To Cure or Not to CureE.L. PATTULLO
This book is must reading for the millions who, thinking themselves compassionate, have recently come to endorse homosexuality as a legitimate alternative expression of man's sexual nature.
This book is must reading for the millions who, think themselves compassionate, have recently come to endorse homosexuality as a legitimate alternative expression of man's sexual nature. Dr. Satinover's approach to the question is intriguing because he is, at once, a psychiatrist, a man with an unusual interest in the science that underlies his practice, and intensely religious. This is a clinician who speaks like a highly sophisticated Old Testament prophet and rejects morality based on Freud as fraudulent. He uses “the politics of truth” to refer both to honest science and to God's word.
Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth by Jeffrey Satinover, MD Baker Books, 266 pp., $17.99 __________________________________________________________________
The book is divided into two parts, the first being a lengthy scientific inquiry into what we mean when asserting that a behavior is genetic, innate, or biologically determined. Granting that all behavior is biologically based in the sense that without our biological selves there would be no behavior, Satinover intends to educate us as to the difficulty of determining the cause of any particular behavior. He argues convincingly that the more complex behaviors, including sexual orientation, must be the result of a network of interactions involving several biological factors and those of the social environment, beginning with the family. Consider the case of your favorite basketball player: Only the right genes make possible the requisite height and agility, but lacking a society to nurture the child, invent the game, and prompt the desire to play, there will be no basketball player.
My primary aim in part one has been to demonstrate that hard science is far from providing an explanation of homosexuality, let alone one that reduces it to generic determinism. My purpose so far, thus, will have been well served if the discussion helps to guard against the grossly overblown claims of interest groups who misuse science for political ends. As we have seen in the case of homosexuality, for all the public fanfare, science has accomplished nothing we did not know from common sense: One's character traits are in part innate but are subject to modification by experience and choice.
In part two, Satinover insists-curiously, to my agnostic mind-that “once we begin to consider how things should be, we find ourselves in the domain of' religion.” And, again, “religion is the originator of all morality.” Fine, if he does not mean that “should be” is the exclusive domain of religion and that morality can be derived only from religion. One may be willing to grant the historical role of religion in creating our moral universe, while also imagining that much that is good in that heritage can be derived otherwise-that is, from philosophical principles that do not posit the existence of God. Granted, those principles do not possess the same argumentative oomph as does the invocation of a final and absolute authority, but those who doubt are accustomed to living with the uneasiness that accompanies agnosticism.
It is in this section of the book that Satinover takes issue with the argument that anything that is natural must be morally neutral. Gay-sympathizers struggle frantically to find evidence that homosexuality is “genetic” because so many of us thoughtlessly accept the idea that there can be no condemnation of any behavior that is natural. If gays “were born that way” their exercise of their sexual inclinations cannot be condemned.
Nonsense, says Satinover: man is sinful by nature-that is what the Fall is about. It is in our nature to be attracted to behavior we know to be wrong, be it greed, gluttony, lust, or any of the others. The meaning of the moral life lies in the struggle to resist temptations that are entirely natural. It is a struggle that can be won-so far as it can be-only with God's help. Homosexuality (of which there are so many variations it is better to speak of “the homosexualities”) differs from the many other temptations only in affecting so central a part of the self. The ability to find sexual satisfaction only with one of the same sex becomes characteristic in some people by the same process as do other traits that define an individual. It is a process in which we follow our inclinations until they become habitual, possibly even producing actual physical changes in the brain. It does not involve choice in the easy sense of choosing between chocolate and vanilla, but because God has given us free will we can determine what we will become and are responsible for it. We can shape ourselves more or less in His image, imperfect though we will always remain. I believe one can take God out of that argument and still end up at the same place.
All this is strange stuff from a contemporary psychiatrist, a member of a profession that has extended its official blessing to the notion that homosexuality is not a disorder, and almost extended it to the point of ruling that a doctor who helps homosexuals wishing to overcome their yearnings is engaged in malpractice. Gay activists within the American Psychiatric Association continue to push hard for that proposition and may yet succeed.
If organized gays are intent on persuading the nation that homosexuality is innate and therefore that homosexuals are blameless, they are equally firm in insisting on the corollary-that sexual orientation cannot be changed. Again, Dr. Satinover takes issue, insisting that the case is quite otherwise, and devotes considerable space to canvassing various therapies that claim a measure of success. There already exists a counterpart to Alcoholics Anonymous, and he stresses that something beyond ordinary psychotherapy appears to be most effective, including several programs sponsored by religious institutions, Unfortunately, there appear to be no more hard data on the possibility of changing sexual orientation than there are on its genesis. The dearth of reliable evidence bothers Satinover more than it bothers the gays who disagree with him; though without hard facts, they have had surprising success in persuading the public that homosexuality is all but immutable. In truth, both sides are in the position of simply asserting their beliefs and offering appealing individual case studies in an attempt to sway opinion. Part of the reason for the paucity of real evidence is that longitudinal studies are wildly expensive, and, as so often happens in studies of human behavior, there are so many factors that cannot be controlled as to make any result suspect. In addition, the subject is so controversial that many potential investigators prefer to focus their attention elsewhere.
Insofar as he hopes to influence public opinion, Satinover might have been wise to publish two short books rather than one of ordinary length. Many who could learn much from his survey of the science fundamental to knowing the cause of homosexuality are people who will discount any book that invokes God's truth. This includes most of the health professionals, social workers, school authorities, and newspaper columnists who dispense advice about sexual orientation. A large majority of these folk are fully enlisted in the crusade to persuade society that living gay is a wholly acceptable alternative to living straight; that, in any case, gays have no choice; and that compassion, therefore, requires full approval of the gay life. It will be a pity, but predictable, if they dismiss Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth without a reading.
Pattullo, E.L. “To Cure or Not to Cure.” National Review (Sept. 10, 1996): 66-67.
Reprinted with permission of the National Review. To subscribe to the National Review write P.O. Box 668, Mount Morris, Ill 61054-0668 or phone 815-734-1232.
Mr. Pattullo is retired from Harvard University, where he served as director of the Center for the Behavioral Sciences and senior lecturer on psychology.
Copyright © 1996 National Review
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