By James Costich September 7th, 2019
Christianity has come to be nearly synonymous with the hatred, loathing, fear, and condemnation of LGBT people but this is a new development in the history of the religion, and it is far more linked to politics than theology. Since the 1980s it’s been used as a distraction from a far uglier and long-standing collection of sexual problems associated with the religion that dates back to its beginning. This topic has been exhaustively explored by historians in many cultures and languages over the past three hundred years with the most recent ones able to utilize computer analysis of ancient and medieval writing as well as archaeological evidence and sociological analysis. I’ve read some and it’s amazing stuff. However religious history is a massive undertaking that most people haven’t the time, inclination or interest to pursue in-depth but, if you were raised in one of the many religions that fall under the rubric of “Christianity” and you’d like to persist in it you’d better read a little bit just so you know exactly what it is you are persisting in.
I am, of course, referring to the fact that most of us do not choose our religion. Instead, we are raised and indoctrinated into it as tiny children and accept its claims without very deep challenge or thought. Those who do think deeper, and question claim, and authority have historically encountered everything from social ostracism to being burned alive in public executions. A closeted, gay Presbyterian minister whose choir I once sang in told his congregation that there is such a thing as bad religion and if a religion tells you to leave your brain at the door with your coat and hat then you know you’re about to enter a bad one. That’s all very fine and good but what does a good one look like, sound like and behave like? Like delving into religious history people have spent entire lives pursuing this question to little avail. Maybe we need a better question, especially those of us routinely demonized by church and religion for things as basic to our being as our sexual anatomy, gender, and/or desire to experience romance, love and sexuality as a composite whole instead of as mindless, heartless urges and impulses.
Here are a couple of questions to consider especially if you are LGBT and/or Intersex or raising a child who is. What does religion demand of you? What does religion have to offer you?
Let’s tackle the second question first because it’s time for a music break and some of the most beautiful music ever written has been commissioned by religion. I sang this with the Rochester Gay Men’s Chorus and I’m just dying to do it again. Randall Thompson’s, Alleluia:
Obviously, music, chanting ritual, beautiful spaces are all conducive to shutting down the chatter in our minds so that we can meditate and begin to fill in the spaces between us with awareness. But we all know that these things aren’t owned by anyone or restricted to only one tiny group of “members only, cards checked at the door….” Right? This is an anthem from the “Naked Man” song cycle performed by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. I’ll bet all of you know what it is to walk into a stand of evergreens, look up and realize it’s a Cathedral.
I recently read a book anyone can relate to. It talked about Homo sapiens sitting around a fire in the dark of night telling stories about what they thought the lights in the swamp were, how to bring down the bigger antelope and what better to boil hides in to make leather and if the dead might live again or does everyone rot? Ten thousand years ago? A million years ago? Was it kind of pot luck you went to last week? The Center For Inquiry, a humanist group near my home has a potluck every month.
Wait. Where are we? We started with music in church and we are nowhere near religion or what it offers to you, or are we? There’s no dogma, no laws, nobody saying, “God told me to tell you that you suck and He wants me to kill you.” Again, the question. What does religion have to offer you?
Perhaps we should turn to the other question. What does religion demand of you? It demands money. It demands conformity and then there is all that language. During the enlightenment of the 18th century people thought religion would fade away now that we had no need of Kings, Lords, Masters and Authoritarian Rulers cutting off heads, roasting feet over fires, popping eyeballs out with knotted ropes and the various and sundry other delights offered to those who didn’t “toe the line” of the enforcers of… what was that? Heaven or Hell? Something threatened after death so that no one can verify it?
Great Saints of the church wanted to suffer like Christ so they tortured themselves and got magical medals and miracles named after them when they castrated themselves, opened wounds in their hands and feet and bled from their eyes. That doesn’t seem to be the religious fashion today except…. Except when children’s bodies don’t conform to the perfect ideal of male OR female. Then we hand them over to surgeons who re-shape, re-size and re-design them in the image of…. of what? A make-believe spiritual wraith that has neither body nor sex nor need of it? Is that religion? Does it demand that? What does it demand of you?
We’re not done yet. I have one more installment and it’s not just going to ask questions. There will be some answers. But before I leave you with those questions, I want to leave you with more music. A human voice, written by another Gay man who spent his childhood in the choir, Tchaikovsky.
This is a mystical hymn to the mystical beings celebrated in Russian Orthodox religion, the Cherubim.