide range of social, cultural, and economic issues.
But there's one thing about Rod -- and many other social conservatives -- that I just don't get. I don't understand his obsession with sex -- and in particular his conviction that the normalization of homosexuality in American culture should be viewed as a dire threat to the well-being of his fellow citizens, and especially children. Now, as Rod readily admits, he has a tendency toward apocalyptic thinking -- toward viewing every bit of bad news that comes down the pike (from temporary spikes in the price of oil to declines in the stock market) as a sign of imminent social collapse. Yet sex appears to reside in a category of its own for him. I find this especially perplexing in Rod's case because he denies so strenuously that his views flow from anti-gay animus. As he puts it in a recent post,
Gay-rights supporters typically believe people like me hold to our opposition to gay marriage and so forth because of some animosity towards gays. I know that it's true for a lot of conservatives, but in my case -- and in the case of most people I know who share my views -- it's not an emotional matter. We have gay friends, are comfortable around gay people, and simply don't share that visceral reaction that used to be commonplace in American life, and (regrettably) still is in many quarters.
OK, Rod -- good for you and your socially conservative friends. But then what explains your fixation on the threat posed by the normalization of homosexuality? Why, given the myriad ways that our society and culture diverge from the long list of archaic norms, practices, and beliefs upheld in the Bible, does homosexuality inspire such anxiety, even panic? What are you afraid of? Is it that you fear that if orthodox religious communities stop denouncing gay marriage (to the faces of married gays, which seems to be what you'd like them to do) the human race will stop reproducing itself? Or is it that you worry that if your children aren't taught in church that homosexuality is an abomination they'll shack up with same-sex partners when they grow up? But isn't the decision to do something like that far more a product of nature than culture? I don't know about you, but no amount of pro-gay propaganda could tempt me to sleep with a man -- because I'm by nature sexually attracted to women. Some of what you write about homosexuality leads me to believe you worry that naturally straight men and women will be seduced into being gay by watching too many episodes of Project Runway. But you can't seriously believe that. Can you?
I suspect that Rod's first instinct will be to respond that the issue isn't really homosexuality at all. It's "authority." Rod, after all, believes
that you simply can't discard a teaching on which the Bible -- in both testaments -- and (for Catholics and Orthodox) authoritative church tradition could not be more clear, simply because it doesn't suit contemporary mores.
That sounds like a reasonable view for a serious religious believer. Except for one thing: Rod has shown in his work as a journalist writing about the sex-abuse scandal in (and its cover-up by) the Catholic Church that he's perfectly willing to aggressively challenge religious authorities when he believes them to be acting immorally. Good for him. It shows that he's modern -- that is, he chooses which authorities to obey based on his own subjective judgment. So when Rod obeys the authority of orthodox (in his case, Eastern Orthodox) Christian teaching on homosexuality, he does so because he chooses to obey -- because he makes the subjective judgment that that teaching is true, is right, is worthy of being obeyed.
But why? Does Rod have any non-question-begging answer to this question? An answer that doesn't just amount to saying, "because the church says so"? That would be the answer of someone who really lives and thinks in (pre-modern) obedience to church authority. But we've already determined that this doesn't apply to Rod. So what's the answer? Why are the orthodox churches right to condemn homosexuality? Or in Rod's own words, what, precisely, does he "know to be true" about homosexuality? And, perhaps more importantly, how does he know it?
As I said, I respect Rod's honesty, which he displays toward the end of his post when he admits that "we traditional Christians have a very, very difficult job ahead of us" in trying to persuade people to continue treating homosexuality as an abomination. And yet, unless Rod and those like him can come up with some pretty compelling answers to the kinds of questions I posed in the previous paragraph, then I'm afraid he's being far too optimistic.