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The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism Hardcover – June 7, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

The Silence of Sodom by Mark D. Jordan, a professor of theology at Emory University, is a smart, graceful, important book about homosexuality and modern Catholicism. It transcends discussion of sexual identity and contends that theology cannot, fundamentally, be argued--it must be lived. "Serious moral theology cannot be principally the framing and manipulation of quasi-legal propositions. It must begin and end in the discovery of particular lives under grace." Consequently, Jordan writes, "lesbian and gay lives will have to become audible to the church, readable within it, before their graces can be discerned and described." The way for gay lives to become audible in the church, Jordan argues, is to demonstrate an intimate relationship between "'homosexuality' and holiness--that is, human fullness." To demonstrate that relationship, gay people must rethink their notions of identity by questioning the descriptive power of terms such as gay and homosexual, and perhaps even abandoning such terms.

Gay Catholics, Jordan says, "should feel contrition for having pretended to have a sexual identity, when what we had were desires, memories, and loves. To be good homosexuals is, for Catholic men, to conspire with our old persecutors in a sin against ourselves. The homosexual is only the sodomite in approved drag." Abstruse jargon, sloppy thinking, and excessive pride are common pitfalls for writers who address simultaneously the subjects of Christianity and homosexuality. Jordan avoids all of these dangers. In plain language, with humility, he gently insists that readers join him in learning how to talk about sexuality and physical pleasure in a way that amounts to talking about Christian love. --Michael Joseph Gross

From Publishers Weekly

Jordan, author of the prize-winning The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology and professor of religion at Emory University, argues that the culture of Catholicism and gay culture have much in common. Analyzing Catholic documents on homosexuality, Jordan determines that the Church is often vague and imprecise, its rhetoric designed to confuse readers. Despite the Church's teachings that homosexual sex is a sin, says Jordan, Catholicism is shot through with homoeroticism--the musical, incense-filled Catholic liturgy attracts gay men, and gay men's "coming out" is not dissimilar from Catholic seminarians' demonstration of a priesthood call. Even the Eucharist is drawn into this analysis: according to Jordan, male Catholics eating the perfect body of a perfect man is a homoerotic act, too, and the "priest without faith who celebrates Mass" recalls "a hustler having sex with his client." This treatise is provocative, but not convincing. Jordan's modest claim at the beginning of the book--that the Catholic Church needs to honestly recognize its many gay Catholics, some of whom occupy positions of leadership--is compelling. However, his suggestion that Catholicism and homosexuality are somehow inherently bound up with one another because the stereotypical gay man's fixation with fine clothes is reminiscent of priests' suiting up in vestments reads more like a Saturday Night Live skit than a serious effort to reshape Catholic discussions about sexuality. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 342 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (June 7, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226410412
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226410418
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #933,031 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 52 people found the following review helpful By slightlykooky on June 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
For those of you who have read Boswell's two epics "Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality" and "Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe," this book doesn't present anything 'new,' in terms of scriptural translations/interprestations per se. However, it is probably one of the few recent books I've seen which focuses on the plight of homosexuality exclusively in the Catholic Church. The author discusses several of the Vatican documents(1975, 1986,1992)on homosexuality as well as the American Bishops letter of 1997-8. What is most striking in his approach is Jordan's breakdown of the rhetoric of the Catholic Church. In order to better understand what the Church's statements themselves mean, Jordan enables the reader by breaking down the layers of 'silence' by the church: their background, and the rhetoric used to maintain the status quo. Stylistically, parts of the text seemed fragmentary. It did not help that almost every paragraph was separated by little ____ dividers, which distracted this reader to the overall thought process. Jordan borrows and builds on several notions from Sedgwick's "Epistemology of the Closet." I found the chapter on the 'Liturgy Queen' and Clerical Drag quite amusing. For a book focusing on 'catholic' issues with homosexuality, the last chapter offers the most promise by describing the possibilities of living as a lesbigay Catholic. Overall I'd give the book between 3 and 4 stars (3 and a half, if there was the option).
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26 of 36 people found the following review helpful By William H. DuBay on September 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mark Jordan breaks rank with D.S. Bailey, John McNeil, S.J., and John Boswell, who preceded him in writing about homosexuality and the Roman Catholic Church. His keen analysis of homoeroticism in the life of the church, specifically among the clergy, has more in common with Raymond de Becker, who, in The Other Side of Love, wrote convincingly on the latent homosexuality of Christianity. Jordan also writes convincingly on the homoeroticism that continues to attract so many young men to join the Catholic clergy. The church's liturgy, music, and art continue to offer outlets for expression that are acceptable among a celibate clergy. There is probably no other religion so disturbed by homosexuality. Echoing Michel Foucault, Jordan states that the homophobia of recent church pronouncements is a new, modern phenomenon adopted from the modern state's need to control sexuality. This position supports that of Garry Wills, who, in "Papal Sin," shows how the modern papacy has become obsessed with the need for absolute authority. "In the last few centuries," Jordan writes, "Catholic life has been ravaged by the requirements of absolue obedience. Whether seen from the inside or outside, the distinguishing mark of modern Catholicism has often seemed obedience and nothing more. The theological virtues are no longer faith, hope, and charity, but submission, sumission, submission." He quotes Nietzche's description of Catholicism as "a continuing suicide of reason." Jordan writes, "Nietzche is astute to single this out as a distinctively Catholic pleasure--the protracted, the deliciously painful self-mutilation of a magnificent mind undoing itself in obedience.Read more ›
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Joseph S. O'Leary on June 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In the recent media feeding frenzy around the topic of priests and minors this important book has rarely been quoted. Has it been totgeschwiegen? I found it far more instructive and thought-provoking than Donald Cozzens's cautious and rather preachy work, which has been referred to again and again. Habent sua fata libelli. Jordan is a distinguished scholar of historical theology, so one of the high points of this book is his commentary on the style of recent Vatican pronouncements on sexual ethics. Every moralist, pastor, counselor should read those pages -- the most telling analysis of the mentality behind current Vatican teaching that I have ever read. One thinks of Soviet dissidents doing an analysis of official communist jargon. Jordan writes with more than usual openness and vulnerability -- an edge of anger. But his writing also has a ludic, witty dimension. Even the much-derided comments on liturgical camp have a flair missed by those unaccustomed to literary ironies. He quotes French authors such as Pierre Klossowski, certainly a tactical error in dealing with the American public. I would say that Jordan lacks the common touch. As to his accusations against the Catholic clergy, I do not think they can be easily dismissed. In fact they are profoundly unsettling. The recent scandals are only the flip side of a great betrayal of the flock, especially its gay members, by priests who have gone along with the "Don't ask, don't tell" policies imposed by Rome since 1968 (Humanae Vitae). Garry Wills said the same thing in his study of the "structures of deceit" shaping Catholic lives. But Jordan's indictment reaches deeper, probes more intimately. The gay priesthood is a vast, unexplored universe, simply because those who know don't talk. Jordan has shone a torchlight into the dark jungle. Perhaps he might think of writing in a happier, more celebratory style the next time.
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