At noon, I said good-bye to a weekend visitor and dear friend who is in discernment about becoming a Catholic. We talked upside and down, from Friday evening until this morning, when the friend attended Mass with my wife and me. In the end, I understood that this person's greatest reservation about the Catholic Church is its position on social issues, particularly on homosexuality. “How,” my friend asked, “can I stand with a Church that asks me to condemn homosexuality—especially when I know and love several homosexual people?“
Whatever I said to this person—and I said a number of things including, but the Church does not ask us to condemn anyone—I was left with a core thought: The past fifty years, the half-century since I was ten years old and began entering the age of reason, starting with the decade of the Beatles and Vatican II and the war in Vietnam and the sexual revolution, have seen an avalanche of attitude changes largely related to sexuality and its natural result, pregnancy. As my father said in another context, when I told him I was becoming Catholic, “My mother would roll over in her grave.” Yes, and Grandma Bull’s corpse would make like a weather vane in a hurricane if she got wind of this avalanche. As it decidedly did not in the 1950s, liberal or progressive thought now supports contraception, abortion, and homosexual activity, including same-sex marriage, while demanding a female priesthood. What has happened in the half century since my grandmother’s death?
At the end of a long weekend, I can only conceive of two answers to this question, two fundamental reasons for these changes: Either we are finally enlightened, as our forebears were not and as the liberal mindset holds, or else we are going crazy and quickly. From the perspective of my generation and especially that of my parents, born before the Depression, the landslide has been so sudden and devastating to the old moral landscape, that there can almost be no middle answer. Enlightened or loco, take your pick.
Now, a few hours after my friend’s departure, I am reading this article about Anthony Burgess's dystopian 1962 novel The Wanting Seed and I am forced to ask the question again. (H/T Semper Vita.) In The Wanting Seed Burgess, most famous for A Clockwork Orange, imagined a future overpopulated world in which a Ministry of Infertility actively promotes homosexuality to reduce the number of people in the world.
The article summarizes Burgess’s vision: “It’s a world where straights are discriminated against because there’s nothing more disgusting and destructive than potential fertility, than a ‘full womanly figure’ or a man with ‘paternity lust’; straights are passed over for jobs and promotion in favor of homos, giving rise to a situation where some straights go so far as to pretend they are gay, adopting the ‘public skin of dandified epicene’, as Burgess describes it, in a desperate bid to make it in the world. There’s even a Homosex Institute, which runs night classes that turn people gay, all with the aim of reducing the ‘aura of fertility’ that hangs about society like a rank smell, as one official says. ‘It’s Sapiens to be Homo’ is the slogan of Burgess’s imagined world.”
Pretty crazy stuff, huh? Yes, then, and so are we, as the article notes. An op-ed piece in an American newspaper recently commented:
“‘Given the social hardships of our era, the benefits of homosexual marriage could be immeasurable. Even America, though its population pales in comparison to that of other nations, is considered overpopulated because the amount of energy each of its citizens expends in a lifetime is enormous. Obviously homosexuals cannot, within the confines of a monogamous relationship, conceive offspring.” Therefore, legalizing gay marriage would “indirectly limit population growth.”
This post is not about homosexual love or marriage, anymore than the Catholic Church is. This post is about the landslide and my own cry of bewilderment from a depth of fifty years: What in the blazes just happened?!
I vividly remember my grandfather and father discussing the fate of humankind in our living room during the 1960s. Granddad Bull, approaching his earthly end, was clear that we were going to hell in a handbasket. Dad—still young, hopeful, ambitious, energetic—was all optimism. Me? I’m not a grandfather yet, but I’m of the age.