LET’S TALK ABOUT GOD
Two Books on God and Gays
Haworth Press was once one of the power houses in the area of gay literature and it constantly turns out wonderful books about our lives. The three imprint publishing houses presents books under three different presses—Harrington Park Press, Haworth Press, and Southern Tier Editions and their output contains fiction, non fiction and journals.
Two books I have recently enjoyed reading from the company deal with question of where we are in relationship to the world of religion., “Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth” by Daniel A. Helminiak (2006) and Donald L. Long’s “Men. Homosexuality and the Gods” (2004).Those of you who know me understand that I have been on a quest to understand my relationship to God. At times I am perfectly satisfied with the status quo and at other times I go into periods of what seems like non ending reading and research on God and gay man. Let me say from the outset that I am a firm believer in God and consider myself both a spiritual and somewhat religious Jewish man. Somewhat religious? What does that mean? I enjoy my religion for its sense of beauty and tradition, I pray faithfully and I attend Sabbath services every week and observe all of the holidays with joy. I keep a kosher home, abiding by the dietary laws and I love ushering in the Sabbath. But this is part of the tradition of the Jewish people and it is my way of acknowledging the omnipotence and omnipresence of the Supreme Being. Yet I also ride on the Sabbath, use money and go out to have a good time realizing good and well that I am in some way desecrating the day of rest. I will not get a tattoo, I will eat non kosher food when out and I suppose this makes me somewhat of an anomaly. But I can live with that and that is what is important to me.
Helminiak’s “Sex and the Sacred” spoke to me in many ways. It is an approach to sexuality and spirituality that is both sane and reasonable. I learned that to be comfortable with my sexual nature is not only necessary but essential to having spiritual sensitivity and the author applies a unique understanding of spirituality to sex. He presents a humanistic and unique dimension to human sexuality in a way that is not tied to religious affiliation and completely open to traditional religious belief and to God, He asks that we cherish our bodies as ways to gain spiritual enlightenment.
The boos looks at the central issue of spirituality which seems to be to discover what is the truth behind religious doctrines and myths so that gays and lesbians are not victimized by religion. Spiritual commitment is not inimical to modern homosexual consciousness. There are some provocative ideas in this book—that heaven is an eternal orgasm and the modeling of homosexual relationship on the concept of the image creating God. One chapter specifically will blow you away; “The Right and Wrong of Sex, Queer and Otherwise”.
We have needed this book for a very long time especially in the areas of sexual ethics, religious studies and pastoral counseling for our community. The idea of spirituality has been reclaimed for us and now becomes not only spirituality for organized religion but for all people. We can once again begin the spiritual journey towards wholeness and holiness with no fear or shame. This s a wonderful book and Helminiak shows his great knowledge in the fields of theology and biblical scholarship and enhances this volume with wit, wisdom, insight and erudition. His prose is not only readable it is amazing. This is a book to be read and pondered. It is guaranteed to make you think.
“Men, Homosexuality and the Gods: An Exploration into the Religious Significance of Male Homosexuality in the World Perspective” by Ronald E. Long is another provocative book on the same subject. Simply said, it shows how religious traditions have characterized homosexual relations. Long uses juxtaposition of a variety of cultural and religious constructions of masculinity to give a genealogical study of male “tops” and “bottoms”. He shows that ”bottoms” are no more than cultural constructs of masculinity and that today gay “bottoms” are giving a new definition to that construct. By doing so he shows that “real” men can be penetrated and they can also be penetrators.
He has gone where no gay scholar has gone before and he has gone there boldly. Lung’s book brings together historical sources and examples and likewise it provides a history of religious outlook on male homosexuality. This is important because it shows that there have always been religions that have had something to say about as well as some policy on homosexuality.
The book is written in language we can all understand but it is scholarly in its research and findings. One of the statements that Long makes may take some readers aback in its sheer brutality of thought—“full masculinity is achieved through the penetration and therefore subordination of others. Homosexuality, therefore, involves the humiliation of one man by another.” This statement has been used to justify the condemnation of homosexuality, other cultures have found a place for male lovers in the “divine economy”, other religions have just absorbed this notion, but all cultures have served as cultural judges of this construct which is based upon aggression, submission and control. It is Long’s opinion that modern culture and religion provide for the production of new metaphors for masculinity and sex which in turn will depend to a lesser degree on the ideas of war and defense and more on the concepts of display, affection and admiration. Likewise Long challenges the dominant readings of religious traditions and attitudes toward homosexuality. It is up to the reader to decide whether or not this study merits being studied as a sustained analysis or just a glance at individual treatments of specific religious traditions. No matter what you decide, this is an engrossing study of religion and man.
Long’s academic brilliance is not to be questioned but to be read and considered. It allows us to see our history and to think about it. Long is convincing, even when I found him irritating but his scholarship shines. By reading this, you will be able to understand yourself and the world in which you live on a higher plane.
Lately, queer theory has become cumbersome, heavy and tedious to read. This is not the case here. It is not just a reference work but an extremely readable piece of our history. What pulls the book together is that even in the historical study of the way gay men live and operate are the underpinnings of modern society today. The modern gay rights movement is not just political or sexual; it is a spiritual movement for the good of all of us. If you want to understand how we can make the world a better place, this is the book to read. Hopefully by doing so you will be able to add the concept of spirituality to your life.