Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Recently Elliot made a small post in his blog regarding Eve Tushnet* which set off a string of comments between myself and a number of other readers of The Claw. Elliot's been an Eve-reader for a number of years and we've discussed her position a few times before on Eunoia.*

Eve's position has always disturbed me and so a few days ago I made the following query on Elliot's blog:

"Does her choice of inaction mean that she believes god would condemn any action on her part towards her lesbian desires? Since her sexuality is part of her, like it or not, does that mean she abhors a part of herself? Or believes that god does?"

To clarify, its not the celibacy portion of Eve's position that I'm trying to pick on. Its the fact that she seems to consider her celibacy from homosexual sex a 'cross' she must bear in order to live as a faithful Catholic. That's the part that gets to me (but of course, this is Catholicism we're talking about and so there are many components of it that disturb me), the fact that Eve presents as a lesbian but that her homosexuality is not something she is proud of, rather it is something of a thorn in her flesh.*

As someone who was raised as one of Jehovah's Witnesses ( just like The Claw), I was taught that homosexuality was biblically condemned and punishable by 'everlasting condemnation', etc, etc. If a JW happened to be gay,* they most likely would either 1) hide the fact indefinitely and try to continue with a "normal" JW life or 2) make their 'condition' known to the appropriate authorities (i.e. congregation elders) who would then take the steps to counsel, caution, and overall reaffirm condemnation of homosexual acts. Were the individual to ever begin to act on their desires without remorse, they would be expelled from the congregation. Their parents would cease to speak to them. They would be utterly cut off from their family and friends.

I'd always believed the above was totally normal, approved by god, and all that good stuff. In fact, at that point in my life, if my best friend had suddenly confided to me that she thought she might be having 'homosexual longings' my first instinct would most likely have been to turn her in so that she might be guided and prayed with (and for) and hopefully turned away from the course that led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.


I remember the night that my view of homosexuality was altered irreversibly.

In my family, I am the eldest of two sisters and when I was still a JW I was encouraged to be a role model for my younger sister and to support her spiritually as much as possible. This I generally did with much earnestness.

One night (one of those nights Before All Hell Broke Loose as I tend to think of it), my sister and I had a passionate argument on whether homosexuality was wrong. That was the year that my sister had acquired not only a boyfriend but also a library pass and was causing no end of worry to my parents. I was worried about the very real possibility of her 'falling out of the Truth' - the JW way of saying, 'leaving the religion. ' Its not a pleasant thing to have to think about the possibility of having to shun one's own sister.

And so when she started to say she'd been thinking and didn't believe that it was right to condemn homosexuality... Well, alarm bells went off, I started to panic, and I began to argue strenuously on the JW side for all I was worth. We tossed the usual lines back and forth for a while "The Bible says in Romans..." "Its genetic not acquired..." "Its unnatural..." "Its not hurting anyone..." etc. etc.

This went on for quite a while and I was getting pretty upset. Finally my sister asked me, "Are you telling me that if you had a child and they were gay that you would shun them? Or think that they were evil for having been born with those inclinations? And try to force them to be straight?" *

I considered for a moment and forced myself to be totally, totally honest. I don't think of myself as having very maternal instincts but even so, I do believe I have an adequate capacity for imagining.

I think that was one of the starting points that resulted in my sister, her boyfriend (my best friend), and myself leaving the JWs, joining Elliot in the cruel, cruel immoral world, and subsequently being shunned by our former friends and family.

Fast forward four years later and the thought of Eve - or ANYONE! sorry, don't mean to pick solely on Eve here, she's just closest at hand - choosing to submerge and despise a part of herself so as to be a good Christian... Well, I think its awful. This is very much my emotions talking, because my head knows that its not like Eve is a rarity. There are many gay folk who choose (or are coerced) to be celibate for religious reasons. Many religious people truly believe that being gay is unnatural, disgusting, wicked, something you can change,* something that is abhorrent to god, something that is scripturally condemned, something you should hate about yourself and in others - should they display the inclination.

Now, in my mind, a lot of this goes back to the Christian notion of original sin, made most famous in the Genesis account - of which (yes, thank you, Elliot) there are many, many interpretations but of which the most common seems to be that - to put it very generally - something happened long ago (literal or figurative - you decide) that changed humankind's position from perfect to imperfect, without sin to sinful. Before that point in time, all was possible and we were approved by god. After that point in time, humans were flawed and in need of redemption and god's grace and... Christ's death.

And now to trim this whole thing down to a finishing point...

Earlier as part of this whole discussion, I made the comment on Elliot's blog:

"I suppose it would help if I believed in the whole concept of humanity being an inherently sinful and "fallen" race but I don't. The Genesis account of man's supposed fall from grace doesn't mesh with my idea of a god of love."

And Eve (very kindly took the time and) responded to it. I'll just quote the part I would like to respond to. Hopefully I can be brief...


"But what I want to know is, what does she call it? What does she call that yearning toward hate, that reverse heliotropism? What does she call the damage that all of us bear from the time of our earliest memories?"

In answer to 'what would I call' the undoubtable fact that humans are capable of much evil... Well, I would call it the way things are, the way things have always been. (I'm not sure that's quite what I personally believe but it makes more sense to me then the idea of original sin.)

"Chesterton, I think, said something about how the Fall is the only obvious Christian doctrine (?). And I agree with that so thoroughly that I'm not even sure how useful I can be in defending the idea--it's too central to my experience of the world. I mean, look: My mom works in prisoners'-rights litigation. If you want to be convinced that humans are not naturally good, I am hard pressed to think of a better school.

People want, and want very badly, a lot of really awful things. The fact that somebody really, really wants to do something, or believes it's embedded in and intrinsic to him, doesn't actually tell me very much about that thing's moral worth.

But I absolutely, 100% deny that humans are naturally bad or evil, either. If that were true, how could we ever long for or recognize beauty and truth? To be Fallen is to share both the legacy of Adam's sin, and the memory of his happiness. (See--right up there in the title, I promised you some Augustine, and there it finally is....) Something's gone wrong with us, yes, but somewhere deep down we do still remember what it was like to be able to love. And by following that submerged and occluded memory, we can learn to accept grace, and be healed, and love truly."

I don't believe that we - humanity - are naturally bad or evil. Or naturally good and innocent - so perhaps we're on the same page there. One thought on this is, perhaps we are born everything. When it comes to our actions, our inclinations, what if we are born with the potential for everything? * (Or at the very least, to determine whether the course of our life will be good or bad.)

I don't understand this drive, this need to believe that at one point we were more then this. That at one point we were some sort of ideal species/creation.

Yes, we are born 'flawed' if by flawed you mean that we become diseased and our bodies eventually run down, collapse and die.

But sinful? I will never believe that a child is born sinful.

I could never believe again that god's idea of justice was to permit sin to pass into the world as some sort of screwed up punishment for something that happened millennia ago... only to go the trouble of... well, the rest is history, isn't it?

Inherited, original sin. Where is the justice in that? Where is the comfort?

(I'm going to stop here for now. Apologies for length. Please feel free to comment. Although I'm not sure I have quite finished my thoughts.)

* Eve Tushnet is a blogger who converted from Judaism to Catholicism and has been very open in her blog about the fact that she is a celibate lesbian.
* A small MSN group of close friends.
* Eve, if you read this, please feel free to correct me on any of these points ; this is just the impression I've gotten.
* Though it wouldn't have been called 'gay' per se, it would more likely be labeled as impure desires and lustful longings - actually, Elliot, help me out here, what was the proper term? Hmm...
* After all this time, I'm actually not sure how the heck she worded it exactly. I doubt she would have used terms like 'gay' or 'straight' at that point... But anyways, essentially that was what she said.
* In fact there are even groups who advertise their ability to 'change' you into a proper straight person. Ugh!
* And THIS - to me - seems much more in line with the idea of a loving god!


Elliot said...

Good post! I think you've expressed yourself well.

I think the JWs would have called it 'porneia.'

Peter van Inwagen, a philosopher and atheist who converted to Catholicism not too long ago, in his discussion of original sin said that humans are deeply, radically evil, "at least in potential."

That struck me. I think one thing he was getting at was that all humans (even if they don't act on it) have this appalling *capacity* for evils that are just horrific, beyond anything that animals would dream up. You've studied Rwanda. And even when it's not that big, it's funny how people will do things just for sheer meanness ('shot a man in Reno just to watch him die).

Of course, reacting against the same upbringing as you, I tend to take an evolutionary and existential position on this, though I do think it's an important concept.

Of course, 'original sin' isn't a doctrine that's spelled out in the Bible in its developed form (I think Augustine was the one who did that). So some Christians reject the idea.

And now I'll just step back and let Eve respond.

Anonymous said...

'in potential' is a useless argument, akin to hypothetical. Choosing to target evil in potentia is a specific bias.

Anactoria said...


I would say it works both ways.

We humans have the capacity for extraordinary evil... AND for extraordinary good.

Unfortunately, good deeds tend to go unnoticed.

They aren't shouted in the public square (i.e. the media circus) like mass murder.

When examples of evil are all we hear about and acts of good go ignored, I think its no wonder that we start to lose faith in its existence, when really its all around us. Always has been.

Even in Rwanda.

At least, I like to think so.



Anonymous said...

'good deeds tend to go unnoticed' - I'd argue about that. It sounds like a cliche; it's not inherently true because of that.

True, good deeds seem to be overshadowed by the overwhelming amount of bad you hear about, but, get this, we're still shocked and appalled by it. That seems to indicate (to me), that some part of us is still mostly good, and amazed that such horror goes on around us. Good news can be met with a smile and a nod, but you get more easily discerned and expressive reactions from the bad stuff.

I'm sure there's a psychologist out there who could phrase it much more aptly, but...

Anactoria said...

Yeah, I was feeling Hallmarky yesterday.


Elliot said...


Still waiting for Eve.

Elliot said...

PS: Please don't take my first comment as an argument, anony-man. I'm not sure Inwagen is right, myself - but I think it's a thought-provoking way of expressing what people mean by 'original sin.' More a poetical way than a philosphical way.

Anactoria said...

No, no, don't worry. I liked your comment. Thanks for reading! ;o)

I was curious about this part of it though...

"Of course, reacting against the same upbringing as you, I tend to take an evolutionary and existential position on this, though I do think it's an important concept."

Evolutionary and existential. You mean the way you believe the Genesis account to be basically myth/legend?

What would you call my position...? (Or lack thereof.)

Anactoria said...


'Waiting for Eve'

It sounds like a movie title...

Anactoria said...

BUT we're not 'waiting' for Eve. She's very busy and may not comment at all. Either way I got what I had to say off my chest. :P It was just a post, to start me off in my new direction!

Next up... bisexuality!

Eve said...

OK! I am about to post. And awesomely, I almost quoted the whole "shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die" line, but decided not to--and here Elliot has done it for me!


Elliot said...

Great minds and all that!