Sex and the Latino family

19 08 2010

The catalyst for this post comes again from the Conservative Blog for Peace, and it is an interview done a couple of years ago with writer Richard Rodriguez. I quote the relevant passages:

Once my partner became part of my life, he became part of their life too. They didn’t want it said, they didn’t want it named or defined, but they assumed it and accepted it. At family events, when my partner wasn’t there, my mother would get on the phone and call him and insist he come over…

I have not been to a Mexican family without some suspicion of homosexuality in children or grandchildren. But people deal with it within the larger context of family. That’s why I suspect the revolution will come not from the male church but from how women treat their children, and whether or not women are willing to reject their children. I don’t think they are. I saw too many times during the AIDS epidemic that when death came and the disease took its toll, if one parent was there, it was almost always the mother and not the father. That bond is so powerful.

Perhaps the lack of moral severity in the Catholic family has little to do with lack of catechesis, and more to do with the inherent inability of people to shun others for their sexual transgressions. Rodriguez’s case above is a prime example of this. While some would say that his mother is a “heretic” for not shunning her son or his lover, most would not feel comfortable disowning their son for such a consensual situation. In other words, people are not able to consistently live their lives according to the teachings of the Church because what is required of them is something that they are not willing to do.

We all know the counsel to “love the sinner, but hate the sin”. Usually, only those who are FAR AWAY from the sinner can believe that this is possible. Most who are in touch with the sinner find that it is hard to detach a person from what he or she does. It is not some light you can switch on and off. You can’t just pretend the person standing in front of you doesn’t do what he or she does, and feels justified in doing it, and love them as some sort of abstraction. That is the sort of bad faith that religious people are often called upon to have, but in the end it is neither honest nor virtuous.

In the past, all of this was taken care of us by societal pressure. Sodomy was punishable by death or imprisonment. Social pressure was such that one had no choice but to disown someone for such sins. Even if their heart wasn’t in it, they were obligated to shun the sinner, and cast him or her from the midst of the community. What the Church asks now is that people do this themselves, or even cast their “sin” away but not the “sinner”. If anyone has succeeded in doing this without being a total bigot, they deserve to be canonized. So far, I haven’t really met anyone who has.

I suppose I write this because I see my own family in Rodriguez’s. There have been cases when someone has been shunned due to a sexual sin. One member in my family did not speak to his son for almost twenty years because of something pretty grave that I can’t divulge here. Maybe back in Mexico, he would have shunned him to his dying day, but he hasn’t. He forgave and accepted him back, even though he continued in the morally objectionable situation. The mother had accepted him back into the fold so many years before. What can I say? Times have changed.

My next point, somewhat related at least in familial terms, is the attitude towards sex and women in Latino society. We tend to have a very harsh double standard, a remnant of when women literally were locked up at a certain point and all courtship had to be done through the bars of a window. That is why when people talk about promiscuous girls and sexually predatory boys, I am not at all surprised. Our ancestors knew that when you get young people together, sex would be involved. People didn’t have more self control back then, nor did they have a keener sense of sexual morality. Sexual mores were upheld by sheer force, either in confinement for the women, and threats of violence for the men when confinement wasn’t enough. Often, the way to get married in Mexico was a tactic called “robarse la novia”, in which a man kidnapped his half-consenting bride, presenting his future in-laws with a fait accompli. This is how my maternal grandparents were married. The male members of the offended family could still retaliate and kill him if their honor wasn’t sufficiently satisfied, but usually they came to some sort of agreement. Don Rufino and the young Jorge did, and that is why I am here.

But even when I was growing up, girls still felt the pressure to not be a “callejera”: to leave the hearth and enter into the dangerous world of promiscuity. My sisters couldn’t walk within two feet of the door without being asked where they were going. I remember my sister a few years back being scowled at by my grandfather for talking to her boyfriend in front of the house. So when people talk about “sexual education” or “chastity promises”, I sort of have to laugh. That shit has never worked, and people shouldn’t expect it to work now. If you want to be absolutely sure that no shenanigans go on, lock up your daughters and threaten your sons. Otherwise, just learn to deal.


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22 12 2018
Iamblichus

Reblogged this on Reditus and commented:

“What the Church asks now is that people do this themselves, or even cast their “sin” away but not the “sinner”. If anyone has succeeded in doing this without being a total bigot, they deserve to be canonized. So far, I haven’t really met anyone who has.”

2 09 2011
Ophelia Schuchart

Thanks for a great blog post. I love the funny remarks.

24 08 2010
Leah

I agree that big families are not that complex. However, there is a difference between people who just happen to have a large family (for whatever reason) and those who adhere to the Quiverfull ideology, since this belief system has broad social and religious implications beyond the desire to simply have a lot of children.

23 08 2010
bw

I haven’t read Foucalt. I think I may need to in order to understand AV’s points. In the meantime, can someone please point me to reputable historical scholarship written in English that supports the proposition that the sort of “bio-power” described by AV governed sexual morality in Western Catholic societies or families prior to the 20th century? I have studied a fair amount of Western religious history, culminating in some graduate coursework before running away to law school. I have never seen evidence of the sort of thing AV describes in histories of European communities. That doesn’t mean it’s not there, of course. I certainly haven’t read everything, and I never did coursework or any serious study on the history of sexuality. I will note, however, that as I remember it most scholarship I read that touched on the issue indicated to me that there was a surprising amount of sexual tolerance in, say, the medieval Catholic west.

23 08 2010
ben

Anthropologiacal studies?

Oh come on, why not just talk to some large families?

Are we such a cultural oddity that we can only be examined through the lens of the trained professional? We have been known to speak regular English from time to time; we even speak Spanish some of the time. Despite the myth, Latin is reserved almost exclusively for liturgical prayer. I’d imagine that our dinner table conversation would be accessible to the untrained layman. Large families really aren’t that complex.

22 08 2010
sortacatholic

Once term starts I’ll be sure to see if there are any anthropological studies on Quiverfull, You observation about Quiverfull’s emphasis on communal/familial sexual ownership and social isolation will inevitably result in shunning as understood by the Amish and other isolationist communities. While the Duggars are unique in that they’re not exactly isolationists or homesteaders (they have a TV contract and spend a lot of time shopping at Walmart), I predict that even they easily will shun if one of their children “goes secular”, marries a non-fundamentalist Christian, comes out of closet, or repudiates the family lifestyle.

Sidenote on paterfamilias. The Roman empire was a uber-paterfamilial state. The emperor, as the pater of the entire empire, and his household reflected the ideal Roman household. See “jus trium puerorum” for Augustus’ cash for kids program. Augustus could control procreation through cash incentives. Quiverfull adherents hold control only over their immediate family. I suspect that Michael Voris’s call for a Catholic confessional/morally ideal/monarchial state (his argument here, his clarification here) is, in some respects, a yearning for a return to a near-total or total paterfamilial existence. While the Duggars and other Quiverfull adherents might be able to re-create a total paterfamilial society in miniature, there will never be a return to the world Arturo has outlined. Inevitably, some of the Quiverfull children will defect to the larger worldview. Every time a child defects the Quiverfull movement inches closer to the dissolution of their utopian (dystopian?) experiment.

22 08 2010
Arturo Vasquez

I think the other thing M.Z. is missing is probably something someone can only experience. I had to work in the fields with my family, as did my parents before them. Children when they were very young could still be of some use in daily chores and farming, and not just to keep them out of trouble. I think it is thus without dispute that children back then would begin working younger and would marry and leave younger. That in itself would be an incentive to have many children, or at least make it seem to be not such a burden, whereas now offspring do not become productive until they they are at least 18. I started working for money when I was five, if only during the summer.

22 08 2010
Leah

Since Quiverfull is a relatively new phenomenon, (between 30-40 years old) with not much literature published about it, it’s hard to say what the social ramifications will be. Many children, regardless of what kind of family they come from, don’t continue the values of their parents when they become adults. Still, even if only half of the Duggars’ children continue with the Quiverfull lifestyle, that’s still 8 or nine new Quiverfull adherents ready to start their own paterfamilias groups. However, since Quiverfull families seem to be pretty isolated, both culturally and geographically (the ideal seems to be homesteading so the children won’t be corrupted by outsiders),
Based on my research, it seems like Quiverfull adherents get their beliefs from a mixture of Scriptural conviction and a revulsion to modern gender roles and family patterns, which is mainly cultural in character. To pull it all together, I think that such families see sexuality in both individual and communal terms. As the family, not the individual or even the wider community, is the owner of sexuality, it is important for the family, especially the father to control it by steering the children into courtship with other like-minded individuals. This is also why adoption is not encouraged in Quiverfull circles, as it is believed that the adoptee’s presumably bad background will taint the adoptive family (sins of the father and all that). Given that American Christianity goes through various sorts of theological fads, we’ll have to see in 20 years whether Quiverfull makes any real impact on society, or just remains a sub-culture.

22 08 2010
sortacatholic

Leah, what do you think about the social ramifications of Quiverfull [Q]? Are the Q. merely following their interpretation of Biblical prescriptions? Or, do many in the Q. movement perceive “greater society” as individualistic and disinterested in procreation? Hyper-procreation (as with the Duggars) might be mainly a counter-cultural expression.

There are Catholic “providentialists” that live a lifestyle similar to the Q. I’m not familiar with the providentialist argument, but I suspect that it is similar to Quiverfull.

Hyper-procreation as a counter-cultural statement strikes me as an exceedingly selfish act that might well prove quite destructive to the children. Then again, as Arturo has noted, until very recently subjective variables such as “self-esteem” were entirely unknown within the familial structure.

21 08 2010
Leah

To sum up in a nutshell, Quiverfull adherents eschew any form of birth control, NFP, or sterilization to purposely maximize the number the number of children a couple has. The name comes from Psalm 127:3, and the most famous adherent are television’s Duggar family. Closely related is the notion of Biblical Patriarchy, which says that God ordains strict gender roles, the father is the head and leader of his extended family, the God-ordained place of women is in the home, unmarried children of both sexes are under the authority of their father regardless of their ages, and a woman must be under the authority of a male (i.e., father, husband, sons, or brothers). Basically, think of the Roman paterfamilias minus the ability to expose unwanted children. I’ve seen some Catholic blogs that have similar ideas, but not to the same extent. I think most Quiverfull adherents tend to be of a Calvinist or Reformed Baptist mindset.

21 08 2010
Arturo Vasquez

I don’t know what that is. I’m not smart.

21 08 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Perhaps there was a drain to a certain effect, which is where the lack of reproductive technologies came in, i.e. human beings are pretty fertile creatures and when a woman and a man live together, babies inevitably result. The other aspect of this of children “aging out” to start their own households is that they needed to have more children in order to keep their property sustainable. Those of us from large extended families know that our ancestor’s parents were still having kids when they started having kids, and the older children would care for the younger ones, and so forth. Nevertheless, I think the social mores that I have described above stand. Sexuality was possessed by the other and the community, and tied to kinship ties that often meant the difference between life and death.

And I think you are reading “power” in a liberal Enlightenment sense, and I mean it in the postmodern sense of Foucault. Power posseses but is not necessarily possesed.

21 08 2010
M.Z.

I think most of the research has shown that children were a net drain on the farm. Much of the contemporary social research on gender equity I think is crap though because there is a wide assumption that there was some great marginal utility by having slaves and then applying that by analogy to spouses. The idea that people would obsess over a power dynamic when there was no power to be had seems a little silly and narrow minded in the end. While the bourgeoisie have certainly seen strong paterfamilias, that dynamic has been in effect because real social advancement was tied to that family. There has been some imitation in the proletariat, but the limits are clearly evident. The farmer that saw his fourteen-year-old boy in almost purely utilitarian terms soon saw his fourteen-year-old boy leaving to form his own farm. The mother that saw her daughter purely as a maid and housekeeper soon saw her daughter leave the nest to make her own home.

Shunning and the modern family doesn’t make good material for short blog replies. I think today, our consideration of normal is closer to the old consideration of shunning. The greatest deviance is that with shunning absence around the holidays would be pronounced whereas today the presence is what is noticed. When a child only sees his parents four times per year in good times, how does one go about shunning one’s child? Then there is the not so insignificant matter of cousin marriage. At one time, marrying a 3rd cousin or even closer would have been relatively common. In the town of 800 where my family had a large foundation, there were basically 3 families that made up at least three-quarters of the people. In a town that homogeneous, a shunning would be respected in part because no one wants his kid to marry the loser that was rejected by his own family.

21 08 2010
Leah

Arturo:

Given this, what do you think of the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull movement among Protestants? Is it a continuation of “bio-power” or something else altogether?

21 08 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Some people are still having some difficulty grasping the idea of what Foucault would call, “bio-power”. It seems shocking to modern ears, and appalling to our dignity, but for the vast majority of mankind, your sexuality did not belong to you. Thus, transgressions of the sexual order were not just sins against supernatural charity or the faltering of filial piety. They were sins against justice, since children were resources, and sex was the productive act par excellence. The woman’s sexuality BELONGED to her father, and then to her husband. If a man employed his sexuality in an unproductive manner, it was seen as violation of kinship rules and the good order of the community. This cannot be emphasized enough, and it is the real reason behind the “sexual prudishness” of our ancestors. Sexuality had profoundly communal ramifications, whereas now, I could live right next door to a gay couple, or work with a divorced man, and there is the same amount of food on my table. It’s all fine and dandy for us to sit back and sit in judgment of those societies, and determine how “Christian” they were, but our reality is not theirs, and I am arguing here that our continued sexual hang-ups are remnants of that society.

That being said, the post was not about “shunning”. People addressed shunning, but didn’t even go into the more usual means to straighten out these misunderstandings, which was outright violence. We are not too far away from a society dominated by the paterfamilias: the male head of the family who had the power of life and death over each member of his family. Of course, men could virtually have this power, as they could unilaterally expel people from the family, kill the wife for adultery, or beat the daughter to a pulp for fornication (or more rarely, the son). I am not supporting any of this from a moral point of view. This is just how things were, and it is here that our current sexual morality was created.

Absent these conditions, the Catholic Church has had to scramble for another foundation for morality in the midst of these changing conditions. Of course, that is what Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae and John Paul II’s theology of the body were about. They were means to marry sexuality, marriage, morality, and mysticism where these used to have very little relation to each other, for better or worse. (Wealthy men, of course, had mistresses, as their “real marriage” was usually arranged for the sake of continuing the line of the nobility or other elite. Amongst AG’s ancestors, the wealthy French Creole would usually have a section of his plantation set aside for his black mistress and her children.) Nowadays, marriage is also tied to ideas of romance, platonic love, and personal fulfillment. Considering all of this, it is at least arguable that a homosexual relationship fulfills at least some of these conditions, and for the eyes of many, enough to make them “decent folk”. In its most tenuous points, the Church’s argument becomes a bald faced argument for biopower: on the macro level, sex as reproduction is necessary for the society to survive as a collective, whereas as individuals, having a brood of children does nothing but impoverish you in a postindustrial context.

In my opinion, then, it is inevitable that some accommodation will have to be made in the future, as the Church has proven very accommodating to divorced and remarried Catholics, at least in the United States (the uniquely American phenomenon of the “annulment factory”) . What form that will take is something that I do not know. For example, the Church has condemned usury in the strongest terms, though our entire economic system is based on usury. (Last time I checked, the Church isn’t excommunicating international bankers, though maybe it should.) It is not very convincing to say that the Church cannot accept the reality of how people employ their sexuality, yet change so substantially about something that determines whether entire nations will eat or starve to death. Personally, I have come to think that no sexuality is ideal or lacking in problems, so one should just be left to one’s conscience, and a confessor if one so desires.

21 08 2010
sortacatholic

Stale. thread. But let me take a thwack.

I’m usually known for my unnecessarily convoluted posts. This one is simple. While many might perceive shunning as a punishment or detriment, a shunned person sometimes perceives the act as liberating. What might first appear as “shunning” might in fact represent a mutual divorce. The shunned are often liberated from a burden comparable to the bigoted or shamed.

I’m in the process of “leaving” Catholicism. No one truly leaves unless he or she is a manifest sinner or an excommunicate theologian. Since I’ve never held a theology chair at a major German university, I’m safe from the latter. 🙂 (Actually, Hans Kung was never formally excommunicated. whatever.)

One has to wonder: what’s heaven if you have to spend an eternity with the sanctimonious? It’s bloody frustrating to deal with them here on Earth. As a sexual dalit, I’ve always lived on the periphery of the Church. At any moment I can be marginalized from the pulpit by closet cases or cursed by ignorant religious addicts. I’m not a person — just an ideological pawn in socio-political sandbox slinging or a hausfrau’s pitiful works righteousness. Traditional Catholicism’s great peril has always been the laity’s generation of meta-narratives to bridge the gap between “unlearned understanding” (ouch!) and the deeply theological and literary nature of the sacraments. These meta-narratives interpret the otherworldly Latin through a socio-cultural instead of theological-sacramental lens. So many people that frequent Latin Masses aren’t there for the Mass. Many are there because some aspect of this grungy, slutty, sinful world scares them into a narcotic submission. I learned Latin at the base of the altar and made the language my career. I loved roaming through the vast linguistic spaces of the liturgy. Most of the people I went to church with were more concerned about the length of skirts and mantillas or the latest conspiracy theory. Few, it seemed, worshiped anything — yet they persistently slaved for their fears.

My self-shunning, my divorce, is a liberation. The threats of eternal annihilation rained down by those who viscerally hate people like me matter little when you’ve spent fifteen years with the walking annihilated. I know that my words are arrogant, hypocritical, mean, bigoted, and perhaps even aggressive. Throw the book at me. Yet what is salvation when the elect rarely exhibit logic let alone compassion? I’m not looking back.

20 08 2010
Jared B.

I get the ‘shun the non-believer’ routine from Charlie the Unicorn stuck in my head: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFP0q4qzGw4 😉

At the beginning of this thread I pretty much said the same thing: Jesus left us some pretty good examples, and some explicit teaching, on what to do about sinners.

Reading comments from AG, Leah et al., I recall that St. Paul wrote some even more explicit instructions on what to do about unrepentant sinners, which is a whole ‘nother thing.

So bw, go back and read the other comments: they answered most of your questions and concerns already.

20 08 2010
bw

I hope this doesn’t indicate that I am irretrievably lost, but I can’t hear all this talk about shunning without hearing this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMlGpDfyxEA

Seriously, what do all the (even marginally) pro-shunners mean by “shunning”? How does not talking to someone or breaking off a relationship with someone show concern for their soul? How did it ever do that (if indeed it ever really did happen in any widespread way or in any mainstream Catholic society; I remain skeptical absent some evidence that isn’t anecdotal)? If I’m an unrepentant and consistent sinner, does having dinner with me indicate approval of my sins? I think Jesus did address that one pretty specifically … Being present at my death bed, for goodness sake?! That’s by definition an act of mercy and love. I get saying one can’t go to communion anymore. I even get not attending a wedding or other specifically or properly religious ceremony (although I think it arguably causes more scandal these days not to attend than it does to attend). But anything as pervasive as “shunning” sounds strikes me as demonstrating the opposite of concern about a person’s soul. It looks like a particuarly ugly form of pride to me. And there is no reason a relationship maintained needs to be a dishonest one, where nobody speaks honestly about their position on the problem in question. I mean, I can hear my mother-in-law making her views clear right now!

20 08 2010
Leah

Another problem with shunning is the issue of hypocrisy. Which sins are worth exclusion from the community? Going back to my Kennedy example, it was Kathleen who ended up being shunned for her illicit union, but why just her? Why not the Kennedy brothers for seducing half of the Western hemisphere? Why not Joe Kennedy for his womanizing and for lobotimizing his daughter Rosemary without her consent, and then lying about it later on (there is a consensus by doctors and scholars today that Rosemary was not intellectually disabled as the family claimed, but either mentally ill and/or possibly mildly autistic)?

During the pre-modern age, shunning was really a punishment because it put a person at the risk of being eaten by wild animals, attacked by another town/tribe, starvation from lack of access to communal food, etc. Plus, everyone tended to have the same reference point in terms of Weltenschaung, so it wasn’t like a shunned peasent could just say, “Forget this Catholicism business, I’m going to be a Theravada Buddhist” and start a new life outside the community. Today, if a person is shunned, they can easily find like-minded people to hang out with on the Internet or you can easily find a sub-culture that will validate your behavior. Even 150 years ago, it was pretty easy to create a new identity for oneself, at least in America, and religion was simply one part of that. Given the large population of homeless gay teenagers, some parents may fear that shunning such a person might cause them to get involved with even worse activities like prostitution or drug abuse. What can one do in such a situation? Some groups do wash their hands of unrepentant non-conformists, but I doubt the average Catholic family, regardless of their observence level would be among them.

20 08 2010
Jared B.

Thanks AG for your thoughts 🙂

My own reaction to AV’s original post was that it struck me as going too far against shunning, actually; it could easily be misread as a “love the sinner and ignore the sin” approach — or at least arguing that since ‘shunning’ isn’t a viable option to most of us, that’s the only alternative response. Most of us were basically saying “Uh no, it’s not.” If I was arguing with a straw man, mea culpa.

The loss of the communal understanding of self did take ‘shunning’ out of the mix for us, and made its effect in practice (with few exceptions like the Amish) just the opposite: once excluded, someone is very likely to read that fact as a validation of their decision to “go their own way”, and they’ll be congratulated for their “bravery”. :-p

And yet, societal pressure to conform is just as strong as ever; it’s just a part of human nature. Except now fashion labels and TV are holding the controls, can define who’s “in” and who’s “out”, when formerly faith communities had the power to push those buttons.

20 08 2010
AG

I should expand on my above comment and say that I don’t think shunning really works anymore in the U.S. (except maybe among Mormons, the Amish and Mennonites) because the communal belief and structure is no longer there. In a community setting, what one does with one’s body, one’s behaviors, affect the entire life of the community. You are not your own, your identity arises out of belonging to the group. Nowadays in Western societies, people tend to think that one’s personal choices are just that – personal choices – without thinking that these behaviors have broader implications for the community. ‘Allowance’ of certain behaviors, without the strong force of disapproval that goes along with shunning, turns into ‘acceptance’ within just a couple of generations, and then arise the arguments that these behaviors aren’t really sinful after all, or at the very least, don’t do intense harm to both the person and the community. People forget what evil is, and arrive at some strange conclusion that sounds like: “sure, unrepentant sin may be evil, but it doesn’t work to destroy the life of the community and the souls of its members.” Our forefathers had a much more keen awareness than that.

I also think perhaps the original post was misread somewhat, as if shunning was the entire point of AV’s argument. Shunning is only one way that traditional societies maintain their sense of the communal, part of which is the belief that “your bodies belong to us. You harm us by doing x,y,z.” The closest most of us hear to that now is the lofty, “when I sin, I hurt the Body of Christ,” which for most is probably an abstraction.

20 08 2010
AG

“Expel the wicked man from among you.” – St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 5:13

I’m a bit surprised that some commenters here seem shocked by the practice of shunning among Catholics. Shunning can be an act of love – “because I love you, I cannot accept and appear to condone this behavior. Your immortal soul is at stake.” While it’s usually applied to heretics and apostates, it can be used for those in a state of persistent sin. I’m not from a Latin American Catholic family, but the communities my parents grew up in certainly practiced shunning for those who were ‘faith offenders’ in some fashion or another. Within my own family, my uncle was shunned for converting to the Baptist faith (not only did several of his brothers and sisters observe the rule to not attend non-Catholic religious ceremonies by not attending his wedding, but they also limited contact with him, praying fervently that he would return to the faith). Family members have also been shunned for persistent sin – living with a partner (divorced, remarried, homosexual, etc) outside of the norms of the Church. It’s a part of taking one’s faith seriously – you show the offender the gravity of their sin (because incurring excommunication doesn’t seem to be enough) by limiting contact with him/her. The aim, of course, is the person’s repentance, and safeguarding one’s own salvation, so that one does not come to think that evil is acceptable.

Shunning has some biblical support (thanks Wikipedia): 1Corinthians 5:11–13, Matthew 18:15–17, 2Thessalonians 3:6, 2Thessalonians 3:14–15, Romans 16:17, 2John 10–11, and Jesus never tells us to maintain contact with unrepentant sinners (people who struggle with their sin are a different story entirely, but He never instructs that we should hang out with the wicked just so that they don’t feel too bad about themselves). Of course, the greatest act of love is to wish for someone’s salvation, and therefore shunning is one time-honored method of indicating the gravity of someone’s offense to God, and the need for that person to repent. (And shunning and praying for someone’s soul aren’t mutually exclusive.) This talk of “love” as some fuzzy-headed notion, when it doesn’t have the root that a person’s soul is at stake isn’t Christian, either.

Heck, even St. Augustine mentions it: “If anyone among us falls into this error [offering sacrifice], he is corrected with words of sound doctrine and must then either mend his ways or else be shunned.” And since we don’t have records of St. Monica’s conversations with her son, I’d be wary to relate her chasing after him across the Roman world and praying for his repentance to what usually occurs in modern families with unrepentant sinners: tacit agreement never to bring the issue up because they know how we feel, and it would be “impolite.”

Leah added a good description in this post:

https://arturovasquez.wordpress.com/2009/05/04/losing-and-gaining-our-religion/#comments about the time when Catholics took their faith seriously.

“Even as recently as 50 years ago or so, it was common for Catholics to shun members of their families who got divorced or married outside the Church. This is what happened to Kathleen Kennedy when she announced her intentions to marry the divorced Anglican Peter Wentworth-FitzWilliam. When she and FitzWilliam died in a plane crash while trying to get Joseph Kennedy’s blessing, Rose Kennedy took it as a sign that God was punishing her daughter for her illicit nuptial plans. Consequently, Joseph, Sr. was the only Kennedy represented at the funeral. Can anyone imagine such a thing happening today, when invalid marriages seem to be the norm rather than the exception? Today, when an adult child leaves the Church, the parents might sigh and then pray to St. Monica, but it’s highly unlikely that the offender would be permanently banned from family gatherings. While a lot of ink is spilled fretting about reclaiming Catholic identity, very little is spent figuring out how to re-establish the norms that kept said identity in place in the past.”

Of course, for the most part nowadays shunning isn’t practiced and wouldn’t work. Those who practice it are accused of being “narrow-minded,” “un-Christian,” etc. An unrepentant sinner’s“feelings” must come first, and if his/her “feelings” are hurt, well how is there going to be any hope of conversion? Because what’s most important is that unrepentant sinners feel good about themselves, and that I feel good about myself, and you do too…. But the disavowal of shunning is remarkably similar to such ideas as the ‘anonymous Christian,’ heretics as our ‘brothers,’ and so forth. It’s an acceptance that tenets of faith really don’t matter, if they harm the personal relationships we most cherish. No wonder Christianity is dying in the West.

20 08 2010
A Sinner

“If anyone has succeeded in doing this without being a total bigot, they deserve to be canonized. So far, I haven’t really met anyone who has.”

I have to agree with bw and Lucian. I know plenty of people like this, who are very pained by something someone does, even makes it known on occasion, but still are friends or a loving family member, non-judgmental, non-shunning, all while praying for their conversion. St. Monica was a good example, but there are many who do this all the time and are not Saints. I’ve just finished Brideshead Revisted, and I think it has many relevant examples (whatever my opinions on its literary merits).

When sin is seen as more like a disease (like in the East), surely it is easy to abstract it from the person. I myself immediately thought of the drug addiction example. And, of course, that doesn’t exclude developing human attachment to their illicit lovers either, because on the real human level, we know that THEY are persons too, and that there are surely good aspects to the relationship (just as I’m not going to reject my friendships even if they occasionally involve gossiping, or my brother’s friends even if they occasionally get him drunk).

I’ve said before on my blog that the maxim should be merely “Love the sinner. Period” without any mention of hatred, even for the sin (which isn’t really any of our business to think or feel about; if we love the sinner, period, we’ll have done enough in that regard). But we can certainly love and accept a person without affirming all their chosen behavior, and fear for their souls all the more because we love them.

I think we all know what you’re talking about. There is a certain right-wing “orthodoxy” now which treats sexual sinners, in particular, homosexuals especially, as pariahs socially and politically. But, just as with traditional Mexican culture, as someone described, to me this modern phenomenon seems to exactly be more social and political than religious. To be because of the Right’s obsession with sex and gender politics than with religious teachings in themselves (which are merely used as a cover or excuse).

And, as someone already said, even that sort of demagoguery and vague anger is more usually directed against abstract people “out there” than against specific people one is close to personally (ie, the phenomenon of the Sarah Palins of the world all saying, “I have gay friends” to cover their bigotry).

That’s not to say that I haven’t known people shunned by fundamentalist (of either the Catholic or Protestant variety) family members due to their lovers or divorced-and-remarried spouses, but I’ve found that to be very much the exception more than the rule among Christians (as opposed to, say, Muslims), and usually indicative of weird stuff going on in the psyche of the shunner himself.

20 08 2010
Politburo

This reminds me of the greatest dicho I ever heard from my grandma:
Mejor un ladron que un maricon.

After laughing for a minute I realized profoundly true it was. After all what doctor of the Church would disagree with that statement. Even from a naturalistic pov thieves can still at least have offspring and obey that primordial reproductive command.

I think that’s why shunning makes sense. In a very small community grave sins such as murder, homosexual behavior and incest really do threaten the long run survival and flourishing of the community. From this perspective shunning would be like removing a tumor or at least performing a quarantine.

20 08 2010
Lucian

Usually, only those who are FAR AWAY from the sinner can believe that this is possible.

From experience, the exact opposite tends to be true: people who “hate” (or at least think that they hate) other people, without even knowing them, because of certain labels attached to them… and then -when they get to know the actual person- they begin to feel real human attachment or frinedship for him or her… DESPITE the fact that the attached label (obviously) still stands/holds true…

19 08 2010
Jared B.

Yeah I gotta go with Lucian here; the “hate the sin but love the sinner” approach that Arturo presumes is unnatural and even un-virtuous seems to me nothing more than a common sense interpretation of what Jesus did in the Gospels. I’d even say that it leans heavy on the common sense, as I know non-Christians who effectively live it out, and their heads haven’t exploded with bigotry-confetti yet.

Jesus didn’t shun anyone—but neither did he overlook sin or miss a chance to call people to repent. The only people I’ve heard of who try to fudge either of those facts from the Gospel have a political agenda. (Which bit they try to avoid, the don’t-shun or the don’t-ignore-sin part, is a good barometer of what their agenda is…)

So, “hate the sin love the sinner” may be cliche and slogan-y, but if that isn’t a simple but accurate description of what Jesus was doing with all those tax collectors and hookers, then I’d like to know just what, for heaven’s sake, is??

19 08 2010
Lucian

So far, I haven’t really met anyone who has.

What? You haven’t met me? 😐

Usually, only those who are FAR AWAY from the sinner can believe that this is possible.

Suffice is it to say that two of my cousins and two of my closest friends, as well as two other colleagues of mine are atheists. My best friends are a Baptist, a Catholic, and an atheist. The teacher I loved best in college is an atheist. Another close colleague of mine has drug-problems. My two best online-friends (I never believed that one can have “online-frineds”, and that people who claim such are shallow… but life proved it otherwise) are Jewish and Catholic. Etc.

[DON’T get me wrong: there were/are also serious problems in my close as well as more-distant family (not just ideological disagreements like the ones presented above)… but I can’t/don’t/won’t speak about them, since I’m not a fan of this sort of ‘pornoghraphy’…]

Most who are in touch with the sinner find that it is hard to detach a person from what he or she does. It is not some light you can switch on and off. You can’t just pretend the person standing in front of you doesn’t do what he or she does, and feels justified in doing it,

Who the heck said that THIS is what we should do in such situations!? You love people AS THEY ARE: period! Does Christ’s love have any reticences or reservations? Is this how Christ taught us to love? 😐

and love them as some sort of abstraction.

I don’t know… seems pretty down-to-earth simple to me… (and I’m hardly special or exceptional from any point of view..)

That is the sort of bad faith that religious people are often called upon to have, but in the end it is neither honest nor virtuous

Feels pretty divine and beautiful and uplifting to me…

If anyone has succeeded in doing this without being a total bigot, they deserve to be canonized.

I doubt it. There’s nothing spectacular about it.

Sodomy was punishable by death

In Christian countries? (Maybe in the West…)

19 08 2010
Lucian

Christ never taught us us to “disown” or “shun” anyone… what are you talking about? There are parents at the beds of junkies and drug-addicts… that’s not the problem. But that obviously doesn’t mean that their parents are happy about them abusing drugs or indulging themselves in sexual perversions…

19 08 2010
bw

“While some would say that his mother is a “heretic” for not shunning her son or his lover, most would not feel comfortable disowning their son for such a consensual situation.”

Who in the world would say his mother is a heretic for not shunning her son or his lover? Anyone who says that deserves a good, holy ass-kicking. The Church does not say that. Maybe traditional Mexican society would say that, but traditional Mexican society, thank God, is not the Church. Nobody has ever been excommunicated for sodomy, and most of the laws you describe, at least in Europe, were temporal laws and rarely enforced in any age. Any mother (or father) who “shunned” or “disowned” her son for grave sin is not a Christian at all, but something almost its opposite. I don’t think this is even controversial. As for loving the sinner but not the sin, any decent parent does that pretty much every day (as does every spouse).

“Most who are in touch with the sinner find that it is hard to detach a person from what he or she does. It is not some light you can switch on and off. You can’t just pretend the person standing in front of you doesn’t do what he or she does, and feels justified in doing it, and love them as some sort of abstraction.”

No, you love precisely the son standing in front of you who does precisely what he does and feels justified in doing it. You love him precisely as who he is then and there, with all the virtues and vices he has then and there. More, you would not love him more or less if he stopped doing some or all of the sinful things he is doing. You do not, however, love the sins he commits, in no small part precisely because you love him and those sins are hurting him.

As for all this satisfying a father’s honor nonsense — that stuff is not Christian. Rather, it is a particularly ugly form of pride. If it existed in any “Christian” society then it did so in spite of the Gospel, not because of it.

19 08 2010
AT

St. Monica is an example, I think, of how we should behave with children who have gone astray in one way or another. Rather than reject her shithead son she followed him around to be close to him, praying and hoping for him.

If I recall correctly one or another St. Bridget had a son who was about to commit bigamy. Somehow she talked him out of it.

Is there any example from the saints who refused to talk to their children because of the sinful life the children were leading?

19 08 2010
The young fogey

Thanks for the shout-out. Joshua, the Western Confucian, noted the same about traditional Vietnamese families.

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