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Also on this website:
Toby Johnson's books:
YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned
from Joseph Campbell: The
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
LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:
Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods
THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers
THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell
IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD: A Mystical Journey
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Articles and Excerpts:
Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
EnlightenmentYou'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
What Anatman means
Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal
The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika
Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva
John Boswell was Immanuel Kant
Cutting edge realization
The Myth of the Wanderer
Change: Source of Suffering & of Bliss
What the Vows Really Mean
Manifesting from the Subtle Realms
The Three-layer Cake & the Multiverse
The est Training and Personal Intention
Effective Dreaming in Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven
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 Golden Rule 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 nine 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, four 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 and editor of a collection of "myths" of gay men's consciousness.
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They
YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth
of the Great Secret III tells the story of Johnson's learning the
real nature of religion and myth and discovering the spiritual
qualities of gay male consciousness.
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