Monday, May 12, 2014

Barbershop philosophy, Love and Responsibility...


I had my haircut before my younger brother's wedding a couple of weeks ago, and as you do with your barber/hair dresser, you engage in some small talk and before you know you're having a conversation and solving all the world's problems... or are you?

My barber asked me what I do for work (be assured that in turn I did not bother to ask him), so I told him that I'm a high school theology teacher. He admitted that he wasn't too familiar with theology so he asked me what that entailed. I told him in summary that it entailed teaching about the Catholic Church (I teach at a Catholic high school after all), Her teachings and doctrines, key beliefs, responses to contemporary issues, moral theology, a bit of philosophy, and so forth. His interest seemed piqued. "I'm a bit of an atheist, myself" my barber replied. With my interest piqued, I replied with "Oh really?"

Before I could ask my barber anything about his atheism, he began to inquire about why I teach theology. I gave him my life story in cliff notes and explained that I have a love for my faith, so why not make a living teaching it? He then asked, "So why not become a priest?" Good question! For a time after leaving high school I did in fact discern the priesthood. The priesthood was always something at the back of my mind as I went through university, even as I dated some girls during my late teens and very early 20s. Ultimately, as I explained to my barber, I felt the undeniable call from God to family life and to fulfil my vocation as a husband, parent, and teacher. I am grateful to God that I can make a career of the vocation of teaching.

I suspected that a question about the priesthood was imminent, and before I knew it...

"Do you think that by allowing priests to marry all of those... 'problems' might get solved?" my barber asked.

If by "problems" he meant the sexual abuse scandals and so forth, it's something I had already pondered. When I was in Sydney giving presentations for Parousia Media back in February, I received a question very similar to that one. Basically it was suggested that by allowing priests in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church to marry, it would either eradicate or lower the incidence of sexual abuse against minors by Catholic clergy. "We're animals after all, aren't we?" by barber suggested, "... we have needs, right?"

A few things:

1. Let's assume that a clergyman with a inclination to pederasty or with a sexually oriented attraction to minors is allowed to be married because the Church has changed its position on the discipline of celibate clergy. Does allowing this clergyman to marry suddenly rid him of his inclination to pederasty or his sexual attraction to minors? Let's answer that this way: if there exists a person with a inclination to alcoholism, does replacing all of their drinks with water or other non-alcoholic beverages remove their inclination to alcoholism? Not necessarily. One's inclination to pederasty or sexual orientation to minors may have a psychological genesis and therefore must be managed at its genesis. Permitting marriage for clergymen with such an inclination is not a solution or treatment.

2. If marriage for priests of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church is permitted as a "solution" to the sexual abuse scandals, are we not then advocating an attitude that objectifies women, dehumanises them, and treats them as beings that exist simply for the sexual gratification of men (i.e. lust)? Would we not then be warping the true meaning of marriage and distorting the act of conjugal love between a husband and wife? Marriage is not a license which permits coitus exclusively with one's spouse. This "solution" - apart from being counter-intuitive - degrades the integrity of the human person. While sex is pleasurable, we should be reminded of the wisdom of St. Pope John Paul II regarding the human person:

“A person’s rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use.” - Love and Responsibility, 1993

3. "We're animals after all, aren't we?" This is a depressing attitude. What separates us from the animals is our ability to rationalise and ponder things that are beyond the perception of the human senses: sight, taste, touch, sound, and smell. For example: the reality of God, or - if you're on the agnostic end of the spectrum - the possibility that there exists a being beyond our human comprehension that somehow put everything into existence and desires to have a personal and intimate relationship with us. Yes, we're mammals with an instinctive drive, but we are not solely driven by instinct. As St. Thomas Aquinas describes, humans possess what is called a "rational soul" which allows us to communicate using complex language, have abstract thoughts, experience a complex range of feelings and emotions, etc. If we are merely animals then why bother bathing, going to work, engaging with others in dynamic and thought-provoking dialogue and so forth? Why not just devolve to the days of pre-historic man and sort out our problems with blunt objects?

I wasn't trying to be argumentative with my barber (a lot of what's up there are after thoughts) but my opinion was asked for and I gave it in the most non-confrontational way I could muster at the time (he was holding a razor at the time).

Some things to note/references:

In Eastern rites of the Catholic Church, priests are allowed to marry. It is important to clarify that when the Catholic Church is being spoken of as a whole, there exists more than the Roman Catholic Church. Yes, it is the Roman Catholic Church that you often see in the media, but not all Catholics are Roman. Recommended reading: What Catholics Really Believe - Priestly Celibacy

Regarding the Catholic Church's teachings on Homosexuality:

It's very important to note - despite what the mainstream media, certain lobby groups, and secular institutions may tell you - that the Catholic Church does not advocate hatred towards homosexuals and does not tolerate it either. Quite the contrary:

"The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfil God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition." - Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2358 (bolded for emphasis)

Regarding the Catholic Church's teachings on Marriage (more specifically concerning the objectification of women and distorting the meaning of conjugal love), St. Pope John Paul II in his September 17, 1980 Theology of the Body address to the general audience stated:

"Lust has the internal effect, that is, in the heart, on the interior horizon of man and woman, of obscuring the significance of the body, of the person itself. Femininity thus ceases being above all else an object for the man. It ceases being a specific language of the spirit. It loses its character of being a sign. I would say that it ceases bearing in itself the wonderful matrimonial significance of the body. It ceases its correlation to this significance in the context of conscience and experience. Lust arising from concupiscence of the flesh itself, from the first moment of its existence within the man—its existence in his heart—passes in a certain sense close to such a context. (Using an image, one could say that it passes on the ruins of the matrimonial significance of the body and all its subjective parts.) By virtue of axiological intentionality itself, it aims directly at an exclusive end: to satisfy only the sexual need of the body, as its precise object." - 'Mutual Attraction Differs from Lust', St. Peter's Square General Audience, September 17, 1980

* * * * *

It ended up being a very good discussion between myself and my barber. We didn't get that detailed or go that deep, but I feel that at my next haircut (a couple of weeks away) we may pick things up where we left off and pose some more challenging questions. In the meantime I'm going to be praying for my barber. Please too pray for him and for myself.

Amen.

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