Apparently, the most popular way to argue against homosexuality these days is to compare it to alcoholism.  Seriously.  I have been hearing this a lot lately.  A representative version of this argument goes something like this: “just as we wouldn’t encourage an alcoholic to act out her desires to drink alcohol excessively, neither should we encourage a young person to act out their desires to have gay sex.  Gay people need love, but affirming their decision to engage in gay sex is not love.”

Now, at first glance, this argument may seem to have a lot going for it: it appears to employ traditional Catholic language about virtue and human flourishing and it appears to be motivated primarily by compassion for gay people.  But, unfortunately, the comparison between homosexuality and alcoholism fails on almost every level: it fails as a comparison and it fails as an argument against homosexuality.

First of all, alcoholism, as we currently understand it, and homosexuality, as we (even the magisterium) understand it, really have nothing in common descriptively.

One, while genetic and environmental factors certainly predispose certain individuals to become alcoholics, no one, not even the most genetically and environmentally at-risk person, can become an alcoholic if they never take a drink of alcohol.  This of course is not true for homosexuals.  One does not become a homosexual only upon having homosexual sex.  People typically experience themselves to be gay prior to and independently of engaging in homosexual sex.  In fact, there are people who have never engaged in homosexual sex, either by choice (some priests and nuns, for example) or by circumstance, who still know themselves to be gay.  But why would anyone who has never taken a sip of alcohol consider herself to be an alcoholic?  If someone did do this, we would tell her that she was mistaken; quite simply, what she would say about herself would make no sense to us.

Two, while the mix of behavioral, genetic, and environmental/social factors that cause one to become an alcoholic is certainly complex and even somewhat mysterious (why was the frat boy who drank abusively all through college able to quit drinking and become a responsible adult while the woman from a healthy family who was for years only a social drinker eventually become an alcoholic later in life?), it is nonetheless true that one becomes an alcoholic only by drinking.  Even in the case of the extremely at risk person who seeming became an alcoholic upon the first taste of his first drink, alcoholism occurs via a process of habituation: one becomes what one does.  Moreover, the more immoderately one drinks, the more likely one is to become an alcoholic.

But, of course, this is not the case for homosexuality.  One not only does not become gay by having gay sex but also those who have a large amount of gay sex are not more likely than those who have only a moderate amount of gay sex to become gay.  A woman who is exclusively heterosexual as an adult will not be “at risk” for becoming a lesbian if she spends the next decade of her life having as much gay sex as possible.   Spending a decade getting drunk several times a week, however, will put most anyone at high risk of becoming an alcoholic. (The case of sexual fluidity is no exception: sexual fluidity is just as un-chosen and unpredictable as sexual stability).

The high failure rate of programs designed to turn gays straight demonstrates that the opposite is also true:  gay people cannot become straight by having sex with someone of the opposite sex.  (If you are heterosexual and you doubt this, then I challenge you to commit yourself to a prolonged process of passionate love-making with as many people of the same-sex as you can.  If, at the end of it, you find yourself to have become gay, then I will concede rhetorical victory to you; if you are still straight, then will you promise to stop supporting ex-gay “therapies?”).  However, although in clinical terms a recovering alcoholic is still an alcoholic, it is true that it is possible to cease drinking through a process of re-habituation in a way that it is not in the case of sexual orientation.

Third, while the magisterium of course believes “homosexual acts” (whatever those are) to be immoral, it believes that homosexuality itself is morally neutral.  In other words, merely experiencing oneself to be constitutively attracted to members of the same sex is not in itself a sin.  However, this is not how we think of alcoholism, is it?  The fact that alcoholism is a disease that eventually robs the alcoholic of control does not mean that we do not think the alcoholic bears some measure of moral responsibility for becoming an alcoholic.  (Of course, it is probably true that the amount of moral blame which should be placed on individual alcoholics for their condition will vary significantly: we would probably consider the child who suffered vicious abuse and turned to alcohol to numb the pain of having to prostitute herself in order to survive less culpable than other alcoholics whose abusive drinking stemmed from character flaws like selfishness or vanity).

Nonetheless, almost every alcoholic will have made choices that contributed to their becoming an alcoholic that we would consider to be morally blameworthy.  And, at a minimum, every alcoholic will have made choices that were essential to their becoming an alcoholic, even if these choices were not morally blameworthy.  But we can’t (and don’t) say either of these things about lesbians and gays.  Even the magisterium doesn’t: it believes that homosexuality is of “mysterious origin” that seemingly comes down out of the sky and afflicts the homosexual at random.

Fourth, in contrast to gay sex, people can drink alcohol without sinning.  (Hey, even Jesus drank wine!).  What makes drinking sinful is its immoderation, its excess.  And how do we know when drinking is excessive?  When it causes harm to the drinker or to those in the drinker’s life and when it impairs the drinker’s ability to be her or his best self.  But, according to the magisterium, even one act of gay sex is grievously immoral: it is impossible to have a moderate, and therefore virtuous, amount of gay sex.  If the magisterium thought of alcohol like it thought of gay sex, it would be calling on Catholics to be teetotalers.

Fifth, an alcoholic drinks alcohol compulsively while a homosexual does not necessarily (that is, by definition) engage in gay sex compulsively.  Yes, it is true that sexual desire is a very strong drive that can lead people to do all sorts of crazy things, but the sex drive does not rob us of free will and good judgment the way addiction does.  An alcoholic will choose alcohol over everything, even when they don’t necessarily want to.  They will pledge to have only one drink but somehow end up having ten.  Very few people are literally incapable of “keeping it in their pants,” however.  Very few people miss birthdays of loved ones to have spontaneous sex or lose their jobs or families because they were too busy having sex.

These second set of reasons, however, are the biggest reasons why this comparison fails as an argument against gay and lesbian sexuality: quite simply, while sexually active gays and lesbians can flourish (in fact, their sexuality contributes to their flourishing), alcoholism makes flourishing impossible.  At worst, alcoholism destroys lives.  At best, we can say that anything that is worth doing can be done better when one is not an alcoholic.

Even the romanticized case of the drug and alcohol-using artist proves the point:  while it seems anecdotally true that some great pieces of music and art have been created while the author was under the influence of a given substance, history has also demonstrated that these artists would have reached even higher levels of artistic greatness had they been able simply to use the substances in questions without becoming addicted to them.  But, it is overwhelmingly obvious to anyone willing to really look at and listen to lesbians and gays and to those who love them that lesbians and gays who are allowed to express their sexuality are not only subjectively happier, but also objectively better at the things that it is good for human beings to excel at than those who are compelled to a life of celibacy even though they lack the vocation for it.

Similarly, while there is currently great debate in the academic world about whether there really is a unity of the virtues (meaning, if one is habitually immoral in one area, say, one is selfish, will this have a type of cascade effect, resulting in the person being vicious in many or all areas), alcoholism is one area in which the vices, at least, do seem to be tied together.  Drinking alcohol immoderately and habitually (which is the definition of a vice) causes the alcoholic to acquire all sorts of other vices, either as a result of the vice of abusive drinking or in order to support this vice.  If the virtues are an intricately knitted sweater, alcoholism is like pulling a snagged thread until the entire thing comes undone.  Alcoholism leads to lying, violence, laziness, social irresponsibility, promiscuity, injustice, inability to love and be in relationship to others and it also often causes the alcoholic to neglect her bodily health.  But, again, even the magisterium, which, in insisting that homosexuals are often “generous and giving of themselves”, does not think that a person who engages in gay sex will thereby become vicious in other areas of his life.

So, as you can see, alcoholism and homosexuality really have nothing in common.  While encouraging an alcoholic person to seek treatment (not to mention supporting her through it), is certainly an act of compassion and often of courage, trying to pressure a lesbian or gay person into a life of sexual alienation is not.

35 thoughts

  1. Homosexuality-is-like-alcoholism was the standard explanation among my evangelical students back when I was teaching, and to them the comparison was like an epiphany: it seemed to capture the perfect combination of condemnation and compassion. It was mortifying and depressing to listen to their spirited defenses of it. I wish I had had something like this to give them. Nicely done.

  2. You have much more patience in explaining this than I do! I’m just really tired of “Christians” who can’t think of anything other than sex, who “is” and who “isn’t” and with whom one “Is”. The world is falling apart because of greed and injustice, and is hungry for “Good News”.

  3. Katie,

    I agree with you that the comparing homosexuality and alcohoism is bogus and shameful. However I think you need to reconsider your reasons. The sense I got from your essay is that it is not ok to kinda blame homosexuals for their homosexuality, but it is kinda ok to blaim alcoholics for their disease.

    You write that “Nonetheless, almost every alcoholic will have made choices that contributed to their becoming an alcoholic that we would consider to be morally blameworthy.” Couldn’t you replace alcoholic with AIDS victim here? Do you really want to maintain the logic of blaiming the victim for a disease? Couldn’t you distinguish the two simply on the grounds of flourishing without the moral component?

    Alcoholsim is most certainly a disease that progresses. And habituation is part of that progression. But in response to something else you wrote, I can tell you that I believe that I was an alcoholic before I ever took a drink. I was never a moderate drinker: I was an alcoholic who drank moderately. I am not trying to avoid moral responsibilty for the things I have done to hurt people around me (I am going to study the fourth step with my sponser in a few minutes 😉 ). I have caused a lot of pain, but I did not cause my alcoholism. I took a long time to take responibility for my actions, but my disease was there from the beginning.

    I recomend the book Thirst by James Nelson. He is a theologian, alcoholic and supportive of GLBT people. I think he can convince you why you need to rethink alcoholism. Keep up the good work on the blog and thanks for a thoughtful post!

    1. Hi Ben,
      Let me clarify. You say, “The sense I got from your essay is that it is not ok to kinda blame homosexuals for their homosexuality, but it is kinda ok to blaim alcoholics for their disease.” The point I was making was not really about blame at all. Remember in the next sentence how I mention that there could be alcoholics whose alcoholism came about through no fault of their own? The key issue here to debunk the comparison between alcoholism and homosexuality is that an alcoholic, even if they have the deck stacked against them as you did, still had to do things to become an alcoholic.

      And as for your question about AIDS. Let’s pick a less emotionally fraught and politically sensitive case, like heart disease. While there is some debate, it seems pretty clear that heart disease, although it has genetic factors, is partially the result of lifestyle habits. So, while it is true that some people can get away with doing a lot less exercise than others and eating a lot less healthfully than others, in the vast majority of cases, people who have heart disease contributed to their own illness in the sense that had they lived differently, they would have gotten heart disease later or perhaps not at all.

      Now as to your blame question. Only a real jerk would think that just because a person who has heart disease has heart disease IN PART because of lifestyle habits they “chose” this therefore means they don’t deserve compassion and the best shot at treatment. And back to your AIDS example. I would argue that the fact that some of the ill are treated with scorn, shame, and stigma (AIDS sufferers are a prime example of this) but others like those with heart disease, even though both are in different ways and in different degrees (depending on the person) partially the result of people’s choices says more about homophobia and a culture of sexual shame than it does about the reality of the matter. Clearly, nobody really chooses to acquire a disease even if they choose behaviors that put one at risk for acquiring that disease, whether it’s a sexually transmitted disease, heart disease, or lung cancer.

      So, to conclude, the fact that I think that alcoholics, even those who were heavily predisposed to abuse substances, became alcoholics in conjunction with things they did does not at all mean that I think alcoholics deserve scorn and abandonment. I totally get what you mean when you say you were an alcoholic before you took your first drink: I think you are saying that the habits and behaviors and thought-processes that prevented you from drinking in a “good” way were already in play within you before you drank. When I say alcoholics became alcoholics only after drinking I mean simply that it would be impossible for those habits and behaviors and thought-processes to express themselves through abusive drinking of alcohol had you never drank alcohol (say, you lived in a culture that had no alcoholic drinks or you became hooked on another substance first or you had some horrible allergy to alcohol that made you violently and debilitatingly ill upon the ingestion of even a drop of alcohol). It seems to be as though your diagnosis of yourself as always alcoholic is one that would be possible only after a period of abusive drinking. Had you become a compulsive gambler or a heroin addict you may now describe yourself as having always been a gambler or always been a heroin addict. Does that make sense?

      1. Thanks Katie,

        I really don’t have a lot of time to respond, but I want thank you for the effort you put into your response. I realize I got of track in my post, or maybe just didn’t get to what I wanted to say. I was pushing back because I think the people who make this comparison probably have ideas about alcoholism that are as skewed as their ideas about homosexuality. Keeping the virtue/vice language in your argument feeds into that skewed view of alcoholism. I should have been more carefull, I did not mean to attribute that kind of attitude to you.

        I chose AIDS to keep a disease with stigma as a comparison. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that people who would compare alcoholism to homosexuality are going to see alcoholism more as an AIDS “type” disease than a heart disease type of disease. That is to say, they are going to allow moral judgement to come into play when discussing the afflicted. I guess my whole point is that the logic of the comparison between alcoholism and homosexuality breaks down without the moral judgment on both sides. And while those who make the comparison like to focus on immoral acts, I don’t think they do a very good job of seperating the acts from the people.

        My hunch is that the people who make this comparison think that alcoholism is as much a disease as homosexuality is an orientation. That is why I got worked up.

        Thanks again. I think we are on the same page and I hope I made a bit more sense this time.

  4. Nice article, Katie. Despite the apparent ubiquity of comparing alcoholism and homosexuality, I actually hadn’t heard of it before, so I found your report and analysis informative.

    As I’m not aware of knowing anyone who would use this argument, I should probably not attempt to speak on their behalf, but based on the “apparent” logic you mention, it seems plausible to me that its supporters would in fact agree with you on each of the points of dissimilarity outlined above, while still maintaining that the point of similarity that they were basing the comparison on is legitimate, viz., that, ceterus paribus, both alcoholism and homosexuality involve a disordered inclination, the pursuit of which would be oriented toward fundamentally immoral behavior.

    Since the Catholic magisterial position that you refer to does regard homosexuality as an “intrinsic disorder” (and thus arguably not “morally neutral” simply, but rather non-culpable and not immoral per se), this could indicate at least some foundation for the comparison, at least from a Catholic perspective.

    Thus, insofar as you don’t treat this particular putative point of similarity above, I’m not entirely sure your “takedown” works… yet.

    As I see it, the comparison does work, at least in part, but only if you are willing to grant the premise that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered, which in the case of a discussion concerning the morality of homosexuality and/or homosexual acts necessarily involves question-begging. Where the comparison entirely runs aground in this latter case is due to its indiscriminate mixing of empirical and evaluative judgments–while disorder in the case of alcoholism will eventually be manifest with respect to one’s liver (if not one’s personal and professional life first), disorder in the case of homosexuality will do no such thing.

    Does this sound right to you, or am I giving too much away by granting the “D word” to the comparers?

    1. you are right that the magisterium considers homosexuality to be objectively disordered but this does not mean that they think that being homosexual is a sin. that is what i meant by “morally neutral.” but, I think you are right to be somewhat confused by the teaching because as a lot of people have pointed out it is strange to label something as being not sinful in itself (the orientation) yet also an inclination to evil. for example, i think most of us would find it morally culpable if an individual had a very strong desire to murder children even if she never acted on it (although of course merely having the desire would be better than acting on it). In most cases, wanting to do immoral things has some immorality in it. however, I was speaking specifically of what users of this comparison say and not what the magisterium says.

      And you are right that just because alcoholism and homosexuality are different in many ways does not necessarily mean that they can not be similar in a way that demonstrates them both to be wrong but that is what I was trying to deal with in the second set of differences. Traditionally, Catholic moral theology doesn’t first decide that something is immoral and then by fiat pronounce it to be an offense to human flourishing (which is what I am implicitly arguing happens with those who compare homosexuality to alcoholism); instead we first observe what promotes human flourishing…

      but i do like your mention of the damage to the liver argument. i would like to turn it around a bit or build off of it. even if alcoholism didn’t damage the liver, we would still consider it to be bad, right? because we would look at the way it impairs human flourishing and interferes with the alcoholic’s ability to cultivate the other virtues. As I was trying to gesture towards at the end of this piece, I think these are the questions we should be asking about homosexuality’s impact upon the homosexual? Under what conditions does the gay or lesbian person (and their communities) flourish? Under compulsory celibacy? Monogamy? etc…

      1. Actually my point concerning the liver was intended to problematize the question of human flourishing, at least in part, for inasmuch as alcoholic cirrhosis is empirically verifiable as “bad,” biologically speaking (i.e., you can take it under a microscope and prove it), your judgment concerning the impairment of human flourishing is already loaded with moral valuations, unprovable (logically speaking) but nonetheless “obvious” to most people.

        Of course, one can turn even cirrhosis into a reductio ad absurdam and say that one’s view of biological life as good is itself a loaded valuation, which I’m willing to concede to a point. To this, however, I would want to say that the moral valuation is far more complex and far harder to track than the merely biological, and that in many cases the former depends to some extent on the latter (e.g., one’s moral valuation of murder will most likely be based on a judgment concerning the goodness of biological human life, etc.).

        I want to get back to the “obviousness” mentioned above, though. I suspect that each of us, when pushed far enough, will resort to something of a Potter Stewart “I know it when I see it” position concerning human flourishing or a lack thereof, and this precisely because of the complexity involved in such flourishing itself. As I see it, the danger for first-century BCE eudaimonists, thirteenth-century natural law decretalists, and twenty-first century virtue-ethicists alike is the assumption that one can simply “read” the moral life off of human nature (whatever that may be), as if one is able to acontextually determine what constitutes human flourishing. (Certainly, I’m likewise resistant to claims that such flourishing can in no way be identified in observing human persons, culture, etc., since my point is merely that this is not as simple of a task as it is sometimes presented, and that it cannot be done without attending to the significant relative differences of place and time.)

        In the last instance, however, even a properly qualified virtue ethics will run into difficulties, it seems to me, when confronted with the “stumbling block” of Christ, since this necessarily re-grounds moral perspectives and assessments, especially with respect to human flourishing. (Here I call to mind, Katie, your work concerning the “queerness” of God’s love, which helpfully identifies the fundamental dissimilarity of divine and human love, even under the aspect of similarity conveyed by calling both “love.”)

        This component of Christian discipleship cuts both ways, I think, since on the one hand Christ in many respects subverts or sublates what is “natural” to us, in service to a higher call, while on the other hand, such Christian discipleship always takes place within some sort of an ecclesial context, which contains within it traditions of teaching and practice that are intended to foster an embodiment of this sublation. This tradition includes, for the Catholic, a valuation of martyrdom, asceticism, and suffering, all of which run contrary to “obvious” human flourishing. It likewise includes a view of homosexuality that, while based at least in part on principles of natural law, is understood more properly an expression of Christian discipleship, in all of its messiness and contradictoriness.

        In terms of your question, then, as to what constitutes human flourishing for the gay or lesbian person, I can only respond that, based on my own resources, I have no idea whatsoever, but that based on the moral teaching of the Catholic church, “real” flourishing would seem to occur in the loving embrace of whatever hardships one is given, including (but not limited to) the self-denial involved in choosing not to pursue the end to which one’s same-sex attraction naturally tends.

        In light of this, it is difficult for me to imagine something harder than being a gay Catholic, since the relative poverty (or at least over-simplicitly) of “orthodox” moral-theological reflection on same-sex attraction would appear to require an almost blind obedience to something terribly painful–and painful not only in terms of what is given up in remaining celibate, but painful all the more in “knowing” oneself to be “disordered” in this profound way.

        For Catholic moral theologians (among which I am thankfully not numbered), attending to this difficult set of questions seems to me to be of urgent importance, and I think it’s great that you, Katie, are seeking to expand the horizons of moral reflection and fruitfully engage in this respect with the Catholic moral tradition. My own suspicion is that there are many more resources “within” the tradition that are as yet untapped in pursuing a Catholic moral vision for the gay or lesbian person, and that searching for and engaging with these will pay significant dividends, both theologically and pastorally.

        All I can say is stay close to Our Lord and keep up the good work!

      2. Hello again, Mike.

        First of all, thanks for your very kind words.

        I wouldn’t disagree with you about the complexity of making human flourishing judgments but I’m not sure what else we can do! ha. I think simply conceding that making moral judgments is often much more situated and communal/contextual is already a huge step forward when discussing issues like this.

        And yes, figuring out how “natural law” jives with the subversive and trans-valuating example of Christ cuts to the heart of pretty much every debate in the history of Christian moral theology, so, I again very much agree with you. Have you read Eugene Rogers’ Sexuality and the Christian Body? If you haven’t, you should. It is the most rigorously theological treatment of human sexuality (gay or straight) that I know of. It might address some of what you are pointing towards here.

        I would say only two things in response: while self-denial can be a good; it is not a good in an of itself. Think of athletic training for example. To become a great athlete, a person will have to experience various sorts of pain and make certain sacrifices. This self-denial is good only because it is a means to good end. Same with the struggles of an alcoholic. Learning to quit drinking would be incredibly difficult but anything is worth not being an alcoholic. So, while it is true that just because something causes pain doesn’t mean it is bad, the mere fact that moral goodness (not to mention discipleship) sometimes requires pain does not mean that all suffering is good. So, the question when looking at whether the pain and anguish of being celibate even though one lacks the vocation is a path to life or a form of oppression can only be determined once we have made up our mind about the church’s teaching on this issue. (I guess what I’m saying is that telling gays to bear the cross, which, the magisterium explicitly does, is only begging the question and/or engaging in circular thinking.)

        I also do think that as we learn more about this issue, the goodness of gay relationships will become more and more self-evident, just as the evil of slavery and the goodness of religious freedom and the like did. And yes, there is no guarantee that will we always get things right (in fact, we make mistakes all the time) but this communal and historical nature of moral knowledge should not, in and of itself, scare us.

      3. Katie, I’m afraid I’m not nearly as sanguine as you when it comes to the Catholic church’s eventual acceptance and embrace of gay relationships, though I suppose that if you’re of the opinion that this is a position that is fundamentally open to radical change, your suspicion of the magisterium’s “circular thinking” is understandable.

        As I see it, the basic Catholic position concerning homosexual sex acts will not undergo change, and so insofar as that option of sexual expression is ruled out, the suggestion to take up one’s cross through celibacy, etc., isn’t so much circular as it is the practical result of the prior (admittedly inflexible) position.

        While still “playing within the rules,” so to speak, where I do see room for change (and indeed real need for change) on the part of the Catholic church is how homosexuality–or more precisely, gay or lesbian persons–are viewed and treated in light of the prior position of its disorder. Beyond the simplistic and at times genuinely hateful rhetoric that simply has no place among Christians whatsoever, I am worried too by the more elusive tacit marginalization of gay and lesbian Catholics, whose particular form of “disorder” comes to be treated as a “disease” that the “healthy” (whose own disorders are now absolved through this scapegoating) can safely and self-righteously condemn. The fact is that this tacit marginalization (which on the surface seems to so many “good” Catholics to be the perfect enactment of magisterial teaching on the subject) is at best ersatz compassion and at worst the sort of condescension that fosters suspicion and disdain.

        Though I may be giving the magisterium too much the benefit of the doubt, I don’t think that this is the sort of on-the-ground response that they could possibly have in mind (at least not if fidelity to the gospel is still a priority), and that’s why I think it remains tremendously important to better get both at whatever logic underlies the church’s traditional position, as well as at the humility and charity that must in all circumstances animate a proper response.

        Thank you for the opportunity to discuss this, and thanks too for the book recommendation. I will certainly try to check it out. In terms of other reading on the subject, there’s an article by Jeff Mirus that I came across that, I think, hints at a better and more truly charitable view of gay and lesbian persons precisely as within the church (and not “out there”): “Homosexuality: A Special Call to the Love of God and Man”. It’s a little long, and I suspect that Mirus’s own unquestioning acceptance of the current magisterial position will find him in disagreement with you on several key points, but he at least seems attuned to the need to combat rhetorical, conceptual, and theological structures of marginalization, which is certainly something we all should be able to agree upon. I’d be most interested in learning what you think of it.

      4. I certainly have heard these arguments before, but I’m not really sure they’re arguments. And I’m not sure on what grounds you doubt the magisterium’s capacity for radical change: if saying that women were inferior to men for hundreds and hundreds of years and then turning around and proclaiming them to be equal to men is not a perfect example of radical change, then I guess nothing is.

      5. I’m not quite sure I see the parallel with respect to the comparison you’re drawing, but regardless, you’re certainly right about anything being possible.

        My own reasons for “doubt” are simply based on the opinion that the magisterium isn’t going to reverse itself on an issue of such long standing, viz., the proper context(s) in which sexual activity can take place. Beyond this point concerning sexual acts, though, I’m inclined to think that a great deal more can and will change with respect to the church’s view of homosexuality (in the abstract) and homosexual persons, but that the beginnings of any real change are most likely to come from within general confines of the Catholic moral tradition, as opposed to coming from more extrinsic considerations that will no doubt be resisted as foreign to both the gospel and church teaching.

        I suppose my own position may be that of an “appeaser,” but it seems to me plausible that one can chart a path between celebration of homosexuality tout court on the one hand, and damning censure on the other, and that a clear and unique way of sanctity for the homosexual person as homosexual*** (e.g., not as specially “diseased” and in of reparative therapy) can thereby be affirmed (like Mirus seems to by trying to do).

        In short, should the magisterium decide to celebrate homosexuality, I’d be shocked but ecstatic, yet until such a time arises, I’ll continue to see the best way forward as one that seeks to work “within the system” rather than without it.

        *** In saying as homosexual, I don’t mean primarily grounded in sexual attraction and genital expression, which would, it seems to me, be but a sad aping of the absurd “apotheosis of heterosexuality” one sees in the work of certain “Theology of the Body” types. Of course, what I do mean is rather harder to express, and I’ve already used up far too much of your blog space as it is, so… I’m out.

      6. I’m not really sure what’s more intrinsic to the catholic moral tradition than the language of virtue and human flourishing.

  5. I see the similarities between the two in the sense that they are both vices. Christ said that we should “deny ourselves”. While we can love one another and can also deny ourselves of sexual acts that are not biblical. We can also deny ourselves of of gluttony. So it matters not if it is gay sex, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, chocolate cake, or anything that we would do in excess or sex act that is not ordained by God should be avoided. It is in this way that the two are similar. Yes it might be difficult, it might mean that you spend your life without a sexual partner. God gives us all vices that we are able to overcome with his help. Of course if you dont believe in God or Christ, then do as you wish. If you do believe and do not want to accept what God has given you then that is between God and you. Regardless, you can believe as you wish just dont expect Christians to believe as you.

  6. Your missive – as passionate as it is – suggest an incomplete understanding of the biology of both alcoholism and sexual preference. Admittedly, this is a complex and evolving topic in genetics and neurobiology. But as one trained in the field, I’ll attempt a brief and somewhat incomplete summary:

    In spite of what some would have you believe, genetic research has shown sexual preference and alcoholism are both learned behaviors, not true genetic traits. There is no allele that if you get it, you are doomed to be gay or an alcoholic.

    But what has been shown is that there is a risk seeking genotype. Such is characterized by common genetic vulnerability for activities like pathological gambling and tobacco, alcohol or chemical dependence, and other high risk / atypical / taboo behaviors included homosexual preferences. Participating is such activities triggers neural sensitization in brain mesolimbic systems of incentive salience. Sensitized incentive salience results in a compulsive ‘wanting’ – the psychological addiction (as opposed to physiologic dependency, which alcohol triggers but sexual preference may not) to such dopamine releasing activities. This psychological addiction effects have been shown to last months or years. But it is not immutable.

    As such, there is actually a fair bit of overlap in the habitualization of alcoholism and of sexual preference.

    In 1901, Ellis postulated that homosexuality could not be immoral as it was an inherent and immutable characteristic of the human experience, and eventually his axiom became the under pinning of the DSM-III. But modern genetics and neurobiology is increasingly siding that sexual preference is neither immutable or inherent trait, but a learned behavior. Thus the foundational premise of Ellis’s axiom, and thus the DSM-III, no longer has scientific support. And so society is left to its own devices to define normal as it sees fit.

      1. Katie, I am not really surprsied about your lack of a response to Jacob’s comment. I think his point was very clear and factual. Your article, on the other hand, I found a little factless. Do you personally know someone who practiced gay sex for a decade and came out straight? I also don’t think that it is the moment when a person has gay sex that can be compared to an alcoholic having his first drink, but rather the moment of consoling/receiving love and appreciation from a homosexual.

        Why are both conditions normally related with an emotional scar? (Opinion) and why are both normally related to acute depression? (Fact)

        At the risk of over simplifying Jacob’s factual comment I’ll attempt to make it more clear: Just like an alcoholic can’t claim “I’m born this way and that’s why it is ok”, so can’t a homosexual.

        Just like there are numerous families broken up and hurt by alcoholism, there are many just the same broken up by a mother, father, wife and husband who all of a sudden turns gay – desserting their family in very much the same whay an alcoholic would. There are mothers who lost their sons to AIDS because of the homosexual lifestyle they chose, very much like families losing a member to failed livers. So to me, and I’m sure most of these families, it is in every way just as destructive as alcoholism.

        If you are honest and fair, then you would be able to apply every single reason, from the first to last, a homosexual person has to console in his/her conditiion, to that of an alcoholic.

        Lastly, I will relate my personal experience. This is not an opinion, but a fact that is part of my personal experience. I know more people who came out of homosexuality, to be completely straight again, than what I know alcoholics who came sober (and I know at least a couple of them). These are real people with real testimonies of being completely caught up in homosexuality, in homosexual relationships for years, who came out of it and are today very grateful for coming to realize their error. Their testimonies are as wonderful and as sure as those of the cured alcoholics.

        All said, people will listen to and appreciate the opinions and comments that is in line with what they already decided they want to believe and go with. In other words, what justifies their behavior. This is the fallacy of man.

    1. This is baloney, I’m afraid, since it ignores “attraction” – which happens (for both straight and gay people) long, long before any intimate encounter ever occurs.

      It also laughably implies that “alleles” can be somehow aware and conscious of “high risk / atypical / taboo behaviors”! That’s one of the strangest arguments I’ve ever seen anywhere, really; alleles are brute facts of nature, while “taboo behaviors” are defined by the culture in which they exist.

      The difference between alcoholism and homosexuality is that alcoholism per se always involves the progressive deterioration of the human personality and the destruction of the human being involved – with all the damage that implies for the alcoholic and everybody who cares about him. That isn’t the case at all for homosexuality per se; faithful gay partnerships can be and often are life-giving and immensely beneficial to the couple (just as these kinds of partnerships are for straight couples); there’s no deterioration or destruction, and no collateral damage. Two people learn self-giving and trust, and to care for another human being – just as people in heterosexual partnerships do.

      It’s amazing that anybody has to even say these things. “Society” is, as they say, entitled to its own opinion – but not to its own facts.

      1. Barbara,

        I personally know of at least three people who’s lives were devastated by homosexuality. After years, even decades of married life, they left their families to pursue their NEW sexual orientation. Pretty much like an alcoholic that emotionally abandons his family, they physically walked out on their life partners and children because after all, “they have always been homosexual”.
        All of these suddenly realized they “have always been gay” when a gay man started embracing them. In two of these cases it was the same gay man!

        To say homosexuality is not destructive is in my opinion BALONEY! These previous partners are left with tremendious emotional scars and questions. The children of these families are left without mother/father and even the “all of a sudden homosexual other” has nothing today, except a case of acute depression. Funny that acute depression and STDs are so prevalent amongst homosexuals?

      2. I too know people whose lives have been devastated by situations like you describe. I think a culture that does not allow same-sex couples to even have relationships, much less nurture them, causes many to do their best to engage in ‘normative’ marriages. When this is no longer possible to sustain, relationships are broken in often very painful ways. In addition, both the conflict of attempting to maintain a relationship that does not correspond to one’s orientation, as well as maintaining a relationship that does correspond to one’s orientation but is reviled by your community, lends itself to feeling worthless, alone, frustrated, i.e., depression. However, I also know people in heterosexual relationships affected by similar situations, who also struggle with depression. What you are identifying is not unique to homosexuality, it is unique to relationships.

      3. Kallie,
        Yes, some people do “come out” after they have gotten married. And yes, this clearly does cause a lot of emotional pain and even suffering. But the moral implications of this sad state of affairs are the exact opposite of the ones you draw. Rather than being evidence of the immorality of gay relationships, it is a clear condemnation of the immorality of homophobia. Gay people marry people of the opposite sex either because they do not realize they are gay or because they are afraid to be gay. Both of these are direct consequences of homophobia.

        One, gay people grow up in a society that tells them that there is only one type of human being, a heterosexual one…the existence of gay people is hidden and denied. Homophobia perpetrates on them a massive cover up, the gay person suffers the injustice of not even knowing that he or she exists. The solution to this is simple. Gay children and adolescents need to be given the social tools to learn themselves. Just as heterosexual children are given the tools to discover that they are in fact attracted to the opposite sex, so gay children need the tools to discover that they are attracted to the same sex. Just as heterosexual children are given the tools to learn how to be heterosexual so gay kids need this too.

        And two, if a gay child manages to discover her sexuality against all odds, she often is told that actually living as a gay person will mean the loss of community and family. Sometimes they are told it will mean an eternity in Hell.

        These are the reasons why gay people get married to people of the opposite sex. Homophobia, not gay sex, is to blame for the dissolution of marriages that probably should not have occurred in the first place.

        And even if gay people stay in heterosexual marriages (as you imply they should) why would we wish this on a heterosexual person? Do not heterosexual people deserve to be married to someone capable of truly loving them in the way a spouse deserves to be loved?

        And as for your other argument that the decision to leave a marriage is unconditionally evil and contrary to God’s will and vocational call, I will submit to you Luke 18:29-30:

        Jesus “said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the Kingdom of God who will not receive back an overabundant return in this present age and eternal life in the age to come.”

    2. There is no allele for homosexuality. Ok there isn’t one for intelligence either, but no one denies that there is a genetic contribution to it–probably many alleles. Also there is some evidence that some homosexuality is the result of intrauterine hormonal influences. You seem to be picking and choosing your genetic arguments. What do you make of Levay’s summary (and critique) of many studies up to 2010 in “Gay, Straight and the Reason Why,” published by Oxford Press.

  7. Sorry, Katie – I was responding to Jacob’s comment about “habituation” (i.e., his remark that “Participating is such activities triggers neural sensitization in brain mesolimbic systems of incentive salience.”) So, yes: about his contention about these particular ways in which “homosexuality is like alcoholism.”

    I thought that would be clear via the commenting layout; apologies! I should have used his name, or quoted him or something, I see now. Will do, in the future.

  8. As I said, Kallie: alcoholism is always destructive; this is just in the nature of the thing. But that’s not true in the case of homosexuality. Anyway, you’ve changed the subject entirely: as I plainly said, I was referring specifically to “faithful gay partnerships”; that has nothing at all to do with what you are now talking about.

    Funny that acute depression and STDs are so prevalent amongst homosexuals?

    Actually, lesbians have the lowest prevalence of STDs of any group; heterosexual women are far more at risk. And in the case of depression: are you proposing that somehow heterosexual marriage is a cure for depression in gay people? That doesn’t make a lot of sense, to me; it would seem to me the reverse would be far more likely to be true.

  9. (In fact, Kallie: I’d say that the really damaging thing is expelling gay people from the church. I can say for sure that I would not be able to survive without a spiritual life – let alone to live well.

    In fact, I always want to ask people who argue about things like “depression and STDs”: how do you think you would survive outside the church, without any faith life? Why would any of that be surprising, in fact, if true? Wouldn’t you be depressed if you were forbidden the healing and sanity of faith?)

  10. You couldn’t be more wrong. I didn’t even go past the first paragraph. Fact is a homosexual doesn’t have to have sex. They don’t have to act on their urges. It is quite obvious a man biologically is meant to be with a woman. Anything else is for pure selfish reasons. You are placing the right to have sex so high up its not even funny. Well if having sex is a right why is prostitution illegal? Why can’t a grown woman sell her body if she wants? That’s illegal, but lying to her in a bar and buying her drinks to get in her pants is ok.

    Actually the better comparison would be pedophiles. A pedophile has feelings for children. It is wrong. Society has accepted that for now. Homosexuality used to be that way and still should be. It’s a moral issue. A issue of list. A issue of sin. I’m sure if everyone had a murderer in their family murder would be more accepted too. You laugh, but I guarantee it.

  11. Although your argument is a good one it still doesn’t offer any explanation of bi sexuality. I guess those people would like beer and wine if we were using the comparison. So were bi sexuals bi when they were born or they just choose not to have to make a choice? Yes most alcoholics being 40% genetically disposed to alcoholism would keep most alcoholics from drinking they’re first drink if they knew there was a 40 % chance they would become an alcoholic if they only ever took one sip. If I know I have an addictive personality probably the best thing for me to do is not go down to Las Vegas to gamble even if it was only for fun or just to go on vacation. If most people knew they were gay when they were born why would any of those people ever bother involving themselves with the opposite sex. For me personally and being raised heterosexual I don’t remember questioning if I was ever attracted to other men but if that was my first sexual experience or something I saw as a family model two mothers or two dads raising a child that could easily influence a child to see that as normal and follow in the same foot steps. Just like if a child sees they’re father drinking a six pack after work or a physically abusive parent that kicks the crap out of there children as a form of punishment because guess what, thats what they learned as they were growing up. Unless there’s some kind of early intervention with the child that recognizes those patterns as being normal that child to will follow in the footsteps unfortunately whether it’s alcohol abuse or physical abuse it was learned somewhere just like homosexuality. If it wasn’t a decision it would be considered a race and last time I checked I don’t think it’s been recognized on any applications yet. When your a professional please don’t let your feeling be the main part of your argument because when you think with your heart your brain feels like it no longer has a job rationalizing or thinking things through. Thank-you for allowing feedback though.

  12. Interesting article. I have been jugggling this comparison in my head for some time now and found your writing helpful in more fully understanding how some people view both alcoholism and same sex attraction.

    I am an alcoholic. I do question the statement made early on in this article that suggests an alcoholic can only become an alcoholic when exposed to a drink. This is simply not true. Alcoholism and other addictive behavior is very present before the person has to take a drink, hit, or engage in other obsessive addictive behavior. I personally can trace “alcoholic” behavior all the way back to my early childhood. Also, there’s a reason the term “dry drunk” is apart of our vernacular and an alcoholic is an alcoholic until death, just she doesn’t have to drink.

    I only suggest that the disease (and underlying condition of sin) is present in all humanity. The alcoholic, as well as the person with same sex attraction, has a more easily spotted symptom of this sickness that only the grace of Christ can cure.

    My name is Dan H. and I’m a sober alcoholic who wants God to always increase my capacity to love Him and others. He is so good and given me almost 2 years dry and clean. I am satisfied! There is hope!

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