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
Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging
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
Love Together: Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen
War Between Materialism and Spiritual by Jean-Michel Bitar
The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal
Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion
by Jeffrey J. Kripal
The Invitation to Love by Darren Pierre
Brain, Consciousness, and God: A Lonerganian Integration by Daniel A Helminiak
A Walk with Four Spiritual Guides by Andrew Harvey
Can Christians Be Saved? by Stephenson & Rhodes
The Lost Secrets of the Ancient Mystery Schools by Stephenson & Rhodes
Keys to Spiritual Being by Adrian Ravarour
In Walt We Trust by John Marsh
Solomon's Tantric Song by Rollan McCleary
A Special Illumination by Rollan McCleary
Aelred's Sin by Lawrence Scott
Fruit Basket by Payam Ghassemlou
Internal Landscapes by John Ollom
Princes & Pumpkins by David Hatfield Sparks
Blood of the Goddess by William Schindler
Sanctity & Male Desire by Donald Boisvert
Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom by Jeffrey Kripal
Evolving Dharma by Jay Michaelson
Jesus in Salome's Lot by Brett W. Gillette
The Man Who Loved Birds by Fenton Johnson
The Vatican Murders by Lucien Gregoire
"Sex Camp" by Brian McNaught
Out & About with Brewer & Berg
Episode One: Searching for a New Mythology
The Soul Beneath the Skin by David Nimmons
Out on Holy Ground by Donald Boisvert
The Revolutionary Psychology of Gay-Centeredness by Mitch Walker
Out There by Perry Brass
The Crucifixion of Hyacinth by Geoff Puterbaugh
The Silence of Sodom by Mark D Jordan
It's Never About What It's About by Krandall Kraus and Paul Borja
ReCREATIONS, edited by Catherine Lake
Gospel: A Novel by WIlton Barnhard
Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey by Fenton Johnson
Dating the Greek Gods by Brad Gooch
Telling Truths in Church by Mark D. Jordan
The Substance of God by Perry Brass
The Tomcat Chronicles by Jack Nichols
10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Improve Their Lives by Joe Kort
Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same Sex Love by Will Roscoe
The Third Appearance by Walter Starcke
The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann
Surviving and Thriving After a Life-Threatening Diagnosis by Bev Hall
Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods by Ronald Long
Interview with Ron Long
Queering Creole Spiritual Traditions by Randy Conner & David Sparks
An Interview with Randy Conner
Pain, Sex and Time by Gerald Heard
Sex and the Sacred by Daniel Helminiak
Blessing Same-Sex Unions by Mark Jordan
Rising Up by Joe Perez
That Undeniable Longing by Mark Tedesco
Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman
Wisdom for the Soul by Larry Chang
Soulfully Gay by Joe Perez
MM4M a DVD by Bruce Grether
Double Cross by David Ranan
The Transcended Christian by Daniel Helminiak
Jesus in Love by Kittredge Cherry
In the Eye of the Storm by Gene Robinson
The Starry Dynamo by Sven Davisson
Life in Paradox by Fr Paul Murray
Spirituality for our Global Community by Daniel Helminiak
Gay and Healthy in a Sick-Society by Robert A. Minor
Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson
Queering Christ: Beyond Jesus ACTED UP
by Robert E. Goss
originally published by Pilgrim Press, 2002,
released in paperback by Wipf & Stock Pub January 2007
284 pages, paperback, $30.00
Available from Amazon.com new and used
Queering Christ: Beyond JESUS ACTED UP
This review appeared in White Crane Journal #56, Spring 2003
Despite its provocative and militant title, Queering Christ is a discursus on the nature of theology as an academic discipline within the field of Queer Theory and not a call to despoil the Christian religion or a revelation of new clues to the sex life of Jesus. Though, in fact, it does contain elements of both—including some interesting hints into the practice of nude baptism.
Robert Goss is a former Jesuit priest. Accounts of his experience in Catholic religious life weave in and out of his presentation. He’s left the Order, but he remains clearly a professional religionist. He is Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Webster University in St. Louis and practices his priestly ministry now through M.C.C. not the Roman Catholic Church. With a doctorate in Theology from Harvard, he is clearly a well-trained academic. This turns out to be both a strength and a weakness of the book: Goss speaks authoritatively and brilliantly about
his subject, but the scholarly nomenclature of postmodern Queer Theory demands close attention by the reader—and, sometimes, the ability to decipher the in-house jargon of the academy—in order to understand what it means.
Starting with an autobiographical chapter, Goss argues that a sexual theology necessarily involves the personal experience of the theologian. This is surely one of his strongest points. It’s a new thing that theology would consider personal experience. Traditionally, Christian theology has looked to the bible or the teachings of the Church to find truth, not the personal experience of actual human beings. That’s why it could be so totally off-base about sexuality and, especially, homosexuality.
Goss makes a good case for how off-base the Church has been by recounting his own religious life formation. From the practice of custody of the eyes (which, in the name of preventing “cruising,”turned out to mean looking at the other seminarians‘ crotches instead of their eyes) to that of self-flagellation (which Goss speculates was a form of masturbation) to meditation on the near naked body of Jesus, priestly training seemed designed to confuse and “pervert” natural sexual and emotional feelings.
At the same time, Jesuit life offered possibilities for real sexual experience. Goss quotes his friend and fellow ex-Jesuit Joseph Kramer (creator of the Body Electric Training) that religious life was “homosexual heaven.” His training matured him positively, in spite of the confusing messages. It gave him opportunity, for instance, to work in a leper colony and in Mother Theresa’s House of the Dying Destitute in Calcutta. It also introduced him to his first long-term lover and to personal experience of the layers of complication that HIV has added to
contemporary gay life. The account of his lover’s dying, his own grieving, and then learning to love again provide a human, feeling oriented foundation for the more abstract discussions that follow.
Goss’s goal is to “queer” theology. Queering, he says, is a method. “To queer” means to spoil or interfere with. And the way Queer Theology “queers“ traditional religion is to spoil an already spoiled system to make it more inclusive of folks disenfranchised from Christianity. Since religion is dominated by white, middle-class, heterosexist values, queering it would mean opening it to the experience of the whole range of minorities who don’t fit those values, especially queers, including gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, transgenderals, etc. The “etc.” is important because the point is that sexual experience and sexual identity are multiple and fluid.
Traditionally, religion has not taken that kind of purview of human nature. A queered theology is necessarily a theology of liberation, written and practiced in the struggle not only against misogny, homophobia, heterosexism and AIDS-phobia, but also racism, classism, militarism, and ecological domination.
Queering Christ, as the subtitle indicates, is composed of articles written over the nearly ten years since Goss’s important gay genre book Jesus ACTED UP: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto appeared. (There’s a forgivable flaw in the stylistic differences between chapters that results from such origin and the occasional repetition.) In that first book, Goss argued that Christianity was not the enemy of the gay community; rather the churches are the enemy. Gay/lesbian theology has to be dissident, political, proud, erotic, defiant, activist, and, because of its origins in the teachings of Christ, centered on justice-love. This challenges Church authority precisely like Jesus’s ministry 2000 years ago challenged the authority of the Temple and the Law.
The various discussions in the book include the (fe)masculinizing of priests (making them battered wives in cycles of ecclesial abuse), barebacking, anal sex, queer families and procreative privilege, the physicality of Christ, homodevotion to Jesus, theBi/Christ and the Trans/ and Transvestite/Christ, the biblical “texts of terror” that have been used against homosexuals, and the development of queer approaches to theology in contemporary queer theory and academic theological training and discourse. Lots of material with some very interesting points and tid-bits!
Such an interesting tid-bit, seemingly hinted at in the book’s title, is a discussion of the finding of a textual fragment from one of the Fathers of the Church by gay biblical scholar Morton Smith that arguably indicates that Jesus taught the mystery of the kingdom of God (to Lazarus, the evangelist Mark, and others) through an erotic ritual of naked baptism, and that the early Church may have practiced a nighttime mystery rite of possession by Jesus’s spirit with homoerotic dimensions.
This reviewer didn’t think Goss queered religion quite enough. Despite his declared intention of recognizing the multiplicity of voices and perspectives, he never rose above Christianity to look at it as but one religious tradition among many. That perspective—what is loosely called “spirituality”—allows for a much simpler response to the history of Church and bible-based oppression: It’s all myth anyway, take what’s meaningful to you and leave the rest behind. The point of the mythological traditions is to raise people’s vision above just everyday and selfish concerns and to inspire compassion. The proper goal of religion isn’t to be right, but to be loving and kind.
If the bible says homosexuals should be stoned, it’s evidence the bible’s outdated and inadequate for addressing issues of contemporary life. You don’t need to explain the “texts of terror,” you can just tear those pages out of the book. (Actually you might find it would be simpler to just save the one page with Jesus’s GoldenRule on it and throwaway all the rest. That’s probably what Jesus himself would have done.) The message to be learned from observing the anti-gay attitudes and behavior of the Christian churches is that it’s time to move on. Let’s throw the baby out with the bathwater because the reason the water is fouled is that the baby has died and the body’s putrefying and deserves a respectful burial.
It’s not enough to queer Christianity. You’ve got to queer religion itself. Robert Goss is obviously moving in the right direction; he may be queering religion more than he realizes. You don’t come to the end of this book to discover how right and wonderful and infallible Christian doctrine is or that Jesus is your Lord and Savior. So there’s another step to take: understanding Christianity as but one voice in the conversation about spiritual meaning—and it’s got a very old-timey accent. All of us, gay and straight, need a new spiritual paradigm that makes sense in the modern world and speaks with a modern, enlightened voice.
For queer theologians this book is clearly a must-read. It’s an excellent statement of just what it means to do a queer theology. For a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans person seeking to find spiritual meaning or inspiration, to cope with neurosis-producing childhood religious indoctrination, or to learn to answer parents’ bible-based harangues, the book won’t be very useful. What it is very useful for, for those of us interested and fascinated by religious and spiritual questions, is learning what’s going on within the institutional and academic circles of theological discourse. If you’ve just heard Jerry Falwell on TV, for instance, it’s refreshing and consoling to learn that inside the ivory towers the theologians are talking about Christ in a much different way.
Things are changing.
For all that Goss sometimes falls into incomprehensible (if very precise) jargon, the autobiographical thread that runs through the book makes queer theory and queer theology surprisingly accessible and personally meaningful. You can see how he’s struggling to discover and articulate that needed modern—pro-sex, pro-gay—spiritual meaning in the familiar language of Christian myth. This isn’t an easy read, but you might find expending the effort worthwhile
Reviewed by Toby Johnson, author of Gay Spirituality: Gay Identity and the Transformation of Human Consciousness, The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell and other novels and books
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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