Archive for May, 2009
The tagline accompanying this April 2004 editorial in the British Medical Journal reads, “An ‘old’ problem with relevance today.” The “old” problem is the stigmatization of homosexuality by social custom and religious belief. The author, Marshall Forstein of the Harvard Medical School, offers one of the most eloquent, concise, and authoritative histories of research into homosexuality that I have read. It is well worth a read, and if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered, it is guaranteed to pick you up after the big let-down from the California Supreme Court on May 26 (re: Proposition 8).
Having recently had the Roman Catholic catechism quoted to me (“Homosexuality is objectively disordered”), the following passage from the BMJ editorial was especially meaningful:
In spite of every mental health and medical association in the U.S. stating unequivocally that there is no scientific evidence that homosexuality is a disorder, many religious organizations continue to declare homosexuality or homosexual behavior as sinful and immoral. This creates spiritual crises for many people who have grown up within anti-homosexual religious families and communities.
Meanwhile, the suicide rate among same-sex-oriented teens in the U.S. continues to be more than three times that of heterosexual teens. There is a clear and well-established connection between these suicides and the extremely toxic religious teachings about homosexuality that abound in our culture.
It is time for religious institutions to align their teachings with the overwhelming scientific consensus about homosexuality. Reparative therapies are not just pseudoscientific but unethical because of the potential dangers they pose, and religionists who support such therapies should be continually confronted with the ethical implications of their stance. The positive alternative to such therapies is gay-affirmative therapy, which helps sexual minorities accept their orientation as a variant of normal human behavior.
Just a couple of days ago, I posted a cartoon about the so-called “reparative therapies” that seek to “cure” homosexuality. A comment from one of this site’s visitors had prompted me to dig out the old print version of the cartoon and scan it for this blog site. The visitor apparently believes that such therapies are not only reputable but effective, and his comment reminded me that misinformation is still bubbling up from the swamp of ignorance like methane from the tundra. Here is the preamble to the American Psychiatric Association’s position statement on such therapies:
In December of 1998, the Board of Trustees issued a position statement that the American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as “reparative” or conversion therapy, which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation. In doing so, the APA joined many other professional organizations that either oppose or are critical of “reparative” therapies, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, The American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers.
I would encourage anyone who still believes in the efficacy of reparative therapy to read the full version of the APA’s position statement.
When I saw this story about the National Organization for Marriage’s new ad, I had just visited a Weblog that channels the Catholic Church’s official position about homosexuality and other issues. On May 9, Gil Bailie, the blog owner, wrote effusively about a Seattle man who is raising his small son in the Faith. The boy, named Asher, recently accompanied his father to a lecture that Gil gave in one of the Seattle churches. Apparently, Asher sat coloring with crayons at his father’s side while Gil was speaking. Afterwards, he presented his drawing to Gil. It depicts Jesus hanging on the cross. Gil writes, without the slightest trace of irony or self-consciousness: “Ah, it’s little moments like this.”
Though I was raised as a Southern Baptist, I can remember my own confusion when I learned about the crucifixion and saw depictions of it. The idea that a good man could be nailed to a cross by other men and left to die was terrifying, as was the idea of eternal suffering in a place called Hell. These images and ideas disturbed me for many years until I eventually discussed them with a therapist. Now, when I hear of small children being shown iconography about the crucifixion and hell, I am saddened and alarmed for them.
As an occasional artist myself, I know that drawing can be a kind of meditation on something that fascinates or troubles us. It sometimes serves as a form of self-therapy, relieving anxiety and promoting healing. Children who have experienced the trauma of violence in their family or society are often encouraged by therapists to make drawings of troubling events or scenes. When I learn that a small child has spent some time drawing a crucifixion scene, I sense that he has been thinking deeply about crucifixion during those moments and that there is something about it that troubles him.
Indeed, why wouldn’t Asher be troubled by the story of Jesus’ death and crucifixion? Why do his father and the other adults talk so much about this man on the cross, and why do they worship him? “Is that man good because he was crucified?” he may have asked himself. “If I am good, will I be crucified? And, if I am crucified, will people worship me, too?” I fear this boy may spend far too much of his life pondering such questions.
And now cut to a scene in which a father is explaining to his six-year-old son that their neighbors–two men–are “married, just like mommie and me.” If the boy is old enough to understand the concept of marriage, he will quickly expand its definition to include same-sex couples, and voila! Can we have some ice-cream, now?
Indeed, why should love between two men be troubling to a child unless it is presented in a highly sexualized manner? What could be more natural, even inspiring, than the love between David and Jonathan in the Bible? And how can parents be so cavalier about exposing their small children to the graphic and fetishistic depictions of violence that we see in crucifixion scenes?
POSTSCRIPT (10/11/09): Daoud Hari, in his 2008 memoir (The Translator) about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan describes what it was like to be on the ground witnessing some of the worst human rights abuses in human memory. Hari worked as a translator for various international organizations that sought to help displaced civilians. After listening to so many horrific stories from survivors about the butcheries practiced on their families, Hari was unable to sleep, and he writes,
…their stories swirled through my near-sleepless nights. I found that if I made little drawings of the scenes described to me, it would sometimes get the stories out of my head long enough for me to get some sleep. I would wake and make these drawings, and then I could sleep a little. These stories from the camps, mixed with things I had seen with my own eyes, such as the young mother hanging in a tree and her children with skin like brown paper and mothers carrying their dead babies and not letting them go … I was thankful that I could not draw them very well—stick figures, really. Even so, it helped.
Here is a cartoon I drew in 1997 for a small magazine. Twelve years later, Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, caricatured in the drawing, is still peddling reparative therapy for gay men. In 1997, I was speculating about what advice he might give to tall men concerned about their height. For more information about Dr. Nicolosi, visit the Ex-Gay Watch. This cartoon is not copyrighted. Please feel free to download it.
Sooner or later, opponents of equal rights for gays and lesbians almost always bring personal religious belief into discussions about relevant legislation and judicial decisions. These beliefs may be a front line defense or a fall-back position, but those who cite them must hope that enough common ground can be found in religion to secure a firm footing in the discussion.
We also sometimes hear overt expressions of personal disgust toward homosexuality, but these rarely occur in serious public discussions. This “ick” factor, when it is not completely denied, is usually backgrounded, because it is clearly the weakest of all the possible “arguments” that can be made and reflects badly on those who use it. Those who rely on it have already abandoned civil discourse for the language of bullies and brawlers.
Religious belief may, in some instances, act as a front for personal disgust, and there is an on-going debate about how much of this disgust originates in religion. However, even if the disgust is native (and why not?—homosexuals may be equally repelled by the thought of sex between men and women), there is little doubt that it is reinforced and propagated by organized religion.
Law and science no longer provide any basis for discrimination against sexual minorities, so religion is simply the last court of appeal. However, the problem is that this court is a sectarian court, whose verdict may not carry much weight among non-believers or adherents of other, more progressive faiths. Catholics can’t cite the catechism to Congregationalists.
What further undermines the argument from religion is that even “officially” conservative religious establishments like the Catholic Church are experiencing more and more dissension in the ranks. Witness recent Catholic response to President Obama’s commencement speech at Notre Dame University. Catholics can no longer even cite catechism to other Catholics.
Established religion, unlike folk religion, is plagued by reflectivity and the constant nagging doubt. It cannot consolidate its positions in a world where authority is constantly questioned.
Justifications for religious arguments are needed and called for. Daniel C. Dennett, author of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, finds a common feature of both folk psychology and folk religion to be their relative lack of reflectivity. Once exploratory reflections begin, these repositories of popular wisdom are challenged. Dennett describes three responses to such challenges (p. 163):
Everyday folk physics and folk biology and folk psychology work very well, as a rule, and so does folk religion, but occasional doubts surface. The exploratory reflections of human beings have a way of snowballing into waves of doubt, and if these threaten our equanimity, we can be expected to seize upon any responses that happen to shore up the consensus or damp the challenge. When curiosity stubs its toe on an unexpected event, something has to give: “what everybody knows” has a counterexample, and either the doubt blossoms into a discovery, which leads to the abandonment or extinction of a dubious bit of local lore, or the dubious item secures itself with an ad hoc repair of one sort or another, or it allies itself with other items that have in one way or another put themselves out of the reach of gnawing skepticism.
Is the argument from religious belief just a way of putting oneself outside the reach of gnawing skepticism? If so, how effective can it be in persuading those who do not share one’s particular sectarian beliefs? Not very. This is why we’re seeing a growing trend among fundamentalists to abandon the political arena, at least until they can secure their positions with ad hoc repairs.
For some time, I have been tracking Gil Bailie’s blogspot at http://cornerstone-forum.blogspot.com/. The blog, which he calls “Reflections on Faith and Culture,” channels the Catholic Church’s official positions regarding homosexuality, contraception, abortion, and other family and sexuality issues. To Bailie’s credit, however, he appears to allow a reasonably unfettered discussion, inclusive of dissenting opinions, even when they so obviously make him uneasy (e.g., his recent remark, on May 5, that he would “love to wish away this entire conversation”).
Since October of last year, Bailie’s blog has generously hosted a succession of very engaging discussions about marriage equality, hate crimes legislation, and other issues of particular interest to the LGBT community, and these discussions have included a host of voices from both the “bents” and the “brights.” Here are the topics. (If you navigate directly to the comments pages, be sure to click “Show Original Post” at the top of each column of comments.)
Pope Benedict’s verdict on condom use in Africa
(April 2, 2009: “We’ve Come a Long Way…”)
Hate Crimes, Marriage Equality
(May 2 2009: “Totalitarian Tolerance”)
(May 5, 2009: “Other Angles on the Same Issue”)
(May 7, 2009: “Processing Down the Aisle…”)
(October 20, 2008: “The Old Gil Bailie…”)
(February 1, 2009: “Britain, a ‘moral slum’…)