Sex and Substance–a parallel between Social Justice and Catholicism

Can a traditionalist Catholic, in good conscience, condemn the anti-rationality of the SJW doctrine of transexualism? They can call the doctrine false, obviously, but can they, without hypocrisy, attack it for being ridiculously, obviously false? I don’t think so, and this post explains why.

Let me start by saying that I don’t intend this to be an anti-Catholic article and I don’t consider myself to be anti-Catholic except in the sense that I’m a Protestant, but I have this annoying personality trait of having to analyze and criticize anything. If you don’t like that, or if you can’t read criticism of Catholic theology without getting angry, I strongly encourage you not to read this. Don’t go looking for reasons to be offended; it’s unhealthy.

There is a doctrine of Social Justice Warriors (aka: SJWs) that I call transexualism. This doctrine holds that sex is not determined by biology or any other natural process or fact, but rather by some sort of transcendent truth about the individual. Despite that you were born with female chromosomes and female sex organs, lived the first fifty years of your life as a female, give birth to children, and nursed them at your breast, still, if you one day feel uncomfortable in a woman’s body and think you really are a man, then some previously-hidden metaphysical truth is revealed in glory as if by a light shining from heaven–despite all of the facts, you are male.

This doctrine is blatantly false and ridiculous, yet it is embraced shamelessly–no, proudly–by a certain type of person, confident that by subscribing to this notion, they are displaying their finer sensibilities, greater compassion and worthier souls than all of those who cling bitterly to mere, mundane, earthy facts. Furthermore, disputing this belief–that is, believing your own eyes and common sense–can get you ostracized, fired, and driven out of your profession. Those who try to destroy you for wrong-thought will feel fully righteous when doing these things, because their faith says that you are evil for trusting the evidence of your senses rather than their metaphysical doctrines, and that you deserve to be punished for it.

There is a doctrine of the Catholic Church called transubstantiation. This doctrine holds than when a Catholic priest says the right words over a pile of wafers and a cup of wine, the wafers become literally the body of Christ and the wine becomes literally the blood of Christ. The transformed elements don’t just symbolize the flesh and blood of Christ, they literally become the flesh and blood of Christ. Despite that the wafers continue to look, smell, feel, and taste exactly like wafers and the wine continues to look, smell, feel, and taste exactly like wine, yet they have become meat and blood.

This doctrine is blatantly false in exactly the same way and for the same reasons as transexualism. Furthermore, in the Middle Ages failing to agree to this doctrine could get you excommunicated (which was economically worse than merely being driven out of your profession) or even killed. The clergy no doubt felt fully righteous when doing doing these things, believing that a man was evil for trusting the evidence of his senses over official Catholic doctrine, and deserved to be punished for it.

Imagine yourself a Christian in the twelfth century when the belief in transubstantiation was first made a requirement. You don’t believe it’s true, your ancestors number many great Christians, none of whom believed it was true, your seminary instructor never believed it was true, yet now you have to say that you believe it is true, despite years of the evidence of your own senses, or suffer horrendous consequences. What would that do to you morally? Wouldn’t you feel a bit unclean, sacrificing the truth for worldly peace?

It has been said (sorry, I can’t find a reference) that Communist regimes in the twentieth century would force people to lie in just this way because it weakened them morally and made them easier to control. Did the Communists learn the tactic from the Catholic Church? How is what the Catholics did in the twelfth century any different from what Social Justice Warriors do today?

Both of these doctrines are an outright rejection of manifest physical facts in favor of an occult metaphysical reality, a transcendent truth that can only be known to be true by faith and not by reason. Even more, they both involve an appeal to a sort of occult essentialism, whereby the essential nature of a thing can be completely divorced from all of its sensible qualities. Catholics even have an official metaphysical explanation to account for this, and SJWs sometimes steal from them.

Many Catholics seem to think that the Catholic metaphysical explanation answers all questions about transubstantiation. I’ve several times seen it referred to with a dismissive attitude as though a URL referencing an account of the pseudo-Aristotelian explanation resolves the issue; but the metaphysical theory does not provide any support to the doctrine–none at all–even assuming we believe Aristotle’s metaphysics.

Here is why: the doctrine of substance and accident is basically this: everything that we see as a thing is a substance: rocks, humans, animal. That is, each individual is an individual substance; for example, Socrates is a substance. Associated with each substance is a set of properties called accidents (as distinguished from essential properties). There are lots of things that you might consider essential properties that are actually accidents; for example, the very matter of the object is an accident because the object may have been  made of different matter. Now, properties inhere in substances in a very dependent way; they can’t exist on their own. For example, “brown” doesn’t have its own existence, it only exists as an accident within a particular substance. You can’t change the substance that an accident inheres in, but you can change the accident that inheres in a substance–that is how change happens: substances remain the same; accidents change.

The doctrine of transubstantiation reverses this relationship of substance and accident, holding that when the words are spoken over the bread and wine, the substance of the bread and wine changes into the body and blood of Jesus, but the accidents remain in place, unchanged. That doesn’t make sense within the metaphysical framework I’ve just outlined because accidents don’t have an independent existence; they can’t be moved from one substance to another. It is a category error to suggest that they remain in place when the substance is changed. A category error is something like “I wonder what day Socrates is” or “It’s cold, put on your tree”. It just doesn’t make sense.

I should note for the sake of fairness that Aristotle arguably made exactly this same mistake in his account of death. He says that the remains of a dead person should not be called a body because they no longer have a human essence–the soul. He seems to be saying that when a person dies, his substance vanishes, but his body retains many of its accidents, including the matter of which it was made. However, there is a lot of dispute over what this passage means and how Aristotle fits it into the rest of his metaphysics.

Now, Catholics could repair the defect I described by dropping Aristotle’s metaphysics, but then they are back to just the bald statement that although the bread and wine don’t seem to have changed at all, they really have changed into something completely different (that was the original doctrine anyway; the substance/accident explanation was formulated much later), but if they do this, they would have to admit that they don’t actually have an explanation–they don’t have one now, but the metaphysical story let’s them pretend that they do.

(It is high-past time the Catholics dropped Aristotelian metaphysics anyway. It solves no problems that we don’t have better solutions for today, and it is incompatible with modern science. I’ll write more on that in the future, but for now, suffice it to say that modern science is based on a variation of atomism, Aristotle was writing specifically in opposition to atomism, and philosophers down through the ages recognized that the two are incompatible.)

There is also a theological problem with the doctrine of transubstantiation; it not only reverses the roles of substance and accident, it reverses the roles of faith and miracle. Throughout the Bible, miracles are used to support faith. How did the Israelites know that God was leading them? By the pillar of fire that led them by night. How did the disciples know that Jesus was the Messiah? Because of the lame walked and the blind saw. God gives us miracles to support faith, not faith to believe in miracles.

If you are interested in more about the history and criticism of the doctrine of transubstantiation, I highly recommend this article.