“We are all sinners.” It’s true, of course; but it’s a phrase that can become a platitude when it’s overused. Currently, the phrase “We’re all sinners” seems to pop up rather frequently in discussions about transgenderism and other deviations from one-man/one-woman unions.
When Catholics who are faithful to Church teaching on sexuality write about transgenderism and other forms of LGBTQ+ sexuality, they almost invariably include an apology for having been so insensitive in the past to the pain caused by gender confusion and for having excluded such people from the life of the Church for so long.
Such apologies strike me as a bit disingenuous for the simple reason that the vast majority of people both inside and outside the Church were scarcely aware of the transgender phenomenon until a year or two ago. Hardly anyone was trying to exclude transgenders because hardly anyone knew they existed.
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However, the other part of the apology does seem more genuine. When a Catholic critic of LGBTQ+ behavior says, “We are all sinners,” it’s safe to assume that he means it not as a ploy but with a genuine sense of sorrow over his own sins. It’s meant to convey the sentiment that we all fall short of the mark, and we don’t feel superior to those who are tempted in different ways than we are.
All well and good. For many of those who struggle with gender confusion, the admission that “We’re all sinners” (“We’re all in this together”) can help to ease feelings of loneliness and exclusion.
But there is a major caveat, and Catholics who wish to be of help to gender-confused Catholics should be aware of it. Some, if not many, Catholics within the trans “community” don’t admit that they are sinners. At least, they don’t admit that their sexual desires are sinful.
I don’t have any statistics to prove this. I’m relying on the word of one of the foremost advocates for Catholics who identify as LGBTQ+, Fr. James Martin, S.J.
In a video posted on YouTube a few years ago, Fr. Martin said that the requirement of chastity for unmarried persons is not binding on the LGBTQ+ community because they have not “received” the teaching.
I didn’t know the teaching was optional, but apparently many of the rules don’t apply to those of the LGBTQ+ persuasion. Take a radio interview with CBC given by Martin a few years ago on the subject of “transgender kids,” Catholic schools, and personal pronouns. After emphasizing how “vulnerable,” “rejected,” and “persecuted” transgender children are, Martin recommends that the least thing Catholic schools can do to make up for their neglect is to let transgender youth use their “preferred pronouns.”
So, after bemoaning the exclusion of transgender students, he argues not that they should be treated equally but that they should be given a special privilege not available to other students.
Indeed, trans people are so beautiful and special in the eyes of Fr. Martin that almost none of the usual rules apply to them. When discussing the adage “hate the sin but love the sinner,” he puts the word “sin” in quotes because, he maintains, the saying is only being applied to those who identify as LGBTQ+. “Even worse,” he writes, “the ‘sin’ that people focus on is the way that they [persons who identify as LGBTQ+] love one another…Saying ‘your love is a sin’ is an attack on part of a person’s deepest self.”
Is Fr. Martin saying that our deepest self is defined by our sexual attractions? Or is our deepest self made up of heart, mind, and soul? It’s not entirely clear. But in any event, “our deepest self” is hardly an infallible guide to action. For example, the Church teaches that your desire for another man’s wife is objectively sinful, no matter what your deepest feelings may tell you about the matter.
Still, Fr. Martin seems to think that LGBTQ+ love is a special way of loving that shouldn’t be governed by the rules that apply to others.
“We are all sinners”? On the whole, Fr. Martin seems to agree, but he has his reservations. “Yes,” he seems to say, “we’re all sinners, but actions that emanate from our deepest self can’t really be sins.”
It sounds like the kind of caring and accepting attitude we expect of Christians, but the roots of this attitude lie not in Christian teaching but in self-esteem psychology.
In the ’60s and ’70s, the self-esteem mania swept through convents, seminaries, and Catholic colleges. The self-esteem philosophy was built upon a rejection of the Christian belief that our nature is flawed by sin; but because it bore some resemblance to Christianity and borrowed Christian terms, many took it for the real thing. The religion of self-esteem was, in effect, a counterfeit of Christianity. But many didn’t see it that way. They saw it instead as a more highly evolved form of Christianity—Christianity unburdened by talk of sin and crosses. The self-esteem philosophy was built upon a rejection of the Christian belief that our nature is flawed by sin; but because it bore some resemblance to Christianity and borrowed Christian terms, many took it for the real thing. Tweet This
A major attraction of the self-esteem movement was its promise that you could be a happier, healthier person if only you could trust yourself: far from being flawed by sin, your deepest self is a near infallible guide—if only you can get in touch with it.
According to this scheme, poor self-esteem comes from trying to live up to society’s expectations of you, while high self-esteem comes from discovering your true self. The founders of self-esteem psychology (also known as human potential psychology) were sure that increased self-esteem would lead to improved behavior—to less selfishness and more altruism.
But self-esteem advocates were disappointed to find that the opposite was often true. Many of those who had learned to accept themselves and love themselves became more self-centered and more selfish. In many cases, increased self-esteem led to increased promiscuity, increased infidelity, and increased divorce.
When Carl Rogers, the most prominent of the human potential psychologists, conducted a two-year experiment in self-acceptance among the Immaculate Heart of Mary community of teaching nuns, the result was disastrous. Within a year after the completion of the experiment, 59 Catholic schools had been shut down, and six hundred nuns had left the order in order “to find themselves.” In short, they gave up a life devoted to guiding others for a life devoted to self-discovery.
Dr. William Coulson, a devout Catholic who later repented of his role in the destruction of the IHM order, confessed that, armed with the techniques of non-judgmental therapy, “we overcame their traditions, we overcame their faith.”
The theory predicted that those who were centered in their inner self would become more “fully-human.” The reality was that many simply became more self-centered and self-absorbed. Their reasoning seemed to be along the lines of “I’m okay and whatever I want to do is okay as well.”
Which brings us back to Fr. Martin and the trans movement. Catholics who hope to win the confidence of the trans “community” by assuring them that “we’re all sinners” and that even though we “hate the sin,” we “love the sinner,” may be barking up the wrong tree.
Trans persons who have come under the influence of Fr. Martin and like-minded facilitators are unlikely to accept the idea that their desires or actions are sinful. A steady diet of “God loves you just as you are” and “your love is beautiful” is not conducive to a genuine examination of conscience.
Fr. Martin, who has urged all Catholics to celebrate Pride Month, urges trans persons to celebrate themselves: to be proud of who they are and who they love—and to ignore Scripture and Tradition when they don’t align with one’s inner compass. That may give them a temporary sense of okayness, but in the long run it may only erase their consciousness of sin.
Fr. Martin says that saying “Your love is a sin” is an attack on a person’s deepest self. But isn’t that just another way of saying “Your love is not a sin”? A trans-inclined youth can be forgiven if he interprets Martin’s words in just that way.
Fr. Martin isn’t saying, “Rejoice, your sins are forgiven by Christ”; he’s saying, in effect, “You haven’t sinned.” This is a very dangerous direction in which to lead confused youth who, as Martin admits, are highly “vulnerable.” In the Christian view, conversion depends on awareness of our sins and repentance for them. As St. John puts it in his First Epistle:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity. (1 John 1: 8-9)
The self-esteem approach that Fr. Martin employs tells us that we should feel good about ourselves. But Christ died not so we could feel good but that we might become good. And the first step in that direction is to acknowledge our sins.
[Photo Credit: Shawn Calhouse (Flikr)]