Charles Taylor on Celibacy II: The Humanist Dilemma

May 30, 2010


As I explained (very skeletally) in my last post, when it comes to sex and renunciation, Charles Taylor considers both exclusive humanism and creedal Christianity to be on the horns of a dilemma.  Of course, Taylor’s continuing Catholic practice suggests that he sees at least some potential resolution to the Christian side of the dilemma.  But before touching upon the Christian solution, I thought we might examine the humanist dilemma (as he sees it) a little more deeply.

In brief, Taylor finds the typical secular humanist hemmed into a sort of no-man’s land by his inability to define a proper sort of sexual renunciation.  In explaining his position, Taylor deploys Martha Nussbaum’s distinction between the “internal” and “external” transcendence.  Simply put, internal transcendence is good renunciation, the kind that ennobles us and aims us toward properly human excellences.  External transcendence is bad renunciation, the kind that mutilates us and aims us toward inhuman excellences. Read the rest of this entry »

Charles Taylor on Celibacy I: “Mutual Fragilization”

May 23, 2010


Religious Sisters in Taylor’s Native Quebec

Whenever the New York Times makes clerical sexual abuse a front-page story, it becomes something of commonplace among loyal Catholics to point out that sexual abuse is at least equally common among Protestant pastors and married rabbis and agnostic soccer coaches; yet, the failings of non-celibates receive comparatively little attention.  It’s right, of course, to decry selective reporting on the failures of Catholic celibates.  Yet, for all the prejudices that the Times may harbor, it seems to be responding largely to market forces.  Stories of clerical abuse, for instance, almost always become the most accessed and e-mailed articles of the day.  And though the seemingly endless parade of disgraced priests is not a little discouraging, it also reminds me that the world is strangely interested in the lives of celibates.  Reading chunks of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age has, moreover, given me a better language for explaining why. Read the rest of this entry »

The End of Celibacy?

October 25, 2009

Rowan Williams+AMDG+

Amid the stir about the Vatican’s creation of “personal ordinariates” for Anglican communities seeking communion with Rome, the discipline of clerical celibacy has again become the focus of the media’s sensitive and admiring attentions.  It is still unclear whether these ordinariates will enjoy a permanent exemption from this Latin Rite discipline, or merely a non-renewable exemption (limited to those who are already Anglican priests or seminarians).  Either way, there seems to be some expectation in various quarters of the Church that the new provision will undermine the Latin Rite tradition of celibacy.  Depending on which quarters of the Church are canvassed, naturally, the prospect excites either anxiety or glee.

I often wonder whether the use of term “discipline” is not partly responsible for this insecurity about priestly celibacy. Read the rest of this entry »