01-02-2013 - Traces, n. 2

Rights and desires

For THIBAUD COLLIN, one of the intellectuals who spoke before the French National Assembly on the proposed bill on homosexual marriage, this is “a historic opportunity” to know ourselves. Here is what we stand to gain, or lose. All of us.

by Alessandra Guerra

Born in 1968, philosopher and writer Thibaud Collin defines himself as part “of the generation of John Paul II.” In the 1990s, “a period marked by the arrival of AIDS, a historical crossroads for the demands of homosexuals,” he dedicated his studies to gender identity and society: “Over time, I became increasingly aware of the political and social, but also anthropological and metaphysical character of the issues regarding sex, marriage, and family.” His first book, published in 2005, was Le Mariage Gay: Les Enjeux d’une revendication [Gay Marriage: The Challenges of a Claim]. Last December, he was one of those called to speak before the French National Assembly about the Marriage for All bill, the electoral promise of President François Hollande that is splitting French society.

Professor Collin, what do you see happening in your country?
First of all, the current debate shows us that politics is not the measure of all that is human. Politics is not the source of justice, but at its service. Whatever the outcome of this bill, the French are invited once again to this historical awareness: that democracy can be exercised in a totalitarian way. It is also the opportunity to realize how prophetic the word of the Church is, especially John Paul II’s anthropological position on marriage and sexuality in the wake of Humanae Vitae…

Let’s take a step back. In your words to the National Assembly, you spoke of the cultural foundation of this bill: human will as the ultimate reference of everything. What are the origin and the consequences of this claim?
Unlike sacramental marriage, civil marriage, that is, the union of a man and woman through which they give life to a family, is the institution by which society offers a stable context for children; they are the means by which society perpetuates itself and develops. At play here is the relationship between the conjugal union and the generation of children, in which three conditions are necessary: the difference of the sexes, monogamy, and prohibition of incest. Where one of these conditions is removed, as the bill proposes to do with the difference between sexes, the generation of children no longer is founded on natural procreation, but on the will of the adults, a will separated from the body and from the gendered person. We have before us a movement that tends toward the “angelization” of the person. We are moving toward an absolute freedom that rejects any kind of dependence, going against the true good of the human person. The body is reduced to being a neutral material to which the conscience can arbitrarily give meaning. This is the metaphysical importance of the bill. Life becomes construction material at the service of the projects and desires of people. It is a long-standing temptation–one could say that it is already present in Genesis: “You will be like God.” Also, in the great Sophist Protagoras, in the era of Socrates, one finds the thesis that “man is the measure of all things.” But this recurrent temptation today has found the technical means for incarnating itself: our knowledge of reproductive biology has enabled us to be emancipated from the constitutive unity of the gendered person.

You affirm that setting up the will as the only criterion will contribute to a “liquid society” and will cause people to experience “their fragility and precariousness” increasingly more.  Why?
Certainly, the will is a positive concept, when it is in the service of the good. For example, I recognize a true desire and decide to adhere to it in the name of faithfulness to a fundamental order that constitutes my being. But when I transmit life, my will incarnates itself in an order that does not belong to me, that is not mine, but that I make mine, consenting to it. If the will is disconnected from the fundamental needs of the human heart and from the adequate means for satisfying them, it will end up being a criterion unto itself and will become unrealistic. In addition, human relationships founded on this conception of the will–that is, without taking root in a fundamental natural order–are determined by relationships of power. The weakest is inevitably harmed (in this case, the adoptable or “creatable” children). The task of the State is to be a “third party” at the service of an order. It is there to guarantee rights, in particular those of the littlest ones. Now, there is a State that is paradoxically both totalitarian and anarchic. To satisfy the demands of some, it denies the human order (for example, the difference between the sexes as foundation of the generation of children), affirming that if homosexuals cannot have children it is because of a homophobic policy. It is a State that, to make people apparently freer, contributes to injustice, and that instead of giving a structure to society, generates “liquid society,” the expression the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman used to define a set of individuals in a circular flow, in perennial movement, in which all points of view are equivalent. The State thus becomes the agent of the crumbling of the political body.

In the document the great French rabbi, Gilles Bernheim, wrote against the bill, he spoke of a grave anthropological reduction. The negation of two evident things: 1) “I am not everything, nor am I all that which is human” and 2) “I do not know all that which is human: the other sex remains forever an unknown part.” What do you think we risk losing in the attempt to deny these truths?
That which structures the human person is the difference between the sexes and between generations. To be born and grow, every person needs this articulation of the differences. I become a father through the female being of my woman. And vice-versa. The bill affirms that to satisfy this desire to generate, I do not need a person different from me; to have a child, sexuality is no longer necessary. It goes in the direction of indifferentiation, which is the sign of a position of   omnipotence. The human being becomes neutral, interchangeable, like a Lego piece that can be assembled in one way or in another. It is the atheist position that rejects the difference between God and man. We find here the serpent’s lie: “You will become like God.” The Church proclaims the difference between God and man, and then between man and animals, between man and woman, between parents and children, and so on. This is entirely different from the “And the earth was without form and void” scenario that our libertarian and nihilistic society demands! The desire to have children, in the person who has a homosexual orientation, is a true wound, because every human being desires to transmit the life she or he has received. According to the assumptions behind the gay demands, one can solve the frustration at such an “injustice” through a juridical technique (adoption) and a medical one (medically assisted procreation). But those go against the evidence: they refuse to admit that a sexual relationship with a person of the same sex does not make it possible to transmit life and therefore to become parents.

Sexuality is thus conceived of only as a property of the body, a mere biological substratum…
In the current debate, there is a dualistic and reductive vision of the person: the will on one side, and the biological body on the other. Instead, the human person is characterized by a profound unity of the person. For example, I am male, and this dimension bears a richness that I express in many ways. I am a father through the mediation of my woman; this gift of life continues in the education of the child, which in turn is developed drawing upon this dual sexual origin, sign and instrument of the communion of the child’s father and mother. Today we no longer realize what a source of certainty it is for the child to look at his or her parents and know what his or her origin is, where he or she comes from. Living in the continuity of one’s own origin, and verifying that it is perpetuated in the unity of conjugal life of one’s parents, is a priceless resource for a child, above all when he or she experiences a moment of crisis. Here, all the anthropological value of John Paul II is seen, in his call to all people to find again this unity of the gendered person, and through it the unity of the conjugal relationship and of the family.

What is the road to travel?
We have a lot of work ahead of us. We must contribute to the growth of awareness of the elementary experience of the person. This “making aware,” this pedagogical labor must give people back the instruments and words that enable them to learn about and know themselves. Many of our contemporaries today live totally detached from the fundamental needs of the heart. There are those who perceive them, but lack the words to express them. The task is to help them regain themselves, to find again the road of this unity. We have the responsibility to understand deeply the Church’s position, which has always been prophetic. Look how appropriate John Paul II’s diagnosis was for what is happening today! The Church must be increasingly aware of her words and acts. She will be increasingly subject to social pressure, will be accused of homophobia, will be the object of the opprobrium of all kinds of conformists, and so on. Catholics must therefore prepare to be increasingly aware of their judgment on the human person, and to thus appear as a cause for scandal, a “sign of contradiction” like their Master and Spouse. In this sense, I say to all of you that this bill is a historical opportunity to become aware.