10/28/17

Top theologian Gregory Baum was a voice for modernity in the Catholic Church

Gregory Baum Roman is shown in this July 13, 1970 photo.

By

Gregory Baum was one of Roman Catholicism’s outstanding theologians of the 20th century, who let the Holy Spirit – rather than the institutional church – direct his restless, curious mind and could never understand why it landed him so consistently in controversy, criticism and vilification.

He called himself “the first Catholic theologian who publicly defended the ethical status of homosexual love.” He was reputed to be the author – certainly he was involved with the production – of the Winnipeg Statement of 1968 that distanced Canada’s Catholic bishops from Pope Paul VI’s July 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae, which prohibited artificial contraception.

Dr. Baum’s writing’s were accepting of liberation theology in the face of condemnation from the Vatican. He wrote on the works of tendentious Islamic reformer Tariq Ramadan. He was one of the church’s most eloquent and uncompromising advocates for social justice and society’s marginalized groups. He authored articles and books sympathetically explaining Quebec separatism to anglophone Canadians.

Though he was born into a Protestant Jewish family, he was drawn to Catholicism and the seminary in his 20s. He later left active priesthood and, in 1978, married a former nun. His autobiography, The Oil Has Not Run Dry: The Story of My Theological Pathway, published last year, revealed he was gay and had, in his 40s, a sexual relationship with a man.

“I did not profess my own homosexuality in public,” he wrote, “because such an act of honesty would have reduced my influence as a critical theologian.”

Indeed, throughout his adult life, he was one of the church’s great theologians on ecumenism, a fact that was noted in the citation when he was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 1990. As one of the Second Vatican Council’s periti (expert theologians) in the 1960s, he wrote an early draft of Nostra Aetate (In Our Time) – “The Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions” – that moved the church into the sunlight of accepting the unified spiritual goals of all humankind and especially the bonds between Christians and Jews, ending the church’s centuries-old branding of Jews as the killers of Jesus Christ.

He believed it was essential for the Catholic Church to change, to let power devolve from Rome. Well before the clerical sex-abuse scandal erupted, he diagnosed the church as “a company that becomes so big that it can’t be run any more.” Any management consultant, he wrote, would take one look at the church and would say, “This is simply impossible. You have to decentralize, you have to delegate. You need a different system.”

After studying for two years at New York’s New School for Social Research in the 1970s, he pioneered the introduction of sociology to religion, embracing the teachings and writings of political theorist Hannah Arendt and classical sociologists Marx, Tocqueville, Durkheim, Weber among others.

At the core of his theological convictions – and explaining so much of what he did – lay the writings of the early-20th-century French philosopher Maurice Blondel. They led to what may have been his most important book, Man Becoming: God in Secular Language, assessing positively Blondel’s acknowledgment of God’s redemptive presence in human history.

God, in other words, existed in the nitty-gritty of life – an “insider God,” as Toronto’s Regis College academic Mary Jo Leddy explained Dr. Baum’s view. You fall in love? That’s God at work.

God was on the ground with grace – the benevolence shown by God toward the human race, the spontaneous gift from God to people, “generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved.”

As leading Canadian Catholic Church scholar Michael Higgins wrote of Dr. Baum six years ago, the embrace of Blondel’s thought “proved to be Baum’s Copernican revolution. Henceforth his writing, research, teaching, and activism would be shaped by Blondel’s views: his theological anthropology; his rejection of the church’s negative valuation of the secular; his belief in the ubiquity of grace.

“It was not a big step,” Dr. Higgins said, “from Baum’s adoption of Blondel’s inclusivity to his realization that God is mediated by all kinds of things besides the institutional church.” Not a big step for Dr. Baum, but a step many others could never take.

Dr. Baum died Oct. 18 in Montreal of kidney failure. He was 94. When he had entered hospital several days earlier, he told friends he was “disappearing inside.” Those, such as Dr. Leddy, who came from across Central and Eastern Canada to visit him in his last days found him sunny, genial and serene as death approached.

Blondel’s impact was the goalpost in the evolution of Dr. Baum’s thought – the finish line to the formal shaping of his mind. The whole journey of his life was an opening of his thought to God’s presence in history exhibiting an inclusiveness that outreached the writ of the institutional church.

Gerhard Albert Baum was born in Berlin on June 20, 1923, to Bettie (née Meyer) and Franz Siegfried Baum. His well-to-do Protestant father died early and his Jewish mother had a passion for medieval art and Gothic and Romanesque architecture, to which she introduced her son.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, she made the choice to send her 17-year-old son to England to escape persecution under the Nazi race laws. She never saw him again.

As a nurse, she became infected with pneumonia in the hospital where she worked and died during the war.

When he arrived, the teenager was interned by the British along with other German older teens and adults – many of them scholars who became volunteer teachers in the internship camps, which enthused him.

He was transferred in 1940 to an internship camp in Quebec. He came to the attention of a woman active in volunteer work who sponsored him to attend McMaster University in Hamilton, where he studied mathematics and physics.

He also began reading Catholic thinkers Thomas Aquinas and Étienne Gilson.who established the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies at University of Toronto.

One Christmas he was given a gift of The Confessions of St. Augustine, the autobiography of the great Church Father detailing, among other things, his conversion to Christianity – and the young student was hooked. In the year he graduated from McMaster, 1946, he decided to enter the Augustinian religious order to become a priest. At this point he adopted the name Gregory.

After ordination, he was sent by his order to Switzerland’s University of Fribourg for graduate studies. Along the way he read a book on the Catholic Church’s treatment of Jews and was appalled.

His dissertation, touching on the subject, was completed in 1956 and published two years later under the title That They May Be One: A Study of Papal Doctrine (Leo XIII–Pius XII).

The dissertation came to the attention of German Jesuit Cardinal Augustin Bea and Dutch priest Johannes Willebrands, president and secretary respectively of the Vatican’s newly established Secretariat for Christian Unity. They admired the book, and Dr. Baum found himself appointed to the Secretariat, assigned to help prepare for the Second Vatican Council announced by Pope John XXIII in 1959.

Dr. Baum later told the story of Cardinal Bea, during the Council years, assigning his staff to guard their manuscripts until they got to the translators and were published, to save them from being snatched and their texts altered by church conservatives.

Nostra Aetate was easily one of the most important and – particularly with its section on the Catholic Church’s relationship with Jews – one of the most controversial documents to emerge from the Second Vatican Council. It made Gregory Baum’s name as a theologian and confirmed him as a leading interpreter of the Council’s accomplishments.

It also established him as a clear spokesman and writer on the church in the modern world – a role which he carried out for five years, on Cardinal Bea’s instructions, travelling around North America giving talks on the Council’s work before taking up a professorship at University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto.

The church was unable to contain his application of Blondellian thought and roaming intellectual curiosity.

Michael Higgins wrote of him, “Baum defines himself not as a theological shaper or foundational thinker, but as a journalist following his curiosity wherever it leads him.

“To Baum, one should note, ‘journalist’ does not betoken a scribbler with a deadline, but rather someone inexhaustibly fascinated with ideas, intellectual trends, and currents.” In an interview, Dr. Higgins called him an experimenter and explorer.

University of Toronto’s Prof. Stephen Scharper, a scholar in anthropology, environment and religion who did his doctorate under Dr. Baum’s supervision, described his work as “being attentive to where the Spirit was calling him.”

It called him repeatedly into controversy and censure, from which Dr. Baum never flinched.

He was thunderously criticized by the church hierarchy and had restrictions placed on his teaching after publicly dissenting from the Vatican’s 1976 Declaration on Sexual Ethics, with its strictures against homosexuality.

He was censured for declaring that the church was not immune from the social and institutional toxins that infect other organizations.

He himself openly criticized the church governance of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI – the latter who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led the Vatican’s powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s thought police (and whom Dr. Baum knew well as a fellow peritus at Vatican 2).

His frequent public speeches, to say the least, got up the nose of his superiors (his 1987 Massey Lecture explored liberation theology and its justifying biblical exegesis, much of which the Vatican considered Marxist).

Dr. Baum’s openness toward the ordination of women and gay marriage also made him a target for conservatives.

The mildest of his critics labelled him a dilettante driven by mere trendy nonconformism.

In the late 1970s, he was summoned by his Augustinian order under direction from Rome to return to the order’s monastery which he refused to do.

He eventually withdrew from active priestly ministry and accepted a teaching position at McGill University after reaching the then-mandatory age of 65 retirement at University of Toronto. In 1978, he married former nun Shirley Flynn. Her death in 2007 left him grieving her loss for the remainder of his life.

His departure from the priesthood was a mystery to many who knew him, until the publication of his 2016 autobiography revealed that he left the church because of his personal commitment to being gay.

Even before this revelation he had long been demonized by conservative Catholics for his writings and teachings. A 2012 interview on Catholic Salt + Light TV that he did with its chief executive, Rev. Thomas Rosica, generated hundreds of furious, outraged e-mails. “Yet Gregory was a very significant theologian of the Second Vatican Council,” Rev. Rosica said. “We owe much to him for his role in the decree of ecumenism and interfaith relations.”

Complete Article HERE!

08/27/16

Former president Mary McAleese: Seminaries in Ireland should be ‘gay friendly

By Geraldine Gittens

Former president Mary McAleese has said that seminaries in Ireland should be “gay friendly”.

Mary McAleese

Mary McAleese

This week it emerged that a closer eye will be kept on how Maynooth’s seminarians spend their time from now on as part of a stricter regime being introduced in the wake of the gay dating app scandal.

The Irish Independent reported that all trainee priests will now be required to eat their evening meal in the college rather than being allowed to dine wherever they choose. They will also be required to attend evening rosary at 9pm, which hasn’t been obligatory until now.

The seminary council will now eat both breakfast and dinner with the seminarians in the historic Pugin Hall rather than in the Professors’ Refectory.

But Dr McAleese, a staunch Catholic who campaigned fearlessly for a yes vote in the same-sex marriage referendum, told the Daniel O’Connell Summer School in Kerry yesterday that the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality was worryingly dangerous, according to the Irish Times.

“We have the phenomenon of men in the priesthood who are both heterosexual and homosexual but the church hasn’t been able to come to terms with the fact that there are going to be homosexuals in the priesthood, homosexuals who are fine priests,” Mary McAleese said.

“They haven’t been able to come to terms with that because the teaching of my church, the Catholic Church, tells them that homosexuality is, of its nature, intrinsically disordered – those are the words of Pope Benedict and that homosexual acts are, in his words, evil,” she added.

“I am just worried that the Maynooth controversy seems to be concentrating on the wrong things. A seminary should be a place where people feel welcomed, not somewhere where they feel welcomed, not somewhere where they feel policed – after all, there are young people who haven’t yet taken a vow of celibacy.”

In 2012, Pope Benedict sent two archbishops to Maynooth to investigate whether it was “gay friendly”.

“They wanted to be reassured that neither place was, in their words, ‘gay friendly’… so they walked away happy that they were gay unfriendly, hostile to gay people – what sort of message does that send out to young men who are there who are gay, to priests who are gay?” Dr McAleese said.

The tighter controls being implemented in the seminay are part of a suite of measures announced on Wednesday by the trustees of Maynooth which included a review of “appropriate use of the internet and social media” by the 50 or so trainee priests and their staff.

Earlier this month, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of ­Dublin withdrew his seminarians from Maynooth following allegations that students were using gay dating app Grindr.

Complete Article HERE!

08/19/16

Guess What? Most Homophobes Are Actually a Lil’ Bit Gay, According to Latest Study

Guess What? Most Homophobes Are Actually a Lil' Bit Gay, According to Latest Study

By Nicolas DiDomizio

Earlier this year, a small group of self-identified homophobic men were given the chance of a lifetime. They were presented with the rare opportunity to prove — despite the pervasive theory that homophobia is an expression of repressed homosexuality — that they themselves are actually straight.

And they failed! Lol.

giphy

Such are the results of a study recently published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, titled “Homophobia: An Impulsive Attraction to the Same Sex?

Researchers at the University of Geneva tested 38 heterosexual male subjects by having them first rate their levels of “homonegativity” to determine how antigay each of them were. Then the men participated in a sneaky little series of photo experiments designed “to evaluate their impulsive approach tendencies toward homosexual stimuli.”

The first experiment involved showing the (again: straight male) subjects a series of images of straight or gay couples in the center of a computer screen, and then repeatedly moving a small human figure toward or away from the central image several times. The second test required the men to rate images of gay or straight couples while equipment monitored how long their gaze lingered on each picture.

Altogether, the tests revealed that “men with a high homonegativity score looked significantly longer at homosexual than at heterosexual photographs,” while the non-homophobic men skipped by them more casually, at a “neutral” pace.

“For some homophobic men, there is a conflict between their reflective and their impulsive system,” lead researcher Boris Cheval said in an email. “They declare themselves as anti-gay, but [at] the same time they have an impulsive attraction toward same sex stimuli.”

“They declare themselves as anti-gay, but [at] the same time they have an impulsive attraction toward same -sex stimuli.”

Cheval previously told PsyPost that these results alone don’t exactly prove the men’s homophobic views are because of their own repressed homosexual desires. But he did point to a hidden gem of a study from 1996 for further reading.

In the 1996 study, researchers exposed 35 self-identified homophobes and 29 non-homophobes to gay, straight and lesbian porn. The men’s dicks were then literally monitored throughout the viewing process for each, which is just savage and amazing.

“Only the homophobic men showed an increase in penile erection to male homosexual stimuli,” that study concluded. “Homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies.”

Complete Article HERE!

07/19/16

Catholicism and LGBT discrimination

By Father Paul Keller, C.M.F.

rainbow flag church_flickr

We have once again witnessed a devastating and horrific act of mass murder. On June 12, 2016 a violent young man and fellow citizen who was heavily-armed, psychologically-troubled, and professing hatred of LGBT people and allegiance to a radical and violent form of Islam killed 49 people and injured another 53. These kinds of mass shootings happen regularly in the United States; this is the most recent and the most lethal.

Many have responded with the usual statements about keeping those who have died and their loved ones in our thoughts and prayers. But some Catholic bishops have responded to the shootings at Pulse, the Orlando gay nightclub, in a way that goes beyond these all-too-familiar sentiments. Instead, these bishops seem to be adopting the much more inclusive pastoral vision of Pope Francis—a vision that embraces a “culture of encounter” with those with whom one has serious disagreements.

Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida called for a ban on weapons designed for mass killing and rejected barring all Muslims from the country as un-American. But this was not all he said. He also expressed dismay that religious people can express hatred and contempt for LGBT people in a way that makes acts of violence against them more likely.

Similarly, Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago decried gun violence and, addressing the gay and lesbian community as “our brothers and sisters,” said, “We stand with you.” Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, CA wrote, “This tragedy is a call for us as Catholics to combat ever more vigorously the anti-gay prejudice which exists in our Catholic community and in our country.”

To understand the true impact of the bishops’ words, one must also consider the other statements from the church regarding LGBT people. In 1997 the Committee on Marriage and Family Life of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released the document “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers.” This document was warmly welcomed by some for the kind, pastoral tone it adopted. It was criticized for the same reason by others, who wanted a more rigorous emphasis on homosexual behavior as seriously sinful.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial.” (Church officials using the terms LGBT or gay and lesbian is still a very recent and rare occurrence.) The catechism continues: “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

Leaving aside for the moment the philosophical and technical meanings of the term objectively disordered, what is “unjust” discrimination? In 1992 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) released “Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons.” In this statement there is a condemnation of violence against gays and lesbians; however, there is also an acceptance of many other forms of “just” discrimination against LGBT people—in housing, employment, adoption, and military service. From this statement, it seems that the only unacceptable behavior against LGBT people is a violent attack.

The recent statements of the bishops responding to the tragedy in Orlando seem to go beyond the very mediocre, minimalist understanding of discrimination offered by the CDF. In a very Pope Francis-like move, these bishops directly or indirectly address some very challenging questions to the church itself. What does it mean for us to consider LGBT people “our brothers and sisters”? In what ways do Catholics breed contempt for LGBT people? Where can we find and how can we combat the anti-gay prejudice that exists in the Catholic community?

We need our bishops to give us guidance concerning the anti-LGBT prejudice and contempt that exists within the Catholic Church. A continuing silence is not morally courageous or pastorally responsible.

No normal human being should have any problem condemning acts of violence directed toward someone because of his or her sexual orientation. However, as a Catholic community, we need to do much more than just condemn violence. For example, it is legal in many states to fire someone for being gay, lesbian, or transgender. If we believe that this represents unjust discrimination, then how is it that our church is not on the front line working to end it? Surely we can’t congratulate ourselves because we explicitly condemn violence against LGBT people. Who doesn’t? Can’t we as a church do better than that? Shouldn’t we be actively doing something to end other forms of unjust discrimination?

Given the way that the Catholic Church has spoken about LGBT people and given the church’s stance against the moral acceptability of homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage, we will probably not be a welcome presence in the fight against LGBT discrimination, at least initially. However, that is all the more reason to speak out. If the Catholic Church is to have any moral credibility when we address issues like same-sex marriage or the natural moral ends of sexual intimacy, then we as Catholics must be willing to spend time and money fighting against injustices suffered by our LGBT brothers and sisters. We should not feel as if we need to change or water down our moral teachings, but we should look and act a lot more like Jesus Christ in our fight for justice. This is one of the more powerful lessons we should be learning from Pope Francis.

For some, the only experience they might have of the Catholic Church is being told that they or their favorite uncle, kindest teacher, or most generous neighbor is “gravely disordered,” “intrinsically evil,” or an “abomination.” In the face of having their dignity or that of the people they love diminished and insulted, these people, without an understanding of the technical vocabulary of moral theology, may conclude that it is the church itself that is “gravely disordered” or “intrinsically evil.” In order to persuade them that this is not the case, the Catholic Church should be much more willing to work in solidarity with and on behalf of communities that are suffering unjustly, even when we do not agree with all the beliefs of that community.

Complete Article HERE!

08/15/12

Weighty Matters

I’m cross-posting, here, an exchange I had with a correspondent on my sex advice site this morning. I believe it will be both relevant and insightful to my audience on this site. — Richard

Name: Seattle Guy
Gender: Male
Age: 27
Location: Seattle
Dr. Dick – Were you really a Roman Catholic priest? I’m Catholic – and trying to figure out where I stand sexually. I’d be gay in a second if I had confidence that was my authentic self. I’m definitely bi – somewhere in the middle. Anyway, have you discovered any insights in your experience how God fits into our sexuality? But I guess I should ask, do you still believe in God? How did you find your way to producing porn? How does God figure in everything, in your opinion? Do you think a soul has a sexuality? Are these too many questions? Any response you have would be very appreciated!

Yes, Seattle Guy, you have way too many questions! But because you asked so nicely, I’ll do my best to answer each and every one. Because I’m such a friggin sweet guy.

“Were you really a Roman Catholic priest?” I were, I really were! I was a Catholic priest for 19 years. Technically I still am a priest, but I no longer practice in that capacity. Here’s a little known fact, I am the only Catholic priest in the whole wide world with a doctorate in Clinical Sexology. How about them apples? That and a $1.50 gets me a ride on the bus.

I completed my doctorate with the publication of my thesis concerning the sexual attitudes and behaviors of gay Catholic priests in the active ministry in 1981. This was unprecedented research back then. Hell, it’s groundbreaking even now. Needless to say, there was a firestorm of international publicity upon publication. I was soon to be known as “The Gay Priest.” Like if I was the only one. This notoriety (some would say infamy) effectively ended my public priesthood. I fought the Vatican for the next 13 years, from 1981-1994, in an attempt to salvage my priesthood and ministry, but they would have none of it. I published a book about my ordeal, Secrecy, Sophistry And Gay Sex In The Catholic Church; The Systematic Destruction Of An Oblate Priest. It came out last summer. (Click on the title for more information about the book.)

I was kicked out of the religious community I belonged to, but I was never defrocked. So, like I said, technically I’m still a man of the cloth. Scary huh? And what a difference 30+ years makes. The political climate in the church is even more repressive than it was in the early 80’s, but now openly gay men serve as priests all over the world. I can’t explain it either.

So you’re a Catholic too, OK. But you’re still (at 38) trying to figure out where you stand sexually. I’m not sure I know what that means. You say you’d be gay in a minute if you thought that was your authentic self. You’re bi for sure…somewhere in the middle. In the middle of what, may I ask? You’ll pardon me, darlin’, but you sound suspiciously like a mugwump. Do you know what that is? A mugwump is a fence-sitter, someone with his mug on one side and his wump on the other. The reason I say that is if your were authentically bi, you’d leave it at that, as do all authentically bi men.

“Have you discovered any insights in your experience how God fits into our sexuality?” You betcha I have! But I have a completely different take on this then you apparently do. Ya see I would have phrased the question in the reverse. How does our sexuality fit into god? The way you have it, suggests that the infinite can fit into the finite. And this is precisely where most religious people go very, very wrong. We do god a disservice by trying to stuff the divine into the mundane.

My sexuality fits into god when I am honest and authentic with myself about who I am and acknowledge my insignificance in the greatness of creation, I fit into god when I honor my sexuality, when I celebrate it, when I give it as a gift. I do not fit into god when I am dishonest with myself, or others, when I falsely claim my own significance in the mind of god and when I belittle god with my pettiness and insecurity.

You’ll notice that I was careful not to mention anything about sexual orientation, even though I think that’s what you were ultimately asking me about. Mugwumps are so predictable. Ya see sexual orientation, as we currently understand it, is a relatively new phenomenon in human history. And all of human history barely registers in cosmic history. Why do you suppose we’re so consumed about something so irrelevant to the big picture? And god is the ultimate “BIG PICTURE.” What concerns me is that you’ve come this far in your life and still haven’t been honest to god…or yourself.

Do you still believe in God? Yes, in a manner of speaking! I tend not to use the word “god” as much as I used to, because it comes with too much cultural baggage. I prefer the term, “divine. But whatever I call it, I’m positive my god is nothing like your god. Your god is made in your image. My god is not made in my image. In fact, my god so unlike me — a mere fallible, insignificant mortal — as to make my god incomprehensible to the likes of me. But that doesn’t mean there’s no appreciation. There is!

“How did you find your way to producing porn?” God led me! Just kidding. Actually, I’m not kidding. It all started back in 1981, believe it or not. My career as a therapist in San Francisco coincided with the advent of HIV/AIDS . Not surprisingly, my practice evolved into working primarily with sick and dying people. In the mid-90’s I founded a nonprofit organization called, PARADIGM, Enhancing Life Near Death. It was an outreach and resource for terminally ill, chronically ill, elder and dying people. Despite the fact that this was brilliant cutting-edge work, I couldn’t find the funding I needed to keep the nonprofit alive. This precipitated a massive mid-life crisis and a rather sudden move to Seattle in 1999.

I continued to work with sick and dying people here. I developed programming for women newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer and men with prostate cancer. This lead me to develop concepts for videos for people experiencing life threatening and/or disfiguring illnesses; to help them deal with reintegrating sex and intimacy into their life post diagnosis. But I needed to find funding for this ambitious project. I soon realized that no mainline foundation would fund an overtly sexual project like this. I would have to fund this on my own. But how? Friends prevailed on me to start by making porn. I’d make a load of money and then I could turn my attention back to the original project — death and dying work. Thus Daddy Oohhh! Productions was born. Unfortunately, the load of money has yet to materialize. But while I was shooting porn, my focus is to create projects that are different in style and tone from what currently rules the marketplace.

“How does God figure in everything, in your opinion?” Once again, I think you’ve got that backwards. The better question, to my mind, is: How does everything figure into god? And here my answer echos my previous answer. If there is a god, then everything figures into god with ease and grace.

“Do you think a soul has a sexuality?” Nope, I don’t. Sexuality is part of the finite material world. It’s a bodily function that apparently goes away when our body dies. A soul, as it is popularly understood, is something other. What precisely? I can’t really say. Hey, maybe something else takes the place of sexuality in the spiritual world, if there is a spiritual world. I guess you and I will just have to wait to find out.

In the meantime, wouldn’t it be great if you freed yourself up to be exactly who you are? And not wait on someone, especially someone of a religious bent, to give you permission to do so, or tell you what you can and cannot be.

Good luck

10/15/11

The Dark Heart of Homophobia

I’m riding the bus when we come to a stop near a local high school. Five teenage boys get on. They are all jocks—football, probably. Their jackets are emblazoned with varsity letters and they appear to be fresh from practice. Each carries an oversized duffel.

They are boisterous and full of menacing bravado. The bus is immediately overwhelmed with a rush of testosterone. As they move toward the back of the bus, they purposely jostle everyone in their path. They are rude and crude and every other word is fuck.

The bus lurches forward, and my fellow passengers instinctively know not to make eye contact. The older women clutch their belongings tight to their bosom. Everyone is tense.

The pack mentality emboldens the young men, who are flush with their newly discovered sense of male privilege. Hormones rage in their adolescent bodies, yet there is an awkward childishness about them too. They are alpha, but only in as much as they are part of a pack.

They have off-color comments for everyone around them. Girls are singled out for the most abuse. They make insinuations about their sexual prowess, while pawing at their groins. The women blush with embarrassment.

Despite being loud, obnoxious and brutish, they lack conviction. They giggle too much, indicating self-consciousness. It’s apparent that, at their core, they are still very uneasy about themselves, and have yet to grow into and own the alpha maleness they mimic.

The bus approaches the next stop, and several of us get up to exit. A nerdy boy with glasses and a violin case accidentally trips over one of the teen’s duffel bags. This is the spark. The jocks erupt, lunging at the offending kid. He is easy prey. He’s petrified, but his survival instincts kick in, and he quickly maneuvers further up the aisle. I grab his shoulder and push him toward the door ahead of me. He makes his escape.

Now I’m in the line of fire. The rear door is only a couple steps away, but I stand my ground. The jocks size me up. I’m not an easy mark; I’m older and more dominant than any of them as individuals, but they trump me as a group. I may even be dangerous. In a split-second, the teens reevaluate the situation and instead of coming at me, they try to take me down with their best verbal shot: “You motherfucking fag!”

I move to the door. This could end very badly for me, but I will not show any weakness. Adrenaline courses through my bloodstream. I alight from the bus, holding the door open so I can briefly yell back. “Hey, thanks for the recognition. Oh, and for your information, its father-fucking, brother-fucking and/or son-fucking fag, never mother-fucking. Get it?”

By the time the jocks realize what’s happened, the bus is in motion, and I am safe.

The teens thought better of physically attacking me, so they did the next best thing. It’s what most threatened males do: they tried to diminish the threat by calling into question my masculinity. And they do it in that time-honored way—by inferring I was a defective male, a queer, and a sissy. Trouble is, I am queer, and I owned it—right in their faces. On top of that, I stood up to them and even had the temerity to publicly shame them. So that had to be unsettling to them on several levels.

How did the derogatory epithet fag become the quintessential means of destroying the male ego? Why has the only somewhat less offensive slur, “that’s so gay,” become emblematic for everything stupid, negative or girly? These questions get to the root of our culture’s deeply ingrained homophobia.

I contend that homophobia is rooted in a fear and hatred of women. It’s no accident that when we want to denigrate a man we call him a pussy—the same word we use to refer to female genitals. In our culture, men are superior to women—it’s the oily by-product of male privilege. A man who falls short of this lofty ideal, or, god forbid, assumes a passive role in sex, cheapens the “privilege” for all other males. This is a particularly sensitive issue for ostensibly heterosexual men.

This prohibition is so deep-seated in our culture, one can trace its roots back to the Bible. Leviticus 20:13: “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death.” In biblical days, women were nothing more than chattel. For a man to behave like a woman—particularly in a passive, receptive sexual way—back then was an even greater insult to the male privilege than it is nowadays (which explains the whole capital punishment thing.)

Women are also objectified as sexual objects before men dominate them. A woman is not so much a person as she is a collection of parts—tits, pussy, ass, etc. A heterosexual man, familiar with and practiced in this dynamic, will not tolerate another male objectifying him as a sexual object, either real or imagined.

These cultural triggers are exceptionally easy to trip. With very little effort at all, we can debase a man simply by suggesting that there’s a whiff of the feminine about him or that his cock is small. In turn, the slandered male is burdened with proving the contrary, which often leads to overcompensation. To deflect suspicion, some men affect a macho bravado so as to appear even more masculine than their peers. And how better to do that than to suggest someone else is a pansy?

I can say for certain that all those boys on the bus had been, at one time or another, accused of being a fag. It’s exceedingly common in sports for even teammates to insinuate a fellow athlete is not performing up to expectations. Each of them must have known the sting of that reproach. Some may even have had self-doubt about their own sexual tendencies. That’s why they hurled at me what they knew would hurt any other self-respecting male the most.

What they didn’t count on was that I had, long ago, inoculated myself against this poison. I own, even revel, in my queer sexuality. An insult doesn’t work if the one insulted self-identifies as the slur.

Institutionalized homophobia, on the other hand, is more insidious. The dominant culture enshrines male privilege and, like the boys on the bus, punishes anyone who attempts to undercut the paradigm. Discrimination is so widespread, ingrained—and sometimes so subtle—that many non-gay people don’t even notice most of it. But those of us on the receiving end of the bigotry are keenly aware.

It’s a particularly acute problem for young people who know they are different, and different in a way that isn’t tolerated of by the dominant culture. They are much more vulnerable because they have yet to developed the emotional resources to counteract the oppression. They don’t yet realize that it’s society’s problem, not theirs. Their peers mercilessly persecute them. And for the most part, authority figures don’t even try to stop the torment. That’s why young gay people commit suicide at a rate of about seven times that of straight kids.

You may have noticed that I’ve framed this presentation in terms of the natural world. Dominant and submissive behaviors in other species often have sexual overtones, especially in other primate species. A dominant male will harass a male subordinate until he submits and presents his rump. This establishes a pecking order in the troupe: a subordinate male is submissive and the dominant male is in control.

Some straight men see gay men as a threat, instinctively fearing a supposed challenge to the established order of things; who is in control. It’s basically a struggle for dominance and troupe status. A gay person who is a productive member of society, who is indistinguishable from his heterosexual counterparts, ups the ante. He’s a threat to anyone who believes what he has been told all his life—that gays are perverted, miserable, lonely people who live short, desperate lives.

Institutionalized homophobia impacts so many aspects of our culture. It may be obvious how it skews our notions of sex and sexuality, of who can do what to whom and when. But did you know that it is often an underlying cause of much male sexual dysfunction? It also contaminates national policy in terms of public health issues, military readiness and the rights and freedoms we afford our citizenry. Most religious traditions force their priests, ministers and religious women and men to live duplicitous lives, which contradict the basic tenants of every religion. The business sector also suffers. Harassment and intimidation of gay workers result in loss of productivity costing businesses millions every year. But the most tragic is the toll it takes on individual relationships. Families are torn apart, friendships end, and people sometimes are killed or kill themselves over a futile and misguided attempt to uphold the status quo.