Monday, 31 May 2010

Jesu, joy of man's desiring


I have this morbid fascination with Evangelical Christianity. As a teenager I got involved with Christians of that stripe, and for a year or two swallowed a lot of the poison they brew: there’s the obsession with sin and one’s own unworthiness, and the concomitant judgementalism. Then there’s the certainty that other belief systems are the creation of Satan, the Great Deceiver, and the constant, gnawing fear that one’s own beliefs might be leaning dangerously from True. 'The true essence of a dictatorship' says Christopher Hitchens in Hitch 22, 'is...not its its regularity but its unpredictability and caprice; those who live under it must never be able to relax, must never be quite sure if they have followed the rules correctly or not.' I can’t remember how long it took before I dropped the poisoned cup in disgust - not long - but I have never got over my intense dislike of that form of religion. It is like being greeted by a smiling host who welcomes you in most heartily, and although he treats you with great kindness, you get increasingly uneasy at the muffled shrieks and smell of charred flesh that seem to be coming from the basement.

I watch a lot of US Christers on You Tube, and enjoy hearing Matt Dillahunty skewering them. There but for the want of the grace of God go I. Occasionally, if I see a comment that particularly infuriates me, I take the writer up on it. Here’s one I read the other day. The writer is dismissing the theory that homosexuality may be genetic in origin, and thinks he’s refuting ‘Darwinism’ once and for all:

'This only leads to one concrete conclusion surrounding homosexuality - that it is a learned behavior, the same way alcoholic and drug addiction are learned behaviors. As a learned behavior, it has no natural purpose and only serves to destroy reverence of human life by diminishing the natural process by which that life can be initiated: through natural, sexual relationship between a man and woman. '

There’s a lot of nonsense packed into that paragraph. How does homosexual sex destroy reverence for human life, for example? Is he implying that learned behaviours serve no purpose? Baking, brewing, weaving, reading... man, you godda stop dat shit, cuz God gawn whup yo ass! How does this straight guy know so much about being gay, anyway? I sent the writer a message:

'If you know so much about the matter and are so confident that there is 'only one concrete conclusion' to be drawn, perhaps you could tell me how I learned to be homosexual? What must have happened in my life to have made my sexual desires akin to alcoholism or drug addiction?'

Here is part of his long reply:

‘I'm not an expert in your life, nor will I claim to be - but if I could wager a guess, I would say somewhere throughout the course of your life you were exposed to a twisted aberration of what love is and means.’

Now, if my overture to him had read ‘I think you are a Christian because your powers of reasoning were seriously impaired at an early age’ that could justifiably be taken as offensive, but I decided not to be offended, and read on. He gets quite lyrical:

‘Love is not sexual gratification. Love is not material possession. Love is not a "happily ever after" Cinderella-story. Love is not security or peace in a worldly construct. Love is not being popular or accepted by other people. Love is nothing what our society makes it out to be - yet expects us to abide by.’

The rather patronizing suggestion that as a gay man I must necessarily have a materialistic and egotistical concept of love is pretty galling, but the bloke’s heart is in the right general area, I suppose. OK, so what, then, is love? Of course, our man is quite certain:

‘Love is to be given the gift of mortal life, the promise of eternal life, and the guarantee that there is significance in every action we take in this mortal life, both now and eternally.’

So now you know. What does this have to do with homosexuality?

‘Being homosexual is not a choice not to love God. It's a choice to love the way the world says you should - which is NOT the same thing.’

Homosexuality is loving 'the way the world says you should'? The present acceptance of homosexuality in certain parts of the western world is the result of tireless civil rights campaigning against reactionary politicians, reactionary priests, reactionary judicial systems and reactionary public opinion. Homosexuality in the UK and the USA was most definitely NOT the way that particular world wanted anybody to love for a very long time. African and Middle Eastern countries are still imprisoning or hanging people for same-sex sex as we speak. The world does not easily accept its gay children. They have to fight its obduracy - hard. Especially when hate poses as loving concern:

‘The only thing I would really like to communicate to you is this - no matter what the world does to you or what you do in this world - God loves you. That is a truth that has set me free - it's a truth that can set you free too, if you choose to believe it.’

These Christians have a very odd view of ‘choice’. How do you choose to believe something you find inherently unbelievable? Can you listen to the Evangelicals’ story of the redemptive power of God’s sacrifice, a scenario that you find both wildly improbable and morally offensive, and think, ‘oh, OK, then. If my soul depends on it, I’ll believe that.’ Then they give you the one about humans ‘choosing’ to go to hell by not acquiescing to this lunatic proposition. They also like to say that homosexuality is a ‘lifestyle choice’.

Bullshit.

Did anyone reading this sit down in their teens and deliberate whether to be gay, straight or celibate? Of course they didn’t. My own experience and that of many gay men of my class, generation and acquaintance goes like this. For most boys at school, DNA and testosterone kick in on cue and wham: one day boys think girls merely a bore and a nuisance, and the next, tits and cunts take them by storm. At about the same time other boys become obsessed with female bodies, most gay boys feel no such attraction and are baffled, because they think they ought to. Then gradually it dawns on them that actually, they find themselves attracted to boys, long before they ever touch one. This is a fact they cannot share with anybody and they imagine themselves to be alone in finding other boys attractive. It will be a long time in many young gay men's lives before they find out that there are thousands of other gay men in the world. Of course, I’m lying through my teeth here to cover up the truth that all gay men are seduced and recruited as boys by lavender-scented old poufs in smoking-jacket and fez.

Being homosexual is as much a part of me as the colour of my eyes, the length of my cock, my familiar moods and reactions, the colours I like or dislike, the music that moves or repels me. If I were not gay, I wouldn't be me. I'd be a different person, and who would want that? I tend to think that homosexuality and heterosexuality have the same origin - a complex cocktail of hormones, genes, personal experience and personal preference. Probably what moves humans to procreate is not an innate and inevitable attraction of male to female - the majority do feel such attraction, admittedly, though quite obviously it is not universal - but a love of sex and a love of children. You don't have to be straight to love those things. Indeed you don't necessarily have to be full-time straight to reproduce.

God doesn’t agree with me, of course, and that does not look good for me in the eternity stakes. But never mind. Our You-Tuber is on hand to offer comfort:

‘I have a gigantic laundry list of things I've done in defiance to God.’

You do? Like what? I’m really curious. Blasphemy? Adultery? Homicide? Sacrificing a lamb with crushed bollocks unto the Lord? I suspect he means he’s thought about these things and to God, the thought equals the deed, another of His whacky rules.

‘I am not proud of them, but what I am proud of is the fact that despite having done so many bad things in this world - God still loves me and even better - He Himself has taken the burden and penalty of everything I've done. That is a truth that has set me free - it's a truth that can set you free too, if you choose to believe it.’

There’s that impossible choice again. That’s the end. He’s witnessed for Jesus at me, and I shall probably not hear from him again. 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant,' sayeth the Lord, 'but don’t get too cocky, OK? I’m watching you.'

I cannot contemplate this sort of Christianity without my gorge rising, even after thirty five years. Its hatred of the body, its 'love' tainted forever with the smell of the burning flesh in hell, and its God that monitors your every thought and condemns you for what you believe or don't believe - how the dictators of the earth must envy him that ability. So I am left mystified as to what it is that 'sets you free', from what it sets you free, or why anyone would want it, far less revere it.

*****

My correspondent replied this morning. Now, if I'm impatient with his beliefs, let me stress that I'm still touched by his concern. He told me of his past obsession with collecting illegal firearms and the dangerous situation this got him into. He then tries to connect homosexuality with dangerous addictions such as this. Finally he warns of the perils of being too concerned with the things of this fleeting sublunary life, such as family and sex. I replied:

Hi

Thanks for writing.

In the same comment that attracted my attention you say that homosexuality ‘only serves to destroy reverence of human life by diminishing the natural process by which that life can be initiated: through natural, sexual relationship between a man and woman.

Now, how does same-sex preference ‘diminish the natural process’ of the creation of life? Surely it cannot, by definition, have any effect on that process at all?

You also said that I explained how men turn to a ‘gay lifestyle’. I most emphatically didn’t! I explained how boys in some cultures who are homosexual often come to realize that homosexual desire is a part of themselves long before they have any sexual contact with other males. They are not turning to a lifestyle – they are realizing a fact of their psychological make-up. In any case the phrase ‘homosexual lifestyle’ is quite meaningless. Would you say that ‘heterosexual lifestyle’ adequately covers every form of male/female relationship worldwide over many centuries? Desire pre-exists all attempts to name, categorise, shape and regulate it.

Your dangerous fascination with weapons was interesting to read about and it’s good that in the end you came out of it a) alive and b) the better for having had the experience, but the analogy with homosexuality and collecting illegal weapons was a bit of a stretch. A lot of a stretch, in fact. One thing that is hard to communicate to some straights is the uncomplicated nature of same sex desire. A gay man looks at other men with the same desire with which a straight man looks at women. Now, my reaction to that is ‘big deal’. I don’t see any reason to build around it complicated scenarios in which innocuous desire is made comparable to drug addiction, obsession with guns, pacts with Satan and all the rest of it. These are absurd over-reactions.

I was a Buddhist once, so I was made keenly aware of the evanescent nature of life; you can’t take it with you, all is vanity, sic transit gloria mundi, and all that. However, the sane reaction to this is to realize that this life is the only one you can be totally sure of living, and a disease or a truck could snuff it out at any time. I see no point whatever in loving any kind of God more than what I have for real on earth – family, music, books, food, and Eros. This latter is no trivial thing, and I counter all attempts by the religious to diminish, demonise or deride desire as homosexual people experience it. I’m certainly not about to apologise or beg the forgiveness of Yahweh, Allah, or whatever deity is allegedly offended. They are in any case all local gods – their counterparts in other times and cultures are less exercised about what humans do in the sack.

Best wishes,

Steve

*****

He deleted my comment from his channel. This doesn't surprise me. (I think now he was a sock-puppet of the You Tube God-bothering whack-job Shock of God) If I question a comment on YouTube from a Christian, I usually receive a friendly reply, casting me in the role of seeker and the correspondent in that of mentor, delighted to be given the chance to witness for Jesus. I reply in turn with a list of objections and then there's silence. So many Evangelicals can only adopt the position of explicator. Once they get a whiff of dissent, they back off, lest they themselves be led to doubt. Their all-knowing dictator God knows what they need to think to stay in His favour. Unfortunately, they do not feel entirely confident that they are sufficiently goodthinkful to stay on the right side of Him. Heaven will be a perpetuity of undiluted Goodthinkfulness. As Christopher Hitchens points out, paradise for the saved will be like an eternal North Korea.

*****

Go here for a nice piece of fundy logic. Noah and I share a birthday!

16 comments:

Fionnchú said...

An eloquent entry. I just finished Diarmaid Ferriter's "Occasions of Sin: Sex & Society in Modern Ireland," so much of its 600 pages a sad record of suppression and shame. Attempts by the religious realm to extinguish the heart's desires seem more futile, and less convincing, than ever to many post-Christians in Europe & America, yet in the rest of the world, Christians and Muslims seem to agree in asserting less toleration in the name of a return to values. A cautionary tale to those who proclaim that all''s needed is a bit of rewiring and piety: the scandal earlier this month in the US of George Rekers and "rentboy.com." Wishing you well in your calm rational soul!

vilges suola said...

Thank you! I added a bit more after receiving a reply from my correspondent. He advocates a detachment from the things of this world which strkes me as a)something of a pose and b) a terrible risk when you consider that the things of this world are the only things you can be sure of having.

Bo said...

Lovely piece. Absolutely. μηδὲν ἄγαν, and all that.

vilges suola said...

Ευχαριστώ! He will have written me off as a lost cause now, of course.

Jane said...

Great post. I must say, it's worrying the analogies that are drawn, especially the sensationalism.

vilges suola said...

Thanks, Jane. Indeed. Extraordinary how something so unremarkable inspires such drama queenery.

Spoondoggle said...

I actually did decide to be gay when I was younger... but the fact that I still didn't find guys attractive lead me to abandon the endevour and accept that I'm stuck with women.
Luckily, my taste in women has steadily improved in the years since then and I no longer sulk about my sexuality.

(I suppose, in the interests of not propagating myths, despite the clear refutation of it, I should point out that I was actually just unsure of my sexuality and fed up with being attracted to physically lovely, but unpleasant women.)

vilges suola said...

I never found women sexually interesting and was initially quite scared that I did find boys sexy. I could never have decided, oh, well,I'll go for women instead.

Fr Hugh Jass said...

I wish to protest! Some of we clergy are perfectly accepting of our homosexualist friends. Even ome of my best Vicar-friends are gay!

vilges suola said...

Why, howdy, rev'ren! Are you related to the missing Fr Ivor Knackeroff by any chance? Or maybe his reincarnation? Lo, 'tis a miracle! I hope you don't go around spreading this stuff about some of your vicary friends being shit-stabbers. I mean, we all know it doesn't matter a toss, but no point upsetting the hoi-polloi, eh? They take it so seriously.

Fr Hugh Jass said...

I wish to dissociate myself from the disreputable Ivan Ackeroff and his rude blog. I am a respectable Vicar without a silly surname.

vilges suola said...

So it is you, then. Why did you cast the last blog to the winds?

Fr Hugh Jass said...

My Bishop thought it unsuitable for sensitive readers.

vilges suola said...

Maybe, but you didn't have any sensitive readers, did you? Only a few twats who deserved to be offended, and they were totally INsensitive.

Michael said...

First of all, never heard of him before, but watching a bit of Matt Dillahunty's work just now helped to relieve some of the unhappiness I felt catching some bullshit on the GOD channel in the States and Canada a couple of times before.

I love your use of the words, 'a complex cocktail' because as I've done some research into both the psycho-sociological, as well as the genetic, ingredients to homosexuality, it seems that there is strong evidence for both being an influence internally and externally.

And what a great, succinct conclusion to this piece. I neither have the patience or the practice that you do to back me up in writing such well-laid out logic for discussions with Christians contemplating religious morals or facts. Once I get a whiff of their devoutness, I back off, lest I may pound on them a little bit.

Finally, about my own sexuality, I was one of those that did not choose. How it all went down to defining myself came to down to the very moment I actually learned what the word 'bisexual' means. I read the definition from the dictionary, and thought to myself, "Hey! That's what I am!", and I have felt proud and extremely happy to know myself and to be one ever since.

Vilges Suola said...

I doubt if anyone chooses - I wonder why straight Christians think we do when they know full well they didn't choose themselves. Anyway, no point expecting them to make sense, I reckon. I sometimes wonder where I get the patience from too... I have another one on the go, a lovely lady who is very patiently trying to save my soul, but I'm past saving,especially when she's recommending Kent Hovind videos to me.

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