Father Tony

Faith in God and the sexy acid test

Filed By Father Tony | August 07, 2008 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gay church, gay faith, gay god, Mildred Pierce, redemption

Padre:

Much like you, I have religion etched in my soul, whether I want it there, or not. My father is a minister, and being a preacher's kid, I was immersed in the church until the age of 18. When I came out to my family, they basically disowned me, and told me that they could not support me because I was gay and the Bible says this is wrong. Now, I was already having some doubts about the church. Being a preacher's kid, I got to see all the dirty politics of the church up close and personal, and knew, that like anything human-made, the church is a political institution at its core. The disowning by my parents, folks who are supposed to love me regardless, because of their belief in the Bible, basically sent me on a ride down the Agnostic train.

Now, I still have lots of friends that are very religious, and I really envy them. I would love to have the faith that when we die, we'll go to Heaven and it will be a giant Atlantis Cruise for an eternity, but I just don't buy it. Also, after being a religion major, I know the politics behind how the book we call the Bible was put together, what was left out, and why. So, I just can't buy that the Bible is the word of God. I want to, but the whole religion thing just seems intellectually dishonest.

As much as I believe there is no hell, whenever I'm having moments of doubt, that whole fire and brimstone bullshit comes back and I wonder if I don't want to hedge my bets, just in case I'm wrong.

So my question to you, is how can one get faith when they don't have it? I would really like to believe that there is a nice God up in the sky monitoring everything, and that when we die it will be a wonderful la-la land where we get to see all of our friends and cotton candy and bunnies abound. I want to believe, but I'm just not buying it. It feel intellectually dishonest, to say the least. So what do I do?

- Sincerely

Dear Doubting Thomas,

To answer your question, may I ask you first to wade through some personal bits about me? They are a necessary prelude to my thoughts about you and God. I'll conclude with a link to a modern parable if you are still with me.

I envy your desire to believe in God. I never really had that. When I entered the seminary at the age of fourteen, I was already skeptical about the existence of God. I saw so much evidence to the contrary. The priests who taught me theology often said that faith is a gift. I actually felt relieved that God had not given me this high-maintenance gift, because not having it gave me license to pursue my own pleasures.

During Mass, I would look around at the faces of my kneeling classmates. Frowning and shut-eyed with strenuous effort at prayer, they tried to feel God. Tried to hear him. To see him in all of creation. I would rest chin on hand like a Raphael cherub, assuming that if God wanted to visit me, he certainly knew where to find me.

Many years went by. I did not seem to be on God's radar screen. I decided that I was probably not the only invisible child happily scampering about in His house. I felt that being gay made me (and my kind) rather like God's illegitimate children. Lucky to be raised with the others, but with a dirty little secret, the proclamation of which would eventually force me to make my own bed in this world.

During the ceremony in which I was ordained a priest, I felt very much like Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce. A self-made man kneeling before his favorite Vatican Cardinal who traced with Holy Oils the sign of the cross onto my outstretched palms. Like Mildred Pierce, who learns that no matter how much of a fine lady she has become she'll never get the chicken grease off her hands, I have never been free of this indelible sacramental stain despite my disdain for it.

Oddly, despite my Godlessness, I have never once felt abandoned or judged by God, and those judgments of men, even popes, are insignificant to me because I have seen the church, as have you, from the inside out, in all its silliness.

Here's my recommendation for you. If you are going to seek God, begin by forming his/her image in your mind. God is your creation just as you are God's, for you are part of God. Give God only the highest attributes but allow God to be rather unscripted, and appearing to be no bigger than you. Those who will deny you a personal God and who think that they have God figured out, and who will demand your adherence to their rules, claiming that they are God's rules, are to be politely ignored. Once you've made the decision to be faithful, you are certainly free to construct your God from the ground up. You can't go wrong if you do this. Look at the surly faces of the many false gods thriving in our midst. Will yours be any less durable or valid?

I know this sounds very "Yes Virginia, there is a God and he lives in the hearts and minds of yadda yadda", but I think that if there is a real God, there is no other way to get even a piece of him, and small pieces, remnants and echoes are all we are allowed.

Because the God that I believe in is entirely forgiving and wise and oversexed, I bind myself to him so that I might be a better man. My atheist friends will call this "efficient humanist foolishness", but it gives me comfort and direction and makes me a better lover of people. I am no longer bothered by the fact that this faith is still not a gift from God, but something I have given myself. It feels right for me and I embrace it without obligation and open to the possibility that, as Kansas sang, "all we are is dust in the wind".

I can't explain disease and mayhem in the context of a real God. No one can. Original sin is a facile and limping approach. Have you ever looked into the face of an animal that has been struck by a car? You can see the pain but nothing deeper, for they are not tormented by thoughts of heaven, hell, mortality and redemption. I hope someday to die simply, like an animal blinded by looming headlights or at home asleep and well fed with my partner beside me when a sudden fluctuation of the heart means I will not wake up here again. OK, I'll say, I had a great run and what's next? All our worries and speculations about the nature of God and the terrain of heaven or hell haven't gotten us an inch closer to the truth than are those expiring animals.

There is one final test of your faith that I would advise you to perform once you have constructed the face of the God in which you will believe. While you are having sex alone, or consensual sex with another adult (or a group of them), and when you are at the peak of the most depraved thing you like to do with yourself, or with that person or those persons, when you are almost breathless and about to explode, picture your God sitting on a chair next to you, watching you with hands folded in his/her lap. Is there a smile on the face of your God? If so, your faith is off to a good start. Is there a smile on your face? If not, write again soon. You may have some other more pressing problems.

PS: Once you make a self-directed leap of faith, you may want to pick a church. Go here for a parable about this. Also, I hope to meet you someday on that celestial and eternal Atlantis cruise. Look for me among the gay clergy. We are the guys still wearing black socks while lounging by the pool in our speedos.


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Hey guy, you are not alone. I think as a gay man I have often felt left out of the religious loop;that somehow, I was not loved or cared about by God because of my orientation. Bullshit! If there is a God (and I have my doubts too) I must believe he loves me because I am a gay man and not despite of it. By virtue of being human I am spiritual, and my journey in this world is to reconect to my spirituality, wherever that takes me. Good luck to you and all my other GLBT comrades searching for a higher power to call their own, Daniel White.

Hi Father Tony,

Thanks for the great advice. I also liked the parable you shared. I'm church shopping right now, even though I primarily consider myself to be a pagan. I miss interacting with other people and having a spiritual community. But that doesn't mean that I have to buy into anyone else's conception of the Goddess. So thanks for validating my opinion. :^)

I personally left the Jewish faith and became what I loosely define as Wiccan because I find the entrenched homo/transphobia and the devaluation and subjugation of women in Judaism and Christianity to be deeply offensive to me as a transperson and as a woman.

I have chosen my own path to the divine because those paths offered to me as a child are too filled with hate and bigotry for those who differ from the norm for me to feel at home within them.

Indeed, it is not the religions themselves which are a problem as much as those who claim to speak their values. In other words, the problem is not religion, but rather organized religion and those who define themselves as its leaders.

Perhaps one day, probably long after we are all gone from this Earth, when those who claim to speak for Judeo-Christian values actually practice those values in a positive way rather using them as a reason to justify hate and bigotry toward those unlike themselves, our community will be able to once again feel welcome and valued in such places. Until that time comes though, I believe LGBT people are far better off avoiding any sort of organized religion like the plague. To do otherwise is simply just too risky and dangerous for any sensible LGBT person to get involved with at any level.

Religiously-based hate is still far too great for any sensible LGBT person to even consider getting involved with any organized religious denomination or church that is not exclusively owned and operated by our community, for our community.

The jackals are still waiting for us, preparing to eagerly rip us to shreds at their first opportunity. We can probably never completely avoid them or the pain they bring to our community, but we can certainly take the common-sense step of protecting ourselves from the worst of it by staying as far away from organized religion as we can until these people learn to glorify the divine instead of their own shameful bigotries.

What bullshit! Dancing on the heads of the tortured. There's more Devils of Loudon here than Mildred Pierce.

I've never understood mankind's desire to shape god as a big authoritarian high school principal type personality - you know that whole temperamental personality, overly proud, and generally unstable.

Doubting Thomas, I generally like the advice that Father Tony has offered. I have two points to add, though, that you might want to consider.

First, those of us who believe in God at all, usually acknowledge that God is both personal and transcendent. If you're a religion major, then you must have studied this to some extent. The Christian notion of God tends to be personified, even to the point of saying God is incarnated in the form of Jesus; the Buddhist notion of divinity is so transcendentally abstract that Buddhists rarely even use the word "God" although they might sometimes discuss "the godhead".

I bring this up because it is so common for wannabee believers to be distraught about "sitting in church and feeling like God isn't talking to me" ... well, only a highly personalized God will "talk to you" in that sense. If you have trouble connecting with the personalized God, consider pondering or doing some meditation (see below) regarding the transcendent God --- the God that created all the nature around us (the Wiccan God?), the God that makes existence possible (the "Big Bang" God?), or the God that simply is and always will be a mystery to us (the "ineffable" God?). My point is that you can apprehend and comprehend God on your own terms --- it doesn't have to be the terms of this church or that religion.

Secondly, you might be ripe to do some experimenting with meditation. Meditation first involves shutting down your mind-chatter and learning how to find an internal quietness; then secondly, once that quietness is largely achieved, just spending sessions listening for whatever messages you receive --- and it doesn't matter if your message(s) come from your own brain, or from a lessor spirit, or from something that feels like God Himself (or Herself or Itself). Meditation has an experimental flavor for everyone who tries it --- maybe you will find it helpful in centering in on whatever divinity *YOU* believe is "out there" or somewhere inside yourself.

Are you familiar with Dr. James Fowler and his Faith Development Theory? Fowler wrote a book called The Stages of Faith that you might find helpful. Fowler says that faith can be characterized into six stages --- and to me, you look like you are making a transition between Stage Four (secular, questioning, agnostic) toward Stage Five (mystic, unifying, exploring). I mention this because people tend to feel more comfortable within one stage or another --- when a person is in transition from one stage to the next, there is a certain amount of psycho-conceptual rearranging taking place, and this is often disturbing.

I can't remove your feeling of being disturbed, but I can tell you that, IMHO, it is something that has been observed in others and that people often go through these "groping in the dark" limbo periods --- I'd suggest you remind yourself that it is OK to be momentarily perplexed, and give yourself the time it takes for this transition to complete itself, assuring yourself that there is a better feeling on the other side of what you are now going through.

P.S. Having written the above, I now intend to head toward the tubs and see if I can run my tongue between a nice set of big male beefy buns. Somehow I have the feeling that God will be quite amused.

Dear Ryan,

Are you a resident nuisance here at Billerico, or are you something newly arrived that I alone have inspired? As you know by now, I will be blocking any of your comments that are mean-spirited ad hominem attacks. I will allow light upon any comments of yours that express a point of view (such as the one above that you graciously rewrote and resubmitted). I will savor your contrary opinion whenever it arrives without the ugliness to which you seem inclined. Please keep to a higher road, but do come back.

Most devotedly yours in body and soul,
Father Tony

Dear Daniel, Serena, Becky and Bil,
Thanks for your adroit amplifications. I am of the opinion, Becky, that we will see - in our lifetime - the tumbling of churches like the Roman Catholic one and that women will drive the attack. Shame on my gay fellow clergymen who have not used their power to bring about change from the inside. The refusal to put money in the collection basket will speak loudly and will upset the American Catholic Church's ability to manage its assets. The money they spent an cleaning up the sex abuse scandal will seem like pennies compared to what is to come.
Devotedly,
Fr. T

Dear A.J.,

As Bette Davis said, "I'd luv ta kiss ya, but I just washed my hair."

Fr. T

I feel compelled to point out that only an Ed Team member can remove a comment for TOS violation. But just so we're clear, here is the pertinent section of the policy. It's written below every comment box.

While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

Just make sure that you attack the ideas of a contributor and not the contributor (or other commenters) themselves and we're all fine. Dialogue is healthy; vitriolic attacks are not.

i can appreciate your approach

i just cant adopt it

i was telling the friend that referred me to this post that i can do willing suspension of disbelief when watching a play or movie but not when contemplating god

they do this in aa

your higher power is whoever you create

im not criticizing it

i just cant do it

Mr. Browning:

If your freelancers were all posting healthy opinions I would understand your desire to can the vitriol.

However, when a writer like the so-called priest writes stunningly disrespectful commentary, he should be censored. What's your policy on your own team?

And I know for a fact that your writers participate in your editorial control of comments.

This is America. If you want everyone preaching to the choir you should use e-mail.

The only policy you need to worry about is the commenting policy, Mr. Ryan.

If you don't like a particular contributor, might I suggest one of the other 53?

Relax. Disagree if you like. Father Tony is perfectly capable of defending his own thoughts and experiences civilly. I'm sure you are too.

That's a pretty good way to look at religion. It reminds me a lot of Queering Christ...

Padre

How funny you should bring up Mildred Pierce!! (Proof that you passed that portion of the "gay" exam) as I was just looking for a copy of the novel in this great little book store off Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. Alas, they had sold the only copy in the store. I am sure Amazon has it. But here is my question: has anyone read the novel? Is it worth my while to track it down?

Debriefer

Dear Debriefer,
I haven't read it so I can't speak about whether or not the juice of the movie is also in the book.

I will, however, advise you to purchase immediately Andrew O'Hagan's fine book entitled Be Near Me.