Missing the Point

Reading is important.

But reading comprehension is even more important. Otherwise one can take missing the point to a new level.

While most of us were unwrapping presents, polishing off the last of the egg-nog or returning unwanted items, a mini-furor erupted on the internets concerning Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks in address to the Roman Curia.

As prone as new and opinion outlets are to botch religion stories, the threshold of botching-ness is ratcheted up whenever religion and sexuality are mentioned. If we add into the mix religion, the Pope and homosexuality- well, we might as well start building an orbital platform on the botching level capable of being achieved.

Not one to shy away from such rarified air, the Huffington Post offered its own contribution to missing the point in the article entitled Pope Benedict Takes Anti-Gay Marriage To New Level In Christmas Speech On Family Values.

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What level has been transcended (or perhaps descended?) is left to the imagination. As imprecise as such a headline is (save for the link-bait-i-ness), it is rather mild in comparison to some other outlets. Quoth Sir Google:

Anti-gay Christmas message of Pope Benedict XVI Christmas draws fire

Merry Christmas? Pope Benedict XVI Denounces Gay Marriage As A ‘Manipulation Of Nature’

The pope’s hateful Christmas message

Pope gives special holiday hate speech against gays because it’s Christmas

The lede of this article, however, is a sight to behold:

The pope pressed his opposition to gay marriage Friday, denouncing what he described as people eschewing their God-given gender identities to suit their sexual choices – and destroying the very “essence of the human creature” in the process.

While others have accurately remarked that the pope’s address doesn’t specifically mention gay marriage, it is really the second line wherein the author wishes to demonstrate that reading comprehension is not terribly high on the list. Specifically:

denouncing what he described as people eschewing their God-given gender identities to suit their sexual choices –

But if we go to the pope’s address, we find this:

These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God.

As is painfully obvious (except perhaps to the HuffPost author), Benedict XVI essentially said the exact opposite of what the lede put into his mouth. Given his rejection of ‘gender’ as a philosophy of sexuality, it hardly follows that it can be meaningfully used as a synonym for ‘sex,’ since Benedict XVI understands sex as pertaining to the nature of a person, something that is God-given. His intent is to point out that gender as a philosophy of sexuality excludes this sense of nature as being God-given.

Hence, it is rather remarkable that the author of this article botches this essential point so badly as to conflate sex and gender in the lede so as to make the Pope come out affirming that which his address specifically opposes. It takes a monumental failure in reading comprehension to reach such a level.

But sometimes failure is a feature- rather than a bug- for the article continues down its winding path into inanity:

In his remarks, Benedict quoted the chief rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, in saying the campaign for granting gays the right to marry and adopt children was an “attack” on the traditional family made up of a father, mother and children.

In contrast, Benedict said this:

The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being—of what being human really means—is being called into question.

As is fairly evident, specific “campaigns” are hardly primarily in view here, but rather the attack the pontiff is looking at is one that, as he says, “goes much deeper.” In other words, it is the metaphysical understanding of human nature that forms the context of his words, rather than the specific legal or political events in contemporary society. To be sure, certain postures towards the tangible ‘attacks’ will inevitably flow out of the logic comprising his understanding of human nature, but it is absolutely crucial to get the logical order right if we are even going to make any sort of comment on the view he is expressing, even in passing.

At any rate, it is certainly not difficult to follow the progression of his thought and understand how he views the metaphysical notions we have of human nature affecting the ways in which we form societies, families and the like.

It was the second time in a week that Benedict has taken on the question of gay marriage, which is currently dividing France, and which scored big electoral wins in the United States last month. In his recently released annual peace message, Benedict said gay marriage, like abortion and euthanasia, was a threat to world peace.

The term ‘world peace,’ while not used by Benedict in the message in question, should be recognized as extremely fuzzy, and thus what one means by ‘peace’ is crucial to understanding its use within Benedict’s message. The Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace 2013 contains abundant references to precisely what he understands by ‘peace:’

Peace is the building up of coexistence in rational and moral terms, based on a foundation whose measure is not created by man, but rather by God…

The attainment of peace depends above all on recognizing that we are, in God, one human family…

Peace is an order enlivened and integrated by love, in such a way that we feel the needs of others as our own, share our goods with others and work throughout the world for greater communion in spiritual values. It is an order achieved in freedom, that is, in a way consistent with the dignity of persons who, by their very nature as rational beings, take responsibility for their own actions…

Life in its fullness is the height of peace. Anyone who loves peace cannot tolerate attacks and crimes against life…

More germane to the Christmas day address:

Peace concerns the human person as a whole, and it involves complete commitment. It is peace with God through a life lived according to his will. It is interior peace with oneself, and exterior peace with our neighbours and all creation. Above all, as Blessed John XXIII wrote in his Encyclical Pacem in Terris, whose fiftieth anniversary will fall in a few months, it entails the building up of a coexistence based on truth, freedom, love and justice. The denial of what makes up the true nature of human beings in its essential dimensions, its intrinsic capacity to know the true and the good and, ultimately, to know God himself, jeopardizes peacemaking.

As is easy to discover, Benedict XVI understands peace as flowing out the human being in peace with God, living according to God’s will. This inevitably includes recognizing and living according to the truth of the human being we each are in relation to God and to each other, and that each of us has a nature which must be received and made sense of and lived out. As was mentioned earlier viz-a-viz human sexuality: “This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God.”

Thus, the peace Benedict XVI has in mind cannot be realized in a humans, families and societies which reject the most fundamental truth about what a human being is. As such, the path into peace is

above all that of respect for human life in all its many aspects, beginning with its conception, through its development and up to its natural end. True peacemakers, then, are those who love, defend and promote human life in all its dimensions, personal, communitarian and transcendent. Life in its fullness is the height of peace. Anyone who loves peace cannot tolerate attacks and crimes against life.

It is primarily within the context of life issues that the threat to peace is found:

Every offence against life, especially at its beginning, inevitably causes irreparable damage to development, peace and the environment. Neither is it just to introduce surreptitiously into legislation false rights or freedoms which, on the basis of a reductive and relativistic view of human beings and the clever use of ambiguous expressions aimed at promoting a supposed right to abortion and euthanasia, pose a threat to the fundamental right to life.

Benedict XVI then follows this with an aside:

There is also a need to acknowledge and promote the natural structure of marriage as the union of a man and a woman in the face of attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different types of union; such attempts actually harm and help to destabilize marriage, obscuring its specific nature and its indispensable role in society.

It might be noted that he does not ever say that gay marriage is a “threat to world peace,” since the type of peace Benedict XVI longs for goes much deeper than the surface connotations of ‘world peace.’ If it isn’t already obvious exactly what he has in mind in his message, he continues unambiguously:

These principles are not truths of faith, nor are they simply a corollary of the right to religious freedom. They are inscribed in human nature itself, accessible to reason and thus common to all humanity. The Church’s efforts to promote them are not therefore confessional in character, but addressed to all people, whatever their religious affiliation. Efforts of this kind are all the more necessary the more these principles are denied or misunderstood, since this constitutes an offence against the truth of the human person, with serious harm to justice and peace.

One certainly might disagree with Benedict’s conception of the human person and the underlying path to true peace he envisions, but that disagreement should at least acknowledge the content of the peace expressed. His point is that peace is more than just a laying down of arms, absence of war, etc., but is something that must first be evident in each peacemaker’s life, which is part-and-parcel found in peace with God, a state wherein one accepts the truth of the human person in his entirety.

The article continues:

For the Vatican, though, the gay marriage issue goes beyond questions of homosexuality, threatening what the church considers to be the bedrock of society: a family based on a man, woman and their children.

As should be obvious from the quotations already cited, the pope’s message here is not aimed primarily at the current threats to family structures, but, as was mentioned earlier, “goes much deeper.”

The author keeps trying to shoehorn a metaphysical meditation into a socio-political box, completely missing the point along the way.

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About deviantmonk

Jason Watson is a designer, illustrator and animator who lives in the Kansas City area. He is married to the beautiful and amazing Megan and dispenses theology, philosophy and history at deviantmonk.com.


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