Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D. earned his doctorate in neuroscience from Yale and did post-doctoral work at Harvard. He is a priest of the diocese of Fall River, MA, and serves as the Director of Education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. I missed his column in the Boston Pilot in July of last year that put forth a critical consideration on the hypothetical “gay gene” debate.
“People often surmise that same-sex attraction is inborn, and that homosexuals are “naturally gay” or “born that way.” They suppose that if God made them that way then it must not be a sin to act on their sexual desires. The possibility of a “gay gene” is sometimes offered as a further defense, suggesting that the condition, and its associated behavior, are inevitable and inescapable. One commentator summarized it this way: “Asking someone to stop being homosexual would therefore be equivalent to asking an Asian person to stop being Asian or a left-handed person to stop being left-handed.”
Even if a hypothetical “gay gene” were ever found, all it would likely determine, similar to most genes governing behavior, would be a genetic predisposition towards a particular sexual preference. This would be something very different from the genetic determinism or “hard-wiring” of, say, eye color or blood type. Multiple twin studies have already demonstrated that only about a third of the identical twins of those with same-sex attractions also experience same-sex attractions; whereas if sexual attractions were determined strictly by genes, those with identical genes would be expected to have identical attractions.
Even if we have genes that predispose us towards certain behaviors, we still have a space of freedom within ourselves, and do not have to engage in those behaviors. Our genes may impel us strongly in certain behavioral directions, but they can’t compel us.
May I add here that any of us who battle with diabetes or obesity are squarely in that population – which is why fighting against those behaviors is so challenging. I didn’t become Catholic until those genes had begun to kick in. Back when I was in my Arnold body of the 1980’s I was insufferably judgmental and felt my New-Age God was at my beck and call. The notion of being a creature or having to obey God hadn’t entered the executive functions of my frontal lobes yet.
But back to Fr. Pacholczyk in the Pilot:
“This reminds us of one of the fundamental truths about our human nature — namely, that we are not creatures of sexual necessity. We are not compelled to act on our inclinations and urges, but are always free to act otherwise, even directly against the grain of those inclinations.
In fact, to be truly free as a human means to have the strength to act against ourselves, so that we do not live in bondage to our own inner impulses and drives, a key consideration that distinguishes us from the animals. Human freedom involves the mastery of those drives by redirecting them and ordering them to higher goals. So while we cannot in any way be held responsible for in-born inclinations, we certainly can be held responsible for how we choose to act in the face of those inclinations.
Sherif Gergis summarizes this idea in a recent article: “We do not pretend to know the genesis of same sex attraction, but we consider it ultimately irrelevant to this debate. On this point, we agree with same sex marriage advocate Professor John Corvino: ‘The fact is that there are plenty of genetically influenced traits that are nevertheless undesirable. Alcoholism may have a genetic basis, but it doesn’t follow that alcoholics ought to drink excessively. Some people may have a genetic predisposition to violence, but they have no more right to attack their neighbors than anyone else. Persons with such tendencies cannot say ‘God made me this way’ as an excuse for acting on their dispositions.’”
Even though God did make each of us in a certain way, it is clear there are other factors that have influence over our personal constitution and inclinations as well, including actual sin and original sin. It is not difficult for us to see, through the turmoil of our own disordered inclinations, how our human condition, our general biology, our psychological depths, and even our DNA, seem to be subject to a fundamental fallenness.
It would not be unexpected or surprising, then, if we eventually discovered predisposing factors (genes, hormones, developmental cues, etc.) that give rise to heterosexual or homosexual inclinations. What is of real moral relevance to the discussion, however, is the universal call to chastity, irrespective of genes and hormones.
Chastity refers to the successful integration of sexuality within the person, and all men and women are called to live chastely in keeping with their particular states of life.
Some will do so by professing a life of consecrated virginity or consecrated celibacy.
Married people will do so by living conjugal chastity, in the exclusive and lifelong gift of husband and wife to each other, avoiding the unchastity of contraceptive sex, and sharing the marital embrace in openness to new life. Professor Robert George speaks of “marriage as a union that takes its distinctive character from being founded, unlike other friendships, on bodily unity of the kind that sometimes generates new life.”
Those who are single will practice chastity in continence, steering away from fornication, masturbation, and pornographic pursuits.
Those who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex are similarly called to chastity in continence. By refraining from sexual activity with members of the same sex, and engaging in an apprenticeship of self-mastery, they come to acquire, like all who pursue lives of chastity, an abiding inner freedom and peace.”
Another lesson for me here is that I sometimes make arguments against homosexual acts based on real world negative outcomes such as elevated risks of cancers and the like when there is in truth only one real argument to be advanced: obedience to God in the form of living a chaste life. Yes, I hear the hoots of derision already from the secular peanut gallery, not to mention those hardworking Internet Folk who try to leave links to strap-on dildoes in the comments here, but (channeling Yogi Berra) until you get it, you don’t really get it.
And further, does this not offer an answer to an anthem poem of mine by Conrad Aiken, the question posed here:
I, the restless one; the circler of circles;
Herdsman and roper of stars, who could not capture
The secret of self; I who was tyrant to weaklings,
Striker of children; destroyer of women; corrupter
Of innocent dreamers, and laugher at beauty; I,
Too easily brought to tears and weakness by music,
Baffled and broken by love, the helpless beholder
Of the war in my heart of desire with desire, the struggle
Of hatred with love, terror with hunger; I
Who laughed without knowing the cause of my laughter, who grew
Without wishing to grow, a servant to my own body;
Loved without reason the laughter and flesh of a woman,
Enduring such torments to find her! I who at last
Grow weaker, struggle more feebly, relent in my purpose,
Choose for my triumph an easier end, look backward
At earlier conquests; or, caught in the web, cry out
In a sudden and empty despair, ‘Tetélestai!’
Pity me, now! I, who was arrogant, beg you!
Tell me, as I lie down, that I was courageous.
Blow horns of victory now, as I reel and am vanquished.
Shatter the sky with trumpets above my grave.
Do we will tell the dying gay man, the AIDS victim, that he was courageous in his arrogance or weakness — or will we explain one last time that for the sake of his eternal soul that he should learn the secret of Christian self, repent of his sins and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as his savior? There are those who will condemn you for upholding the latter truth, who will curse you for what they see as a homophobic condemnation that was part and parcel of the man’s suffering to begin with.
Many Catholics stammer or fall silent in the face of this implacable Homosexualist Cant: We Are the New Secular Normal. Learn to whisper back: “Nothing has really changed.” Or as that itinerant Jewish preacher put it: “Repent the Kingdom of God is at hand.”