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How is Christianity a comfort?

October 15, 2010

I was reading the comments to a Facebook link to the It Gets Better project. I was just the tiniest bit irked by phrasing, because even though I know the original person meant well, he wrote that IGB was a great project for “young people struggling w/ homosexuality.”

I suggested instead that he meant to write “young people struggling with the social stigma surrounding homosexuality.”

Another person raised the (valid) point that some people don’t want homosexual feelings, and he argued that original phrasing could still apply — but I noted that It Gets Better is probably not directed to this attitude.

Later, on twitter, I got to wondering: what would happen if someone could change his or her orientation. Would they still effectively be the same person?

I doubt that I would be.

To begin, I’d like to digress to a different topic: race. Many people argue that race and sexuality are different, and you know what — I can agree that there is a fundamental difference in the two.

But for me, the difference is this. I recognize that race has an ultimately fundamental impact on how I view the world, but it’s not because of race itself. To try to elaborate, my being black doesn’t make me view things differently. Unlike what stereotypes may suggest, being black doesn’t alone predispose me to find watermelon and fried chicken appealing. It’s because I live in a race-aware, color-conscious society (even when people claim to be postracial) that I think differently. Race impacts how I view the world because of my experiences of people relating to me as a black person.

How does this contrast with sexual orientation?

While I note there are fundamental impacts for sexual orientation because we live in an orientation-aware or orientation-conscious society (e.g., I am impacted by living in a hetero-centric society or from dealing with homophobic people), there too is a fundamental impact on worldview because of the sexual orientation itself.

Being gay is like seeing colors completely differently. It’s not just about sex. It’s not even primarily about sex. Rather, the kinds of people with which I could see myself really connecting are different.  I feel a kind of prosopagnosia, but instead of being blind for faces, I’m blind for an entire sex and gender.

That doesn’t mean I can’t see that gender at all. But I can’t recognize certain things that would be taken for granted by others — this preternatural impression that maybe, one day, that might be a great person to spend and entire day talking and laughing and soul-searching with. Or the sense that if we could only hold hands for a second, then I’d be supercharged for the rest of the week.

I can evaluate the “artfulness” of this gender, but I don’t live the poetry. It’s all academic. Saying, “She’s beautiful” is always partially a hollow phrase…it will never mean as much as when I choke up inside because I am not sure whether saying “He’s beautiful” will even do justice to what I want to express. It’s like cursing in a native language vs. cursing in a foreign language. I can string together the curses in the foreign language because I haven’t internalized that those foreign curse words really mean something “as weighty” as the ones in my native language do.

Yet, it’s not like cursing at all. Society never taught me this. My parents never did anything to lead to this. I cannot even imagine even attempting to find something that anyone could consciously do that could even touch this.

That’s what I think of when I think about sexual orientation. Things like race don’t really do that for me. (And how could race do that? What things could race even impact in that way? Watermelon and chicken aside, I don’t even know.)

So…what I’m trying to say is…even supposing that I could change my sexual orientation — or you, or anyone else — what it would mean is that I would lose one poetry and (maybe) gain another. I would lose one academic detachment and gain another. But all of this exchange of tit for tat, this for that, would fundamentally change who I am.

And so I tweeted: do people who push for change understand this?

I fear that few do, but what I fear more is that of those few, some view such a fundamental change as positive.

And this gets into one of my big problems with Christianity.

In Matthew 10:39, Jesus notes:

He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

In some sense, the entire point is to hope that one day, you will be fundamentally changed. Those who are not willing to lose their lives, to take up the cross and follow Christ, have issues of pride, people will say. Pride? So if we want to keep ourselves and the integrity of who we are, then we are just too prideful?

I don’t even know how to respond. Maybe I’m afraid. I’m afraid that if I lose my life, or lose that which makes me me, then it won’t be *me* who is reaping whatever in hell benefits there are in heaven. It will be Me Prime, who is probably a great guy to be around and all, but not me.

There’s been a discussion at By Common Consent about an interview Kristine Haglund had with NPR, and a while into the comments, there gets to be an interesting comparison with deafness.

This comparison is extremely uncomfortable for me, because it forces me to ask myself if I have unsound biases, if my assertions are as unpalatable as I think the Deaf ones are, etc.,

I mean, I can understand the comparison. I can understand the appeal of Deaf communities and Deaf pride. But maybe it is because I am one of the hearing, and I “feel” like deafness is a deficiency in a way homosexuality is not (unsound bias?) This comparison forces me to ask myself: is homosexuality (or should homosexuality be) regarded similarly to deafness? Are gay people (and deaf people) too “proud” to seek to overcome a deficiency, or do they even have a deficiency at all?

Regardless of those uncomfortable questions, I like the thrust of the comments — there are communities (capital D Deaf as the commenter seems to denote) because there is a very different way one interacts with the world as a result of the circumstances. I can understand britt’s tension:

I warble between wondering why someone wouldn’t want to hear!! and wondering if very dear characteristics I value in them would be healed away.

I go back and forth…from over here where I sit…of course we want Jesus to heal us..but on such a personal level what does that mean?

What is the hope? How is Christianity a comfort?

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17 Comments
  1. I started thinking about this issue with my own Attention Deficit Disorder that I’ve had my whole life. It’s been something very difficult to deal with, caused its share of pain and frustration to me, and put me on the receiving end of parental and societal disapproval on a pretty steady basis. It also put me at constant odds with the Mormon idolization of the “get-it-done” farmboy attitude that everyone always goobers over every General Conference. Why couldn’t I just be effective like that? I’ve had stern-looking General Authorities glaring at me in my own head my entire life.

    On a few occasions, I couldn’t stand it anymore and tried to go get treated for it. Ritalin, Aderol, Prozac… I’ve tried them all. And i didn’t like what any of the drugs did to me. Prozac just depressed the heck out of me. Ritalin freaked me out. And Adderol helped me hyperfocus so hard it was scary, but just felt a bit mental.

    In all cases, I felt like I was also killing a lot of the spontaneity, flexibility and enjoyment of my own life. I was trying to fix something, but didn’t like the cure. And I started to realize that my ADD wasn’t necessarily all liability. Most of my creative writing stems from how distractable my mind is. The ability to draw unique and novel connections almost instantaneously, the ability to lock into an idea and not let go till it’s been torn to shreds, the ability to juggle multiple conversations and instantly be fully engaged in any one I log onto…. All of this was inseparably tied up in the way I was wired.

    At present, I’m not sure I want to be cured. Nor am I certain that anything in particular is really wrong with me – at least, no more than anyone else in society. I’ve started to get the feeling that a lot of my problems are more the fault of a society that is looking for the wrong thing, than necessarily with how my synapses are wired.

  2. The only thing wrong with you is that you think you are your body. You worry that if you change then you won’t be you.
    Well your body is part of you but it’s not you.
    You are not who you think you are.
    If you change your thoughts or beliefs you change your view of you, but the underlying you doesn’t change – in fact what you have to do is to change the underlying you – anything else is just changing the view of you. We call this Maya or illusion.

  3. Seth,

    I particularly liked this line:

    I’ve started to get the feeling that a lot of my problems are more the fault of a society that is looking for the wrong thing, than necessarily with how my synapses are wired.

    medicinemeninmexico,

    I can perhaps see what you’re saying. The underlying “me” is the thing that I call “I.” When I say “I”, that refers to a very different entity than what you refer to when you say “I”. In fact, I cannot see or hear or even recognize anyone else’s “I” except for my own. (So I have to take for granted that the rest of you actually have selves.)

    BUT.

    The only way “I” can interact with my world is through the view of me, my thoughts, beliefs, and actions. If these things change, then even though “I” still refer to the same thing when I use the word “I,” I still have lost something vital. Whatever it is that I am referring to when I say “I” — my self — doesn’t mean much without my thoughts, beliefs, actions, etc.,

  4. I think you nailed it on this one but only coming from the stand point where a person belives that it’s a person’s experiences that makes up their indentity. There experiances, their physical form, their beliefs, make up how they behave and interact with people but has nothing to do with who they are.
    I think that is were we get trapped a lot of times. I know I do because in order to continue the discussion with many people I have to approach it from how they perceive the world. They identify with such forms so I have to think and explain in that respect or I will be misunderstood. After a while I get caught up in that and for get that it’s not about the external world or how we perceive it. When I’m not caught up in it there really is nothing that will offend me per say.

    I think Matthew 10:39 is a highly misunderstood and misinterpreted scripture. How I think of it comes down to this:
    When one stops trying to define who they are by what is presented to them in the forms of the external world, what others believe, what one believes about their experiences, their body, gender, sexual orientation, etc, they stop identifying with those things and start to understand the real person hidden inside. Identifying with external things keeps us distracted from finding ourselves. It’s why I think that a belief in an external god is a distraction to learning our true identity. When Jesus said for “My Sake” he isn’t talking about himself as in you follow him, he was trying to tell people to follow their inner souls.

    When Jesus was talking like this he was NEVER talking about an external god but an internal divine center of our being which has since been mistranslated and misinterpreted over the centuries.

    I don’t have the right words to describe what I mean. But it probably isn’t going to matter anyway because the way I’ve approached it goes against what most people believe anyway. My way of reading the bible is highly tainted with Buddhist philosophy.

  5. Interesting, TGD. I hadn’t thought about that interpretation of the scripture.

  6. A thought I had from medicinemeninmexico’s comment,

    “If you change your thoughts or beliefs you change your view of you, but the underlying you doesn’t change – in fact what you have to do is to change the underlying you – anything else is just changing the view of you.”

    I, at one time, thought about the underlying me that needed to change. But what happened when I striped away all of the thoughts and beliefs that were merely my view of me, I found out that the underlying me was actually perfect and didn’t need to be changed at all.

  7. ok, now I’m not completely sure if I had understood medicinemen or you correctly at all

  8. LOL! It was bound to happen. I’m not sure where to go with this now. 🙂

  9. I guess, what I could use clarification on is…what is the underlying self or the underlying me or you?

    if *your* views of you are stuff that should be stripped away, then what is left? How do you distinguish your view of yourself from your self?

  10. I guess the best way I could say it is that once all beliefs and identities have been stripped away, all that’s left is one’s own pure consciousness. Self awareness of all things about the space it occupies. Aware of the beliefs, thoughts and sensations coming from the body, in all forms, touch, sound, lights, breath, emotions, words, ideas, and most importantly indifferent to time, not looking forward or back but what is happening now. And all these observations are things that are happening all at once, completely simultaneous because they are happening at the very moment you observe.

    The result is that you no longer become identified with anything that has been traditionally defined as you. You are now an observer of that space. So what’s left as you is just the pure you that is observing everything with out thinking about it, without analyzing it or putting a label on it and indifference to time.

    So at this point, there is nothing to change.

  11. if I understand correctly, then I guess you’re right that there’s nothing to change, but there really isn’t anything to *be* either.

    I mean, I can understand that there *is* something, but that something is so empty, void, and blank. It’s not worth anything and has no value.

  12. why is it important to put a label on it? what purpose does it serve to have everything defined with worth?

    Well if that’s your approach, might I suggest that the benefit, the value, is that when finding that pure observer, you can learn where you end and your ego starts. The ego being that part of you that needs to to be identified with beliefs and identities and that feels and creates conflict when it those beliefs and identities are challenged.

  13. well, that’s the entire issue, TGD

    the label-less are value-less. What you have described to me sounds like, “Everything that you would put as a “value” should be stripped away. Everything of “worth” should be stripped away. And when you have stripped all of that way, you have “you,” and there is nothing to change.”

    Well…if you do that, if you de-value yourself, then of course your self is valueless. What you have described is the process of de-valuing and un-worthing. So why should you protest that the product is empty, void, valueless and worthless?

    I’m saying that we *live* with labels. We *live* with worth. That’s what humans do. We go about projecting value and worth onto things, even if they don’t objectively have any value to begin with. We don’t live life in any “pure” sense.

    Basically, as you have elaborated…my question would be: since you interact with the world through your ego, then what is the point of trying to isolate or even neutralize your ego?

  14. Ah ok. The point of trying to isolate or neutralize the ego is actually want I’m getting at. (I’m not as prolific with language as you are so it takes me a bit to find the words. )

    The reality is that the ego will never be completely eliminated nor does it need to be. The process is to detach from the ego in order to keep it from controlling our life. Yes, we must use labels but the ego can and does get attached to them. So when those labels are challenged, the ones the ego is attached to, then emotions arise. If those emotions are ones that create conflict, suffering, pain, disdain, arrogance, opposite of humility etc. That’s the part of the ego that must be, well, eliminated. But in order to eliminate it, one must be aware that the ego has essentially gone into self-defense mode.

    I feel like I’m meandering a bit here, (and it’s WAY past my bed time). But to get back to the idea of de-valuing.

    I wonder if the way I’m going to describe my approach to making it happen really matters or not. (that is my ego talking there) Sometimes the language we used or our own understanding of the words can make it difficult to be understood. If I gather correctly what you say when you talk about the notion of de-valuing I think of it in literal sense and i like that you said it that way because it sort of fit with what I worried about at one point in my study of all this.

    I went though a phase where I wondered what I would be if I were to eliminate my ego. Ironically, the fear of eliminating or de-valuing is really the type of thing the ego would be worried about. There is always a sense that the ego is being threatened in that regard because, at this point, one’s identity seems to be wholly is tied up in that. But to detach from the ego, at least this works for me, I can observe it and asses what is indeed really happening. because if I don’t detach from it, the emotion that stirs from it takes over and I, well lash out. (LOL! like what I’ve been doing on my blog for the past several months.) And that leads to another concept about the stored up emotional suffering, baggage, etc which is beyond my ability to fully understand other than I experience it in waves from time to time. All that stuff is what the ego is made of so the more I can isolate, observe, and detach from it, the faster, I can heal, and let it go and not become trapped by it trying to hold on to it so that I can replace it with enlightenment, joy, etc.

    so my interpretation of Matthew, I could paraphrase as:
    “I let go of what I think defines my life and even though I may think I’m loosing it, I end up finding or creating a better life in it’s place.”

  15. Ugh I’ve gotten too tired. There are just too many grammar mistakes in my last post. LOL!

  16. I went though a phase where I wondered what I would be if I were to eliminate my ego. Ironically, the fear of eliminating or de-valuing is really the type of thing the ego would be worried about. There is always a sense that the ego is being threatened in that regard because, at this point, one’s identity seems to be wholly is tied up in that.

    Welp! Can’t argue with that.

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