O'Donovan on experience

Related to the issue of homosexuality, Oliver O’Donovan has a sermon series posted Fulcrum that I found exceptionally well thought out an written. Here’s an excerpt about the significance of desire and experience:

Rowan Williams’s hypothetical gay Christian, then, framed and posed precisely the question which we need his help to answer. And at this point in his article the author intervened in his own person, apparently to sharpen the question: Can “sexual expression of homosexual desire,” he asked, “if desire itself may be innocent of disorder, be confidently ruled out?” This way of putting the question actually turns it on its head: instead of starting from given social forms, marriage and singleness, and using these as a baseline from which to reach out analogically to interpret an elusive and mysterious experience, it starts from an experience, apparently entirely clear and beyond discussion, and reaches out to posit a corresponding social form. Wrapped up in this is a certain psychological positivism, an unbiddability characteristic of romantic, pre-Wittgensteinian psychology. Within, we have a self-interpreting mental state, “desire”; outside, we devise an action to “express” it, ie lead the mental state uncompromised from the inner expanses of the mind to the public world. Inner certainties demand untrammelled expression. But that approach can only invite a sceptical reply. What is this inner certainty certain of? How can we know what the desire is for? The language of “expression” is treacherous. It lets us suppose that our desires are perspicuous, when they are not. Sexual desire in particular is notoriously difficult to interpret; the biblical story of Ammon and Tamar is just one of many ancient warnings of how obscure its tendency may be. It is characteristically surrounded by fantasy, and fantasies are never literal indicators of what the desire is really all about, but are symbolic revealer-concealers of an otherwise inarticulate sense of need. But the point holds also for many other kinds of desire – let us say, the desire for a quiet retirement to a cottage in the countryside, or the desire to own a fast racing-car. We cannot take any of them at their face value. “It wasn’t what I really wanted!” is the familiar complaint of a disappointed literalism. To all desire its appropriate self-questioning: what wider, broader good does this desire serve? how does it spring out of our strengths, and how does it spring out of our weaknesses? where in relation to this desire does real fulfilment lie? It is in interpreting our desires that we need the wisdom of tradition, which teaches us to beware of the illusory character of immediate emotional data, helping us to sort through our desires and clarify them. The true term of any desire, whether heavily laden or merely banal, is teasingly different from the mental imagination that first aroused it. And gays have no infallible introspective certainties in relation to their desires that would put them outside the common human lot of self-questioning. “I became a great question to myself!” said Augustine.[7] And it was the question of himself that the Gospel helped him address fruitfully.