Queering Captain America?

The character Captain America first appeared during World War II as a patriotic nazi- fighting superhero.  After a few years hiatus, he reappeared in the 1960s and has been around ever since, recently being a key character in the enormously popular Avengers and Captain America movies.  Through it all, Captain America’s character has embodied what almost might be called the romance of classical American: courageous, committed to democracy, freedom and liberty, and above all, right over wrong.  Other superhero figures have had darker sides or uncertainties (Batman), but Captain America has consistently stood as a soldier guided by an unshakeable moral code that was explicitly the ideal of classic American virtue, but was really at heart Judeo-Christian.

This Captain America always stood up for right over wrong whatever the cost; in one place he said:

doent-matter-what-the-press-says-doesnt-matter-what-the-politicians-for-mobs-say-america-quote

(From http://www.thequotepedia.com/images/11/doent-matter-what-the-press-says-doesnt-matter-what-the-politicians-for-mobs-say-america-quote.jpg)

And elsewhere:

“…Our enemies may appear to be endless, but that doesn’t matter. Because there is no one else. Look at me. I believe in an idea, an idea that a single individual who has the right heart and the right mind that is consumed with a single purpose, that one man can win a war. Give that one man a group of soldiers with the same conviction, and you can change the world.” (1)

He was a superhero who was so reliable and so reliably virtuous,  could almost be assumed to be on the right side.  Whatever side he was on was right.  This make some recent news so interesting. It seems that a number of fans are calling for captain America to “come out” as homosexual, according to the Twitter hastag “#giveCaptainAmericaaboyfriend.”  (2).

There are at least two interesting observations to be made regarding the demand to make Captain America gay.  First, that it reflects modern society’s obsession with sex and the decline of friendship in a modern world.  Part of the reason behind the demands of the “makeCapgay” crowd is their difficulty in believing that two men could be intimate friends without having a sexual relationship.  This would have been absurd in nearly any past age which celebrated friendships like David and Jonathan, Achilles and Patroclus, Oliver and Roland, Hamlet and Horatio, and Frodo and Sam.  Yet because Captain America, a soldier has close friendships, fans (a terms more properly used  in the classical sense of fanatic) argue that he should be gay.  C.S. Lewis said of friendship that “it is one of those things that has no survival, rather, it gives value to survival,” and lamented its decline in the modern world.  That Captain America cannot be believed to have male friends without having relationship with them is another sign of that decline.

The second observation is more interesting.  In the early 16th century, King Henry VIII of England divorced his wife, married another, and declared himself the head of the Church in England.  Nearly everyone went along with him; one of the few who didn’t was Thomas More.  Yet, the one man was too much for Henry VIII.  As Robert Bolt’s play, Man for All Seasons, put it, More was a good was honest and known to be honest- and one honest man, a man of virtue and conscience, opposed to Henry was too much, a signal to everyone else that Henry was on the wrong side.  Henry needed More on his side to assure Henry and everyone else of a lie, that Henry was right in his wrong.  And this More would not do and so Henry killed him.

This is why some people want Marvel to make Captain America gay; because Captain America is a superhero known for his courage, virtue, and commitment to truth whatever the cost.  Henry wanted More’s approval in a vain attempt to assure Henry that he was in fact on the right side, which Henry knew to be false.  Today advocates of homosexuality demand not tolerance, but approval and will not tolerate those who disagree with them.  And this because, like Henry,  they want to convince themselves that they are on the right side, which they also know to be false.  What is so interesting, though is that this search for approval extends now to the fictional character Captain America.  To turn such a character would have been like Henry VIII turning Thomas More-turning a good man to the wrong side– and just as impossible.  Captain America could not turn and still remain himself, he would be a whole other figure, strong perhaps, and in a similar costume, but not Captain America.

 

(1) https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Captain_America

(2) http://observer.com/2016/05/marvel-fans-want-captain-america-to-come-out-already/

 

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Modern Superstition and Trusting the Rich

Donald Trump’s candidacy has been instructive for a number of reasons, albeit regrettable for many others.  It has shown how a loud and colorful personality, promising to make Germany  America great again can quickly gain the allegiance and more, faith, of desperate crowds who will ignore any charge against him because of the faith they have placed in him.  There are books to be written on this subject, but only one small but instructive point concerns us here: the growing faith in the rich.

One of Donald Trump’s key arguments on the campaign trail is that people should trust him because he is rich.  Because he is rich, he cannot be bought and hence is more trustworthy.  Leaving aside the question of whether a person who buys influence, favors, and people is more trustworthy than a person who sells them, what is so interesting here is that we are being asked to trust the rich because they are rich.  Money (supposedly) makes a person trustworthy.  Poverty makes him unreliable.  Money equals virtue and poverty, vice.  This is not a new idea.  G.K. Chesterton wrote about it 100 years ago: “You will hear everlastingly, in all discussions about newspapers, companies, aristocracies, or party politics, this argument that the rich man cannot be bribed” (Orthodoxy, chapter 7). It was as ridiculous then as it is now, but what is so interesting is how the idea is suddenly seen as widely convincing today just when the influence of Christianity seems to be fading- and there is more than coincidence in this.

Why should nations with proud democratic traditions and governments and nations (America at least) founded on the notion that all men are created equal suddenly appear so ripe for aristocracy?   Why should they suddenly be so ready to submit themselves to rule by the rich believing that only the rich can be trusted to rule?  In the last hours of its decay, the Roman republic did the same thing, as mobs threw power to a patrician strongman railing against corruption and promising to look out for them, but why should American be prepared to do the same?  What makes a nation with America’s history and democracy be suddenly willing to adopt and adopt loudly the position that the poor cannot be trusted, that we must throw ourselves on the rule of the rich?

For G.K Chesterton (and me), it was the decline of Christianity.  For only Christianity provided any consistent bulwark against this superstitious faith in the rich.

Only the Christian Church can offer any rational objection to a complete confidence in the rich. For she has maintained from the beginning that the danger was not in man’s environment, but in man….if, in short, we assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean, His words must at the very least mean this — that rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy (Ibid).

Some of the rich may be trustworthy and some may not, just as some of the poor may be trustworthy and others not, but no man is more trustworthy because he is rich or less so because he is not.  This is a pagan superstition and hence a modern one, but according to Christianity, greater danger lies in riches than in poverty.  As Chesterton remarked:

There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to kill the rich as violators of definable justice. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to crown the rich as convenient rulers of society. It is not certainly un-Christian to rebel against the rich or to submit to the rich. But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard the rich as more morally safe than the poor  (ibid).

But this is why modern America can believe the myth that Trump’s wealth makes him reliable.  Because belief in Christianity is on the decline, such superstitions are on the rise; it can hardly be otherwise.  Man needs a savior and if he cannot have a divine one, then he must have a human one.  Whether such a savior can save anything, bring hope and change, or make America great again, is another, more doubtful question.

  1. Note: I find that Mark Shea already beat me to this passage in Chesterton and its applicationhere: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2015/07/the-prophet-chesterton-on-donald-trump.html

The Real Me and Transgenderism

The Obama administration has recently attempted to coerce schools into allowing biological boys and girls to use restrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex if they believe themselves to be transgender.  The coercion is so sudden and taken without public comment or study that one imagines there must be overwhelming evidence that transgenderism is the next frontier in the civil rights struggle and that people believing themselves to be transgendered must be a group comparable to African Americans in the era of Jim Crow, unable to use bathrooms with everybody else.  But there is not such evidence.  Indeed, the lack of evidence has led Johns Hopkins to stop offering gender reassignment surgery (1). For their are a host of questions raised by the claim that some people are transgender.

At heart, a person who believes they are transgender believes that they are a man trapped in a woman’s body or a woman trapped in a man’s body.  The body and the mind appear to be in conflict; the biological fact is that a person’s body (to take an example) is male, but the person’s mind believes that he is really female.  If the body and the mind are at cross purposes in this way, then one of the two is in error, but how to decide which?  Transgender advocates, and the present administration, seem to have assumed that the mind must be correct and the body wrong, but why?  Why should we assume that the mind is sound and the body wrong?  Why should it not be the other way around.  Why should we not come to the opposite conclusion: that in a biological male who believes he is female, it is actually is mind that has gone wrong.  If a man believed that he was a wolf trapped in a man’s body, presumably, the assumption would be that his mind is disordered, not that he should be fed particularly raw steaks.  If a man believes that he is a woman, why should the assumption be that the body must be changed; why not consider it a mental disorder in need of correction?

More still, it is unclear what it means to be a man trapped in a woman’s body.  It seems to imply that the body is not part of the person.  The real me is not my body and is actually entirely independent of my body; the body is just something that I, the real I happen to have, an accessory.  Hence, if the real me is a female who just happens to have a male body, then I can dismiss it and get a new accessory.  But then who is this real me?  What is this real me inside my body that is totally independent of my body?  My soul?  No Christian could believe that since Christianity requires the belief that man is a unified whole, I am neither my body nor my soul, but both.  The soul is the form of my body and the two form a united whole.  But then transgender advocates do not base their claims on Christianity anyway, so the real me must be mean something else.  Could it mean the soul in some other sense?  Maybe, but transgender advocates never say this; given their tendency to be secular, this is probably an argument that many would shy away from.  And even if this were the position of some, ie, a biological male believes that he is a female soul trapped in a man’s body, this raised a host of questions and problems: how did the female soul get there?  What is the relation between the female soul and the body?  This also turns the body into the accessory or property of the soul, which is the real me.  Hence, rape would become a mere property crime (an offence against my property, the body I happen to inhabit) and the government could extra a kidney in taxation (because it can tax my property and my body is my property).

Neither of these options are likely palatable to the transgender advocate anyway, so what else might such a person claim?  That the real him is his brain?  Ie, that he is a female brain trapped in a male’s body?  None have said so explicitly, for this is no better than the other options.  First, the brain is part of the body, so this appears plainly contradictory to say that one has a male body but a female brain.  Second, given the role of the brain is shaping the body by directing the body’s growth, release of hormones, it is not scientifically plausible that a female brain could be trapped in a male body.  Third, this view has the same drawbacks (as Alexander Pruss has pointed out on another subject), as the view that I am my soul.  If I am my brain and just possess the rest of my body, rape is still a property crime, the government could confiscate a kidney via its power to tax, and my wife has never kissed me (only my body, which is not me, only the property of me).

There is no account of how one can be a man trapped in a woman’s body that makes sense either scientifically or rationally.  There is, however, a very simple account of how a mental disorder could cause a person to believe he is a woman if he is really a man.  And to this disorder, we should respond, not by changing the body, but by treating the mind.

(1). http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/06/15145/ and

http://www.wsj.com/articles/paul-mchugh-transgender-surgery-isnt-the-solution-1402615120

(2). A fair question is that in spite of no plausible account of transgendering and no evidence in support of the claim that one can really be a woman trapped in a man’s body, why is it so strongly defended?  The answer is probably an implied connection to homosexuality.  If it can be a mental disorder for a man to believe that he is a woman, then this is not very far from the claim that it is a disorder for a man to be sexually attracted to other men.  But this is a subject for another post.