Heteronormativity and Catholicism are inseparable
Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, September 18, 2019
My phone’s built-in news app proffered this piece by Ellie Gardey, an undergraduate student at Notre Dame, that was posted today. Gardey reports on current efforts by some students to reduce heteronormativity at Notre Dame. In case you haven’t seen that particular tongue twister before, Gardey has done us the favor of giving the Oxford definition: “denoting or relating to a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation.”
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I may be a bit out of touch these days. So I looked up the definition of “normal” just to check it hadn’t changed on me. The most general definition from Oxford is “conforming to a standard; usual, typical or expected.” Having taken a statistics class once, I figured I could reasonably interpret “usual,” “typical” and “expected” along probabilistic lines. I went and checked Gallup for the latest estimates for the number of LGTB people in the U.S. Gallup has been tracking this every year since 2012, and the most recent estimates have that figure hovering just under 5%.
Interestingly enough, Gardey interviewed a student for her piece who estimates that the number of heterosexual students at Notre Dame is roughly 20 times that of LGTB students. Spot on W. B. Gentry; full marks.
The point is that to promote heterosexuality as the “normal sexual orientation” is simply to promote taking reality as it is. In that respect, Notre Dame is on point. While I am not unsympathetic to these students’ views that the University is against LGTB lifestyles, there’s a pretty self-evident reason for this. Notre Dame is a Catholic university and should absolutely remain so.
When I first arrived at my undergraduate institution 10 years ago, I was nearly militant in my belief that denying homosexual partnerships the same rights that accompany a civil marriage was an unconscionable violation of civil rights. But I never once advocated for forcing a religious institution to carry out that marriage. Our fight was a civil rights issue, and the dividing line between what a marriage was to the government and what a marriage was to God, gods or the flying spaghetti monster was always clear. The relative brevity of that fight — with a mere nine years between the first legal homosexual marriage and nationwide marriage equality — is a testament to how clear-cut the matter was.
However, to call for the end to heteronormativity at Notre Dame is the equivalent of choosing to enter the Great Books program and demanding that nothing before post-structuralism be on the seminar list. Not only would this erode the purpose of the program, such changes would destroy its very identity.
The benefit of being Catholic these days is that we are the stewards of an intellectual tradition that extends back thousands of years. And despite what your favorite pop scientist or sociologist might tell you, they weren’t all dummies before Einstein or Foucault. When someone claims that this or that bit of Scripture should be interpreted a certain way, or that when Jesus said, “this” he in fact meant “that,” we can appeal to one of the richest bodies of work ever assembled by humanity to test that statement.
Thankfully, we don’t even have to dig too deeply to see why Notre Dame cannot be anything other than heteronormative: classical natural law theory. As American philosopher Edward Feser explains, we have rigorous philosophical reasoning going back to Aquinas and Aristotle that clearly spells out what constitutes proper sexual behavior. Now, I’d be pretty willing to bet that a sizable majority of Catholics don’t live up to those standards. Nevertheless, they are the Church’s standards and the Church cannot change or abandon them without very good reasons.
You don’t have to agree with the Church on everything. This is, for now, still a free country and no one will put you away for not being sufficiently pious. Despite the fact that my Church says I shouldn’t be a proponent of certain lifestyles, I remain a steadfast supporter of the idea that people should be able to love and live with whoever they want. That personal conviction and the ways my actions make it manifest is ultimately between me and my Creator. I hope he’ll go easy on me. But it’s certainly not the Church’s obligation to bend knee to my personal beliefs because the political ideology of the time happens to be going my way. Nor would I ever have the audacity to demand such a thing of it.
A Catholic institution cannot be anything other than heteronormative and anyone who chooses to be at one should be aware of that fact. We at Notre Dame owe each other a basic degree of respect and the welcoming, accepting attitude that we would expect from other civilized people. But no person, group or political ideology is owed Notre Dame’s apostasy. Some of us (including myself) came to this school specifically because of its Catholic identity, despite our having issues with and failing to live by any number of Catholic teachings. That identity is what makes this school unique in a world that is rapidly standardizing to the lowest common denominator of secular thought.
We are fortunate to be at the preeminent Catholic institution in the world. Do what I did and take a moment to learn about that tradition and how it sets us apart from other places of higher education in so many wonderful ways. For your sake, my sake and the sake of all the many talented people who have yet to come here, do not try to make it just another school, slavishly following ad hoc principles developed and set down by the “elite” institutions.
You may count it a quick win for modernity, but we all lose in the end if you succeed.
Sep. 16, 2019
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.