Aug 24, 2013
The story of the Fall is interpreted as the necessary step in the genesis of civilization, for if there can be no transgression of taboos and no acquisition of knowledge in retrospect, no progress can be made. Maturity needs a lot of immaturity to come before it. The forbidden fruit is interpreted as the initial objet petit a, the beginning of cathexis or investment, where the ego latches onto an object that it cannot imagine itself being happy without. And it certainly is this, but it is also the entry of the superego.
The tree has a specific name: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Before eating the fruit, Adam and Eve acted without any sense of morality, taboo, or guilt. They are ego and id, but no developed superego exists to suppress the pure, instinctual aggression of the id. To become a civilization that doesn't immediately collapse into violence, you already must have a social superego to regulate what acts are acceptable (even though these taboos must be transgressed regularly if we are not to become mindless machines). Freud likens the ego and the id to a rider attempting to control a much stronger horse; the lack of a superego would be like a rider lacking reins or saddle where no control is possible over our drives. A lack of a functioning superego has a diagnosis: psychosis.
The mythic couple is pure, psychotic id. There is already some element of the symbolic which they are immersed in. This is attested to first by their communication with the god, but the symbolic element is also seen in the god's counterpart, the serpent. The couple lives in the garden governed only by the pleasure principle, the absence of civilization making even the reality principle unnecessary. But there is still an excess that makes pure pleasure less than enough- when things are going well, we look for opportunities to self destruct. The snake that speaks is their own excessive death drive: ah, you are perfectly happy? Well let's do something to fix that.
What I find interesting about the story is that a purely psychotic couple governed only by instinctual impulses for aggression and sex would, in very short order, turn the blissful garden into a murderous hell. It's not just that the Fall is the genesis of civilization. The Fall was the salvation of the couple themselves. The acquisition of the objet petit a, like anything we ever desire, isn't able to fulfill their fantasies. But it did keep the newly neurotic one from murdering the other. Is that better? Perhaps, but repression and the return of the repressed are the same: the repression of id in the first couple allowed it to return directly as murder in their children.
Aug 13, 2013
Drew Sumrall recently published his first book, and I highly recommend it. An Essay Toward Universal Revolution is a manifesto, and it is truly rare to find find such philosophical acumen and aggressive political honesty in a text that reads more like an epistle.
“The dialectical paradox is that Christianity’s being ‘for all’ means it is in fact not for All. And it is in this way that the egalitarian struggle is- at its very core- a Christian project. The epoch of the Spirit on the horizon is that what names revolution ‘for all’ who have been excluded from All.” (47)
I particularly liked an argument that could have just as well been directed against my own all-too-common muttering equivocation- as if egalitarian and anti-egalitarian perspectives are on equal moral footing:
“This is a good lesson radicals should learn from conservatives: the only way to effect the change you want to see in the world is to accept it in its totality- that is, not only at the level of its Idea, but its consequence- and demand it... only the timid refuse to take responsibility for their position as well as themselves. Therefore radicals should learn to abandon the ridiculous modern habit of saying, ‘This is my opinion, but I may be wrong,’ as such is entirely irrational... The modern habit of saying ‘Every man has a different philosophy; this is my philosophy and it suits me’; the habit of saying this is mere weak-mindedness.” (109).
“It is no secret that the most liberating events can undergo reactionary reversals that obscure their revolutionary power. Nowhere is this logic clearer than in the figures of Marx and Christ. In the former we have the failed project of 20th century Communism, while in the latter we see the church of religious fundamentalism. In this prophetic text Sumrall calls us to recall the universal message of Christ, to let it sink into us, and to commit ourselves to the task of advancing the egalitarian kingdom of God.
“The universal that the Christ-event opens up is not actual, yet nor is it some fiction. While it may not properly exist, it is a type of specter that insists. It calls out to us, makes a demand upon us, and holds us to account. This book is a product of one who has felt that call on their life and who has embraced the responsibility that comes with it.
“An Essay Toward Universal Revolution is not then some abstract reflection attempting to understand the world, but a manifesto that seeks to reawaken within us a dangerous dream with the power to transform the world. A dream in which the silent speak, the naked are clothed, and tears are changed from despair to joy. Drew Sumrall gives us a manifesto that makes a demand on the reader, an infinite demand to put our shoulder to the wheel of history and commit ourselves to the task of pushing the world beyond the reactionary, fundamentalist universe of exclusionary power.”
“This is a work of brilliance and passion. It will reward those who allow it to draw them into new depths of thought and feeling. I hope it will introduce many to an important young author—imagine if Søren Kierkegaard had been born to a Pentecostal family, perhaps?”
—Brian D. McLaren
Aug 10, 2013
“Hypocrisy rather than heresy is the cause of spiritual decay.” - Abraham Joshua Heschel
Everyone is talking about Millennials lately, largely due to Rachel Held Evans' CNN article. If you are like me you are growing weary of it all, but a big element missing from this conversation is that youth are actually attracted to modes of belief built on an edifice of repression. We could expand the category youth/Millennial to the category everyone ever, but for whatever reason (I imagine the sense of insecurity that the 18-29 age brings, or maybe we just have a death drive), Millennials are finding repression particularly attractive.
Sure, youth are dis-affiliating as nones at unprecedented rates, and they will not return in droves necessary to sustain church affiliation at present rates. Pew Research says the number of unaffiliated rose from 15% to 20% in the last five years, but 34% of the 18-22 demographic is unaffiliated. I agree the exodus is largely driven by problems Evangelicalism (1/3 Christians in the US) has with science and sexuality. I used to be a minister, and I still get questions every week from friends from that era- almost every question is about evolution and same-sex marriage.
But come on, if our species has been around for nearly 200,000 years, not that much new is “changing” in the strict sense. What is more likely is that a potential was always latent and manifested as one thing, and now it manifests as something else. The same things that for so long drove people toward something- social pressure, an expanding economy and the appeal of security, desire for self-help and autonomy- are the things that a changing social calculus yields as a net drive away from. It’s not that the anyone is “rejecting authority,” a perpetually creepy polemic every generation deploys against the next.
Dogmatic, sectarian conservative churches are not having trouble attracting youth. Millennials seem to have little problem with openly hostile, patriarchal, colonial, sexually repressive, and anti-theological theologies. When I talk to college-aged Christians trying to decide whether to become 1) more progressive, 2) more conservative) or 3) leave the faith altogether, there is a universal (and understandable) tendency to equivocate- as if one of these directions is “correct” but they are all basically equal in validity and moral footing. What is being left out of the Millennials talk is this: groups having success with youth are driven by repression and disavowal as a preferred way of dealing with anxiety.
Repression always returns as something. You never simply suppress a desire or question altogether; instead you latch onto a substitute. Always. There is a basic calculus to desire and enjoyment, and the equation balances out.
How does this work? Let’s take those two issues that drive the Millennials exodus: science and sexuality. Sure, you can repress science, no problem at all. You want to believe what half of America believes about evolution being a farce?- just attack carbon dating or choose to imagine scientists are divided on the matter. Never mind that this unresolved disavowal will return as continued questions about validity of science and faith; all that matters is that you can at least postpone the return of the repressed anxiety. For this to work, you don’t actually need to resolve the initial problem. Consistency is hardly the point of anti-scientific views. You only need to postpone the anxiety in the moment by disavowing it through a symbol. Assess, mitigate damage, reassess, ad infinitum.
We see this same postponement of anxiety and return of the repressed in sexuality, which seems to be where American Christianity is really putting its foot down. Like Americans in this age cohort generally, around 95% of Evangelical Millennials will have sex before marriage. College ministries make this a big focus, but you rarely (ever?) hear that statistical reality. And while its popular for ministry leaders to “have a past,” you will not hear it framed as “I don’t actually live according to the same ideals I promote.” This too fits the equation of desire and enjoyment, whether direct or substituted. Most Millennials in a conservative anti-sex ministry will continue to have sex periodically and feel guilty afterwards. A few will be celibate and acquire a substitute-satisfaction from following a rule. The equation balances out.
This isn’t confined to science and sexuality. Vague theological platitudes are efficient at offering just enough security so that you don’t notice the writer isn’t actually saying anything. After all, why say something substantial if that’s not actually the point in the first place?
Certainly all of life is sustained by repression and disavowal. Part of being healthy is learning to identify how these factors are at work. But we cannot give in to equivocating between the options of 1) leaving the faith, 2) expanding a progressive faith, and 3) sheltering oneself in a more conservative, dogmatic faith. The latter depends on repression of anxiety in a way that the other two simply do not. Repression in religion returns as perpetually heightened repression in the very few who are able to live consistently with their espoused ideals. For the vast majority, religious repression returns as hypocrisy, an insidiously deceptive decay in the veneer of righteousness.
Peter Rollins likes to observe it is not those who don’t believe enough that abandon conservative faiths for more progressive faiths or agnosticism; instead it is almost always those that believe too much. I agree and push this a bit farther: it is impossible to be consistent in word and deed and not eventually rupture a repressive paradigm beyond recovery. Dogmatic faith cannot remain so.
All that to say, I’m glad for my fellow co-Millennials that are finding more expansive and progressive understandings of religion, and I am equally happy for those who are able to leave religion behind altogether. It’s the ones that are born again by the return of the repressed that I pity and worry for.
Jul 24, 2013
"How many times have I said to those under my supervision, when they say to me- I had the impression he meant this or that- that one of the things we must guard most against is to understand too much, to understand more than what is in the discourse of the subject. To interpret and to imagine one understands are not at all the same things. It is precisely the opposite. I would go as far as to say that it is on the basis of a kind of refusal of understanding that we push open the door to analytic understanding."
- Jacques Lacan, Freud’s Papers on Technique (Seminar I), 73.
Jul 17, 2013
A couple evenings ago, I was talking with a friend of mine for whom I have an enormous amount of respect largely because of his acute ability to cut through the layers and layers of bullshit that people bring to discussions of meaning, theology, and pain. He works as a chaplain at a hospital, and our conversations are always a springboard of reflection between my theoretical work and his practical work. So while talking about how people deal with trauma at the loss of a loved one, he tells me how every day he hears people say “God’s Will worked out the way it was supposed to.” But if a prognosis goes badly- and I thought this was extremely interesting- he never, ever hears anyone add the crucial element “... but that Will was different than I was hoping.” It’s a critical difference of interpretation, but only a jackass would challenge the family member in the waiting room to make sense of it.
I think that is really interesting, because that latter element is clearly something people explicitly say (or at least imply) before the surgery or prognosis (e.g. “I pray that God shall Will things to work out [in my preferred way]”). But while people will acknowledge “God’s will” could be negative beforehand, nobody adds this addendum after the fact if things go poorly. It would be too painful, because the lament is a stark reminder that your God failed you.
We were talking about my work with psychoanalytic theory when this came up. My fascination with the theory came from it giving me a language to unravel and understand myself. Lacan’s three registers- the imaginary, the symbolic, and the Real- are often misunderstood as being all there is to his registry. But there’s a really important and intentionally excluded fourth tier: reality. This is often missed. It’s left alone because we only actually operate in response to the parts of reality that intrude into our worlds. For a Lacanian, the terms Real and reality are not the same thing. The reality is the level of ontological, empirical fact. It is what happened in the real world. The two ideas are certainly conflated at times in his seminars, but the Real is more like trauma- Lacan describes it evasively as “what returns to its place” or as what cannot be symbolized. You cannot put trauma into words, but we try to do so anyway. Next, the symbolic is our language, our unconscious, our parent’s ideals, friends’ values, cultural norms and taboos, religious and political ideologies, gods, etc.- all of which filter our experiences into a stream from which we can finally select a conscious interpretation.
There is a serious and significant difference between the me (the conscious perception of my world) and the I (my subjectivity, the symbolic, composed of things mostly unconscious to me and over which I have very little control). Thus, my subjectivity- whoever Tad actually is- is not exactly who I think of myself as being; there is a lot more to me conditioned by my experiences to date, and as much as I wish it were otherwise, I simply do not have full control over the experiences that have created the personal subjectivity we now call Tad. An event 1) happened in reality, 2) created a Real trauma, and 3) was filtered through conditional, unconscious symbolism, is finally 4) constructed into a conscious/imaginary version of things for which we are only barely responsible for constructing. Who I am is largely unconscious, unrecognized, and conditioned. Don’t let me tell you who I am; watch my life for a while and then you can tell me who you think I am.
Again, instead of only three registers- 1) imaginary, 2) symbolic, and 3) Real/trauma) there is also a forth, reality.
I think the most horrific sexual example of rape makes a lot of sense of this, because- in a world where around 1/3 women and at least 1/10 men experience sexual assault in their lifetimes, this example is something we are all traumatized by, either ourselves or a person(s) close to us. I myself have never been assaulted, but I'm continually struck with stories from my friends that always- every time- involve painful cycles of reinterpretation and the self-doubt that goes along with that. When someone is sexually assaulted, something unnatural, gruesome, horrific, and unforgettable has happened as a matter of pure empirical fact. That is reality, the fourth tier. But that reality cannot be properly symbolized because of its horrific nature: it results in a Real and operative trauma that the victim cannot put express, the third tier. A host of second-tier symbolism interrupts the victim to demand she interpret and vocalize her experience in one of many ways. If she has grown up in supportive culture, she may instantly identify the event as criminal, the worst of sins. But if she grew up in another culture, she may interpret the exact same act and trauma as something that she deserved, lead on, had coming, or as something that god willed. How she symbolized this trauma leads to the highest, conscious level of imaginative conception of what happened to her. *By “imaginary,” Lacan doesn’t at all mean “didn’t happen”; it just means that the event is operating at a conscious level.* This conscious conception is unfortunately the level we pay the most attention to even though it is the most susceptible to guilt or reinterpretation.
Every single person- whether we know it or not- has numerous friends and family members that have sorted through this four-tiered process in the case of rape. And what’s worse, as is the case with every traumatic event any of us will ever experience- the victim rethinks this event over and over, reconceptualizing the trauma, re-trying over and over and over to understand whether they told the “correct” version, etc. One day, you think “that bastard!” but the next you think “I don’t even know what happened anymore!” In other words, the slightest suggestion that a victim should alter symbolism (2nd tier) can change the narrative she consciously experiences (1st tier). Sometimes we heal and later become unhealthy again over the same experience, because we let a voice in that did not deserve to speak. Of course, the 3rd tier Real trauma and 4th tier reality hasn’t changed at all. And since reality and Real trauma are the actual problems to begin with, we begin to think we are sorting through our lives when really we are only rearranging interpretations, often for the worse.
Those of us in the US also live in a culture where- for all unfortunate intents and purposes, rape isn’t really illegal. I mean, it sort-of is, but then estimates are that only 1-3% of sexual predators spend a day behind bars. And even if there are a number of repeat offenders, I don’t even want to think about how many men I meet who are a predators in the eyes of somewhere between 20-33% of American women. What I’m saying is that we live in world where the rare rape trial purports to base itself on “reasonable doubt” (which pretends to be a 4th tier/reality discourse), but we informally tell victims they need to rethink their 1st tier conceptualized narrative. We act as if we don’t realize that trauma affects us far, far more than however we consciously interpret an experience at any given moment. There is a wide and awful gap between the two, and part of the problem is that we don’t even think of the fact of rape, trauma of rape, the cultural narrative about rape, and the personal horror of rape as permeating spheres that are distinct even while being irreducibly connected. Reinterpretation is unsettling, so a patriarchal rape-culture finds it easier to simply blame the victim.
Getting back to my chaplain friend’s observation, there is definitely no shortage of theologians that call theology a “second-order” discourse. But for a psychoanalytic thinker such as myself, it is a second-order out of four. Every day, my chaplain friend talks to family members experiencing unexplainable accidents that landed them in some god-forsaken waiting room. They say things like “God let this happen for some reason- this is God’s plan to teach us, or to punish us... or maybe I shouldn’t even complain because others have it so much worse.” These are the types of things people, particularly Christian people, say during trauma. These are also the three explanations Job’s friends give for his suffering in a book written for the sole purpose of saying “No, the only correct answer is: my god, there is no answer.” But my chaplain friend rightly has absolutely no desire to talk about theology in the moment of trauma, because it is precisely something that can’t be symbolized “correctly.” And anyway, no matter what changes in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd tier discourses, absolutely nothing would change about the fact that the family member is still sitting there in a waiting room hoping the doctor is able to save their kid from a gunshot.
A lot of my theory-driven colleagues speak as if the world begins and end with ideas. As a theorist myself, I consider ideas to be among the most precious of things. Theory can change the world, but it also has a place. Symbols are always at least one step removed from becoming anything important.
In the waiting room, your theology and philosophy and theory doesn’t matter. It is all 2nd tier discourse. It doesn’t change the reality of the situation or the trauma wrought, and it only confuses the interpretation. The only correct answer is: Fuck, I’m so very sorry.
Jul 7, 2013
"Of Politics, a Parable,
Imagine- if one were only out of debt, owing nothing to anyone, free to do as one pleased, wishing this blessing upon all others, so that one could cancel all debts owing to oneself, so that one's debtors could in turn cancel all debts owing to themselves, until all debts were cleared, nothing more was owed, all people were free, with no employment, no money, no society, no religion, no life. Imagine. Just imagine."
- Philip Goodchild, Theology of Money
Jun 17, 2013
The truest thing I ever heard Bishop John Shelby Spong say was that religion is first and foremost a search for security rather than a search for truth.
I’ve been in a summer intensive on American religious traditions for the past few weeks, and my readings included Roger Finke and Rodney Stark's supply-side economics of religion in The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers In Our Religious Economy. What is a good Marxian philosopher of religion like me to make of this? To begin, supply-side theory is more a broad market theory than a necessarily capitalist variety, and I think there is potential to layer Finke’s supply-side thought on top of a materialist perspective on religious economy.
Survey of American Affiliation
For whatever reason, religion is not declining much in America. In 1776, only 17% of Americans were formal members of a church. While far more than this went to church in a stage where Christianity was ubiquitous, Finke and Stark suggest the difference in concern for affiliation between 1776 and today says something about the mythic Christian past in contrast to our supposedly secular age. Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reports 78.4% of Americans now affiliate with a Christian church, and only 4.7% affiliate with a non-Christian religion. 16.1% are unaffiliated, but the vast majority of that group (12.1% of total US) are “nothing in particular.” As we have seen, nones tend to say things like “I’m not a Christian, I follow Jesus” or “spiritual but not religious” or other pithy quotables that tip us off to their being basically Christian. Only 1.6% are atheist, thought that number becomes 4% when we include agnostics. In short, around 85-90% of US is broadly Christian. But the membership of each historic denomination is plummeting. Why?
We have this debate about why the mainline church is declining, and conservatives attribute it to liberal theology. Finke would agree, but not for the reasons conservatives think. Everyone knows the demand side of supply-demand drive price/inflation, but it’s crucial to understand supply-side economics as placing the emphasis on supply. Your demand for the latest product drives prices up, but the demand is created by the company’s supply (strategy, product, market share).
Anxiety, Globalization, and Apocalypticism
It’s not surprising that conservative-sectarian traditions are winning out over progressive groups. I’ve always assumed that globalization, plummeting job markets for college grads (not to mention the rise in religious behavior seen in a recession), increased states of perpetual/pointless warfare, etc., all account for the need for security that conservative traditions deliver. In 2010, 41% of Americans thought Jesus would return by 2050. That number has climbed to 47%, and I think that’s a natural response to prolonged economic insecurity.
But I was wrong to think this is anything uniquely attributable to globalization. My more Marxian view of religion can easily account for the popularity of conservative-sectarian religion, particularly during economic crisis, but its doesn't do as well in accounting for the proliferation of disparate typology (e.g. why is there such a thing as increasingly liberal theology if a poor economy rewards only conservative movements?) The Southern Baptist purge, the Neo-Reformed movement’s win over emergent, the proliferation of highly conservative Evangelical non-denominationals- this has all been seen before. Finke’s claim is that we first see supply-side economy functioning in America during the Great Awakening. Of course, the Reformation gives a previous example as does the proliferation of Catholic orders that arose during the Roman Empire's collapse, but the US Great Awakening gives us a test case with surprisingly well-documented statistical rates of religious adherence. The deregulated economy (revivalist preachers, new denominations) paid no attention to territory owned by established churches (even when, as with Congregationalism, churches were funded by tax dollars). People could choose. You would think incorrectly that people would volunteer for the churches that place the least demands on them. But deregulation changes the cost-benefit analysis, and high demands yield a sense of “rightness” or a “closed community.” Revivals worked not because of a shift in demand (people wanting spiritual renewal) but because of a shift in supply.
The larger pattern Finke identifies is this: 1) an established church modernizes to ease cultural tensions, 2) this produces a gap filled by a new supply of sects that attract the disenfranchised faithful, 3) the new sect becomes established and begins to modernize, creating space for new gap supplies, repeat ad nauseam. The initial proliferation of a new sect advertises its legitimacy to a demographic that would otherwise be skeptical of the new product.
The Anglican and Congregational churches in the colonies where completely displaced in only a handful of decades after the pre-Revolution Great Awakening launched Methodists and Baptists to prominence. Eventually, Methodists established themselves and modernized, but the independent nature of Baptist polity has consistently allowed them to resist modernization. Baptists retain a sect-like status, first during the Darwin-era Whitsitt controversy and later in the 1970-90s purge. Both of these were on the one hand an expulsion of theology from the ranks (Biblical criticism and Darwinism purged, Biblical inerrancy affirmed), but on the other hand they retained the “southernness” that made the Southern Baptists distinctive from their plummeting northern Baptist counterparts. In effect, the Souther Baptists are largest denomination in America today (and exert considerable influence on the 1/3 of US that is Evangelical) because they prioritized distinctive traditional sectarian (even parochial and anti-theological) beliefs/polity. Ironically, they succeeded at converting America because they failed to take Biblical studies seriously.
Vatican II Test Case
The ground Roman Catholicism lost after the 1960s Vatican II council provides an interesting test case on how updates affect adherence. We know modernizing loses members, but modernizing what? Vatican II updated dogma and liturgy, but maintained high demands on personal life (e.g. prohibition on birth control, reaffirmation of priesthood celibacy). Finke and Stark’s book was published in 1992, so it comes well before the child abuse scandal that has killed Catholic attendance worldwide. But even in 1992, we see plummeting attendance that appears linked to the bi-polar modernizing of theology without modernizing social demands. If this book had been written after 2000, I suspect Finke and Stark would excoriate the Vatican for not updating the celibacy requirement which has certainly been a cause for child abuse. But post-Vatican II membership teaches us that if a church has to choose between modernizing theology and modernizing personal demands, the former can be neglected while the latter updated if the goal is church attendance. Obviously, I think conservative-sectarian theology is inherently destructive for personal spirituality, critical thought, and social progress alike, but if you can only update one, update the practical, real-world religious demands.
The Pattern Today
What of today? Clearly the brewing controversy is gay marriage, and who can say what the church will put its foot down on next? What Finke’s supply-side economy of religion says is that whenever gay marriage becomes legal nationwide sometime in the next decade, both mainline and Evangelical/independent churches will quickly “evolve” to follow culture's lead. But updating views tends to kill church membership, so a good number of Evangelical churches (and maybe whole new denominations) will reshape themselves as the new supply of sectarian, anti-modernization churches. Vatican II shows us that churches might best update by modernizing on gay marriage while maintaining distinctively traditional theology (yes, I know this is a contradiction, but how many people really care?). For churches that maintain both regressive sexual views and also traditional theology, their membership will skyrockett for a while, and this will be self-attributed to better/conservative theology. When that happens, its nothing new. Its ephemeral. Its a natural pattern we see over and over in religious sectarianism. It happens because we want security more than we want truth, which is always a cycle of repression.
Jun 5, 2013
Jun 1, 2013
Rob Bell and Andrew Wilson discuss same-sex relationships. (Rob Bell is the guy arguing for the view that everyone will have in a few more years).
Over the weekend and to much dismay, Emergent Village allowed a “love the sinner, hate the sin” post. I had to wonder: what’s next? A post defending patriarchy and complimentarianism? Racial IQ inferiority? Creationism? Geo-centrism? The attraction to emergent was always 1) it was open and 2) it was intelligent. I'm sure whoever authorized this post had the intent of including conservatives, but this post is a step backwards. Even so it brings up a good question: at what point is an opinion so retrograde that it no longer merits being heard? For instance, “love the sinner, hate the sin” is not worth being heard in a serious theological circle, but it is exactly what half of America still thinks of as the cutting edge of niceness. Even worse, the youth tricked into thinking the Neo-Reformed crowd is serious material will actually hear such disguised bigotry (covertly aimed at nothing more than book sales and keeping a speaking circuit) and think that is what they are supposed to believe. So how do we deal with that- especially when people buy into propaganda that they must cut ties with progressive Christians? I’ve had more than my share of ties cut merely over my advocacy, and I can’t even imagine the pain of my LGBTQ friends experiencing such hostility over their identity.
I suspect that most of my readers are completely on board with equality, but perhaps some of my more Evangelical readers will find Bell’s interview helpful. I talk about this matter of equality quite a bit, and I feel strongly that if misunderstanding Scriptures is going to be an ideological tool to deny basic human rights and brotherhood, then we have a responsibility to speak out about those misunderstandings. Ridiculous as it may sound to many of my friends, we know there are so many people who oppose equality out of a genuine belief that the Bible says something negative about our LGBTQ friends or their relationships, and we have to call out bigotred political positions rooted in genuine, misplaced ideological loyalty.
Some of my friends advocate cutting fellowship with heterosexist family and friends in the same way that ties were cut with "white moderates" in the 60s, and there are plenty of days when that option seems attractive. I wouldn't blame anyone for cutting ties from those dehumanizing their identity, and it seems cutting ties would be the only healthy option in so many stories I've listened to. And that's clearly not the cutting ties that Bell calls bullshit on- he is rightly calling out those who are grasping angrily at a changing world. But as a straight, white, Christian male from a Southern, fundamentalist, and highly conservative culture, I feel I have the responsibility to keep engaging. The most encouraging messages I get are the ones where friends from churches I used to serve in are seeking answers as they rethink the categories they were handed. I want to keep doing that. The question about LGBTQ relationships and the Bible is far and away the most frequent question I get. Those of us educated in theology and/or Biblical studies have the highest responsibility to speak out in favor of equality, and those who don’t will be remembered for our cowardice and neglect (or good ol’ careerism).
If equality and human rights don't convince you, just remember this: like it or not, your grandchildren will one day ask you which side you were on "back when people thought that way."
May 25, 2013