"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."
- Oliver O'Donovan, Good News for Gay Christians:
Sermons on the Subjects of the Day (7), §11.
This perspective runs counter to the popular notion that questioning someone's deeply felt desire is itself immoral. Contemporary liberalism is based on the assumption that personal desires are sacrosanct and beyond interrogation. That way lies not only political but also psychological incoherence, since I can never ask the question, "what is that I truly want?" and so am barred from ever asking, "what is it that we truly want?".
I was recently reminded of these lectures by O'Donovan and found that re-reading the final one in particular was a very fruitful exercise. If only more Christian discussions of homosexuality were as patient and gracious.