Friday, June 23, 2006

But the blogwatch caught up to me,
Smashed me to smithereens...

Amy Welborn: More on bad homilies.

Colby Cosh: Today's international news roundup seems even more fascinating than usual.

Dappled Things: What to do (and what not to do!) when you're "not feeling spiritual." Must-read pick for the day.

Disputed Mutability: Very honest, challenging blog from an ex-gay woman.
It was the finest achievement of my life so far, arrived at with bluff, deceit, hypocrisy, manipulation, abuse of trust and a few exploitative elements of gimcrack wisdom and genuinely good advice. Good advice, like a secret, is easier to give away than to keep.
--Stephen Fry, Moab Is My Washpot

Thursday, June 22, 2006

THE AGITATOR has an enormous amount of stuff about the problems with the increasing use of SWAT teams and no-knock raids in domestic policing.
WHAT KIND OF FOOD ARE YOU? "You are Japanese Food. Strange yet delicious. Contrary to popular belief, you're not always eaten raw." Snerk.

Via E-Pression, who is Italian food, and Ratty who is (of course) French.

Monday, June 19, 2006

HOLYOFFICE STRIKES AGAIN!!!--How to Give a Bad Homily:
...Popular culture, like all Western culture, is indeed filled with allusions and references--sometimes self-aware, sometimes not--to Christianity. Instead of going for the obvious ones, though, you'll want to instead explain how Jesus is like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the vampires are sins and they're not really being slain so much as forgiven, and of course Jesus is not a woman.

you know you want more!
Beating; punching with fists; use of truncheons; kicking; slamming against walls; stretching or suspension (to tear ligaments or muscles to cause asphyxia); external electric shocks; forcing prisoners to abase and to urinate on themselves; forced masturbation; forced renunciation of religion; false confessions or accusations; applying urine and feces to prisoners; making verbal threats to a prisoner and his family; denigration of a prisoner's religion; force-feeding; induced hypothermia and exposure to extreme heat; dietary manipulation; use of sedatives; extreme sleep deprivation; mock executions; water immersion; "water-boarding"; obstruction of the prisoner's airway; chest compression; thermal burning; rape; dog bites; sexual abuse; forcing a prisoner to watch the abuse or torture of a loved one.


Take all the shelving out of a typical filing cabinet. (My own office cabinet happens to be slightly smaller than the cell described here.) Now lock yourself in it for two days. You may notice you can neither stand up straight nor lie down, and crouching gets really uncomfortable extremely fast. Remember that as an Iraqi detainee, the Geneva Conventions apply to you. Now ask yourself: Why would Formica consider such treatment "reasonable" for two days? And if someone put an American soldier in such conditions for two days--or authorized doing so--what should happen to that person?


Calendar Against Torture

June 26, day of lobbying on Capitol Hill against torture.
ALSO FROM THE MAILBAG: A reader writes that he got the Weakerthans' "Reconstruction Site" and it is, indeed, made out of awesome. See what happens when you listen to me?
GIANT GAY MAILBAG OF DOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!: I'm sorry this took so long. These are roughly in reverse chronological order, most recent first. And I'm not posting all the emails I received, though I will post any critical ones (assuming the author gives permission). Where readers praise or criticize other groups or books, please assume that I have no knowledge of these groups/books. Thanks very much to everyone who read my NRO piece.

From an anonyreader:
I've enjoyed reading your posts and your NRO article this past week, but especially your recent post Closer to Heaven. If you're looking for an antidote for the ex-gay movement's tendency to immanentize the eschaton, I highly recommend The Spirituality of Imperfection, which a spiritual director had me read a few years ago. The book's not entirely orthodox, but it does a good job of emphasizing that the spiritual life is not so much about turning ourselves into super-duper-human-beings-without-any-flaws, as it is about learning to acknowledge our dependence on God's merciful love and opening ourselves to that love by receiving the sacraments and by practicing it concretely with regard to others.

Personally, I'm a big fan of Theresian spirituality and her Little Way, and I often look at this issue in that light. Rather than grow despondent on account of her weaknesses, she found joy in viewing them as opportunities to practice humility and to open herself to God's merciful love precisely in the context of ordinary, everyday life. For people like us who experience SSA, I find that approach is a healthy antidote to the temptation to despair.

Another way to frame the issue is that these ex-gay ministries all too often look at people with SSA as problems in need of fixing rather than persons in need of love. I would compare it to the way society treated crisis pregnancies pre-Roe v. Wade. As awful as that decision was, it prompted pro-lifers to open crisis pregnancy centers to help women in need, in a way that had not been done previously. I hope that it doesn't take similarly awful public policies on gay rights to inspire comparable ministries to people with SSA. But sometimes God permits these evils to occur in order that He may draw forth an even greater good.

If you're interested in learning more about how solidly Catholic psychologists approach these "ex-gay" issues, you might want to contact a local outfit called the Alpha Omega Clinic, which has close ties to the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Crystal City. They do some great work on these issues.

From John:
I was interested in your report on the 'ex-gay' conference. When it comes to 'ex-gay' theology, do you think that Catholic/Protestant differences might be important? I was wondering about this in one particular respect. One of the issues at the Reformation was whether concupiscence as such had the nature of sin. Concupiscence is the existence of physical desires to sin, desires that remain in us even after baptism has removed original sin, and that remain present in this life even in the saints unless they are given some extraordinary grace. Catholic teaching was that since these desires are not in the will (we don't choose to have them or feel them, and can't choose to get rid of them), they are not sinful, since sin can only exist in the will. This teaching was stated by the Council of Trent at its fifth session;

' 5. If any one denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted; or even asserts that the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin is not taken away; but says that it is only rased, or not imputed; let him be anathema. For, in those who are born again, there is nothing that God hates; because, There is no condemnation to those who are truly buried together with Christ by baptism into death; who walk not according to the flesh, but, putting off the old man, and putting on the new who is created according to God, are made innocent, immaculate, pure, harmless, and beloved of God, heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ; so that there is nothing whatever to retard their entrance into heaven. But this holy synod confesses and is sensible, that in the baptized there remains concupiscence, or an incentive (to sin); which, whereas it is left for our exercise, cannot injure those who consent not, but resist manfully by the grace of Jesus Christ; yea, he who shall have striven lawfully shall be crowned. This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin, as being truly and properly sin in those born again, but because it is of sin, and inclines to sin.'

'Of sin' refers to its resulting from the sin of Adam, not from the sins of those who suffer from concupiscence. The teaching was directed against Protestants who claimed that concupiscence was really and truly sin, and used this claim to support their view of justification (according to which justification is something external to the person justified, and does not change them from being sinners to not being sinners). So on the Catholic view homosexual desires (like most heterosexual desires), which are froms of concupiscence, are not as such sins, and do not make the person who experiences them any worse as a person. So Ludwig Ott, in his Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, remarks, 'The evils remaining after baptism, such as concupiscence, suffering and death (poenalitates), have for the baptised person no longer the character of punishment, but are a means of testing and proving him (D. 792: ad agonem) and of assimilation with Christ (p. 355).' St. Thomas interestingly says that one reason why God permits such concupiscence to remain after baptism is that 'it is also useful for man in order to avoid the vice of self-exaltation that the infirmity of sensuality remain; "And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given me a sting of my flesh" (2 Cor. 12:7)". Consequently this infirmity remains in man after baptism, just as a wise physician discharges a patient without having cured his illness if it could not be cured without the danger of a more serious illness.' (De Veritate, question 25 article 7 ad 5.)

I wonder if Protestants do not tend to inherit from their Reformation forebears the idea that homosexual desires as such are sins, and so that redemption requires that they be eliminated. I don't suppose that they all read Luther and Calvin on this subject, only that it is part of the outlook they have inherited. (Obviously they have not inhertied the whole outlook since they no longer think that sin must necessarily persist in the justified; they only inherit the part that holds that physical desires resulting from concupiscence are sinful.) If so this would explain why they can only conceive of ministry to homosexuals as an effort to get them to become heterosexual. It certainly does not seem to occur to them that homosexual desires can be useful, or means of assimilation with Christ. Do you think there is anything in this?

[Eve replies: I don't know nearly enough about Protestantism to feel comfortable taking a stand here. I do think it's interesting, of course, that "ex-gay" ideology is much more a Protestant concern than a Catholic one; but I don't have an opinion on why that is.]

An anonyreader writes:
Nice set of observations on ex-gay ministries on NRO and your blog. You are going to get an earful of abuse from all sorts of people, no doubt, so I wanted to chime in my approval, even if I agree with them only 87 percent of the time. :-)

Some random thoughts:

Re Nicolosi and NARTH--what gets me about those conservatives who lionize him is that usually conservatives rightly deride Freudian psychoanalysis as psychobabble. Do they think that Freud was wrong about everything except the etiology of homosexuality? Special pleading perhaps?

Re change in sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is much more fluid than gay activists usually suppose and whole lot less so anti-gay activists suppose. The experience of classical pederasty/homosexuality should indicate that clearly! On the other hand, it seems to me that the more likely one needs psychological therapy to change one's sexual orientation, the less likely one will succeed. I certainly don't think A.N. Wilson, Evelyn Waugh, or thousands of English public school/graduates required therapy to live an ostensibly straight life and therapy, and in contrast prayer meditation wouldn't (didn't) do a lick of good for Christopher Isherwood.

My own "origin" story--assuming that it dovetails with reality at all--covers some of the same bases as Nicolosi, but not others. Reading origin stories are very much like reading horoscopes in that way. It is uncanny how much I resemble Scorpio whenever I look at the astrology page of the paper, but then again, those horoscopes are rather universal to the human experience aren't they? Mothers will always be mothers and fathers and sons will usually butt heads and have serious misunderstandings growing up.

I would just assume not go into the reasons why I think I am the way I am, but it will suffice for now that the primary numero uno suspect is an issue that the ex-gays never considered up to now--at least I have never read it. And if my suspicions were ever proven correct, any sort of change for me would be nearly impossible. It is also curious that my personality traits are completely different than the vast majority of gays that I ever come across. It is as if that, save sexual orientation, I have very little in common with any of them. Yet another reason to distrust the psychobabble and sweeping generalizations emanating from the ex-gay movement.

P.S. If you really want to be pissed off at reparative therapists, read van den Aardwig's "Battle for Normality." His method of therapy can be reduced to the following theme: "Snap out of it, you deluded self-pitying fag! Yes, you heard me right!" Repeat ad infinitum. Let the beatings continue until the homo's morale improves.

...I think that Aardwig's approach (and I haven't looked at the book in years mind you) is a variant of cognitive therapy. Cognitive therapy is one of the only forms of psychoanalysis that works and is very good having people identifying flawed reasoning and misconceptions, but that assumes that the reasoning of the analyst doesn't suffer from logical flaws either--else one trades one set of false assumptions for another. Or that the analyst could be also abusive in pointing out the supposed flaws.

Warren Throckmorton is hosting a lively debate about "reparative therapy." I haven't read most of it, but, you know, if you want lots more on Joseph Nicolosi and so on, clickez-vous.

From L.:
I thought your take on the ex-gay conference was interesting. How many ex-gays have you spoken with? I'm just wondering if you've been able to speak to very many one to one.

I knew I was a lesbian when I was about five years old and fantasized about my Sunday School teacher. (ha) From there my sexual orientation developed basically into lesbian although I did date boys occasionally to keep people in my very conservative church from talking about me. I shared some of my feelings with girlfriends, who in some cases became my lovers.

However, when I was 20, I knew I had to make a decision in my life and I made a CONSCIOUS choice to pursue heterosexuality, for the simple fact that I wanted a family that conformed to societal mores. I can't tell you how difficult this choice was, to turn my back against who I was at the very core of being. I married a man who has been very understanding of my psyche and I have achieved 20 years of marriage with four children.

It's been is not an easy choice but it IS a choice. And I can't say that I haven't occasionally fallen by the wayside. It is still very difficult for me and probably always will be.

But worth it? Yes, when I see my four healthy normal kids who have both a mom and a dad; when my husband takes me in his arms; when I search my heart and find nothing but peace.

My point, though, is that in today's culture gays are depicted as having no control over their actions and as a lesbian, I know this to be untrue.

From Michael:
Thank you for your reporting as written in NRO and your blog. Briefly, I am a bisexual New Orleanian who spent time in a Benedictine Catholic Seminary, at which I was converted to Buddhism by some visiting Sri Lankan monks.

As I shed my Catholic cosmology, and its attendant Judeo-Christian morality (which has done much good in the world) I began to realize how beautiful and funny and human our religious impulse is.

To try to meet the dictates of a great big sky god, who evidently has all the power in the universe except the ability to speak clearly, seems so human a thing. Trying to make sense of a universe which baffles, and comforted by the idea of a great big invisiblle parent, who will make all the accidents of fate, and injustice, and confusion be alright in the end--do you know how hard that was to give up?

But it was then that I realized that my impulse to shame, shame of all kinds, was not indigenous, it was learned. That sex is a human function that is just like eating, or breathing--it only means what we want it to mean (humans are "meaning-making" creatures, to be sure) and if we over (or under) eat, there will be consequences.

But I don't knock the shame-makers. People forget how impossible it was for early humans to claw their way out of huddling in caves and learning how to hunt. Trying to make sense of the world they found themselves in--scientists all.

So, keep your faith, if it explains most of the relevant facts of your existence. But how does that hypothesis explain the beautiful, multifaceted humans--gay people--so wondrous and trancendant and beloved--that the Sky God invented a place called Hell for?

Again, thank you for your words.

[Eve replies: Thanks for writing. Two very quick notes: I think humans are meaning-seekers, not solely meaning-creators--we don't paint meaning on a meaningless world. And, of course, I do not believe God "invented Hell" for gay people. All of us are infinitely precious to Him.]

From Mark:
Long time no talk, but I saw your article on NRO and wanted to ask a few questions.

My own dramatic religious conversion involved a spontaneous (but temporary) healing of a physical disease, and a longer process of healing emotional traumas.

Knowing, as I do now, that God can heal anything (but that doesn't mean he will), how much a role can or does God play in healing homosexual orientation I wonder?

Does it require dramatic conversion, a simple turn to God and gradual shift toward faithfulness and religious practice, or is faith generally minimal in helping a change in this area?

My own experience tells me that even though I know that many people sincerely ask God for help in their lives with core difficulties, very few seem to persevere in prayer to the extent that they may be helped or truly seek the depth of faith that transforms them. Could it be that many give up too early or easily on God, or simply want to remain pretty much as they are except for the bad parts?

[Eve replies: Well, yeah, that could be the case with some people. I believe in miraculous healing, and (although I think this is a different issue) grace moving people to a place where past temptations are no longer a pressing problem for them. Specifically, I do believe that some people who considered themselves completely homosexual end up making good, fulfilling, loving marriages. I think the ex-gay movement, however, makes it seem like a) you can make God change your orientation if you want it badly enough, and b) if you don't experience a change in orientation, you are, therefore, a complete failure doomed to misery (and doomed to an obsessive focus on your sexual orientation, to the exclusion of all other possible causes of unhappiness or spiritual difficulties). Even if someone truly desires a change in orientation, I would not direct that person to an ex-gay ministry.]

Sunday, June 18, 2006

"GHOST WARRIORS: What happens to a country when its elite won't serve in the military?"
CAMASSIA replies to me. Yeah, I think I was overreading her initial post, which is what I was afraid of. Sigh. Anyway, I apologize for the minor kerfuffle; at least it did prompt this nice line: "One of the odd things about the Christian narrative is that it affirms the worst-case scenario, and at the same time says everything is going to work out wonderfully anyway. It's that paradox that makes it the most hopeful of all religions, in my view at least."

Saturday, June 17, 2006

LINKS AND LAMENESS: Lameness first: I'm really, really tired, so I won't be posting mail from you all until tomorrow. Sorry....

Now, links:

Camassia says stuff about minority status and group standards. I find myself oddly defensive about this post; I'm not sure if I'm overreading or what. I feel like I'm being implicitly criticized (in the section on original sin) for being self-indulgent, which I think is inaccurate in this particular instance. She also combines different kinds of difference in ways that, at least from my perspective, obscure a lot more than they illuminate. But like I said, possibly this is my misreading (or a result of our wanting to discuss different things, and my getting irked because she doesn't want to discuss my things!--I suspect that's what's going on with the "different kinds of difference" stuff, especially), and I've always found Camassia to be a thoughtful writer, so please do check out her post.

Ex-Gay Watch: Dave Rattigan on rhetoric vs. reality in the ex-gay movement.

Noli Irritare Leones makes a lot of fun points; here is a sampler:
...What I mean is, sometimes people who are in the struggling-with-same-sex-attraction camp seem to wind up shutting out friendships with their own sex, lest they get too attached, and I can't think how it's possible to sanely live that way. ...

Finding the prayer practices that work for you personally really does make a big difference here. I've found that some things just don't work for me--elaborate imagery (simple images are OK), half hour long periods of uninterrupted meditation (I keep hearing of people who can do this, but I can't keep it up unless I'm in a Quaker meeting, and even then my mind wanders a lot), etc., and some work better--singing, walking meditation, short repetitive phrases, starting the day with a short psalm. ...

I have to admit, one of the things I like to do with the saints is argue with them. [Eve adds: Yes! Absolutely.] ...

I think that's right [re: my comment about the problems with wanting to be fixed], and not just about the ex-gay movement, but about a certain style of Christian dealing with family issues in general. And it gets just as alienating when, say, you and your husband are struggling as best you can to deal with his bipolar disorder as it does when it comes to figuring out how to live as a Christian who's attracted to your own sex. Not, of course, that I want to place bipolar disorder and homosexuality in the same category--except in one particular respect--namely, that, for better or worse, they're both ways of finding that your life doesn't fit that neat pattern that people might expect to see you in when you’ve gotten fixed.

read the whole thing!

And finally, on an unrelated topic, a neat post at GetReligion about godparents.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

DON'T COVER MY FACE WITH YOUR HEART (Or, Love, Love Me Don't): You use that word so often. I do not think it means what you think it means.
CLOSER TO HEAVEN: I'm mulling over something that might be a major underlying problem with ex-gay theology (as vs. spiritual practice, psychological theories, or what have you). I know I'm coming at this from an outsider's perspective, so I don't want to assume that I know what's what; but I figured I'd post this in case it is illuminating to anyone.

The possible insight is this: Ex-gay theology/ideology seeks to immanentize the eschaton.

No--hey, wait, let me explain!! "Immanentizing the eschaton" is basically trying to yank Heaven down to earth by force of will. Utopianism, only with a stronger theological connotation, I guess.

And I think there's an intense desire expressed in a lot of ex-gay rhetoric (though definitely not all--Mike Haley said some stuff that went against this tendency, though it didn't end up in the NRO piece) to just get fixed. To get to the place where all your struggles are over. To be, really, in the Church Triumphant right now, not in the Church Militant where everything's crazy. And I think this desire is what makes so much ex-gay rhetoric into a narrative of success or failure: with failure experienced as completely devastating. (The last sentence of the NRO piece gets at this pretty hardcore.)

Again, I really want to emphasize that this is something that might be true of much ex-gay theology--not something I claim to know is true, or something that is true of all ex-gay stuff. I may be really off-base here. Your thoughts very much welcome. (Your thoughts welcome on all of these posts, really, of course.)

current mood: bi-furious
current music: "Don't know what you want but I can't give it anymore" (I am not making that up)
INTERMISSION: Not (very) related to the other stuff I'm posting about today--Agenda Bender on a poem by Pasolini.
LINKS: Later tonight, I hope to post a small mailbag and maybe something else. We'll see if I can order my thoughts. For now, some links:

Peterson Toscano's website (the "Doin' Time at the Homo No Mo' Halfway House" guy).

At Ex-Gay Watch, Joe Riddle (whom I interviewed for the NRO piece) comments.

Dappled Things (blogging Catholic priest) comments.

Sarx (E'rn Orthodox guy) comments: "I too would not be where I am were it not for my sexual attraction to men and the disconnect from everyone that it caused me to feel. You know there has to be meaning somewhere!"

Discussion thread at Amy Welborn's place. So far the comment I agree with most is Old Zhou's statement that ex-gay ideology tends to be "mechanical."

More as events warrant....
"HOMO NO MO'?": In which I attend an ex-gay conference.

The next four posts are all stuff about the conference, or ex-gay ministry/ideology in general--stuff I couldn't fit into the NRO piece. I expect I'll be posting more on this subject today or tomorrow as well.
PLUS A SURPRISING NUMBER OF FOXY CHICKS: In case people are wondering what the June 10 Love Won Out conference was actually like (since I didn't really have space to describe it in the NRO piece), here are my general impressions.

The conference was held in Immanuel's Church; I got the impression, though I could be wrong, that this is a predominantly black church. The crowd seemed to be about 1/3 Immanuel's members. The rest of us were a big old mix: ex-gays, parents of gay children, neutral-to-hostile observers, and same-sex attracted teens or young adults with their moms.

Security was tight-ish. There was a small crowd protesting outside at the start of the conference, organized by Equality Maryland I believe. My purse was searched. The searchers uncovered my big Rive Gauche bottle and held it up skeptically, like it might be a tear gas canister. "...It's perfume," I explained. In a sad defeat for the forces of irony, I was not barred from the conference due to the single girliest item I own. (...Well, okay, second-girliest after that one Evanescence CD.) Anyway, I got my creepy red hospital bracelet to mark me as an official attendee. (This bracelet served, all day long, to remind me that even though I am really pretty chill about my sexual orientation these days, I still have a lot of "issues"--every time I saw it on my wrist I felt marked-out, on display, defensive and slightly shamed. I wish I had kept it.)

The conference was on a weird emotional disconnect, from my perspective. You're bathed in love-and-acceptance talk--and there's lots and lots of stuff about how Christians have mistreated gays in the past, how the churches also need to change, "The ground is level at the foot of the Cross," etc. These reminders actually got a lot of applause and "amen"s from the crowd, too, so hooray for that. But then there were so many things said that left me feeling angry or bewildered or humiliated or helpless. The undercurrent was very bad, at least as I perceived it.

And sometimes it was unclear who the intended audience was. I completely understand that parents whose children come out want a safe space to talk about their pain and confusion. But if I felt kind of awful listening to people talk about how their hearts were "shattered" by their children's coming out, how parents feel like they're in mourning (which maybe explains all the people I've known whose parents said variations on the theme of, "You're dead to me"), I can barely imagine how some 16-year-old with his mom sitting next to him would feel.

Basic impressions of the speakers I saw: Joseph Nicolosi: Not very Scripture-y, presented himself as the voice of scientific reason, definitely the most adamant that he knows everything there is to know about the origins of homosexuality. He vexed me, I tell you what.

Mike Haley: Awww, he was sweet. I got no beef with Haley's testimony, which is all he did at the conference. I did take issue with some stuff he said in my follow-up interview with him, but that's in the NRO article.

Melissa Fryrear: Good things: She did say that "singleness is also blessed" and Scriptural, that you don't have to feel bad about not being married. Plus, she pointed out that everyone's situation is different and the Nicolosi-esque "origin stories" don't explain everything or everyone. And in her presentation of the family dynamics that can, in her view, cause lesbianism, she emphasized that these dynamics can be "real or perceived"--working hard to make neither parents nor children feel like they were being blamed. She also said--to much applause--that the Christian who made the biggest impression on her when she was still a lesbian "put homosexuality on the back burner," presenting Christ as her Savior first rather than talking about her sexuality. It is not my impression that the ex-gay movement, in general, actually takes this approach.

Not so good: Well, obviously, my mom doesn't fit into any of her categories. (Dispassionate, doormat [keep in mind that again, this is focused on the child's perception of the mother, not necessarily the reality], my-best-friend [i.e. trying to be a "pal" instead of a mother], manipulative, domineering, and self-consumed. People who know my mom are probably gaping at the thought that any of these would apply to her.) Plus, there were all kinds of squicky half-jokes about how we could tell she was a "healed woman" because she was wearing skirts and talking about shopping. I did not know Jesus had a position on high heels. From what I've heard from people who have been in ex-gay therapy, this salvation-through-pantyhose plan is a big thing, and I don't rightly get it a'tall.

Bill Maier: Gay people are insane in the membrane. Gay guys and lesbian ladies are prone to depression, alcoholism, suicide, and the heartbreak of psoriasis. I already ranted about some of the (many!) reasons this approach unimpresses me here. I'll try to write more about it later if I can get my thoughts in order. Maier said a bunch of stuff I disagreed with, but honestly, it makes me tired just thinking about it, and was all culture-wars stuff rather than personal or specifically ex-gay, so I'm not going to bother, really.

Joe Dallas: The good: He pointed out that the Bible does not give an "origin story" for homosexuality, "and there is wisdom in that." Emphasized that parents shouldn't force their kids into counseling unless the kid's behavior is "immediately life-threatening and totally out of control." Had a good balance between the parents' concerns and the kid’s fears.

He did say that it was fine for parents to say stuff like, "I'm hurt that you're gay," or "I'm disappointed." I know I have Issues around some of this stuff, but I cringe like crazy when I hear that. I don't see why your kid needs to know that (and frankly, if it's true, I suspect your kid knows anyway). When he talked about his own father's reaction, he said his father started with "I love you," I respect your integrity and your ability to make this decision, and ended by saying, basically, don't push me to agree with you because I won't. That strikes me as radically different from, "Well, I love you, but this is a huge disappointment to me." Sometimes it's good to hide your feelings from your kids, you know?--and find adults with whom you can sort them out. ...Anyway, Dallas also said that parents should ask themselves, "God, what are you trying to change in me?" To the extent that you can, that is not a bad question to ask yourself in any really hard situation in your relationships with others.

So that's who was there.
PULL APART THE DOUBLE HELIX LIKE A WISHBONE: I should say right now that I do believe there are "origin stories" for homosexuality, and that it might make sense to introspect and consider which aspects of your life may have influenced your sexual orientation. I wrote a short story inspired by the idea of a kaleidoscope of different possible origin stories or types of homosexuality. Some of them even have elements in common with Nicolosi's view; yeah, I have known some gay guys where it seemed that there might be Father Issues going on, perceptions of unwantedness, etc.

But there are all kinds of cases where family dynamics don't explain very much. And honestly--family dynamics are often a reductive and boring explanation for homosexuality.

Plus, the Love Won Out speakers were super defensive on the subject of origins, hammering on and on about how homosexuality isn't genetic. Why on earth does this even matter? All kinds of things have a genetic component. Even from the ex-gay perspective, there shouldn't be anything threatening about acknowledging that homosexuality has some kind of complex relation to genetics. People wouldn't avoid treatment for anxiety disorders, or stop going to AA, or give up on controlling their tempers, just because anxiety or alcoholism or anger has a genetic component. So I really have no idea why the idea of an inborn predisposition to homosexuality wigged these people out so bad.
ALL THIS USELESS BEAUTY: One of the reasons the family-dynamics origin stories (and the gender-dysfunction/salvation-through-pantyhose ones) don't really work for me is that they reduce what I experienced as an existential alienation into a psychological one. First off, I didn't feel "different from all the other girls"; I felt different from all the other humans. (I suspect boys' reactions are more likely to be gender-linked, though.) More importantly, in some respects my sexual orientation turned out to be the key that unlocked the world for me--the thing that made things make sense. I'll try to explain by posting what I had initially intended to be the last section of the NRO piece (but it was already way too long). I think this can serve as one possible Christian alternative to the ex-gay worldview. I would never claim this is the only possible alternative. But it responds to my sense that my experiences weren't just pointless, something to be overcome and forgotten as quickly as possible. So here it is (with links to earlier posts where I expand on some of this stuff):

If I had grown up heterosexual, I don't know if I would be Catholic today. There are two reasons for this: beauty, and alienation.

I was fascinated by Catholicism in part because it explained my intuition that the beauty of the world was not random but meaningful; that the little beauties of the world pointed beyond themselves to some great underlying loveliness. I had a few touchstone images of this beauty. Perhaps the one I still recall most vividly is the image of a woman's face--a young woman on whom I had a schoolgirl crush--a pale, distracted, inquisitive face in a darkened room. I strive, now, to see all people as I saw her then: as an image of God.

The alienation was even more central to my conversion. Throughout my childhood I had a strong sense that something had gone wrong--that I was not only different but broken. I connected this feeling to my sexual orientation, and developed intense shame. This despite being raised in an extraordinarily gay-positive household--I could be misremembering, but I'm not sure I even encountered stigma against homosexuality until I was in junior high.

The doctrine of original sin offered a startling and hopeful possibility: Suddenly the thing that made me different, my sexual orientation, was not the focus; my alienation was a distilled version of what every person experiences after the Fall. My orientation was a source of insight, not solely a burden or a political cause.

I don't think this is a universal story, applicable to everyone with same-sex attractions. But I do think it's more joyful, and more realistic, than the standard ex-gay narrative. It's also less politically useful--which is all to the good.
THE ROSES AND RAPTURES OF VIRTUE: And finally, I think it's 100% right to ask anyone who takes my position, So okay--I'm same-sex attracted, what do you think I should do? Are you just gonna do the whole "embrace the Cross, pray harder, read the Bible" routine?

Well, obviously, none of those are bad things to do, and all of them are necessary. (Although I think the better image would be "be more open in prayer" rather than "pray harder"; but maybe that's because I'm all about femme-y imagery, heh.) But I do think other things can be said that might illuminate how a Christian, chaste, same-sex attracted life can be sublime: joyful and fruitful as well as obedient.

(I should note that there is always an element of awestruck fear, suffering, or poignance in the sublime--that's what distinguishes it from the beautiful, and perhaps what distinguishes joy from happiness also.)

I wrote here about three possibilities for a sublime "gay" life: friendship, art, and personal holiness. Friendship to me is "shade and sweet water." Andrew Sullivan's book Love Undetectable has a lot of virtues and a lot of big flaws. But maybe the best thing about the book is how hardcore it is on the importance of friendship. For Christians--"Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends"--there's no such thing as "just friends."

You might look for a specific prayer that really helps you with this particular struggle. I really like the Anima Christi. It's all fleshy and protective and aflame with Christ's lovingkindness. Find prayers that calm and center you when you're angry with the Church or with other Christians, too. ...The rosary is really very cool because it combines repetitive prayer, easing you into contemplation, with a shifting series of images. You can pray through it and see how the different mysteries illuminate different aspects of whatever it is you're praying over. I am astonishingly bad about keeping my prayer life together. I'm actually really grateful for the opportunity to do the NRO piece: I knew it would be incredibly stressful, and in order to handle the emotional and spiritual effects I am finally, for the first time pretty much ever, going to daily Mass and receiving the Eucharist every day. That's just amazingly awesome and I can't believe I have been such a lazy bum about it up until now. The Church gives you the Body and Blood of Christ--that's just crazy awesome. How to pray the rosary; how to go to Confession (PDF).

Spend some time with saints' lives and the biographies or writings of people who inspire you. Dorothy Day's autobiography, The Long Loneliness, is one of my touchstones. ...The neat thing about saints, especially, is that they are so weird--they do such extreme, unexpected, sometimes problematic, wiggy things. And so you can see in them the wildness of the Catholic faith; the "biodiversity" if you like.

Here I mentioned music. I think for most people it will be music; for others, maybe, visual art. Generally it won't be literature, but something more sensual and pre- or supra-rational. And I have to admit: I do like Mozart's Requiem Mass very very much, but for me, when I am really struggling with anything relating to Gay Stuff, what brings me back to a sense of harmony (heh) is the Pet Shop Boys. I doubt they'd approve--but hey, they made the beautiful music, it's their fault.

And finally, I think anyone struggling with same-sex attractions would do well to practice solidarity with those in immediate spiritual and physical need. If you are Christian and same-sex attracted, go out there and perform the corporal works of mercy. Pick one and do it. (Prison visitation, for example.) Obviously, all Christians should do this! But I've found that it really helps me with anxiety and anger and general angst relating, specifically, to Gay Stuff.

These are just some things that I have found helpful. I welcome other people's thoughts; I don't pretend to have all the answers.

But I do know that God is not asking you to feel horrible about yourself. He wants you to be sheltered in Christ's wounds and in His love.

Monday, June 12, 2006

KIDS, DIVORCE, AND FAITH. Here I am in USA Today, with a piece heavily influenced by Elizabeth Marquardt's excellent book Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce. (my review of book) (book's website)
Meanwhile spring had come, beautiful, harmonious, without spring's anticipations and deceptions, one of those rare springs that bring joy to plants, animals and people alike. ...

Spring was a long time unfolding. During the last weeks of Lent the weather was clear and frosty. In the daytime it thawed in the sun, but at night it went down to seven below; there was such a crust that carts could go over it where there was no road. There was still snow at Easter. Then suddenly, on Easter Monday, a warm wind began to blow, dark clouds gathered, and for three days and three nights warm, heavy rain poured down. On Thursday the wind dropped, and a thick grey mist gathered, as if concealing the mysteries of the changes taking place in nature. Under the mist waters flowed, ice blocks cracked and moved off, the muddy, foaming streams ran quicker, and on the eve of Krasnaya Gorka the mist scattered, the dark clouds broke up into fleecy white ones, the sky cleared, and real spring unfolded. In the morning the bright sun rose and quickly ate up the thin ice covering the water, and the warm air was all atremble, filled with the vapours of the reviving earth. The old grass and the sprouting needles of new grass greened, the buds on the guelder-rose, the currants and the sticky, spiritous birches swelled, and on the willow, all sprinkled with golden catkins, the flitting, newly hatched bee buzzed. Invisible larks poured trills over the velvety green fields and the ice-covered stubble, the peewit wept over the hollows and marshes still filled with brown water; high up the cranes and geese flew with their spring honking. Cattle, patchy, moulted in all but a few places, lowed in the meadows, bow-legged lambs played around their bleating, shedding mothers, fleet-footed children ran over the drying paths covered with the prints of bare feet, the merry voices of women with their linen chattered by the pond, and from the yards came the knock of the peasants' axes, repairing ploughs and harrows. The real spring had come.

--Anna Karenina, tr. Pevear and Volonkhosky

Friday, June 09, 2006

TWO LINKS: The Agitator:
Your post on the FDA and restaurants is pretty timely. My girlfriend just started a nutrition course for nursing school and the curriculum is super politicized. Here is a class that should be on topics like, the molecular structure of protein and how is it used by the body, but in her first week she has had assignments that include questions like, "Should sugarier foods be taxed?" and "If you had supreme power, what would you do to enforce the WTO nutrition guidelines?" She says the teacher and fellow students are all sold on the "health food is too expensive for the poor to eat" line, and you will never guess what movie is a required text.


And far more importantly, First Things has a great post up with many cool quotes from Cdl Schoenborn (and Pascal).

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Church Fathers had a distinctive approach to youth ministry.

Now, don't jump to conclusions. I haven't uncovered any evidence that St. Ambrose led teens on ski trips in the nearby Alps. Nor is there anything to suggest that St. Basil sponsored junior-high dances in Pontus. (There's not even a hint of a pizza party.) In fact, if you check all the documentary evidence from all the ancient patriarchates of the East and the West, you won't find a single bulletin announcement for a single parish youth group.

Yet the Fathers had enormous success in youth and young-adult ministry. Many of the early martyrs were teens, as were many of the Christians who took to the desert for the solitary life. There's ample evidence that a disproportionate number of conversions, too, came from the young and youngish age groups.

How did the Fathers do it?

They made wild promises.

They promised young people great things, like persecution, lower social status, public ridicule, severely limited employment opportunities, frequent fasting, a high risk of jail and torture, and maybe, just maybe, an early, violent death at the hands of their pagan rulers.

The Fathers looked young people in the eye and called them to live purely in the midst of a pornographic culture. They looked at some young men and women and boldly told them they had a calling to virginity. And it worked. Even the pagans noticed how well it worked.

more (via Amy Welborn)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

CALENDAR AGAINST TORTURE--various human-rights groups have designated June as Torture Awareness Month. This link gives you listings of many events, as well as information and email addresses of relevant people, and plans for an anti-torture Congressional lobbying day (June 26)--mostly relevant if you are American and do not live in D.C., but still, I expect that covers most of my readers. I will try to go to at least some of these events and report back.

If you go to any of the events, please let me know.

My long series of posts on torture starts here; you can scroll up, as well, for reader responses. Later this month I will try to do a very big resource post on Catholic teaching against torture, and will also post excerpts and maybe commentary on the section on torture from Elaine Scarry's study The Body in Pain. I am taking other reading recommendations as well.

Link via Unqualified Offerings.
LAYERS OF SYMBOLISM IN THE BIBLE. At Claw of the Conciliator. (With bonus American-lit discussion in comments!) Won't be new to people who, like, know more about the Bible than I do; but I liked it! (Sure, I grok some of this stuff--Catholic art and church architecture and liturgy are set up to show it to you--but other parallels were new to me.)

Hey, Elliot: Why not try Scott Hahn's Lamb's Supper? It maps the Mass onto the Book of Revelation. It is awesome (despite some of the usual apologetics-cheesiness in terms of punny chapter titles and such).
"Oh! how good to be your age," Anna went on. "I remember and know that blue mist, the same as in the mountains in Switzerland. The mist that envelops everything during the blissful time when childhood is just coming to an end, and the path away from that vast, cheerful and happy circle grows narrower and narrower, and you feel cheerful and eerie entering that suite of rooms, though it seems bright and beautiful.... Who hasn't gone through that?"
--Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, tr. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volonkhosky

Sunday, June 04, 2006

THOUGHTS ON INCENTIVES AND ORGAN DONATION from Virginia Postrel, who recently donated a kidney to a friend. Scroll down on her blog for more on the topic.

Friday, June 02, 2006

"SHOOTING J.R.": Amy Welborn has a short story in The New Pantagruel, here. I read an earlier version, which was really good, and look forward to getting a chance to read the final edit....
By instinct and training, we journalists are suckers for political dissidents. Their struggles are the ultimate underdog stories, with prison terms or even death as the stakes. Editors reinforce reporters' instincts by awarding prime display to the act of protest in its many forms.

By instinct and training, we journalists are skeptics about religious activists. Their appeals are seen in newsrooms as special pleadings from organized interest groups. Editors reinforce reporters' instincts to treat religion politely but suspiciously. Ours is a secular trade honoring information more than faith.

This professional dichotomy ran through my mind during a recent conversation here with Yu Jie, a Chinese writer who says his political opposition to the Beijing dictatorship is deeply rooted in Christian faith. Yu insisted to me that Christianity will play the decisive role in bringing to China the freedoms that political protesters died demanding in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

more (my review of Jesus in Beijing is here)
Despite the Bush administration's insistence it neither participates nor condones--"in any form"--torture, the CIA continues to fly high-value al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects to interrogation centres which are beyond US jurisdiction--and where torture is routine.

Investigations by the European Union and human rights activists like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have done nothing to end the secret flights that weekly cross the globe with their human cargoes destined for torture chambers.

What happens on some of the flights has been graphically described by a senior British intelligence officer who spoke under a guarantee of anonymity.

more (via
SAME-SEX MARRIAGE AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY: The papers from the conference described in that Weekly Standard piece can be downloaded as PDFs here (link itself is HTML). Anyone concerned with religious-liberty issues should take a hard look at the current and potential conflicts.