Some Thoughts on Character, Homosexuality and Happiness

Doug McManaman
Copyright © 2012 by Douglas P. McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

It is important to point out that the homosexual orientation is not a matter of character or personality, anymore than heterosexuality is. Personality describes a particular combination of emotional, attitudinal, and behavioral response patterns in a person. As such, one's personality is the result of environmental as well as genetic factors. Two people of entirely opposite sexual orientations can have very similar personalities, i.e., outgoing, extroverted, or highly introverted, prone to anxiety, etc.

Character, on the other hand, is one's moral identity; it is our deepest identity that we have shaped for ourselves as a result of the moral choices we've made. Whatever is not a matter of choice has no part in the determination of our character. Thus, the homosexual orientation is not a matter of character, for one does not choose to have a homosexual orientation anymore than one chooses to have a heterosexual orientation. And so, three different people, each one possessing a homosexual orientation, can have three entirely different characters; one might be a saint, the other a sociopath, and the other a morally upright citizen, etc.

The homosexual orientation, like the heterosexual orientation, is neither a personality trait nor a character trait; it is, rather, an inclination, a propensity, that is, an appetite. Now, happiness is not a matter of appetite, for anyone (heterosexual and homosexual). Rather, happiness is a matter of character. Happiness is the result of the kind of character that one has established by virtue of the moral choices one has made, and so a person with a homosexual orientation has just as much opportunity for a genuinely happy life as a person with a heterosexual orientation.

But just as a heterosexual who simply pursues the satisfaction of his appetites in life inevitably finds himself frustrated in his pursuit of happiness, so too the person with a homosexual orientation will be frustrated in his or her pursuit of happiness as long as he or she confuses happiness with the satisfaction of the appetites.

The fact of the matter is that every one of us has inordinate appetites to contend with. Some of us have to battle against inordinate self-esteem (pride), or inordinate love of our own good to the exclusion of others (envy); some of us struggle with an inordinate love of possessing (avarice), while some of us battle inordinate anger. Some have to battle an inordinate love of rest and an aversion to exertion (sloth), others an inordinate love of food and drink, while others have to battle inordinate sexual desire. Our salvation is not found in the satisfaction of those inordinate appetites, but rather in the successful victory over ourselves and our own inordinate propensities. And sometimes it takes a lifetime of experience for people to learn that lesson; others, for some reason, figure it out early in life.

The reason that happiness is found in a victory over the self is that happiness is a matter of character. It is not the world, or this person or that person, who is my own worst enemy; rather, I am my own worst enemy - my own disordered propensities are my own worst enemy. The most fundamental need of the human person is the need to love and be loved. This is another way of saying that the most fundamental need of the human person is to be important. Each human person has a fundamental importance, and most of us, if not all of us, have no idea just how important we really are. And the reason for this is that we have not been loved enough in life - most people in our lives, whose responsibility it was to love us, confuse passion for love and have thus loved themselves too much, and us too little; and we seem to continue the cycle.

But love is not a passion; love is an act of the will. The need to be important is really a need "exist for", because to be important is to be important "for" someone or others. And so the need to love and be loved translates into 1) the need to "exist for" (which means the need to love) and 2) the need to know I "exist for" (which means I know that I am important for someone or others and thus loved). Thus, only "knowing" creatures (persons) can be happy, for if I "exist for", but am not aware that I "exist for" because I lack knowledge, then I cannot be happy (a building is not happy or unhappy).

As was said, love is not a passion, but an act of the will. Now, all love involves a kind of self-expansion. For example, to love and consume food brings about physical growth, sexual desire usually results in reproductive expansion (pregnancy), etc. But love as an act of the will is the only love that is specifically human, for the human person is a moral agent, for he alone has a will (a rational appetite). To love another human being "humanly" is to will the good of that person as another self. In other words, just as I naturally will the best for myself, I can also freely choose to will the best for that person for his sake, not for my sake. The passion of love is not capable of that level of self-transcendence, for the passions are sensitive appetitive reactions and they terminate in the self. For example, to have a passion for chocolate is to love chocolate not for the sake of the chocolate, but for my sake; I love it for what it does for me (it brings me pleasure).

Happiness is not a matter of pleasure, as human beings have known for centuries (i.e., consider ancient Hinduism's four stages of happiness; pleasure is the first and lowest stage. We find the same insight in Socrates, Plato and Aristotle). The only happiness of which brute animals are capable is the happiness of pleasure. But man is more than a brute animal, which is why a life of sensual satisfaction is insufficient for the human person. People always eventually seek more than that. Human happiness is a matter of the self-expansion that results from the specifically human kind of love, which is agape. If I love this other as another self (for his sake), then I am no longer one, but two. And if I love a third person as another self (for his or her sake), then I am no longer two, but three, etc. The more people I love as another self, for their sake and not my own, the larger I become (we are not talking about physical size), and the larger I become, the happier I will be. The reason is that happiness is a matter of goodness, and "good" is a property of being. The larger I am, the better I am. God, who is Goodness Itself, is Happiness Itself (Joy Itself). The larger a person is, the more like God he or she is and thus the happier he or she is.

And so, can those persons with a homosexual orientation ever be happy? Of course they can, just as much as those with a heterosexual orientation. But not everyone with a heterosexual orientation is happy, and the reason has nothing to do with their sexual orientation; it has everything to do with their moral identity (character), that is, the kind of persons they have made themselves to be by the choices that they are making. Not every heterosexual is committed to virtue; many in fact live for the satisfaction of their passions. As well, there are many who have a homosexual orientation and are very happy, because they have freely chosen to orientate their lives towards their true and eternal end, which is union with God, who is Goodness Itself, Truth Itself, and Beauty Itself. The very fact that they have chosen to forgo the satisfaction of their sexual orientation for the sake of the virtue of chastity - and virtue is the means to union with God - is not a hindrance to their well-being and happiness any more than celibacy and chastity is a hindrance to the happiness of a Mother Theresa or a St. Francis of Assisi.

The notion that happiness is about the fulfillment of one's desire for a sexually intimate relationship with another is a confusion that has its source not in the homosexual community as such, but in the culture at large, and so this discourse on happiness is not primarily for those with a homosexual orientation, but any and all human persons of whatever orientation they may be required to do battle with. But the first thing we need to see is that there is a battle to be fought, because a human person with disordered passions is much like a defective part of a machine, and we are, all of us, defective parts of a larger whole. Each one of us is called to bring about order within the self (to cultivate the virtues) for the sake of something larger, and doing so takes a very long time and involves personal sacrifice.

But the purpose of bringing order to the passions is that we may direct our lives towards the common good of the social whole - which is a good much larger than the self - as well as our ultimate end, which is eternal union with God. But disorder in the passions renders those ends impossible to achieve; for there is no just social order (justice) without virtuous persons. A person of virtue has chosen to love the common good more than his private good, and happiness is to be found only in persons of such character, and character has to do not so much with our own particular battle ground as it does with how we choose to relate to it. Most people - regardless of sexual orientation - will choose to go only so far in that battle and will often reserve some small area of disordered delight for themselves, whether that involves a degree of pride, unforgiveness, love of possessing, sloth, gluttony or lust. My role is not to appease such people, but to challenge them to something higher, a brighter, loftier, and more joyful existence that can only be known from within by being freely chosen and lived.