Sunday, May 3, 2015

What's Wrong with Bruce Jenner

This post is my attempt to understand and work through the Catholic position on transgenderism.

It's a very loose and rough attempt. I welcome comments and criticism from everyone. 

Part of the problem is that the Catholic or Christian position has not been clearly or thoroughly set out. This is largely because much of the issue revolves around "advances" in medicine and science that are relatively recent. So, on transgenderism per se there isn't a 4,000 year-old moral and theological tradition. Now, the modern Catholic Church could come out with up-to-date guidance on the matter. But at the moment, under the leadership of Pope Francis, it is more interested in appearing "non-judgmental" to the secular world.

That means no more sin definitions for the time being.

And certainly no more disorder definitions.

Unless of course you're a litterer.

But the other part of the problem is that "transgenderism" covers many different things. For example, it's not merely about "sex-change" operations.

To simplify, let's define it as such.

One difficulty is that while transgenderism is by definition an issue of sexual morality, it differs in kind from the other well-known sexual morality issues. Let's digress for a moment and set those out. Cover your eyes if you're easily offended by sex things. Here goes:

Birth control
Homosexual acts
Pre-marital sex

Okay, so I admit this blog post is starting to sound like a song from Hair.

Now, if you're one of my non-Catholic or non-Christian friends, you are probably about to be offended. Or worse, you're going to laugh at me. I apologize if you're offended. But it's okay if you laugh.

The caricature is that the things on the above list are sins because of random and varied edicts from the Bible or Pope Linus XXIII or whatever. Even some Christians and Catholics probably look at it that way. But that's a misunderstanding.

Actually what unites them is the claim that sex was created by God to...well, to make more people. That was it's purpose. Using it in a way that frustrates that purpose is a sin. Another way of putting it is that using it in a way that frustrates that purpose is a rebellion against God.

(Note, though, that the fact that something was created for a purpose does not mean you should always have that purpose in mind when you contemplate or engage in that something. Nor is it wrong to want or desire to contemplate or engage in that something for proximate reasons having nothing to do with its purpose.)

That's the quick explanation of most sexual sin. Go ahead and laugh again. I find it kind of funny myself.

But transgenderism is different. It's not necessarily about the sexual act, like the other things are, but rather, your point of view or role within the sexual act, whether you actually have any sexual acts or not.

So, what's wrong with Bruce Jenner?

I think the basic idea is that virtually everyone was created by God to have a particular role. Some of that (though not all) is physical. You were given a body that comports with that role. The actual sex part follows from it but need not. For example, it doesn't (or shouldn't) follow from it if you're a priest or a nun, or a consecrated virgin or incorrigible bachelor or whatever.

A few people may have, so to speak, an issue with that role, or at least they might think that they do. Is that wrong? Not necessarily. It might better be called, in the language of the Catechism, a disorder.

Why does God create or at least allow disorders? That's a deep philosophical and theological question, and I'm not going to answer it here. But in essence it's on the same footing as asking why God creates or allows anything in this world that is imperfect.

The non-Catholic Christian apologist Jim Dennison presented "three theological facts" on the issue a few days ago:
One: none of us is the person we were created to be. "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27). As fallen people, we have each distorted the image in which we were made, and feel a deep longing to fulfill our God-given identity and purpose. 
Two: suffering people are desperate for hope. Sex-reassignment surgery and hormone treatments are drastic measures. When we are in pain, we will try whatever promises to help. We need compassion and community, not ridicule and rejection. 
Three: separating the body from the soul heals neither. According to Dr. McHugh [Paul McHugh, the former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital], changing the physical gender does not heal the psyche. That's because God made us in his image, as unified in diversity as our Three-In-One Lord. Where we are wounded most deeply, we most need the transforming power of the Spirit.
So, here's what the church should say to Bruce Jenner: God's hope for you isn't to become a woman, but to be the man you were created to be...
Thus, it's not completely about the disordered versus the "normal" or whatever. Fundamentally, we're all disordered. Ever since our ancestors got kicked out of the garden, we've all had issues with how God created us. It's a bent world and we're part of it.

We are all Bruce Jenner.

Giving in to those issues is always unwise, often selfish, and potentially fatal. Eternally fatal. That's not a knock on Bruce Jenner. It's a warning for all of us.

The Catholic Church teaches that a person is not a soul trapped in a physical body--a mere ghost in a machine. If one were such a thing, then radically transforming one's body--say, to mimic the appearance of the opposite sex--might not only be permissible but perhaps irrelevant. Rather, according to the Catechism,
The human body shares in the dignity of "the image of God": it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit. 
Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day. 233 
The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature (364-65).
Forty years ago, after years of training, Bruce Jenner, reached a pinnacle that few men have ever achieved. I have no idea whether he was a Christian then. In one sense, at least, it doesn't matter. He did something amazing by optimally developing the physical and spiritual gifts given to him by God. He didn't mutilate his body. He honored it. And he glorified God in a particular way that I suspect none of the rest of us have done or will ever do.

He was the man God created him to be.

But now and if he is to be believed, for many years, Bruce Jenner has, for all intents and purposes, wanted to destroy his body. In a mockery of Christ's promise to all of us, he wants a different one.

He won't get it.

But God grant that he will eventually get far more.


  1. "He did something amazing by optimally developing the physical and spiritual gifts given to him by God. . . . And he glorified God in a particular way that I suspect none of the rest of us have done or will ever do...He was the man God created him to be. . ." The preceding hit home. I believe he had the biggest temptation of his life when he was at his pinnacle . . . Jesus got tempted when he was alone and the devil offered him the riches of the world. Bruce has been blindsided and because he was with "the world" (the Kardashians), yes, he was blindsided, I reckon.

  2. I would add temptation is v-e-r-y subtle and s-m-o-o-t-h. He did not even know what hit him. Worse, he was a young boy when he started playing with these ideas.