The Blog of Jack Holloway

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Queer Love is My Drug: A Marxist Critique of Queer Theology

Being queer is good. I don't think there is anything wrong with it. Queer persons should be accepted the way they are.

I also think the task of queer theology is important, because it provides a much-needed voice in biblical and theological discussions. Queer theologians are right to make faith and academic circles aware of what matters to the queer community, and in what ways theology is serving the queer community.

Indeed, there are many positive characteristics of queer theology itself. It enables queer persons to do theology in a language and with symbols that resonate with them, and it enlightens the very important theological doctrine which states that God identifies with outcasts. James Cone expressed that, for him, saying "Jesus was black" was his way of saying "Jesus was a Jew." A similar thing is being done in queer theology, and I fully support that. 

There is, however, in my mind room for critique of queer theology, or at least certain manifestations of it. Specifically, I see in queer theology the perfect embodiment of Marx's understanding of religion.

Karl Marx wrote very little on religion, but what he did write has become infamous. His classic statement is that religion "is the opium of the people."[1] Whether or not this is true of religion, or even of Christianity, I think it is true of queer theology.

The goal of queer theology is to build theology around the queer community, to use theology to address the concerns of queer persons. It is the "queering" of God, making God in the image of the queer community. In Marx's words, the queer person "looked for a superman [Übermensch] in the fantastic reality of heaven and found nothing there but the reflexion of himself."[2]

In an exaggerated form of Schleiermacher's Gefühl, queer theologians look inward to find knowledge of God. Modelling Nietzsche's transvaluation of values,[3] queer theorists claim that queer is true, queer is good, and so theology is constructed around queer-centered readings of Scripture, queer-centered reason, queer-centered use of tradition, and the end-all-be-all, queer experience.[4]

Included in this is a critique of established social norms. The thinking goes, life has been interpellated for us as being made up of boundaries and binaries, but queer people should challenge these boundaries and dissolve them, and once we do so we find that there is nothing wrong with casual sexual activity with anyone and everyone. Lesbian ethicist Kathy Rudy, for example, suggests that "nonmonogamous sex acts--including anonymous and communal sex--can be viewed in terms of a progressive ethic of hospitality."[5] For Rudy, Christian hospitality can be found in "a circuit party, a gathering for nude erotic massage at the Body Electric School, or a sex party."[6]

In defense of this conception, queer theologian Patrick Cheng says that the radical love of God "is so extreme that it dissolves existing boundaries," and so sin consists of "the reinforcing of the boundaries that keep categories separate and distinct from each other."[7] Here, we have Nietzsche's transvaluation of values: queer persons observe the alienation and oppression they experience from the heterosexual world, and determine that that world is evil, and the queer world, which breaks down boundaries and overcomes binaries, is the good world. 
Subsequently, criticism of one's desires is completely eradicated. Your desire to have sex with a stranger, or to have sex with multiple partners, and so on, are good desires, and acting on them is good. Denying yourself would be the wrong thing.  

My difficulty with this construal of reality is that it seems to me a collective inflammation of the ego, taking the queer experience, projecting it onto the Absolute, and universalizing it. The 'I', then, is above criticism--there is nothing wrong with me, all of my desires and feelings are good, and so on. This, to me, is hedonism, making pleasure the supreme good, and the pursuit of it the ultimate human task. 

One is not surprised to find that there has even been an affirmation of porn-watching as a spiritual activity in the queer community.[8] There is a danger with this kind of hedonistic ego inflammation: queer persons become so preoccupied with the pursuit of their sexual pleasure that they overlook the oppression of others.

One would think the experience of queer persons would lead them to be mindful of oppressed persons, rather than consumed by the pursuit of sexual pleasure. On the contrary, instead of talking about sex trafficking and the sexual exploitation of queer persons in pornography, queer theorists talk about the place of porn-watching in queer spirituality. Pleasure, not justice, becomes the aim of life.

Queer theologian Paul Lakeland even proposes "a new 'ecclesiology of desire'": in place of "the notion of a spouse [which] implies a degree of possession and permanence in relationships," he says the church should "use desire as a metaphor to describe itself," which would open up "a myriad of queer relational configurations, from platonic friendships to one night stands to life partners."[9]

Another queer theologian, Robert Shore-Goss, talks about his erotic love for Jesus, describing his fantasy of a "naked Jesus as a muscular, handsome, bearded man," and writing that during "passionate lovemaking, I felt Christ in a way that I only experienced in my solitary erotic prayer."[10]

I think even Marx would be surprised at this use of theology. This isn't just opium, it's Aldous Huxley's soma. In fact, much of queer theology reminds me of Brave New World, which depicts a social world totally consumed by the pursuit of pleasure, especially sexual pleasure. 

Queer theology then projects this activity onto God. Cheng, for example, depicts the Trinity as "a fluid-bonded polyamorous three-way relationship," adding that, "each person in the divine three-way is both male and female as well as top and bottom."[11] Furthermore, Marcella Althaus-Reid believes "the Trinity needs to be understood as an orgy, which breaks down the privileging of binary and pair-bonded relationships."[12]

Freud would describe queer theology as wish-fulfillment:[13] the queer person's feeling of vulnerability after coming out was answered by the support of the queer community, and that experience is then used to fabricate a God that responds to the queer person in the same way. Theology becomes an intimate, even erotic, experience in which one looks deep into one's self and finds in one's desires the truth of the universe. 

And that, I think, is what's wrong with hedonistic queer theology: it is more masturbation than truth-seeking.

[1] Karl Marx, “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” in On Religion (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2008), 42.
[2] Ibid., 41.
[3] See Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2003).
[4] See Patrick Cheng, Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology (New York: Seabury Books, 2011), 11–20.
[5] Ibid., 13.
[6] Ibid., 109.
[7] Ibid., 74.
[8] Ron Long, “A Place for Porn in a Gay Spiritual Economy,” Theology & Sexuality: The Journal of the Institute for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality 8, no. 16 (2002), 21–31.
[9] Cheng, 108.
[10] Robert Shore-Goss, quoted in Ibid., 19.
[11] Cheng, 56 and 58.
[12] Ibid., 58.
[13] See Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, trans. James Strachey (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1961).

1 comment:

  1. Hello Jack. I am reading your blog. Well this is the the second one I am reading, and I shall definitely be following you. I confess I haven't read the whole post on account of the lateness of the hour. I shall return to this.

    I have skim read your post so I won't critique it, but I would like to say as a gay Christian man, it took me many years, but I finally understood, that God who created me and knows me inside out, loves me and wants the best for me. My sexual orientation: gay, was not a choice, and it is only one aspect of my existence. As a gay Christian man, I do not believe that my sexual orientation entitles me to live promiscuously, and indeed now that I can legally marry another man, I have no excuse to engage in fornication (sex before marriage) or have sex with multiple partners. However, two people who love and are committed to one another, should be allowed to marry and live godly lives within their covented relationship.

    I do not need to see Jesus as gay, in order to identify with him. Jesus sexual orientation is irrelevant since, there is no record of Jesus having a sexual or romantic relationship. However, it is interesting that homosexuality, as a sin, was not in any way alluded to in any of Jesus recorded words. Hard to argue from silence, but given that Jesus made reference a lot to other sins, this did not arise.

    Thanks again,