‘I’m Tired of Being Alone’

9780891123590A couple of weeks ago, I described my support for same-sex relationships in terms of intimacy – that God has hard-wired people to need to be intimate, so much so that our physical health depends on it, and that to argue he both creates the conditions that lead some to be same-sex attracted and requires denial of the intimacy they need because of that very attraction requires us to conceive of God as a monster.

In the end, however, I’m just a straight guy. I know and love a few gay people, but when it comes right down to it, I’m just talking about what I think they’re going through – or at least what science tells me they’re going through. I’d much rather let them say it, which is why I heartily recommend a book called Loves God, Likes Girls by a friend of mine, Sally Gary.

Sally blew everyone away about 10 years ago, when I was an undergrad, by standing up in our daily Chapel service and describing her struggle with same-sex attraction. A lot has changed in the past decade – for her, for me, for all of us. Homosexuality is a much more openly discussed topic, and its acceptance as a natural part of the lives of even those who choose celibacy has grown enormously.

Sally’s book is a memoir, nothing more – not a book that advocates for a particular side, just a good story well told that along the way has some valuable lessons to teach. And it’s a valuable resource because it provides a different perspective from the story told by, say, a Justin Lee in his book Torn.

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It’s OK to Be Gay – How Science, the Bible and the Love of God Convinced Me To Affirm Same-Sex Relationships

20130614-012013.jpgIn the end, it just hit me.

A single sentence, in an article not even about homosexuality or theology, not about Leviticus 18 or Romans 1, not about the Boy Scouts or the Southern Baptists.

In the end, what got me was a New Republic article by the magazine’s science editor, Judith Shulevitz.

“The Lethality of Loneliness” describes how psychobiologists “have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you.” Loneliness is defined as “want of intimacy.”

The story is fascinating and well worth reading. Shulevitz reports that scientists rank emotional isolation as highly as smoking among risk factors for mortality, and those most likely to feel emotionally isolated are those who are most rejected – as Shulevitz puts it, “The outsiders: not just the elderly, but also the poor, the bullied, the different” (emphasis hers). The lonely experience higher levels of stress, which injects the hormone cortisol into the bloodstream, the chronic overdosing of which leads to numerous maladies, the most serious being heart disease.

Since those who are rejected feel lonely more often, we shouldn’t be surprised that some of the biggest studies into loneliness have occurred among those who are gay. Scientists studying HIV-infected gay men in the 1980s discovered this incredible fact: “The social experience that most reliably predicted whether an HIV-positive gay man would die quickly … was whether or not he was in the closet.”

Closeted men were more sensitive to rejection, more fearful of being outed, and therefore less intimate with those around them. Their lives were more stressful, and stress hormones feed the AIDS virus. And then came the sentence that stopped me cold:

[Researcher Steven] Cole mulled these results over for a long time, but couldn’t understand why we would have been built in such a way that loneliness would interfere with our ability to fend off disease: “Did God want us to die when we got stressed?”

The answer is no. What He wanted is for us not to be alone.

And there it is. Is it really that simple?

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Before the First Day of Creation

ImageIn the great debate between creationism and evolution, one of the biggest stumbling blocks is the notion that God created the world in seven days with the power of his word, which would preclude a billions-year-long process of evolution.

This notion seems to come from two misunderstandings – 1, how the key text of Genesis 1 actually describes creation, and 2, how creation narratives work in ancient texts like the Old Testament. Clearing up these misunderstandings could help creationists come to grips with evolution – in fact, I would argue the creation texts of the Old Testament fit the world described by science quite well. There is, in fact, much less contradiction between the Bible and science than many assume.

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Why Christians Should Be Environmentalists

One of the churches in town recently hired a new preacher – a young guy, around my age with kids my age. I was curious because this church has long had an older preacher and been on the conservative end of the spectrum. I didn’t expect them to hire Rob Bell or Brian McLaren, but new blood isn’t a bad thing, and I decided to check him out.

His name’s Wes McAdams, and he runs a blog called Radically Christian – which sounds promising for us progressive types until you realize he’s setting up New Testament restorationism as a radical break from the Christian norms of today. It’s a neat construct, but pedestrian conservative pseudoevangelical theology with a cappella worship doesn’t scream, “Radical!” to me.

One of his posts caught my eye, however, and that’s where I’m really going with this. The post is called, “3 Reasons Why I’m Not an ‘Environmentalist‘”.

It leads with this disclaimer:

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say, I love this planet and everything God put on it. I love the trees, the hills, the water, the animals, even the air; and I’m all for us keeping these things clean. But, I can honestly say, I’m not an “environmentalist.”

The reasons are, sadly enough, the reasons I used to give for why we needn’t worry about climate change or deforestation or any of the other ills humanity continues to inflict on our planet:

  1. God is in control
  2. The earth’s purpose is to be used, not protected
  3. It’s going to be destroyed anyway

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The ‘Error’ of Evidence

Confession time: I like EWTN.

Specifically, when I’m out after 9 p.m., I like to listen to EWTN’s open-line call-in show, where a priest or other host answers listerners’ doctrinal questions. The perspective often is fascinating, as the questions and answers frequently focus on Catholic doctrines with which I’m either totally or mostly unfamiliar. The show also comes from a conservative, even fundamentalist background, which leads to plenty of eyebrow-raising while I’m running whatever errand I’m on.

One of those moments came the other night, when the host – I don’t remember her name – piggybacked on Pope Benedict XVI’s Sunday sermon on insincerity. Benedict called insincerity a mark of the devil, apparently using Judas’ failure to stop following Jesus after he stopped believing in him as an example because Jesus calls Judas a devil in John 6. Let’s set aside the fact that Jesus also calls Peter the devil, and that insincerity is perhaps the least of the reasons Jesus would call Judas a devil – betrayal, hypocrisy, lack of concern about the poor all spring to mind.

The host used the point to jump into a talk about people who teach error, even if they do so sincerely. And she listed several of the things people teach that she – and the Catholic Church – find erroneous. Here are some of those, as best I can remember:

  • That the Bible is not the inerrant Word of God
  • That abortion is not murder
  • That gay people should have marriage rights
  • That oral contraceptives do not lead to breast cancer.

And that’s where the eyebrow went up.

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Our Postmodern God

This post is a response to Tony Jones’ call for progressive theological bloggers to write a post about God. So here goes …

That postmodernism is indefinable is a truism. However, it can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.

– The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

It’s struck me lately that the best way to think of God is to compare him to an elephant.

Specifically, I think of God like the elephant in the old South Asian tale of the blind men who each grab hold of a piece of him and describe the animal they think they have. One has the trunk and thinks he’s holding a snake; another has an ear and thinks he’s holding a fan, etc. Each of them is attempting to accurately describe what they know, and some do a better job than others, but none of them is exactly right – indeed, being exactly right would have been impossible if they had never seen or felt a whole elephant before.

Which is why I call God postmodern and why it would serve the church well to stop running in fear from the notion of postmodernism. Perhaps no era in the history of the world better suits the God we worship than the one that openly and completely questions the ability for anyone to fully grasp and explain truth.

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The ‘Big History’ of God’s Evolving Universe

Update: TED’s WordPress embed code actually links to the wrong video, so you’ll have to visit this link to watch it. Sorry for the inconvenience!

My wife and I like to wind down before bed by watching one or two TED Talks – partly because we’re that nerdy and partly because Netflix has begun streaming them in little 10-talk packages by subject. We’re working through the “Ancient Clues” packet, which has all sorts of fun talks about human origins and the like.

The talk above by David Christian, an Australian history professor, is perhaps the strongest argument I’ve ever seen for the nature of God’s work in the universe. He never mentions God – indeed, doesn’t give us any reason to think he believes in any god at all – but his treatment of “Big History” and the various “Goldlilocks moments” when conditions were just right for the universe to buck the law of entropy and produce greater complexity rather than greater disorder is an inspirational telling of just how intimately involved God is in his creation.

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