Family Matters

Genderism: Our New Heresy

by John Pacheco

Modern Catholic apologetics is often associated with historical questions or scriptural exegesis. Theological questions such as justification, the role of the Bible in the Christian Church, and the nature of Church authority, for instance, remain very common and popular topics today in discussions between Protestants and Catholics.

In the early Church, too, theological battles were very common as competing sides fought over the famous christological and mariological issues of the time. The Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, His human and divine natures and wills, the virginity of Mary and her identity as theotokos were all hotly-contested theological controversies fought and won by the Catholic Church.

Needless to say, theological controversies among Christians and between Christians and non-Christians will exist until the Second Coming of Christ when they will be, thankfully, settled once and for all. While these disagreements are still very important in the religious realm, their relevance in the current culture war has fundamentally changed.

In the past, the attacks on the Catholic Faith came through the aforementioned theological questions. Today, while these attacks still remain — and in some cases have even intensified — they have been upstaged somewhat by a new and pernicious menace. The new heresy, which some are now calling "Genderism," seeks to recreate man away from his divine origin into a mere human invention.

The war being waged in our modern culture is over this very question. The major issues of today — abortion, contraception, euthanasia, divorce, invitro-fertilization, cloning, stem-cell research, and same-sex "marriage" — all involve, at some fundamental level, a direct attack on the dignity and image of the human person as created by Almighty God. This conflict is particularly heated in the case of so-called "gender-identity" issues in which proponents of radical feminism or gay "marriage" have tried to argue that gender is mutable.

The Church rejects this position as a perversion of God's revelation concerning man and his nature. The Church teaches that in man, God created one human nature with two distinct and complementary relational expressions of that nature. These expressions, what we know as "male" and "female," are not merely tangential or incidental characteristics of our human nature, but are intrinsic and fundamental to it.

We know this to be true because this relational expression is reflected in the physiological features of the male and female bodies which, although sharing the same flesh (Cf. Gn 2:23), are nonetheless distinct from one another in their physical appearance. The physiological composition of the male and female bodies — far from being incidental or transitory — is a reflection of a person's inner psychological nature. A man's genitalia, for instance, shows him that his human nature is expressed as a male with all of the attendant traits of masculinity which flow from it. The characteristics corresponding to masculinity naturally engender him to assume a certain role in relation to a female who, corresponding to her phsyiology, has a different yet complementary psychology.

The male and female cannot insist on playing the same role in their relationship with one another for the simple reason that their human natures are not precisely the same, at least insofar as the expression of that nature is concerned. It would be analogous to a nut and bolt wanting to fulfill the same function in the operation of a mechanical device. If they both insisted on doing so, the machine would break down. And this is precisely what has happened to marriage in the latter part of the twentieth century. Similarly, gay "marriage" advocates fail to realize that two nuts or two bolts will also fail to work because the intimacy required for success in coupling success demands complementarity, not uniformity.

The clamor for gay "marriage" and the push for the legitimacy of gay sex is rooted in radical feminism's blurring of the unique and distinct personalities inherent in the male and female sexes. Radical feminism and the “gay rights” agenda are nothing more than two sides of the same coin, much like communism and materialist capitalism are rooted in the same philosophical system which sees man as a mere commodity, either of the state (communism) or of himself or another (capitalism).

As the distinction between men and women becomes more distorted, their traditional roles within the family unit are likewise further confused. With the advent of contraception and the widespread acceptance of sterility, this confusion has logically led to the acceptance of same-sex unions. When women relinquish their fertility and assumed the roles traditionally filled by men, they give up much of what expresses their distinction from men so that, in men's eyes, they become functionally little different than other men. This has led to the acceptance of homosexuality in popular culture.

In his recent letter dealing with the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church, Cardinal Ratzinger stresses the unique and irreplaceable elements of both sexes and notes that being male and female is an immutable expression of the human person. He writes:

Sexuality characterizes man and woman not only on the physical level, but also on the psychological and spiritual, making its mark on each of their expressions. It cannot be reduced to a pure and insignificant biological fact, but rather is a fundamental component of personality, one of its modes of being, of manifestation, of communicating with others, of feeling, of expressing and of living human love. This capacity to love — reflection and image of God who is Love — is disclosed in the spousal character of the body, in which the masculinity or femininity of the person is expressed. ("Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World," 8)

The very capacity to love, the cardinal says, is expressed through the "spousal character of the body." In other words, if masculinity is not tied to the male body or femininity to the female body, as the Church's opponents claim, then people will discover that their capacity to love will be obscured and gravely wounded.

Genderism has sought to create a contradiction between the "spirit" (i.e. the relational expression of sexual differences) and the "flesh" (i.e. physical expression of sexual difference). This false dichtomy between the spirit and the flesh is but another dimension of the first century heresy known as Gnosticism. Instead of declaring flesh "evil" like the early Gnostics did, however, the new Gnostics merely designate the flesh as arbitrary and divorce its masculine or feminine traits from their psychological counterparts.

His Eminence also rightly points out that human nature itself cannot be sterile, and because of that, it requires a relational dimension to its existence:

Formed by God and placed in the garden which he was to cultivate, the man, who is still referred to with the generic expression Adam, experienced a loneliness which the presence of the animals is not able to overcome. He needs a helpmate who will be his partner. The term here does not refer to an inferior, but to a vital helper. This is so that Adam's life does not sink into a sterile and, in the end, baneful encounter with himself. It is necessary that he enter into relationship with another being on his own level. Only the woman, created from the same “flesh” and cloaked in the same mystery, can give a future to the life of the man. It is therefore above all on the ontological level that this takes place, in the sense that God's creation of woman characterizes humanity as a relational reality. (Ibid., 6)

The document goes on to further explain that this "relational reality" is not merely a static, detached relationship, but rather a relationship which rises to the level of interdependence: "In the unity of the two," the prefect writes, "man and woman are called from the beginning not only to exist 'side by side' or 'together,' but they are also called to exist mutually 'one for the other'.... The text of Genesis 2:18-25 shows that marriage is the first and, in a sense, the fundamental dimension of this call" (Ibid., 6).

Indeed, this teaching on the relational reality of both sexes being called to exist mutually for the other points to a fundamental truth of the limitation and interdependence of either sex. In its natural expression, man cannot propagate the human race alone. He needs, as the Bible says, a "helpmate." With this realization, man recognizes that he is limited and finite. His dependence on his wife is a reminder of his greater reliance on God Himself who is the infinite and unlimited source of life.

In contrast to this, the opposing feminist-gay world view does not believe that both partners exist mutually for the other. In feminism, a woman is not dependent on a man. She is independent of him and merely relates to a man as she pleases. She uses him as a commodity to fulfill her base, materialistic pleasures (and he uses her). Similarly, under the homosexual rubric, there is no context of existing "for the other" since the relationship's physiology does not correspond to this language. In fact, the physiological language of gay sex points in the opposite direction, where the participants are attempting to join two uniform expressions of the same nature, and therefore, on an ontological level, seek to exist for "themselves." This is why gay relationships are so unstable — because there is no inherent sense of "existing for the other" as there is in a normal heterosexual marriage.

According to the Book of Genesis, the human person is revealed to be made in the very image of God: "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Gn 1:27). In the account of creation, not only does God reveal to us that man's image is a reflection of the divine essence, but we learn that in creating man, God created one image with two distinct expressions of that image. These two distinct expressions of our human nature are as important to Christian theology as the two natures in Christ's person. Indeed, the modern attack on these two expressions is a form of gender
"Monophysitism" — the sixth-century heresy which sought to reduce Jesus's two natures to only one. In the same way, radical feminism has sought to blur and even negate the distinction between the male and female expressions in human nature.

While feminism began in response to legitimate grievances to promote prospects for equality of women, it has evolved a new theory of the human person in an effort to seek liberation from ”biological determinism.” In its latest stages, it has inspired ideologies which call into question the family in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent — what Cardinal Ratzinger calls “a new model of polymorphous sexuality.”

Indeed, the central question of our time concerns authentic human dignity and how it is defined. On the one hand, secular culture views man's intrinsic nature as malleable and replaceable. The culture's materialistic and consumerist philosophy has translated the human person into a mere product of consumption. Since the human body itself can be harvested, destroyed, or manipulated to serve selfish and perverse ends, the physical characteristics that are specific to either gender are consequently seen as tentative and optional.

The Church, in opposition to this lethal view, upholds the sanctity and inalienable constitution of the human person and believes that there can be no separation between the physical characteristics of the human body with the associated psychological and spiritual elements of it. In other words, male genitalia must correspond to a male psychology. This is why Cardinal Ratzinger highlights the fact that "male and female are thus revealed as belonging ontologically to creation and destined therefore to outlast the present time, evidently in a transfigured form. In this way, they characterize the 'love that never ends' (1 Cor 13:8), although the temporal and earthly expression of sexuality is transient and ordered to a phase of life marked by procreation and death" (Ibid., 12).

In God's infinite love for us He became "one of us" at His incarnation. This incarnation represents the sacramental dimension which vivifies the teaching that man is created in the image of God. God fulfilled this teaching by showing man that not only would God Himself become man to save him, but also that man's destiny is to partake in God's own divine nature (Cf. 2 Pt 1:4). At the moment of the Incarnation, when the divine person of the Son of God assumed a human nature, human nature itself was sanctified. Through baptism we become united mysteriously with Christ's divine nature. Jesus has therefore united Himself to all men through His incarnation and His baptismal marriage to us, and therefore any attack on man becomes an attack on God Himself.

As the current culture war continues to rage, all of the Church's efforts to combat the culture of death must be brought forward. To defeat this ominous threat to mankind's existence, Christians must learn to cooperate with one another despite our theological differences. We must work towards a common "life ethic" which can serve as a unifying beacon of light and a common front against an increasingly darkened and hostile world. When the boat is sinking, there is no time to fight over who is manning the helm. The important thing is to get to work and start bailing.

John Pacheco
The Catholic Legate
November 2, 2004


This article was originally featured on Catholic Exchange.