The Human Being: A Rough Outline

1.1 A human being is a singular complex of passions.
   1.1.1 A passion is an existential given. A given is a fact of the moment. The existential givens are time-space, psychic-bodily, circumstantial and relational. Time-space passion is our situation in history and geography Psychic-bodily passion is the complex of our genetic makeup, biology, and psychology. Circumstantial passion is our cultural, economic, and technological situation. Relational passion is our network of communal relationships: parents, siblings, friends, local and national community.
   1.1.2 A complex is the interrelation of passions.
   1.1.3 One is singular in that one is at no time identical to any other complex.
   1.1.4 One is subject to the dictates of one’s complex of passions.
1.2 The complex of passions is historical and therefore dynamic from conception to death.
   1.2.1 The dynamic complex is organically cumulative and therefore persistently singular.
1.3 The totality of the human being is the life totality of the complex of passions
   1.3.1 The life totality if the complex of passions is ahistorical and fixed.
   1.3.2 Awareness of the life totality of the complex of passions necessitates an ahistorical situation.

2.1 A human being can attain dispassion.
   2.1.1 Dispassion is passion-transcendence Passion-transcendence is possible through passion awareness. Passion awareness is possible through compassion.
   Compassion is the ability to identify—partially or totally—with the passion complex of the other.
      The other is one whose passion complex demonstrates points of difference from one’s own passion complex.
      To identify with the other is to articulate points of identity between one’s own passion complex and the passion complex of the other.
      Inasmuch no points are identical, the other is totally other.
      Inasmuch as all points are identical, identification is total.
   Compassion is always partial inasmuch as otherness and identification are not both total. Passion awareness is only partial inasmuch as compassion is partial.
   2.1.2 To the extent that one attains dispassion, one is free to act other than the dictates of one’s passion complex.
   2.1.3 Freedom to transcend passions is partial inasmuch as the attainment of dispassion is partial.

3.1 The totality of the human being can only be seen through total dispassion.
   3.1.1 Total dispassion is awareness of the life totality of the complex of passions.
   3.1.2 Total dispassion is possible only through the ahistorical compassion of one who is totally other and total in identification.

Is it New?

In my last article, I argued that we do not ask often enough to what extent lust is prevalent in our sexual relationships. I suggested that St. Paul’s exemplar of same-sex lust in his Epistle to the Romans in fact challenges all of us to critically examine how the worship of the creature rather than the Creator, that is, self-worship, permeates our lives and particularly, our sexualities, even if they do not take same-sex forms.

My point was not primarily to wade into a debate about gay sex, a debate that is even now raging in North American Orthodox circles, having been kindled by an article by Fr. Robert Arida on the OCA’s “Wonder” Blog. Nevertheless, a thoughtful reader raised a question that my article may have begged or implied: by interpreting St. Paul as I did, was I suggesting that same sex intimacy is inherently lustful?

Just so you know, I will not answer that question in this forum. The reason is, the question itself rests on certain assumptions which, if not shared, will result in a fruitless and empty debate. My purpose here, as briefly as I can, is to identify what I see as one of the main assumptions (there are certainly others).

In particular, the question raised to me assumes that “same sex intimacy” is essentially the same sociological phenomenon to which St. Paul refers in Romans. Those on the conservative side may say, “Yes, of course it is!” but this belief is not shared by all involved in the conversation. Whether the contemporary LGBT community is indeed what St. Paul (not to mention the other biblical authors) is describing, is something that needs to be settled first and foremost, before the conversation can continue.

If the two phenomena are not the same, for instance, then Orthodoxy must respond to something entirely new in its historical experience. We cannot simply apply traditional sources literally to the current situation, since those sources cannot speak directly about a reality that did not exist for them. James Alison put it as follows in one of our email exchanges, “How do highly skilled duck breeders react to the discovery that what they thought was an ugly duckling is in fact a swan, an unprecedented reality within the normal canons of duckitude?” In other words, if we recognize that LGBT persons are not merely ‘anomalous,’ but a genuinely new sociological group, how might we respond? One hopes that we would do so with the same theological rigor, depth and creativity that the Church has, at its best, demonstrated when faced with new challenges in its collective experience.

If, however, the LGBT reality is substantially the same as we find testified in the writings of the Church, then we must contend with the testimony of our tradition as it stands. Just as we should not resort to mere ‘parroting’ of tradition to reject a sexuality that is truly new, it is not appropriate to try and exonerate a historically condemned sexuality by excluding the traditional testimony on the basis that it is the product of a particular time and culture, and therefore ‘irrelevant.’ Rather, as one friend of mine put it, we must see the substance of traditional testimony as inspired, and ‘save the appearances’ by finding a pastoral response that reveres the past while speaking in love to the present.

How we answer this question of newness would have a significant effect on whether or not we see LGBTQ intimacy as inherently lustful. If it is new, then we may discern that same-sex relationships are consistent with the spirit of tradition, if not its apparent sense and meaning. Having made this determination and resolved to see our tradition in this way, we might envision a new kind of relationship—rooted in a new anthropology—where same-sex intimacy could speak the Gospel to the present culture.

If, though, the LGBT community is not substantially a new phenomenon, then we would answer the question of whether same-sex intimacy is inherently lustful with a “yes.” However, we would then want to evolve a pastoral response to those with same sex attraction who wish to live as Orthodox Christians. We may want to ask, for instance, whether “intimacy” necessarily requires sexual intercourse to be meaningful. We may envision same-sex relationships that are committed, lifelong, intimate, and yet celibate, as a way to honour the testimony of our tradition while offering a way for same-sex attracted persons to work out their salvation in the full communion of the Church…

Wherever one stands on this matter, it is crucial that we concern ourselves with the right questions. In the case of the contemporary culture of same-sex intimacy, such a question would simply be, “Is it new?” Unless we first answer this, our conversation will involve talking past, rather than to, one another.