Courage and Freud: You can’t refute Freud

In my previous post, I discussed neo-Freudian accounts of homosexuality, which consider an affective lack or a failure to achieve full masculinity, and also attempted to show ways in which such accounts are problematic from a Catholic perspective. In this post, I will discuss how such accounts are nonetheless nearly impossible to refute.

The prevalence of neo-Freudian psychology and associated “cures” within Catholicism no longer surprises me. Commitment to conversion therapy persists. And it will continue to persist. Because the “lesser man” causal theory of homosexuality is based on an anthropology, rather than any sort of actual data, it is nearly impossible to refute. It holds an interior logic that is self-supporting, such that adherents can hold it regardless of external probing. They dwell within that logic and feel no need to look outside of it.

I had a friend in college who held the view that no one would commit to celibacy unless he or she didn’t like sex. So the friend asserted that people with such a commitment were just people who didn’t like sex. Like the narcissistic or “lesser man” accounts of homosexuality, there was no way to prove my friend’s account of celibacy wrong. A priest might argue that he had had sex in a past life and enjoyed it, but my friend could have responded, “You just thought you enjoyed it, but you didn’t really. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have committed to celibacy.”

Based on my friend’s knowledge and experience, that account of celibacy just made the most sense. And no one could prove her wrong, because the only proof was personal account, which she could dismiss as mistaken and self-deceived. Both my friend’s account of celibacy and the Freudian accounts of homosexuality, if promoted by enough by people in sufficient authority, hold the power to sway others to rethink themselves (even mistakenly) and to accept that interior logic in denial of their own actual experiences. They become beholden to this logic, in a partial rejection of themselves that they will be unable to escape. (We certainly do this in other areas of our life, when it comes to understanding our desires.) And others will be unable to hear them, if they have motives to paint over the experiences of victims, enabling manipulators and abusers to continue their work.

Gay Catholics are especially susceptible to the narcissistic and “lesser man” accounts of homosexuality because we often grew up in contexts where homosexuality was considered gross and evil, where we wanted to be like the other guys who objectified women and felt that something was lacking because we were missing out. We didnt’t want our same-sex desires to be real, so a theory saying they aren’t real was very attractive. And theories pointing out poor parental relationships were especially compelling, because as boys we often struggled in our relationships with our own fathers (though, looking back, I think I actually had a pretty good relationship with my dad). What we didn’t realize at the time is that nearly every boy struggles to relate to his father, gay or straight. But before many of us could consider opposing viewpoints or the ways in which our fears and anxieties were just the experiences of all guys to some degree, we became beholden to the ideologies of the late twentieth century.

Those not beholden to such logic, however, can probe into its claims and consider them against other realms of knowledge. For example, social science has shown reparative therapy efforts to be overblown, and history has seen these efforts propped up in order to facilitate abuse and sexual exploitation by its proponents. Theology might consider the anthropology of “heterosexual potential” against the vision of sexuality presented by Aquinas and others.

One possibility for the future

The danger, however, is that we will be unable to do such probing. And in considering the possible consequences, the clergy abuse crisis may be instructive. Consider one claim made against victims of abuse when they originally came forward: “He wouldn’t do that! He’s a priest!” One can easily see the internal logic of the statement and how it can withstand historical claims. If one really believes that priests wouldn’t abuse because they are priests, one holds a anthropological claim, a claim that is used to evaluate data, whereas those of us with hindsight might use the data to evaluate that anthropological claim. Unfortunately, we made the switch too late. [1]

I worry that many in power in the Church are doing this again. If so, it may take many years before the victims realize what’s been done to them, and learn how to speak.

In tomorrow’s post, I will discuss what the John Jay Report might teach us about the Courage Handbook.


More in this series on Courage and Freud:


Notes:

[1] I don’t mean to present an empiricist view, suggesting that theology and philosophy must be proven via scientistic data before they can be accepted. But I do mean to say that scientific explorations and discoveries should help to inform our view of the world and all its complexity.

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