Wednesday, July 31, 2013

To Be (Ser) or To Be (Estar)

The other day I got a call from my son Political Sphere, on his way home from work (a summer internship clerking with a county judge in a small county closer to Dallas than to Houston). He has an hour-plus, mostly rural, commute, so sometimes he sets the phone on hands-free and we chat. He is working on an upcoming guest post, maybe two-parts—a legal analysis of the Windsor case (recent Supreme Court ruling on DOMA). And so, slightly related to that as conversations go, we talked about the Pope’s comments in Brazil over the weekend.

The Pope did not announce any new policy or doctrine, but his candid style seems to get media thinking they’re hearing something new. He said that people with same-sex attraction who nevertheless seek to obey God’s law will be treated the same as anyone else seeking to obey God’s law. The quote that got the attention was, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” It was in response to a question asked during a casual press conference regarding whether there is a “gay lobby” at the Vatican, which he declined to acknowledge.
He reiterated the longstanding policy that homosexuality is a sin, and that same-sex attraction cannot be acted upon. But he separates out “people who are gay” from “people who struggle same-sex attraction.”
I’m thinking the difference is clarified by a little Spanish grammar lesson, so I will insert that here. The verb “ser” means “to be,” permanently: he is tall; she is Argentinian. The verb “estar” means “to be” in a temporary state: he is hungry; she is thrilled—or “She is (está) white as a ghost from fear” rather than “She is (es) white, with ancestors from Finland.”
"To Be or Not To Be"--Shakespeare
photo from here
The Pope seems to have a pastoring, shepherding instinct to seek out those who are (están) dealing with any human frailty, including same-sex attraction. When dealing with a behavior that may or may not be engaged in, one doesn’t say those people are (son) homosexual—a way of being at all times regardless of behavior choices. So, while his tone seems to meet the approval of the press, he simply restated the Catholic position, while subtly pointing out that “lobbying” for homosexuality or anything else at the Vatican, with the hope of changing God’s mind on whether something is sinful, is a waste of time.
So, back to the conversation with Political Sphere. He mentioned a quote by Desmond Tutu, also from this weekend, saying, “I would not go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would rather go to the other place.” The assumption here is that, because God makes some people “be” (ser) a certain way, God should be forced to accept behavior from them that He would not accept from someone He had not made to “be” that way. I’m thinking that someone bold enough to try to enforce such pronouncements on God is quite likely choosing to go to “the other place.”
So we were talking about the uselessness of making the assumption that some people can’t control their particular behaviors, and therefore we as a society need to embrace those people along with their behaviors and simply stop allowing those behaviors to be called wrong. And we came up with a string of analogies.
He said, “I don’t want the world to be gluttonophobic. I may someday come to control my urges, but in the meantime, the world has to accept that I must eat all I want.” Have I mentioned that Political Sphere is a giant? He has over 200 pounds of lean body mass—which requires a fair amount of sustenance, but is not the problem. It is the non-lean body mass that is the issue, and he would probably need to lose a notable amount to fit the Superman profile. (As his mother, I still think he’s adorable in a very large teddy bear kind of way, but I do want him to live a long and healthy life.) Does he eat too much? Maybe, but who has the right to judge? Applying the Desmond Tutu logic, people who “are” gluttons should be treated exactly the same way as “non-gluttons,” without any judgment of their behavior, because it’s right for them; it’s who they “are.”
I had written a similar analogy using kleptomania (which I’m realizing right now is not included in the Defense of Marriage collection—maybe I’ll print it here in the future on a quiet day). Political Sphere remembered that the specific point of that piece was the absurdity of the way the APA removed same-sex attraction from its list of mental disorders. But his point simply relates to the absurdity of accepting any behavior a person doesn’t have control over, which could become a long and sordid list.
And then we talked about the big news of the day in court. A certain attorney showed up at court Monday morning (in the morning!) drunk. And in his inebriated state he failed to recall that he was carrying his gun with him—into the courthouse. He was arrested and by now is on his way to rehab. The case scheduled that day, along with all his cases, will be turned over to other attorneys, causing a fair amount of upheaval. The best case scenario for this man is the possibility of deferred adjudication on the drunk and disorderly conduct charge, depending on his success in rehab. But that might not be possible because of the felony charge of carrying a gun into a place where it was not allowed. (I’m uncertain whether there was a screening at the door, as in the downtown courthouse where I’ve served as a juror, or whether he got in, was found to be drunk, and the gun was found on him after that point.) It may be that the felony charge will prevent him from ever practicing law again. He’s a prominent person in the small-town community, so this likely made the local nightly news and will show up in a state bar journal. He has caused himself some serious harm.
But is this his fault? As Political Sphere pointed out, the man is alcoholic (using the word “ser”), so he can’t help it. He has the urge to drink alcohol, and who are we to judge whether that’s wrong for someone who is an alcoholic person? Should we not have different definitions of wrong behavior for people who are alcoholics? Their behavior can’t be expected to be the same as someone who is not an alcoholic, after all. So, for alcoholic lawyers, they should be accepted in court drunk on a Monday morning. And as for the gun carrying, no one really thinks he intended to cause harm with it; it was just a result of alcohol-caused stupidity, which is totally different for someone who is alcoholic than for someone who is not. As Bill Clinton would say, “It depends on what the meaning of the word is is.”

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