In the book, a journalist asks Leonard if he believes AIDS to be a punishment from God. He says no, but adds that just as nature reacts when we abuse the environment, "when we mistreat human love, it ends up perhaps getting its revenge".Let's leave aside for the moment how strange it might seem to hear an archbishop draw a distinction between "God's punishment" and "Nature's revenge". Let's also bypass the fact that Leonard apparently doesn't want elderly priests held to account for child abuse as long as they've given up on it -not sure where Gaia's Vengeance is over that one. Leonard's bizarre suggestion got me thinking about an old intellectual stomping ground of mine - what is it about homosexuality that makes so many people think it's so massive a deal - in a new way.
First of all, I asked myself whether there's a difference between unnatural and sinful? I lack the theological chops to know whether all things natural are by definition non-sinful. It seems easy to assume that anything unnatural is sinful, but sin is after all inherent to our nature. Does that make some natural acts sinful? On the other hand, sins are rebelling against the word of God, which is exactly what we're not supposed to do. I don't know which way Christianity comes down on the subject, or even if all denominations work on the same principles. But if all sins are unnatural, why isn't nature striking everyone down with AIDS? Or something similar, at least? Why doesn't, say, stabbing someone in the chest lead to a heart condition?
Seriously, why aren't murderers getting themselves struck down with some horrendous malady that makes AIDS seem like a particularly irksome paper-cut? Is brutally slaying your fellow man more natural than being attracted to someone whose genitals match your own? Maybe it feels that way the world can seem when viewed through the prism of our particular obsessions in fiction, but truly?
It doesn't seem like considering the natural/unnatural divide is going to get us anywhere. In the process, though, I think we stumble across something important. Why does Leonard believe nature is out to slap around the gay and the promiscuous but not the slayers of their fellow man? Is it because we're already dealing with them ourselves?
This has never really occurred to me before (I've no idea why). I've written plenty of posts on how baffling I find the Christian Right's Javert-like obsession over homosexuality, but for some reason the penny never dropped. The issue isn't over how important a sin it is on the continuum of defying God, it's about how important a sin it is on the continuum of transgressions society has no interest in punishing. I'm not just talking about legal punishment, either. We haven't cut out people's tongues for lying for quite some time now, but we still drum it into our children that it's a bad thing to do.
In other words, I think this is a reaction to an attempt to, in their eyes, attempt to normalise a sin, to wipe away all stigma attached to it (as, indeed, is the aim of people like me). All this time I've been arguing that homosexuality shouldn't be considered a sin in any case, and that if it is it makes no sense to consider it as grave a sin as it is, without realising that my position itself is fuelling the madness.
Obviously, none of this cuts to the heart of the matter, which is that promiscuity, unsafe sex and drug use are things we tell our children are bad, and since that's what spreads HIV in the first place, it kind of undermines the idea that nature needs to take a hand like this. There's also the point I mentioned above about Leonard not believing former child abusers should be punished by society; it's difficult to credit the idea that he believes this action will create some kind of paedo-plague which will take care of the problem for us. In other words, he's still an arse and a hypocrite; merely one whose thought processes I think I can follow slightly more now. Lucky me...