Monday, October 04, 2010

Slow Thinking

I've been thinking a lot about the young man, the student at Rutgers, Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide recently. Prone to Laughter has a short post up listing the names of some other young people who've committed suicide in recent weeks, all of then in some sort of response to bullying and harassment, some of which has been targeting their sexual orientation or practices or supposed sexual orientation or practices.

Our campus is celebrating National Coming Out day on October 11th. Well, celebrating probably isn't the right word, since it's not on the official events calendar, though there will be events in the quad area most of the day. Folks have been invited to get and wear special t-shirts. Yes, I'll be there.

But it seems like very little, doesn't it, just acknowledging that some members of our community are gay, lesbian, bi, transgendered, and queer? But even that's being handled sort of on the quiet side, since by golly we wouldn't want any potential students or their parents to know it's happening.

I've read a few blogs, and there are good words there, better than I can do mostly.

But on one, there's a whole Christian thing about whether or not homosexuality is sinful, and whether it matters if one is "born" gay/lesbian, because would the Christian God have created people to be sinful, and then there's the comeback that we're all born with original sin and so on.

Can I just say, just once, I'd like to see the Christian community put as much energy into condemning greed and envy as it does into condemning consentual sexual practices.

Just once, I'd like to hear a Christian preacher on TV talk about greed and human rights and justice, and not be asking for donations to his/her own organization.

And really, if you aren't troubled by the basic premise that a beneficent greater power, omnicient and omnipotent, created the horror that is cancer or rabies (or any number of other horrible diseases), all of which hurt beings which can't have original sin because they have no capacity for sin within Christian theology, then I really don't get how you do it.

Meanwhile, I'm going to get my t-shirt and worry about how many of our students are being bullied and harassed.


  1. Anonymous4:46 PM

    and glutton too. Not that glutton's the worst sin ever - but have you noticed how many of the types of preachers who are preaching against sin are of a certain body type??

  2. Bardiac, as a Christian, I totally agree with you. Jesus spends far more time in the gospels on issues relating to money than those relating to sex.

    I have to constantly remind my students that modern Christian obsession with sexuality is not always the obsession of the church.

  3. Peter5:28 PM


    First, let's grow up and accord civil rights to an enormous segment of the population, which is at the moment prohibited from marrying in most places and adopting a child in some.

    Second, will some Christian ministers finally have the nerve to decry the wickedness of prosperity theologians, televised faith healers, and oily evangelists with their "prayer lines" (no doubt, connecting with high pressure solicitation flunkies)? Will they call on churches to abandon hate and devote their considerable abilities at generating money to humanitarian causes?

    Yes, many churches are tolerant of homosexuality and welcome GLBT members. Yes, the vast majority are not dedicated to fundraising for lavish lifestyles. But sometimes it's not enough just to be decent. You have to oppose what's wrong.

  4. I'd urge you, Bardiac, in your mentoring role for young people on your campus, not to set up Christianity as a necessary polar opposite of acceptance of gay people, despite the fact that many televangelists embrace those polar positions. When people are coming out and figuring out their sexual identities, I think it's helpful not to have every part of their identity up for grabs at one time; that is, if one has grown up Christian and "straight," I think it would be helpful not to be forced into renegotiating both of those identities in one fell swoop when they need not be in any conflict with each other (says the lesbian Christian!).

  5. Thanks for your comments, folks :)

    I want to assure you that I don't criticize Christianity in my work as a professor. I DO try to explain historical changes, arguments, and attitudes (we discussed different attitudes towards midwife baptism today, for example) in the context of discussing literature written during periods of conflict within Christianity.

    But thanks for the reminder. I do vent on the blog in ways I can't vent elsewhere, but I should probably make that clear. It's worth remembering that I live in a pretty overwhelmingly Christian and fairly conservative area.

  6. As a Christian, let me say that I'm sorry about the way that the church is so preoccupied with sexuality instead of focusing on justice, kindness, and peaceful relationships. The hatefulness towards homosexuals demonstrated by others of my religion saddens me.

    I'm glad you have this space to vent. I'm sure that you feel really isolated at times. Your students are lucky to have you there.

  7. I'm not sure if you saw the speech about bullying and the recent suicides that Ellen Degeneris did on her show or not, but it really touched me. Here's a youtube link, if you want to check it out:

    I was raised Christian, but I was always a little suspicious of the whole idea. I no longer claim to be a Christian. When people ask, I say I'm a secular humanist. And then when they ask why I celebrate Christmas, I say that I celebrate the birthdays of lots of very famous people in history -- like Shakespeare, for instance. We always have cake on Shakespeare's birthday. (But I digress) The biggest reason I "left the faith" was because of the hypocrisy I saw everywhere. When the Catholic church started blaming "gay priests" for the sex abuse scandal, I could no longer stand it. Adios Church. I actually feel better now that I've been away from it for a good while.

  8. Anonymous6:51 AM

    Others have already made this point, but if you listen to the right Christians and preachers, they do make just as much of greed and envy and gluttony and injustice.

    I also wanted to add that the concept of original sin is too narrowly conceived here. In many Christian theologies, the "Fall" entails a fundamental corruption of nature--both human and non-human. And so, while the natural world and the animal kingdom have no culpability because they were not disobedient (as human beings were), they do suffer in a state of corruption.

    For these theologies, this is the significance of the biblical accounts of a peacable kingdom where the lion and lamb lie down together, the lion eats straw rather than tearing gazelles limb from limb, and the like. This is a redemption of nature.

    Paul argues directly for the redemption of nature in Romans 8:22-24. The incarnation, then, is about more than me and my personal sins.

    My point being, the idea that God somehow created diseases that harm animals is not a necessary part of the doctrine of original sin or of Christian theology.

    Now that I've pontification, I agree with your basic point. Even if a Christian holds that homosexuality is sinful, that same Christian ought to acknowledge that she is equally mired by sin. And basic human kindness and dignity trumps all such concerns. We're talking about human beings here and they are suffering and dying. They need help, compassion, love.

  9. Anonymous6:52 AM

    pontificated that should say.

  10. Thanks for your explanation, Anastasia. I know you've thought these things through a lot.

    I get to a point though, with whatever explanation, of wondering how such behavior could be characterized as benevolent or worthy of worship.

  11. i'm an athiest, raised in a mainstream denomination -- and a lot of my thoughts about decent human behavior began with what i learned in church.

    a lot of my friends are believers, and some are even ministers, but we share that idea of fairness, inclusion, and justice. hellfire and brimstone, condemning others for who they are or the situations in which they find themselves -- those do not sit well with us, and neither does the greedy evangalizing. i guess my point here is that there are different christian communities, and the loudest mouths absolutely do not represent the members i know. far as i can tell, they do not represent the main teachings of jesus at all.

    glad you are standing by your students.

  12. A previous poster suggested that part of the problem is that Christians who aren't homophobic/greedy/manipulative don't criticize those who are. This is contrary to my experience, where mainstream Protestants and social justice Catholics work, speak, and pray against injustice all the time. (Which is not to say that other Christian groups don't do the same, only that I have less experience with them.) If one doesn't hear about these groups, it's not because they aren't there, it's because they don't make the news.

    An illustration: in my small (and deeply conservative) little town, the Catholic campus ministry owns a house where Catholic students and faculty meet for services and prayer groups. The priest has a strong ecumenical bent, and the building is also freely used by Protestant, Muslim, and Jewish students for their meetings, prayers, and get-togethers. This cooperation causes absolutely no controversy and makes no news at all. If the priest instead announced that he was going to hold a Quran burning, he'd be on the national news tomorrow and the whole nation would be shocked at how intolerant those Christians are.

  13. There *is* a population out there. Google "religious left." I could go on for ages about why I think I belong to it.