Perceptio

Perceptio is of a rare subtlety in understanding many of the issues that dog us. Churches concerned with political correctness are described in Make of it what you will.

I have given a lot of thought to the issue of gender identity and the tendency some of us might entertain to want to caricature our own sex or the opposite sex. In earlier articles, I have speculated on things like androgyny: a man remains identified with his gender but enjoys assimilating feminine characteristics, whether physical or psychological or both. I intensely dislike labels and names which we are all wont to use in the way doctors typify diseases and other pathological disorders in their efforts to help the sick. We can be humans without worrying whether our image is sufficiently stereotypical of our gender or the opposite. Ideally, a human being integrates the two genders in his or her personality in that delicate balance between art, intuition, empathy and the things usually attributed to “real men”. I fail to understand the person who decides to have a surgeon alter his or her body to appear like the opposite sex, the so-called transgender or transsexual. A person thus becomes a caricature of the desired gender identity. The person remains human and enjoys the same rights to life, freedom and happiness as the rest of us. But, why single that person (with mutilated body) out for special treatment in the name of political correctness?

The more recent article Frithjof Schoun, Perennialism, and Christology is of particular interest. I have come across people of the Perennialist tendency in France and read some their works. Schoun and René Guénon felt compelled to forsake Christianity as something not viable or able to reach the deepest aspiration of the human spirit. They embraced Sufism, a mystical version of Islam, which if studied would reveal something beautiful and profound. The only thing is that I see no reason to abandon Christianity but rather the shallow and parasitical caricatures that have emerged over the centuries. Schoun and Guénon saw Christianity as emptied of its metaphysical content and replaced by shallow moralism. I agree, but would differ in believing that there is an almost unknown Christianity that has survived alongside institutional orthodox Church religion. It has never left us, but we have to seek it within ourselves, in the immanent Kingdom. This was one of the most shining intuitions of the Modernist George Tyrrell. Many eyes have been opened by the discovery shortly before our own lifetimes of the Nag Hammadi Scriptures.

A serious counter-force against modernity? By modernity, it is not so much the invention and use of technology by man but the tendency to allow his humanity to be replaced by the Machine and hyper-rationalism. It is the theme of the Romantics when they re-claimed the imagination and sensuality. Julius Evola too evoked the theme of Christianity’s impotence. There are some very unhealthy tendencies who take their inspiration from such forms of Perennialism. We find Nietzsche at the root of some of this philosophy with its determined criticism of Christianity. Evola eschewed the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century, but shared many of the themes used by Nazism to persecute those who were deemed to be of “inferior races”. We have to be careful how far down this road we go!

Our friend seems to have a clear appreciations of the excesses of Perennialism. Like Gnosticism, I could never completely assimilate a way that is fraught with many dangers to one’s spirituality and our very mental health. There are better ways to relate with modernity (hyper rationalism and anti-humanism) and keep it at arm’s length through a critical spirit. Christianity is both esoteric and exoteric. Exoterism is to Christianity what the skeleton is to the human body. We need a way to follow…

Perennialism shows a critical attitude to shallowness and the moralism of pious cant. It is the aspiration of a restless souls. Without this aspiration, we would be left only with the steamroller of modern rationalist bureaucracy. Many of us will spend our whole lives in conflict or find the way to the coniunctio oppositorum as Jung coined the notion. Perhaps this will give a clue to the reason why many of us live through a crisis of gender identity.

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5 Responses to Perceptio

  1. Stephen K says:

    Father, your last comment was a little surprising. Are you saying you have in any degree a crisis of gender identity? Or is that you think that many people are having a crisis of gender identity? If so, what would be your sense of how many, more or less? And, if so, do you think the crisis would be of ‘gender’ or ‘existential purpose and worth’? Or do you think they are intertwined?

    • In don’t think I have myself, but I detest the hyper-masculine image projected or expected by some. The subject has already been discussed on this blog. Transgenderism is quite widespread, but it can be argued that they are not living through a crisis – they clearly want to identify with the opposite sex. A search on Google will show articles estimating that some 2% to 5% of the population is transgender (with or without the surgery and hormone treatment). Your question of ‘gender’ or ‘existential purpose and worth’? Perhaps they are intertwined. We are all different and reflect on these questions in different ways.

      People are at liberty to do what they want, but they will suffer discrimination and persecution from society at large. What would I do if one came to Mass and wanted to receive the Sacraments? I don’t think I could turn him/her away if apparently sincere. I can’t approve of something I think is monstrous, but I can’t allow myself to judge others and deny their humanity. The Church usually condemns mutilation, but has the duty of welcoming persons. Such a situation has never occurred in my chapel.

      I do believe that were such people to be brought to a different attitude to life, they might give more thought to their complete humanity rather than the extremes of gender.

      • Patricius says:

        I knew a priest (a renegade) whose stated goal was missionary work among the riff raff cast off, expelled or otherwise unwelcome in mainstream churches. I thought at the time that this was his excuse for an otherwise empty chapel on Sundays. I’m riff raff after all.

        With trans-people, I can’t help but think that they are extremely damaged individuals and in need of pastoral care of the highest subtlety and compassion.

      • People who don’t have social standing, money, status, etc. quickly find themselves estranged from churches. The idea of going to the marginalised is appealing to the priest who seeks a sense to his vocation. Such people have no use for priests and seek elsewhere for an alternative to cold materialism, nihilism and atheism. I do think that trans-people are seriously misguided, like people who have other kinds of plastic surgery for reasons other than medical or tattoos. They ideally need care before they go ahead with the irreversible. We need a healthy theory of gender akin to the ideas of C.G. Jung so that we can discover humanity within ourselves in the complementarity of masculine and feminine. If we could let go of the extreme male / female stereotypes, then I think people would have sounder ideas and feelings. Priests are generally woefully ignorant of psychology and the human experience. It’s not at seminary that we can begin to learn about such things! Psychologists like lawyers tend to cash in before selling their sub-standard products.

        A lot of responsibility falls on those professionals who allow the person to go ahead with sex-change surgery and hormones. Of course, people are free to do what they want outside totalitarian regimes, but I am sure that much heartache could be avoided by helping a person to find his own identity and not someone else’s.

  2. J.V. says:

    “People who don’t have social standing, money, status, etc. quickly find themselves estranged from churches. The idea of going to the marginalised is appealing to the priest who seeks a sense to his vocation. Such people have no use for priests and seek elsewhere for an alternative to cold materialism, nihilism and atheism.”

    This is really a crucial component of the general crisis of Christianity in the West. Christianity seems to have a knack for alienating people without much social status. It’s an uphill battle making clergy aware of the problem.

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