Gays, Galileo, and the Message of the Manger
The BBC has the correct headline on Pope Benedict’s curial speech story. "Pope attacks blurring of gender" is far more accurate than all those headlines claiming that "saving gay people is as important as saving the rainforests", and similar riffs on Reuters’ misleading -- see Fr Jim and MSW on this -- interpretation.
The essential theological point in the Pope’s intriguing address is that going green while erasing God from Creation is a contradiction. Nature, he says is "the gift of the Creator, with certain intrinsic rules that offer us an orientation we must respect as administrators of creation.”
And he goes on: "That which is often expressed and understood by the term ‘gender’ in the end amounts to the self-emancipation of the human person from creation and from the Creator. Human beings want to do everything by themselves, and to control exclusively everything that regards them. But in this way, the human person lives against the truth, against the Creator Spirit.”
It’s worth placing this papal observation alongside the tribute Benedict XVI paid last Sunday to Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) on the 400th anniversary of the condemned astronomer’s telescope.
Galileo, you will recall, was declared a heretic by the seventeenth-century Church for supporting Nicholas Copernicus’ discovery that the Earth revolved around the sun (church teaching at the time placed the Earth at the centre of the universe). For centuries the Galileo condemnation has been used by secularists as a symbol of all that is incompatible between faith and science.
Last weekend, the Vatican sought to reverse that symbolism, building on Pope John Paul II’s 1992 apology and dusting off Galileo as a shining representative of faith and reason working together.
(Ma non troppo. According to this interesting AP report, the Vatican turned down the offer of a statue, to be located inside the Vatican gardens, donated by the Italian aerospace giant Finmeccanica SpA).
Galileo and other scientists had helped people better understand and "contemplate with gratitude the Lord’s works", Pope Benedict said.
The astronomer is not a bad poster boy for the marriage of faith and reason: he was devout, as well as being a brave scientist. He looked through his telescope and saw the glory of God behind the amazing architecture of the universe -- as did Jesuit astronomers at the time and continue to today. That is a very different way of looking through a telescope to that of the nineteenth-century atheists, who used it to declare the non-existence of angels.
Only, I can’t help but spot an irony.
Galileo was condemned, at the time, because he was held to subvert the God-ordained nature of things. One can imagine Pope Urban VIII in 1633 using words similar to Pope Benedict’s to the Curia: that nature has "certain intrinsic rules that offer us an orientation we must respect as administrators of creation.”
But it wasn’t long before the "intrinsic rules" were overturned by the evidence. It turned out that putting the Earth at the centre of the universe was not God’s plan at all.
Mark Dowd, gay ex-Dominican and strategist for the Christian environmental group Operation Noah, is widely quoted in UK press reports as saying that in his curial speech Benedict XVI betrayed "a lack of openness to the complexity of creation" -- in other words, that papal faith in the fixity of male-female gender roles may be misplaced.
At the moment, there seems little room in the Catholic Church’s "human ecology" for a possible divine purpose for homosexuality -- just as in the seventeenth century there wasn’t much space for the idea that God has arranged the universe with the sun at its centre. It would be syllogistic to suggest that because the Church was wrong on the second it will turn out to be wrong on the first.
But it’s striking how the homosexual orientation appears in church teaching as "intrinsically disordered" -- in other words, as contrary to the way God arranged the universe -- in the same way as the Copernican view appeared in the seventeenth century.
And it isn’t a bad thought, at Christmas, to remember that the Creator of the Universe is capable of subverting its laws for the sake of His creatures.
Things are never so finally fixed that God can’t rearrange it all. The arrogance of scientists, of clergy, of the wise, our own arrogance -- all get dethroned tonight by the Great Event: the manger-child, born of a refugee couple and the Holy Spirit, in a cave, in a place somewhere off the map, to where the centre of the Universe quietly relocates. Happy Christmas.