Thursday, November 30, 2006

The myth of homosexuality

Love that title? I thought it would be an attention-getter. Don't judge too harshly before you read, but do know that this may get a PG-13 rating if not worse. I started to write this entry on Monday, and as so often seems to happen, I get a fair way into a bit of clever writing and somehow manage to do something to screw it up and lose it. In this case, I shifted in my seat and kicked the computer's plug out, losing not only my writing, but other documents that had actual importance. Still, I had this clever bit about how I should rename my blog "Theologian Rants Always on Something Homosexual" since it seems to be a far too prominent topic for what I had intended this blog to be; oh, well. On the positive side, I've decided to take a different approach to the topic here which I think will cover a broader topic than my initial attempt. But I ought to get to where I'm going.

Ted Haggard. You've probably heard of the guy. If you didn't, here's what you need to know: Ted Haggard was (and perhaps still is) the leader of a prominent evangelical organization that had a lot of the standard fundamentalist views on homosexuality and drug abuse; in any case, those views were expressed in Haggard's sermons, that much is for sure. Then not so long ago (about a month or so) the story broke that Haggard had had an affair with a male prostitute from whom he had also bought drugs. Haggard claimed that he had only gone to this guy for a massage, and while he had indeed bought the drugs, he had not used them.

Whether or not Haggard had indeed had a same-sex affair or been a user of illicit drugs is not the issue. He and the other leaders of his organization agreed that he had done something wrong, and needed a time to himself for repentance and healing. The public had largely cast its judgment as well, and many of them had decided that clearly, Haggard was a closeted homosexual. It's this judgment that I really wish to focus on here.

Some have said, and I don't think that the view is so very alien and uncommon, that the root of the problem was Christianity's decision to treat the "sin" of homosexuality so harshly, or even to consider it a sin at all. No doubt, Haggard was gay, had always been gay, and had simply spent most of his life burying his true desires under a persona of religious zealotry. If only he had been allowed to live freely, he would have had a simple, happy life as an openly gay man.

I don't buy it. The guy has children, and has been married for a long time--to a woman, natch. A guy spends most of his life having a woman as his sexual outlet, and then has a single same-sex affair, and that means he's gay? I can think of a number of other possibilities that seem more likely, at least to me. Sure, he might be gay, but then, he might be bisexual. Or he may even be a straight man who somehow got tempted to try something that didn't immediately seem pleasing. Sure, the latter seems at face value to be very far-fetched, but I don't think it's out of the question; smoking tobacco is not a pleasant experience for people who try it at first, but many people do it anyway.

In thinking about this topic, I spent a fair amount of time thinking about the word "pervert". Generally, the word is used to refer to someone who has an unnatural sexual desire, but since there is a great deal of debate as to what is "natural", this generally gets used to mean: "Someone who has a sexual desire that *I* don't like/approve of." It's far too arbitrary in that sense, but I think there's something telling in what the word means in a more technical sense. Stripping away the moral implications of the word (which is hard to do, since it's a big part of what the word is about), the idea is that perverting something is to redirect it away from its intended use in an unexpected way. (Now, if you're certain that God intended sex to only be between a man and a woman, then any homosexual is a "pervert" in that sense, but I'm not trying to simplify this issue; I'm intending to hugely complicate it!)

Morality aside, if indeed Haggard is gay, and indeed being homosexual is a characteristic that you are naturally born with, then the perverted thing that Haggard did was to get married to a woman! Someone who is truly homosexual should not try to pervert those natural desires by pretending and/or attempting to act in a manner consistent with heterosexuals. But then, if they find they are easily able to do so, perhaps they are not homosexual? They must be bisexual; but then, if we as a society only accept monogamy, how does a bisexual stay true to their sexuality?

Now I've ventured back to the arena of morality again, and I do want to view this issue both from within that arena and without. There is a tendency I feel I have seen in society as of late, and I don't know how prevalent it is. I don't exactly hear about this sort of thing happening very often, but then, it probably doesn't happen so often anyway. The scenario is presented of a man who has been in a long-lasting marriage that to all outsiders seems to be a happy and successful marriage, but then one day, he admits that he has spent his life as a closeted homosexual. Essentially, he says, "I have realized that I need to be honest and true to myself. My wife is a good woman, but I have a desire to have sex with men, and as such, I am leaving my wife to be with a man." A large portion of society seems to applaud this decision. The man is liberated, he's being true to himself, and casting off the chains of an outmoded societal standard that was keeping him from the pursuit of happiness.

Now let's take another man, a man in the same situation before the revelation. He comes to a realization about his true desires, and he decides it's time for him to likewise cast off the chains of outmoded morality and pursue his happiness. "I have realized that I need to be honest and true to myself. My wife is a good woman, but I have a desire to have sex with twenty-year-old blondes, and as such, I am leaving my fifty-year-old brunette wife to be with one." Does society applaud this man? I don't think so. But really, is there such a difference between him and the previous one? If you're in a long-term committed relationship with another person, I think you have a responsibility to stay true to that person. That doesn't mean that separation is never an option, but it's something that shouldn't be taken lightly, regardless of the issues involved. (I'd even go so far as to say that goes for a same-sex couple in which one partner becomes convinced that homosexual relations are immoral; I don't think I'd advise such a person to just "drop their partner like a hot rock," so to speak, but find a way to make the transition out of the relationship as smoothly and respectfully as possible.)

But perhaps you'll claim that in the latter case this is not a matter of a person's orientation, but a matter of a "dirty old man", but that's subjective. The fact is that society as a whole, and various sub-sections of society make up their minds as to what is perversion and what is not, in both a moral and non-moral sense. It's not just Christians that do it, everyone does, and really, I don't think that's wrong per se. We have to judge others because that's how we interact personally; and we have to likewise judge ourselves, because that's how we make moral decisions. What makes choosing a sexual partner based on gender right, and choosing one based on age wrong? Isn't that just another kind of "sexual orientation"?

My big realization (while it may be complete crap, as I'm sure so much of my writing is) is that I was both wrong and right about something I used to think years ago. See, I used to think that people were not born homosexual, but to be fair, they weren't born heterosexual, either. I figured they were born bisexual (although perhaps "asexual" is more to the point) in that what sort of sexual partner one would prefer in adulthood was largely a preference formed by a variety of childhood experiences. Most people ended up going one way or the other, although some people stayed somewhere in the vague middle. I think now that I was right in that potentially each person would be open to a variety of placements on the sexual spectrum based on their early psychosocial development. But I was wrong in a bigger way.

I think I am now convinced that "sexual orientation" is a myth.

Because we as human beings like to judge people and pigeonhole them, we look at a man like Haggard and put him in a box. We say, "He's a homosexual." Really, that's where the word came from, as do many words; there were people that acted in certain ways sexually, and we wanted to put a simple handle on this behavior and build a box where we could contain it. Homosexual. As opposed to heterosexual. But this pigeonholing of people causes the sorts of problems that we have with gays in the military. The people against gays in the military feel that homosexuals will cause morale problems. Why? Because a soldier will always be wondering if there's some guy in his platoon who wants to have sex with him, although he has no interest in that, I guess.

Look, though. Where did the assumption come from? We say, "homosexual males are sexually attracted to other males," and it frankly must sound to some homophobes that there must be thousands of gay men out there somewhere who would like nothing better than to catch you with your pants down, right? But do you assume that every heterosexual woman in the world is looking to sleep with you? Do you want to sleep with every single woman in the world? (Maybe you do, and maybe there are indeed gay men who likewise would be amenable to sleeping with any other man, but it's certainly not the norm.)

The simple labels that we put on sexual orientation make the subject look like it's a simple matter, but it simply is not. The number and scope of the issues are huge enough that several books could be and have been written on the subject. If a person enjoyed masturbation, isn't that sex with a person of the same gender? Is a bisexual really a bisexual if they've never had sex with a member of the same gender? People say that pedophilia has nothing to do with homosexuality, but I wonder; aren't there male pedophiles that only molest young boys? Aren't there others that only molest young girls? Might one say that the former is a homosexual pedophile while the latter is a heterosexual one? Nobody wants to be associated with pedophiles, so if you're in the homosexual "box", you don't want (homosexual) pedophiles in the box with you, surely. Is sexual orientation about finding certain people attractive, desiring to have sex with certain people, or being sexually turned on by certain people? I once knew a woman who was a lesbian, but she was turned on by watching gay men kiss; what does that say about her "orientation"? What about the whole can of worms of the sexual orientation of transsexuals and intersexed individuals?

The fact is, the world does not consist of merely two types of people, homosexuals and heterosexuals. The world consists of six billion individuals each of whom has their own particular sexual desires. This is neither right nor wrong, it is simply a fact. Perhaps each and every one of us is a "pervert" in someone else's view?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Red, white, and mostly just blue

I don't know if I've expressed it here in this blog before, but despite the stereotype of evangelical Christians, I am actually a registered Democrat. Not that my official party registration necessarily means much, since I didn't vote for any Democrats in 2000, and the next time I voted Democrat was in the California gubernatorial recall election (is that the proper way to say that?) in which I voted to keep Democratic Governor Davis and, should he be recalled, to put Democratic Lieutenant Governor Bustamante in his place. That was largely on principle, though, as I thought the whole recall process was a bunch of crap. No matter, I'm going too far with this tangent.

As a Democrat, and even someone who has felt a lot more affinity for my official party pretty much since we invaded Iraq, I've got to say once again despite expectations that I'm a little worried about the overwhelming results. On election night, I heard on television that this election was unprecedented. Never before (since the Republican Party formed in the mid-1800's I assume; I hate statistics in a vacuum) has there been a national election in which Republicans did not gain a single seat. While as usual, the majority of the offices up for a vote ended up going to incumbents, six seats in the Senate switched party, around 25 seats in the House switched, and seven state governorships switched, all from Republican to Democrat, not a single one the reverse. After what certainly seems to many like a long period of either a very incapable and/or corrupt Republican rule of this country, we're swinging back Democratic. Given my party affiliation and general disdain for the way the country's been run lately, you'd think this would be positive news.

I worry nonetheless. Part of it has to do with the situation. Because of how badly the GOP has been handling things of late, the strong shift to the left may be far less an indication of nationwide support for liberal policies than a nationwide rejection of conservative policies. The thing is, the two are not tantamount to the same thing, but we live in a country with a political system that has come to so often endorse the concept.

How many of you heard in 2004 that "A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush!"? Bush and Nader didn't stand for much of any of the same things, if any at all, but the idea is that any vote that went to Nader as a third-party candidate (and yes, I know he was technically independent in 2004) was one vote less that Kerry would get. Perhaps more aptly, but showing up what's so offensive to this idea in my view, a friend of mine said that if your second choice was Kerry, then a vote for Nader was like a vote for Bush, but if your second choice was Bush, then your Nader vote was in that case a vote for Kerry!

You understand the idea, and that is that there is no possible way that a person could get elected in this country unless he or she is a member of one of the two main political parties, despite the fact that we actually have Libertarian, Green, Constitution, Natural Law and Reform candidates that have real plans on how to make this nation great, and they might even be good plans. In 1996, The Simpsons aired their annual Halloween episode with a political bent to it. (YouTube clip) In the story, Clinton and Dole get abducted by aliens who take their places so that no matter the outcome of the election, they will take over the Earth and enslave humanity. On Election Day, Homer finally manages to reveal this plot to his fellow citizens, unmasking the two aliens:

Homer: America, take a good look at your beloved candidates. They're nothing but hideous space reptiles!
Kodos: It's true, we are aliens, but what are you going to do about it? It's a two-party system. You have to vote for one of us.
Man in the crowd: Well, I believe I'll vote for a third-party candidate!
Kang: Go ahead, throw your vote away!

Sure enough, the next day Kang is declared the winner. The disturbing thing about this episode is that every time I see it again in reruns, I think to myself that while I find it unlikely that aliens with superior technology would try to infiltrate our government in such a manner, I can totally believe Americans would vote for an unsavory candidate because they thought they had no choice. Let the Democrats run Stalin for President, and the Republicans run Hitler, and Perot and Nader would still get less than 10% of the vote it seems.

Then again, maybe there is hope. After all, defying everyone's expectations including my own, after Joseph Lieberman refused to drop out of the race after losing the Democratic primary, he managed to win Connecticut as an independent. Also, the Vermont Senate seat up for a vote was kept by independent candidate Bernie Sanders who, I have been told, is pretty much a socialist. (That was, however with no Democrat opposing in that race.) But third party candidates, while an interesting subject, are not the only subject that concerns me here.

Back in 1994, there was a similar upheaval in which the Republicans managed to gain control of both houses of Congress. At that time, some amazing things happened. Thinking that their substantial gains in Congress indicated widespread approval of their conservative issues, they proceeded to go wild and push through legislation at an impressive pace. There seemed to be no stopping them. And then before long, Congress went back to the Democrats. Why? I think political parties these days are often getting high on their own sense of power. We're not a nation of people represented by politicians anymore so much as a nation of political parties. How many people vote for candidates anymore rather than voting for parties? If we see this election as a victory for the Democratic Party rather than as a victory for several politicians many of whom happen to be Democrats, then the country comes to be run not by 500-odd human representatives of their constituencies, but by two grotesque, inhuman creatures battling over who gets to feast on the carcass of representative democracy.

Will the Democrats take this opportunity to make real changes and make this country better, or will they see it as a chance to take their power and gloatingly use it to their own selfish ends? Note that I'm not saying this is characteristic of the Democratic Party, but characteristic of politicians in general. I think to a great extent this happened to the 1994 Republican Congress and to the Bush administration, despite lack of a strong victory in the latter case. As Jon Stewart asked DNC chair Howard Dean the day after the election, "How long...before power corrupts you absolutely?" Dean shrugged it off as a joke, but I tend to think it's a question every politician should ask themself and their party.

Maybe nothing in particular will come of this election. Maybe only real change will occur once a new Presidential administration is in place, whatever political party it may be. I don't know. Sometimes I weep for this country. I don't believe that there is a political party out there that has a better chance than any other to make this nation great. All they need is to stand up for ideals rather than the quest for money and influence. What kind of a Congress will the 110th be? As every year, I look to my government with hope for the best, but little expectation for great things.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Asking for pain?

Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, "Because I bore him in pain." And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, "Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!" So God granted him what he requested. -1Chron.4:9-10 (NKJV)
Prayer is a funny thing. I've honestly been thinking about it much more lately than actually doing it, which is surely rather unfortunate for a Christian. The thing is, though, I tend to like to lean on logic and rational understanding for the most part (I realize that there are many aspects of religion that attempt to transcend such things from time to time, but that's neither here nor there), and as such, prayer has always been a bit difficult for me.

Over time, and especially in more recent times it seems, there have been attempts to scientifically explore the things religion has to offer, and see if there is an objective basis for belief. I'd tend to believe that while there is an objective truth that underlies religion, the problem in trying to understand that scientifically is that the experience of it is nonetheless very subjective. Sure, I believe that God exists, I believe He answers prayer, I believe that prayer is a worthwhile activity to pursue, but at the same time, I feel that you can't really have too many expectations of it.

Case in point, a few years ago I recall reading that there was a scientific study attempted to find out if sick people recovered faster if they were being prayed for. It shouldn't be a big surprise to anyone that the results were inconclusive. I can think of a number of reasons for the failure of such a study. In a scientific study, there needs to be a control group; and there was one, as I think I implied. A group of patients were supposed to be recovering without the aid of prayer for the purposes of the study. But how exactly can you determine that nobody is praying for them? If the group of people who were assigned to pray for the people in the study were informed that there was a control group, what would stop them from praying for that group? If they didn't pray for that group, would God honor the prayers of someone who was deliberately not praying for one person so that they could favor another? If God would honor such a prayer, is God truly good? On those same lines, is God really good if He only heals people who are being prayed for?

These are tough questions, because such can be applied to any situation involving prayer, really. Even when there is no study involved, we can and probably should ask, why does God heal this person, but not that person? And the only answer we have is the often unsatisfying, but also true statement that "God's ways are higher than our ways." In other words, we're just not going to understand, because we're not God.

As such, it can be hard at times to understand prayer at all. We can't change God through prayer, nor His will, which reigns over all that exists. So why ask for anything at all? It truly seems to be pointless, and yet the Bible seems to insist that it's one of the most important things there is! Even Jesus, who was God (the Son) spent a great deal of time in his ministry praying to God (the Father), especially towards the end of his ministry that He would send the power of God (the Spirit) to his disciples. That's mindblowing to me. Not only could Jesus not have changed the will of the Father, but we are to understand that He was 100% in accord with the Father, so He would have had no need or desire to do so anyway! Yet Jesus demonstrated that there was a clear and urgent need to keep reconnecting with God.

Do we pray only because, as many theologians have said, it changes us? Does that mean that it is impossible to have real, significant change in our lives without prayer? Does it lend credence to the idea that the effects of prayer are more a matter of psychological effect than real supernatural power? Is it even possible that the answer to that question is "Yes," and yet it still is the power of God working within us? It's a misunderstanding of the nature of miracles and the power of God to state that miracles are always supernatural. If I prayed to God to make me rich, and I then won the lottery, that could be considered a miracle despite the fact that it takes no supernatural power to win the lottery. (It would definitely be very impressive since I don't play the lottery.) It's a miracle that the non-profit Christian organization I currently work for has touched the lives of billions of people, bringing hundreds of millions to faith. It's also a miracle that my family hasn't starved on the pittance they pay me for my work. (Not that I want to sound complaining; there are people working for this organization in other countries that are probably being paid as much in a year as I make in a month, and no doubt doing a much better job of reaching the lost.)

So is it productive to pray for a miracle? In a sense, isn't that what prayer is all about? We all pray for miracles, some small, some big. I've decided to try and start praying big. Yep, for those who got it when they read my opening Bible quote, and especially those who got the joke when I dropped a little sarcasm to the idea a little over a year ago, what you may have guessed is true. I'm praying the "" this month. The book was better than I expected. I think most Christians who are skeptical of it see it as a new page from the "name it and claim it" prayer book, I know I did. But the book explained that the idea is not about making yourself rich and prosperous in worldly goods, but in increasing the scope of your ministry as a Christian. Asking God to give you His power to do whatever He wants you to do fully and effectively? That's a prayer that seems very good and spiritual.

Maybe it will profoundly change my life; maybe it won't. As the author of the book himself says, the prayer isn't a set of magical words that, when repeated, will have a specific effect. If there will be a change, the change will no doubt be within my heart first and foremost, and in a very big way, that's the most important thing of all.

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