They’re Just Making Stuff Up

Rob Tisinai

April 16th, 2013

Anthony Esolen is a literature professor at Providence College, a Catholic school in Rhode Island. He’s joined NOM as “the latest addition to the Ruth Institute Circle of Experts” and, well, he’s not off to a good start.

His first contribution is a long, meandering complaint that lust is bad and dominating our culture, while romantic love is good but on the wane. Esolen goes on and on, writing sentence after sentence, each more vague, transcendent, and floppy than the last, until finally you wonder if he’s an actual English professor or just a fictional creation meant to parody one. Here’s a sample:

Beasts copulate; but men and women are meant to marry. They perform the marital act; they know, when they unite in that act, that it is, or it ought to be, the seal of a love that, to quote another of Shakespeare’s sonnets, “bears it out even to the edge of doom.” We are the creatures aware of time, and oriented toward eternity. We know that the act of marriage brings into the bond of love the past generations, whose history we bear in our loins, and the present, and the future, in the child that may be born of the act. We cannot copulate! We cannot forget, when we unite, that we are doing what our parents did…

And I had to stop there because it’s just too funny. It’s a mark of how bad Anthony Esolen’s writing is, this unintended statement that whenever he has sex he can’t stop thinking about his parents (wasn’t there a Friends episode about that?). And, of course, the exclamation point in “We cannot copulate!”

He gives us nearly 1500 words of this, but the very beginning is what really sets me off:

Several weeks ago, Saint Valentine’s Day at my school came and went. There was no dance. There was no concert. There was no ice cream social. There was no party for trading little gifts. There was no showing of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon or Marty or Goodbye, Mr. Chips or Casablanca. There were no foolish and innocent flirtations on the way to class.

I can believe — though I heartily doubt — Esolen went to the trouble of confirming there was no dance, no concert, no ice cream social, no special screening. I do have to wonder how he determined no one threw a party to trade little gifts (though between that and the ice cream social, it sounds like he’s confusing young adults celebrating their love with second-graders in homeroom).

I draw the line, however, at believing there was nobody flirted with anybody on their way to class. That’s when I realized: Anthony Esolen has nothing to say. He’s just sitting at his desk, making crap up. Perhaps he meant this as a poetic flourish or hyperbole, but if so it’s bad poetic flourish and lame hyperbole.

I guess this is trivial, but it’s also symptomatic of a bigger problem: The anti-gay movement in general has nothing left to say. They’re left with meaningless rhetoric or outright lies — as when their attorney at the Supreme Court argued DOMA wasn’t borne out of anti-gay animus, but simply a desire to standardize marriage law across states, or just the other day when NOM falsely claimed once again that the Regnerus and Sirota studies were about same-sex parenting.

If I’ve grown more snarky lately (and I have) it’s because our opponents have stopped giving us red meat to chew over. It’s all cotton candy from them now. Just wave your hand through it and you’re left with nothing but a stickly, sickly mess.

Jim Burroway

April 16th, 2013

If I’ve grown more snarky lately (and I have) it’s because our opponents have stopped giving us red meat to chew over. It’s all cotton candy from them now. Just

Yes! Yes! Yes!

When I started this blog in 2005, I had one goal in mind. It was to examine carefully the social science arguments of our opponents, examined the evidence that they presented, and present the results. In 2005, that looked like it would keep a blog going full-time. But it’s been years since they’ve even tried to pretend to take real data seriously and are now just giving us fluff.


April 16th, 2013

This is a really GREAT Article!!! Honestly one of your best ones! Question for you, did you read the whole thing?

This really is hysterical. What is it with these English Professors, Robert Oscar Lopez is also an English Professor.

You mentioned Regnerus briefly, did you see that John Becker filed a lawsuit in Florida to get at the peer review and publishing of the Regnerus Study?


April 16th, 2013

Oh, I remember your fisking of his piece on “tolerance.” This guy sure is a gem.

“We cannot forget, when we unite, that we are doing what our parents did…”

Sorry, but ew, ew, ew. Paging Dr. Freud!


April 16th, 2013

“Cotton candy”- good metaphor! But what can you expect from people who have practically no experience with the real world?


April 16th, 2013

“Dr J” picks these people and they are as crazy as she is. I subscribed to her podcast for a while. She would often start a talk in a lucid way and present fairly logically and compelling, although not very insightful, arguments. Then she would turn off into a crazy land and describe our future a nightmare of religious repression as state-enforced breeding programs. I can’t believe anyone takes her seriously after these bizzare rants.

She has a really bad case of nostiaga for the pre-60s past and a pretty wrapped view of American society today.

Bose in St. Peter MN

April 16th, 2013

In another piece on Tolerance, the good professor likens celibate ex-gay men to wanna-be mass shooters who just haven’t pulled the trigger yet:

“If a man said, ‘Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to open fire upon a bus full of professionals. Oh, I’ll never do it, but just imagine the blood,’ we’d rightly consider reporting him to the police.”

No surprise that he thought this was a smart conclusion to arguing that his 12-y/o son should never suffer the indignity during adolescence of sharing public space with gay kids or adults:

“He should not have to suffer, by suggestion or invitation or public example or enticement or moral sophistry, any complication along his way to becoming a healthy man, able to love a woman in a healthy way.”

Kevin F.

April 16th, 2013

I hold a degree in English from a Catholic University. I can assure you many of us do copulate!


April 16th, 2013

Seems more like cobwebs to me. Nasty, but easy to tear through…. unless they can create enough sheer volume of the stuff to catch something.

Rob Tisinai

April 16th, 2013

Oh gosh, I totally forgot about his piece on tolerance, which I looked at here:

The funny part is in that piece I wrote, “It’s easy to summarize the man’s essay, because it says so little. It’s hard to do it using his own words, because he uses so many.” I wanted to say something like that here, but having forgotten who I’d written that about, I thought, “No, I’ve used that before” and dismissed it.


April 16th, 2013

It sounds like a wordy recapitulation of the essentialist Natural Law of Catholic doctrine. It’s the diagrammatic idea that there are only two types of people, male and female, and that these sexes have prescribed characteristics which allow only heterosexual expression.

Anything outside a dogmatic understanding of the Natural Law assumption must be judged wrong. The natural world must conform the the ecclesiastical reasoning about Nature. This requires a lot of square pegs to be bashed into round holes, as it were.

Mr Esolen’s messy style is only to be expected given his main tool for composition is a fatigued hammer. It stands to reason you will struggle to find clarity amidst so many broken pegs.

Richard Rush

April 16th, 2013

I’m wondering if Esolen is trying to talk himself into the joys of HETEROsexUALITY. The sex part doesn’t seem to interest him much at all. Truly straight guys just don’t think or talk about this subject in such sterile terms.


April 16th, 2013

Eight years ago, Professor Esolen penned “Ten Arguments for Sanity,” which claimed that the case for same-sex marriage was insane. Paraphrasing his arguments:

#1. Same-sex marriage would endorse the “sexual revolution” by implying that non-procreative sex is morally acceptable.

#2. Non-procreative sex is particularly heinous because it fails to symbolically link the lovers to their ancestors and descendants.

#3. It’s hard enough for men and women to come together; endorsing non-procreative sex will lessen society’s sense that procreation is tremendously important, and thus will lead to fewer heterosexual (procreative) marriages.

#4. Endorsing non-procreative sex will lessen society’s sense that fornication is intrinsically morally evil.

#5. Endorsing the view that homosexuality exists will cause straight men to shy away from forming deep, emotional bonds with other men, out of fear that their friend is gay.

#6. Endorsing non-procreative sex leads to polygamy and incest. In fact, non-procreative sex is *worse* than procreative polygamy, since procreative polygamy “does not violate the biology of the people involved”.

#7. Endorsing non-procreative sex will lead to increase in divorce, since the rejection of non-procreative sex and divorce are both grounded in the claim that humans have a moral obligation to subordinate their sex and relationship choices to the common good of society.

#8. Same-sex marriage “normalizes an abnormal behavior”. Homosexuality is the product of bad parenting, etc.

#9. Homosexual sex is so horrifyingly bad for the homosexuals themselves that a society which despises and suppresses homosexual sex is actually doing homosexuals a favor by coercing them to live celibate lives.

#10. Endorsing the notion that homosexuality exists will cause young boys and girls to experience identity crises, as they will be unsure of their own sexual identity and thus be willing to experiment with gay sex. This will cause boys to become easy prey for male homosexual adult predators.

Furthermore, lesbianism is “more dangerous” than male homosexuality because it involves “a far more radical rejection of the opposite sex,” though an explanation of the cause and dangerous consequences of lesbianism would require a whole new essay.

1 and 2:
3 and 4:
5 and 6:
7 and 8:
9 and 10:

Patrick C

April 16th, 2013

Wait, Casablanca? It’s been a long time but wasn’t her character married to a man other than Humphrey Bogart’s character? I don’t really recall that movie as being the epitome of how married people should behave.

Mark D

April 16th, 2013

Poor Esolen! Such a bad writer. So confused about sexuality, especially his own. His piece was hilarious, your analysis and comments even more so. Thanks for the laugh!


April 17th, 2013

Rob T: If you’ve grown more snarky and your later writings are examples of that, then I request MORE snark, please. Someday, AFTER we’ve achieved equal rights under the law, there will still be a need for snark as “de jure” and “de facto” do the ageless metaphoric dance – and “the snark” is the grace notes that enliven the proceedings.


April 17th, 2013

Oh, goody, now we get to be EVEN MORE dangerous than gay guys. Cool. We used to just have cheesy women’s music festivals.

Timothy Kincaid

April 17th, 2013

Now, now. He’s just trying out his entry in the Bulwer-Lyron competition.


April 17th, 2013

Even the movies he sites the heterosexula characters don’t copulate, the movies barely hint at sex.


April 17th, 2013

I love it that he quotes so admiringly the famously gay Christopher Marlowe.

The Witherspoon Institute strikes again: their writers know nothing but have opinions about everything.


April 17th, 2013

Esolen keeps talking about love. Maybe he and Bill Donohue (Catholic League) need to get together and get their stories coordinated. Donohue recently told us marriage has nothing to do with love. I’m confused.


April 17th, 2013

So what about men who can’t get women pregnant, or women who can’t get pregnant?? In this screwed up “Natural Law” world view are they not allowed to have sex??

That seems like it might be the sort of violation of people’s rights that, oh, might even get in the way of some important people…or do the rules just not apply there?

This is why religious nuts don’t get to make decisions about who has sex with who. None of this has much to do with God or Love or even Sex it’s all creepy patriarchal control issues. When people are sexually frustrated they are more easily manipulated into religious extremism.


April 17th, 2013

Not letting him ruin that sonnet for me. It’s not even specifically about romantic love. Funny that the preceding line is “Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds, nor bends with the remover to remove.”


April 17th, 2013

I live a block from Providence College. Believe me, the students who attend PC do know how to party. Just that most of it is not on campus as many of the students do not live on campus. The type of atmosphere Esolin describes was maybe true about 75 years ago. Providence College may be a Catholic college (Dominican, specifically) but its students do not walk around in sack cloth.


April 17th, 2013

I notice Esolen is very intrigued with naked males. He wrote some other confused piece about getting changed into his swimsuit with a cousin. Anyhow, in the linked piece he writes, “The boy has swum the Hellespont, naked of course, to be with Hero, and shows up in that state at the door of her castle. She flees—into her bedroom, naturally, where she ‘hides’ under the covers, and where Leander pursues her. Female provocation and male aggression, that is what we have here, and a half-hearted attempt by Hero to preserve her virginity, the aptly pronominal ‘it’ that she pretends to want to save and he seeks to have.” Is this meant to be some sort of endorsement of rape? It’s all very cringe-worthy!

Ben M

April 17th, 2013

Snowman – the natural law argument on people who are unable to get pregnant is that God could grant them pregnancy (but apparently chooses not to).

Richard Rush

April 18th, 2013

Ben M,

the natural law argument on people who are unable to get pregnant is that God could grant them pregnancy (but apparently chooses not to).

For a God that had the intelligence, skills, and power to create the universe and all its living contents in six days, granting men pregnancy would certainly be a very simple task (but He apparently chooses not to do so – even though He granted them sexual desire for each other). Since God proved He could impregnate a virgin, impregnating a man should only constitute a trivial increase in complexity.

So, why do we discriminate against some people not granted pregnancy, while others get a free pass.


April 24th, 2013

Read his latest. It somehow manages to read like homophobic propaganda and erotic boylove fiction all at once. The dude is seriously creepy.

“He has the boy’s body that shadows forth the body of a man.”

“So the father, on their treks alone, undresses before the boy as carelessly as he would undress before the dog, teaching the boy to do the same. The meaning is clear: You and I are alike. That is why we can do this.”

More at


April 28th, 2013

OMG!!!You HAVE to read this latest one from Anthony Esolen, on the Boy Scouts

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