Gay Enlightenment

meditator-man-beachBy Joe Perez

Whereas mainstream pundits and public intellectuals in the U.S. are focused on the next election, and many other folks are focused on the next Saturday night, there is a wider and deeper perspective. Looking as wide as this moment in over 2,000 years of socio-cultural evolution since the beginning of the Common Era, and looking as deep as this moment arising when the cutting edge of individual consciousness is a postmodern mindset, and even this edge has become dull and dismal.

It is an odd time to be gay or bisexual. For American men of my generation – past 40 – our lives have been crises of meaning and meaninglessness. We were born into a world in which the reigning moral, religious, and spiritual authorities condemned how we love and would have forced us into closets or so-called reparative therapy, We could read the mystics and enlightened sages of centuries past and with only a few exceptions could find no evidence that affirming the spiritual dignity of same-sex love was meriting even a moment’s thought.

And we did, and by unprecedented numbers gays, lesbians, and bisexuals rejected organized religion and set out upon paths of individual spiritual seeking. We found our way into Zen monasteries, radical faerie gatherings, drumming circles, hot yoga classes, and not a few very, very, very liberal churches and synagogues (places where they worried about marginalizing atheists and making sure language was neutered of any hint of white heterosexual patriarchy).

And yet for all this enthusiasm, a bona fide gay spiritual renaissance never happened. Not in the U.S., and nowhere else to my knowledge. I’ve had my boots on the ground in the LGBT spirituality movement for a decade (longer if I include the Dignity masses and addiction recovery circles and men’s work circles of my twenties and early thirties). I’ve seen the energy in the gay spirituality movement ebb and flow. I attended the first and only Gay Spirituality & Culture Summit, an unprecedented gathering of “gay spiritual teachers and leaders” from around the world in Garrison, New York, in 2004 (and I blogged it and wrote about it inSoulfully Gay, my first book). There have been some modest success stories, and I don’t want to diminish the hard work and real progress made by those few spiritual activists to enter the fray.

Often they have set goals and achieved them. What I am pointing to is that their goals have been too low. What has been absent from the U.S. LGBT movement – and elsewhere in the world so far as I know – has been the critical linkage between inner and outer liberation, individual and collective liberation, and transpersonal, worldcentric enlightenment. Read that sentence again. Did you say Whoa! or Whatever?!

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Whose Big Questions?

RossDouthatBy Joe Perez

Ross Douthat, a guest blogger at The Daily Dish, demonstrates in “The Big Questions” why conservatives can’t be trusted to offer much insight into religious liberalism. In a post today, Douthat’s most serious error comes after quoting from an essay on Christianity by Jon Meacham, senior editor of Newsweek. The essay, entitled “Tidings of Pride, Prayer and Pluralism,” compares the nineteenth century Christmas sermons and speeches of Catholic John Henry Newman and agnostic Robert Ingersoll. After praising Meacham, Douthat calls the piece “wearying and banal.” He quotes Meacham’s conclusion:

The important thing is that both detected light and each cherished it according to the dictates of his own mind and his own heart—an encouraging sign that there is more than one way to overcome the darkness. . . .

For Douthat, this assertion reveals the true stripes of Meacham’s religious liberalism—and if you believe Douthat, those are mighty ugly stripes. Douthat opines:

Newman and Ingersoll weren’t at odds over some abstruse point of theology, like whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father or from the Father and the Son—they disagreed on questions that lie at the heart of who we are, what the universe is, what our purpose is on Earth and what our ultimate destiny might be. The fact that both men “detected light” and tried to “over-come the darkness” is a good thing—but it’s not the most important thing. Indeed, the fact that two men as diametrically opposed as Ingersoll and Newman could agree on it should be a pretty obvious signal that it’s not the most important thing.

No it’s not. But let’s start with the partially valid truths in Douthat’s post. As he correctly asserts, liberalism today has become confused by its own historic decision to bracket questions of ultimate significance—religious, spiritual, and philosophical matters—from politics. This has, in fact, led many liberals to conclude falsely that because such topics are inappropriate for political decision-making they are therefore unimportant or impossible to answer.

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A Note On Andrew Sullivan’s Hidden Ecclesiology

St-Peters-BasilicaBy Joe Perez

In an article today on the Dish, Andrew Sullivan stands at the precipice of revising his longstanding views on the role of religion in civil debate. He does so, I think, by letting his views of what is good for the Catholic Church and a “living Christianity” explicitly color his views of political discourse. This would be fine if he wasn’t trying to make the point that people ought not do exactly what he was in the process of doing.

After noting the rise of spiritual progressives (perhaps belatedly), he at first reiterated his view:

What the Church can and must do is draw our attention to, say, soaring inequality or long-term unemployment or resilient poverty and challenge us to see if these evils can be prevented or ameliorated. What it should not do, it seems to me, is grant any political movement – let alone a political party – to represent in policy or political terms what our actual response should be.

Now I am commenting as an Integral spirituality writer, not a Church-identified theologian. But I am informed by the Catholic and Protestant social ethics traditions, and I note that Sullivan’s views are questionable even on Christian grounds. His political realist hero Reinhold Niebuhr, for one, would not agree that Christians ought not speak in political terms about specific responses to social ills. For one thing he had no problem fighting communism on Christian grounds.

But the quote above does not yet get to the really juicy part of Sullivan’s post. First, he approvingly quotes crunchy conservative Rod Dreher explaining his tolerance for left-wing Christians:

But let the Left be on notice: if you endorse this kind of thing, don’t ever open your mouth to complain about conservatives doing it. You can’t complain about the Religious Right bringing their faith to the public square when you don’t like their politics, and praise the Religious Left for doing the same thing when it suits your goals.

And then Andrew’s response puts him one click away from shifting his longstanding views:

It seems to me you can resist the politicization of religion by the right without committing the same category error on the left. In fact, it seems to me vital for the restoration of a living Christianity that it not be drawn into these political struggles. But if you do want to conflate Christianity with leftist politics, as Rod Dreher notes, you may come to regret it… (Bold added)

So what he’s implied is that interjecting religion into politics too overtly is an “error” whether it is done on the right or the left, and is potentially regrettable. Well, that’s a small improvement from my perspective! He stops short of saying the “Christianists on the Left” are doing anything worse than the right-wing religionists and his admonition that progressives “may come to regret it” could be more definitively or harshly stated.

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Andrew Sullivan Confesses: I Never Liked Gay Portrayals

looking-hboI have to admit to sharing many of the same aversions as Andrew Sullivan to early portrayals of gay culture. They didn’t seem to reflect my own experience, and they reinforced my sense of not really being part of the gay community but somehow an outside even there. Sullivan writes:

“A confession. I have long had an aversion to gay-themed plays, TV shows, movies, etc. I wasn’t born with it. I learned it. I learned it through what can only be called a series of cringes. I cringed at Philadelphia‘s well-intentioned hagiography of the “AIDS victim”; I cringed through Tony Kushner’s view of the plague as a post-script to the heroism of American communists; I winced at the eunuch, the sassy girlfriend, and the witty queen in Will And Grace; I had to look away as Ellen initially over-played her hand (understandably and totally forgivably, but still …). The US version of Queer as Folk was something I could not get out of my recoiling head for weeks – and I barely got through fifteen minutes of it. And please don’t ask me about Jeffrey. Please.Maybe I should have sucked it up and celebrated each and every portrayal of gay people in any form – after so many decades and centuries of invisibility or minstrelsy. But, like many members of any minority group seeing themselves portrayed for the first time on screen, I felt betrayed when my own life wasn’t depicted, my worldview was ignored, my politics wasn’t acknowledged. In many ways this was utterly irrational. But it was emotionally real. When there are so few cultural expressions of your core identity, the few become weighted with far more cultural baggage than they can hope to uphold. In a fraught time – between liberation and mass extinction, between criminality and civil equality – it was hard to forgive anything that might be conceived as counter-productive or inaccurate or ideologized.

The same dynamic operated the other way on me, as well. When I rather naively became a gay public figure by answering “yes” to the question, “Are you gay?” after I became the editor of The New Republic at the crazy age of 27, the shoe was on the other foot. Suddenly I was supposed to represent all “virtually normal” gay men, because I was one of very, very few out people in the mainstream media in 1991. And boy did I not represent them. I never claimed to, of course, and said so explicitly; but that really didn’t matter. I was out there and not representative of many others. So I had to be knocked off my perch in a period of great exhilaration but also great personal pain. Looking back, the necessary madness of that period, its extraordinary range of sheer emotion as we fought not just for our dignity but for our very lives, seems clearer and more understandable now. But no less painful.”

Read the full article, which includes a review of the new HBO series Looking.

The Rise Of “Spiritual But Not Religious” Outlook May Boost Political Fortunes

spirituality-picBy Joe Perez

An interesting article by Steven Barrie-Anthony explains why spiritual people who don’t identify with any one tradition exclusively make up a very interesting demographic. These spiritualists may be ignored at the peril of politic leaders who would be wise to take note. He writes:

A fifth of Americans check “none” on surveys of religious preference. Among the young adults under 30 who helped propel Obama into office, a full third check “none.” Atheist pundits are quick to claim these gains for their own, but that is not the case—nearly 70 percent of “nones” report belief in God or a universal spirit, and 37 percent describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” This may or may not be the story of the decline of “religion,” but it is clearly also the story of the ascent of “spirituality.”

Smart politicians and media observers will pay attention to this trend. There is the potential for spiritual voters to exert major influence this year and in 2016. Religiously unaffiliated voters are strongly Democratic in national elections, and a majority are socially progressive on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. But there is growth possibility for Democrats. While religious nonaffiliation has expanded rapidly in recent years, “nones” account for a flat 12 percent of voters in presidential contests since 2008. Over the same period, the percentage of “nones” identifying as Democrats fell slightly, while the percentage identifying as independents increased to half—good news for Republicans and third-party candidates. Republicans are unlikely to wring much from spiritual voters; but Democrats stand to gain significantly, or lose out, depending on their ability to inspire them.

Spiritual voters do not come hand-delivered as a political bloc—but there are shared values and experiences that call out for political cultivation. The question is, will politicians study the category well enough to identify and appeal to broadly shared values and longings? Spiritual voters are a diverse cohort and do not come hand-delivered as a political bloc—but there are shared values and experiences that call out for political cultivation. Their support for progressive causes links up with a broader unease with religious, political, and financial institutions viewed as tainted by wrongheaded values and jaded self-interest.

Read the whole article.

Remember that 70 percent of the religiously affiliated belief in God or universal Spirit. That’s an important sign that their spirituality may be Integral or proto-Integral. A spirituality with nothing more to hang on than a simple belief in Spirit is a beautiful thing, but fragile and flimsy. As these seekers desire more solid footing they may very well delve into the ramifications of believing in Spirit which go beyond their native religious tradition (if any), and they are bound to examine the role of cultural and spiritual evolution in shaping their integral spiritual life.