And all men kill the thing they love,By all let this be heard,Some do it with a bitter look,Some with a flattering word,The coward does it with a kiss,The brave man with a sword!—Oscar Wilde, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”
Before it’s anything else, the culture war is a word war. A war of words; a war over words.
In a sense, control over the language is control over thought: if you have the ability to impose your preferred words and definitions on the rest of the culture, you can control how things are said and, eventually, what is said. No-no words become no-no thoughts, which become no-no attitudes, values and beliefs.
This is certainly true of the battle against same-sex marriage. Consider the three theologians who accused Cdl. Timothy Dolan and the USCCB of “misrepresenting Catholic teaching”: former priest Daniel Maguire of Marquette told The Beast, “The bishops will stand with Dolan and the US Catholic Conference, but on this issue, they are in moral schism since most in the Church have moved on [to] a more humane view on the rights of those whom God has made gay.”[*] A little later, writer Matthew DeLuca tells us that the most recent Gallup polling data says 51 percent of Catholics said gay marriage should be legal. Which brings up the obvious question: When did 51% become “most”?
More important is what’s happening to the word marriage itself. DB of Omnia Vincit Veritas puts the matter bluntly:
To be sure, it would be nice if everyone in the world understood and accepted the true meaning of marriage, but …, sadly, the trend is moving toward fewer and fewer people accepting the true and more traditional meaning of marriage. As a result, the lone term marriage is also no longer being used as a shorthand for true marriage by much of the world. This is the reality that we must confront and overcome; not simply whine about a misappropriated shorthand and all that goes with it.
In “What would Jesus say?”, I argued that any theory which would have the apostles or later Church removing gay-positive elements from Jesus’ teaching must presume the Church to be selectively queasy. In the middle of the rhetoric, I pointed out that Mary the sister of Martha sitting at Jesus’ feet while he taught (Lk 10:38-42) — a position reserved to male disciples — is everything anyone could mean by “transgressing boundaries”. How, I asked rhetorically, had that example of gender-bending slip past the Church’s red pencil “when Our Lord’s exposition of queer theory didn’t?”
Enter my friend Richard Evans of Catholic Boy Richard. If you don’t already know his story (and if you don’t read his blog, shame on you), Richard is a revert, a former Assemblies of God minister and LGBT activist who came back to the Church in ’05. Richard has chosen to pick up his cross, and he carries it with grace. But he also objects to the term “queer theory” because queer has been used as a term of hatred and abuse:
… [Some] within the actively LGBT world think we should “take back” the formerly unacceptable words such as “queer” and name TV shows after them. But it presents a caricature of who we were then or are now. Most of the males I know from my background object to that word. Showtime and Bravo did not ask us first when they each decided to make millions on the pain of others.
I agree with Richard in that the deliberate use of queer by homosexuals themselves is as self-undermining as is the use of nigger by African-Americans, that it makes no sense to use inside the community a name that’s painful and demeaning when it comes from outside. Even within the black community, nigger remains a put-down; it can be a gentle reminder to “get over yourself”, or a trashcan in which to dump a lazy or criminous fool, or the words of one crab pulling another crab back into the bucket (“You don’t get out unless we all get out!”).
There are many ways, though, in which the homosexual experience fails comparison with the black experience, and this is one of them. Within the Wonderland world of “queer theory”, you don’t have to be homosexually oriented or even bi-curious to be queer … you just have to believe gender and sexual identities are social constructs. “Queer” and “gay”, in this use, don’t overlap; this isn’t just flying a pejorative as a flag of honor, as Americans did with the word “Yankee” during the Revolution, but rather redefining it to create another enclave of oppressed minorities. By comparison, blackness is an almost essential precondition to being a “nigger”.[†]
If it were up to me, I’d call QT “gendersilly theory”. Besides not including a name some SSA-afflicted people get upset about, it perfectly describes a meta-narrative born of narcissism and misunderstood social science concepts. You don’t give people dignity by building their identities on lies; QT does people with gender-identity and intersex disorders a disservice by pretending their issues can be solved by changing social definitions. They kill by a flattering word.
If anything, the recycling of queer encapsulates not only the hypocrisy of the culture of death but also their success in controlling the terms of the debate. For at the end of the day, telling the truth means taking the risk of offending others. Or, as I’ve said before, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth is worse than revolutionary: it’s uncivilized.”
We fight over the meaning of words because words are all we have to express the inherent, intrinsic dignity of the human person as a child of God. Words are all we have to paint the picture of the broken angel Man became after the Fall. Only in the universality of sin can we finally recognize equality of dignity — that moment when “I’m as ‘Good As You’” becomes “I too am a sinner.”
[*] This is why I want to earn a doctorate and teach at a university: once you get tenure, you can say the dumbest damn things without fear of losing your job due to incompetence.
[†] Black people have told me that “white people can be niggers, too,” and there is historical precedent: many people in the middle of the 19th century referred to Irish immigrants as “the white niggers of the North”. Now, though, can anyone truly tell me they've heard this usage any time in the last fifty years?