Table of Contents
Also on this website:
Toby Johnson's books:
GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe
THE FOURTH QUILL, a
novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The
Dimensional Structure of
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the "Statement of Spirituality"
You're Not A Wave
What is Enlightenment?
What is reincarnation?
How many lifetimes in an ego?
Emptiness & Religious Ideas
Experiencing experiencing experiencing
Going into the Light
Meditations for a Funeral
The way to get to heaven
Buddha's father was right
Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal
The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika
Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva
John Boswell was Immanuel Kant
The Two Loves
Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook
Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer
The Way Out by Christopher L Nutter
The Gay Disciple by John Henson
Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry
Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr
Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois
Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson
Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low
Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman
The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman
Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor
Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine
The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada
The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook
The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther
The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel
Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak
Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez
Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr
Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman
Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano
The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo
The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar
Occam’s Razor by David Duncan
Grace and Demion by Mel White
Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso
The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery
The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass
Gay Perspective: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us About the Nature of God and the Universe
Alyson Books, Release date: July 2003, 296 pages
Re-released by White Crane Books and Lethe Press, 2008,
If at all possible, please purchase this--or any other of Toby's books--from your local lesbian and gay community bookstore. These stores truly constitute the backbone of gay culture and community. They need our support. Buying gay books from a gay bookseller keeps the industry functioning, demonstrates support for gay publishing, and keeps gay publishers operating.
The lesbian and gay rights movement is popularly portrayed as an extremist faction of the Sexual Revolution. It is that, of course, but it's also far more than just that. The recognition of homosexuality as a psychological phenomenon, the rise of openly gay cultures, and the emergence of a distinctive gay consciousness in the last hundred years prompt fresh questions about the purpose of human life, the function of sex in consciousness, the role of authority in society, the meaning of religion and mythology, and even the nature of God.
We have to ask whether an even larger truth about life and God emerges from the personal experience of us actual homosexuals because of our uniquely gay perspective.
Many people, gay and straight, prefer to emphasize how much gay people are like other people. Don't we want to seem as normal and non-threatening as possible?
Of course, but we're not normal and non-threatening. Traditional culture heaps opprobrium upon us, especially in the name of religion. That gay people live positive and productive lives, that we are wonderful people and have important contributions to make to the development of human consciousness, shows us very positively abnormal and threatens the assumptions of traditional culture and religion.
As David Nimmons shows with statistics, hard facts, and anecdotal evidence in his remarkable book The Soul Beneath the Skin (a great companion to this present book), modern gay men have produced one of the most consistently non-violent associations of males that has ever existed. For all the problems in the gay world, we're remarkably generous, cooperative, supportive, friendly, harmonious, and peaceful. And what problems do exist-and they are legion, especially in the area of sexual relations-they are almost all products of erroneous ideas about what homosexuality is and who gay men are. Nimmons-who has created a New York-based movement of gay friendliness called Manifest Love to address these problems-argues convincingly that, for our own sake and for that of the larger society struggling to cope with the pressures and strife of modern life, the truth about our common gay virtue needs proclaiming because it's helpful to everybody.
If some other voluntary organization of males, Nimmons writes, demonstrated the virtual absence of public violence, high levels of service and volunteerism, novel forms of caretaking with strangers and friends, and uncommon amity across gender lines that modern gay men display, those unusual males would be lauded and lionized and held up as models for coping with modernization. But because the truth about our lives is distorted, misrepresented, and tarred with the brush of gender role nonconformity and wanton sexuality, our common goodness fails to be recognized as just such a model.
Our liberation from gender roles and our embrace of the inherent goodness of sexuality make us different from other human beings-and worth paying attention to. Besides, somebody needs to identify and prize alternative views of human life and the nature of the universe because the current views aren't making this world into heaven on earth. Perhaps we have special insights and special contributions that can help. It doesn't make us superior-or straight people inferior-to proclaim our place in the World Soul. And we must do this because no one else is going to do it for us.
Indeed, advances in biotechnology may soon make it possible for parents to test for and eliminate gay traits in their offspring. Science may make it possible to delete genetic tendencies toward homosexuality either by aborting future gay children or by "correcting" these tendencies through gene manipulation. If it's true-as so many of us know-that being gay is a blessing, a source of creativity, and a contribution to the evolution of humankind, then we need to argue why homosexuality should not be eliminated from the gene pool. We need to understand why our homosexual viewpoint is something to be protected and nurtured. And we need to tell future generations of homosexuals-which there will be in the near term, at least-how to value their experience positively and productively.
Beyond its place in the Sexual Revolution, the development of lesbian and gay consciousness is also a manifestation of that dramatic change in culture and consciousness loosely (and sometimes ridiculously) referred to as "New Age" or "new paradigm." This change has been wrought by modernization, increasing psychological sophistication, expanding ecological awareness, the liberation of scientific thinking from the constraints of religious dogma, the ongoing expansion of the human population, and the mingling of cultures and religions worldwide.
The misconception and misrepresentation of gay consciousness as mere sexual libertarianism is reinforced by the peculiar anti-sexual obsession of American Christianity and by the political strategy of conservatives who know "other people's" sexual behavior is a hot button issue with their constituents and contributors-and also, ironically, by the defensive protestations of gay activists and pro-sex celebrations of gay culture that inadvertently stir up the wrong voters with that same hot button.
The political goal of the gay movement is certainly to stop the victimization of lesbians and gay men with appeals to simple justice, fair play and compassion. The movement works to address practical problems that homosexuals face in contemporary society, like holding a job, keeping health insurance, living in intimate relationship, merging-or separating-jointly owned property, being there for one another in health and in sickness, and protecting financial legacies. But there are implications more far-reaching than political gains and legal rights.
In some ways, our opponents understand the consequences of our movement better than we do, and therefore become adamant in their objections to what seems so obviously right to us. Religion is often the justification for these objections. Religious conservatives understand that the recognition of homosexual rights compromises the ability of the guardians of orthodoxy to make and enforce rules about morality. It also weakens their claim to a divine mandate handed down through ancient scriptures. If they give in to modern arguments about homosexuality, they may have to give in on many more fronts.
The Churches have lost a lot in the last few centuries. They've been proved wrong about the structure of the solar system, the shape of the planet, the course of evolution of life on Earth, the origins of disease and mental illness, the existence of witches, and the causes of "supernatural" phenomena. Admitting that the Old Testament condemnations of homosexual activity are just primitive cultural taboos would further erode the Churches' power and authority. Acknowledging that the anti-homosexual stance that has been so long a mainstay of morality is inconsistent with the principles of love of neighbor and respect for other human beings that contemporary liberal democratic societies take for granted would just show how out of step with modern thinking they've become.
The fundamental issue is nothing less than the origin of truth. Does it come from revelations by God in the distant past as they were recorded and approved by Church officials? Or does it come from the observation of present reality and scientific experimentation? This was the problem Galileo posed when he announced what he'd seen through his telescope. The liberation of gay voices-part of what we might more generally call psychological sophistication-adds personal experience to the modes of knowing. Is the truth about homosexuality to be found in the Bible or the declarations of Vatican officials, or in the personal experience of actual homosexual persons?
Within the various religious institutions, attitudes toward homosexuality, same-sex marriage-and also ordination of women, another gender role issue-have become the dividing line between progressive and traditional Churches. Our issues are at the heart of the modernization of religion-sometimes, actually, without having anything to do with most of us as individuals. It's about modernization itself; we're just the symbols
Today we can discern a transformation in the very nature of religious truth. Exposure to the varieties of religion around the world-combined with a commitment to the fundamental proposition that all human beings are created equal-forces modern thinkers to abandon the traditional belief that one culture and one religion alone is right and God-ordained. Modernization and globalization compel us to think from broader perspectives. The study of world religions shows that religious doctrines are more like the metaphors of poetry than the laws of physics. Moreover, it's clear those metaphors emerged from cultural conditioning, politics, historical happenstance, and imagination, not from divinely-revealed absolute truth.
We are witnesses to the birth of a new religious consciousness. This new consciousness offers enlightenment and meaning to individuals, even as it poses tremendous challenges to institutions. The gay rights movement is part of this transformation-a reason the movement meets with such violent opposition from traditional religious institutions.
Religion is in dire need of transformation. The model of God and the world we embrace is supposed to give us a sense of meaning and purpose in life and a clear motivation to love one another and to work in harmony. But the world is in chaos and, in great part, because of religious conflicts. Because traditional religion opposes gay rights and the recognition of gay people's human dignity, modern gay men and lesbians should be especially motivated to bring about this transformation. And 2000 years later, this transformation is just the next step in the realization of Jesus's wisdom. The cause of suffering-what we need to be saved from-is not humans' failure to obey dualistic rules about cleanliness and taboos about pleasure, but our failure to love and respect one another and one another's differences.
In fact, today, all of us are consciously or unconsciously adjusting our religious and mythological belief systems to fit modern realities. Everybody has a different idea of what God is; in a pluralistic society with freedom of religion, that is OK with most people. Of course, even in the recent past this hodgepodge of opinions about the nature of God would have been considered heretical. But now it is as natural as curry in DesMoines or McDonald's in Delhi.
Psychological sophistication and social critique reveal how males and females are conditioned-even terrorized-into traditional roles. In the insightful little book, Sacred Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human, religion scholar Robert Minor explains how, archetypally, men are taught to be leaders, decision-makers, competitors, and warriors. Women are taught to be followers, servants, homemakers, and childrearers. Men are taught to dominate women; women are taught to be submissive to men. Men are taught to suppress feelings and to be always in control; women are taught to be victims of their feelings, to be feckless and needy.
Everybody is supposed to see the world divided dualistically: dominant and submissive, male and female, light and dark, right and wrong. These dualisms preserve the status quo, keeping men in charge-especially men who rise to power within institutions that absorb personal responsibility and free them from accountability. Values in politics and economics are enforced through systems of religion and morality that misdirect attention by focusing on controlling sex and pleasure as though these were the real problems.
These models of men's and women's roles don't apply to modern society. Women are now equal citizens, educated and responsible. A woman is no longer the submissive possession of a man who gives her a name and a reason for living. Reproductive medicine, contraception, sex education, and sexual liberation have altered prevailing arguments about morality.
Gay people, in particular, violate rigid gender roles. Gay people flout societal conditioning and put the lie to the old rules. Beyond our iconoclastic sexual behavior and gender identification, we challenge the very basis for belief in dualistic systems.
Ironically, Jesus and the early Christians challenged that dualistic, male-dominant view of the world over 2,000 years ago. Jesus scoffed at the elaborate taboos of the Temple, showing how they contributed to the suffering of the poor and supported the excesses of the rich. He dismissed the dualism of clean and unclean-the essence of ancient religion-by teaching that love and respect for human persons were what mattered, not ritual purity and obedience to every detail of the Law.
Today the gay rights movement resonates with Jesus's imperative to respect individuals, to respond to human needs, and to treat with suspicion those in authority who tell us just to obey the rules.
It shouldn't surprise us that gay people exemplify certain spiritual and mystical qualities. Modern gay-sensitive research into history and anthropology reveals that the shamans, healers, and miracle-workers who helped to create early human religious consciousness were often people who lived outside conventional gender roles. These healers and spiritual guides in Native-American and other shamanic traditions-two-spirit people-practiced cross-dressing and ritual homosexuality. Many of them would likely be called gay if they were alive today.
And throughout the history of Christianity, people we'd now call gay were the priests, monks, and nuns who chose religious life as a meaningful alternative to marriage and family. Some of these were spiritual pioneers who guided the development of religious consciousness to give profound meaning to life beyond humans' mere animal functions; some also introduced a strain of homophobia into Church life to protect their own sexual secrets that still dogs us today.
Most of us grew up feeling we didn't fit, that there was something "wrong" with us, that we were different. If we were unlucky, these feelings of exclusion left us with damaged egos and self-fulfilling prophecies of failure and discontent. If we were lucky, we later learned that not fitting in equipped us with self-fulfilling prophecies of specialness and with useful skills and talents, especially sensitivity to other people's feelings-if only in the interest of self-protection and secrecy. Our not fitting in enabled us to develop a critical perspective toward the conventions and assumptions other people accept unquestioningly. From that outsider's point of view we can see how the old mores and beliefs limit and diminish an individual's life experience, perpetuate the victimization of women, justify violence against supposed enemies, and maintain traditional power structures.
If we were especially lucky, we might even have escaped the presumption of dualism-which includes both the notion that the world should be full of conflict and disagreement in a battle between good and evil and the belief that God and the world are forever separate. We might also have discovered the lesson, so important in a time of population explosion, that you don't have to have children to live a good, fulfilled life. In fact, you make an unselfish contribution to the world by not having children and by living with no vested or self-serving interest in the future.
These are precisely the qualities that support our newly developing religious attitudes: the ability to see from a perspective that honors the religious traditions as poetical sources of wisdom without mistaking them for factual descriptions of the external world and making fetishes of details that no longer fit modern reality; the awareness that the apparent duality of the world is an illusion, that enmity and competition are not inherent; and the mystical sense that we are participating in the life of God in the course of our daily activities whether or not we have children. As we move beyond the confines of traditional culture and belief, gay people embody the perspective that all modern humans are called to adopt.
Gay perspective tells us important things about the nature of God and the universe. This book is an articulation of some of them, but certainly not an exhaustive list. Right off the top of your head, you'll probably notice things the author apparently ignored or forgot. And you may find some of the things he included incomprehensible. You may believe he ignored the "real problems" of gay life. That's OK. That you think about these issues, too, is a demonstration of the basic message. Indeed the entire discussion is intended as an occasion to see how all our worldviews are shaped by our sexual orientation and as a reminder of how different we are from other people. For this is an important step toward finding our place in the world and understanding how we can contribute to the well-being of everyone.
Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.
Johnson's Lammy Award winning book
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003. Both books are
available now from Lethe
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