That there is a human propensity for religiosity is simply undeniable. It’s at least as ubiquitous in the archaeological record as sexual expression. Before human hands first crafted lumps of earth into idols, human tongues crafted gossip into legend, legend into myth and myth into gospel.
That we long to actualize emotional needs is part of the human condition. We need to believe that our lives are worthwhile, that we are capable of good and right choices and that we aren’t evil even though we worry sometimes that we might be. We need to believe in our own redemption; that today’s horrors will be ameliorated by tomorrow’s fresh start.
Some of us need to believe that we have souls that exist independently of our bodies and that pain and suffering will be accounted for on some plane of existence that transcends flesh and blood and bone.
These needs are real for every one us and how we express and satisfy them defines our spiritualities. The lucky and clever among us manage to satisfy them from within our own hearts. Other people depend on organized religion.
Evil men who disguise with piety a base lust for power and wealth, who hock a snake oil concoction of empty promises and ritual and demand servitude and supplication, take advantage of our spiritual needs. They use, among other things, evocations of god and regulation of sexuality as instruments of oppression and manipulation. Examples of the despair caused by bastardized religion litter history and every contemporary newscast and daily paper.
“There’s a great divide between the church’s position and modern sexual behaviour,” Vancouver actor and playwright Shawn Macdonald told me one blustery day last year. “There isn’t really room to discuss sexuality as an expression of desire and love in most doctrinaire religions. To me, that is where we have to start talking. To relegate sexual behaviour to a checklist of right and wrong violates our humanity.”
Macdonald is a deeply spiritual, recovering Catholic, gay man who spoke to me then in the context of a theatrical production. As a young man, he traded a sexual closet in the straight world for a religious one in the gay world because society told him, ‘You can be gay or you can be faithful, but you can’t be both.’
Our conversation replayed in my mind as the Anglican Church of Canada seemed on the cusp, Jun 24, of allowing its clergy to bless same-sex marriages.
“Christianity as a religion stands in need of a better theology of sexuality, a better understanding of the complex role sexuality plays in our human nature and of the purposes of god in creating us as sexual beings,” Anglican Bishop of New Westminster Michael Ingham said in a speech last year in Ottawa. “If sex is not just for having children, then we must challenge the condemnation by the Church throughout the centuries of such things as masturbation, birth control, abortion, and homosexuality.”
Ingham fought hard and convincingly for queer people and it seemed to me that the next logical step for what is otherwise one of the world’s most progressive mainstream Christian sects was at hand. But instead of doing the obviously righteous thing, the Anglican Church of Canada dithered.
It passed up a golden opportunity to end some small part of the despair caused by organized religion the world over. It stupidly affirmed to all queer Anglicans that their god-given sexualities and same-sex loves are somehow less divine than those of their heterosexual counterparts. It squandered a chance to lead Christianity out of the dark ages and into the future and buckled in the face of international pressure, inexplicably leaving its American cousins in the Episcopal Church to walk alone. It demonstrated a pitiful lack of courage that, judging from what I’ve read, Jesus would have found shameful.
By failing to boldly proclaim what it knows in its heart to be right, the church has reinforced the stigma against queer people who struggle within Christianity and against those in the queer community who abandoned their spiritualities for openly queer lives. Shame on them.