IN THE SPIRIT, VOL. 1, NO. 2
By Joe Perez
A huge question in the culture war is this: Does God approve of homosexuality? Most debate today happens between folks in one of these four camps: conservative religionists, liberal religionists, secularists, and spiritualists. And all four ways of thinking about gays are wrong.
Both conservative religionists and liberal religionists claim to be talking meaningfully about such questions. Conservatives say that their scriptures or sacred traditions dictate that homosexual sex is against God's will. Liberals say that the conservatives are misconstruing scripture and tradition. They say that when we look critically at tradition, then a gay-friendly (or at least gay-tolerant) vision of God's will emerges.
These people think of homosexuality as a "moral issue." They're talking about homosexuality as a behavior and whether or not specific sexual acts are okay. Even many gay people think this way, for instance when they say that apart from what they do in the bedroom they are exactly the same as everybody else.
Religionists are joined in the debate over homosexuality by two groups that have rejected religion altogether: secularists and spiritualists. The secularists have rejected religion and with it the whole notion that there is a divinely-ordered meaning or purpose to human sexuality, finding insufficient evidence for the existence of a heavenly being. Homosexuality, they say, is a natural human variation and neutral in value. Its purpose can only be ascertained through objective empirical research by biologists, anthropologists, psychologists, and historians.
Gay spiritualists have also rejected religion, but for a very different reason. They look at the history of religion and notice that a dramatic shift occurred about 2,500 years ago in cultures across the globe. At that time, matriarchal and goddess-worshipping spiritual traditions were replaced by patriarchal religions that enforced rigid social hierarchies of male dominance. Evidence suggests that taboos against same-sex sexual behavior were non-existent in many of the pagan cults. Indeed, same-sex behavior was frequently given a place of honor in many tribes. Persons who would today be called gay were often revered as spiritual leaders. Gay spiritualists say that gays should stay away from homophobic religions that are beyond redemption and instead reclaim a pagan spirituality.
Conservative religionists, liberal religionists, secularists, and spiritualists account for virtually all public debate about homosexuality in every religious, secular, and spiritual orientation in existence. These are ideal types, of course, and few people fit exclusively and perfectly in a single camp.
When you think about it, neither the conservatives nor the liberals are actually telling us a damn thing about God's stand on gays. They're only telling us about what certain religious authorities and sacred books say. Yet in rejecting religion, neither the secularists nor the spiritualists have given us satisfying answers to questions concerning the value, meaning, and purpose of homosexuality.
There's another way of thinking about homosexuality that honors all that is true in the beliefs of each of these four camps even as it reveals their weaknesses. I call this approach integral, because it is inspired by the integral spiritual philosophy of Ken Wilber. The integral approach begins with a radical question: what if everybody's views about homosexuality are true? Since there is so much disagreement, this thought is nearly impossible to entertain. That is, unless you consider that beliefs about homosexuality evolve in levels of increasing truth and adequacy.
Evolving levels of beliefs about homosexuality? That's right. The integral approach recognizes the fact that human beings undergo development, including the formation of worldviews that see homosexuality in radically different ways. Evidence from developmental studies of human psychology, language, culture, and sociology provide the framework for determining the stages. In Integral Psychology, Ken Wilber summarized over 100 different psychological and spiritual models of development, and found the striking fact that many are similar.
If something like an integral approach is valid, then disagreements about homosexuality must be understood in light of the level of psychospiritual development evidenced in each worldview. Basically, there is a magical view of homosexuality, a mythic view, a rational view, a pluralistic view, and an integral view.
The magical view formed beginning about 10,000 BCE, when the first signs of same-sex expressions of love and eroticism began to emerge into consciousness. By and large, this was a time when the world was experienced as a “polytheistic” world of goddesses and gods, demons, fairies, dragons, and other fanciful creatures. Homosexual expressions were accepted as an honorable and sacred part of life in many cultures. This is the truth honored by the gay spiritualists who want to reclaim the values of this era.
About 2,500 years ago, human consciousness evolved into a mythic mode of awareness of homosexuality. It was a conformist, law-and-order way of seeing in which everything in a culture's narrow vision was judged to be the “true” or “best.” Believers in the myths were saved, but unbelievers were condemned to hell. Homosexual expressions were frequently limited and even stigmatized in these cultures. This is the truth honored by the conservative religionists who want to return the world to this yesteryear.
Starting three hundred years ago with the Western Enlightenment and continuing to the present day, consciousness began to enter a more fully rational stage of development. Scientists coined the term homosexual and began to study gender and sexual variations in the light of reason. This is the truth honored by the secularists.
In the past 150 years, a pluralistic worldview began to emerge based on an egalitarian impulse to share rich and psychologically subtle experiences in a world free from dogma. Sexual and gender variations were recognized not merely as natural variations to be studied, but as the basis for group identities such as gay and lesbian and queer. This is the truth honored by the liberals.
About 50 years ago, a new integrative, holistic, and spiritual perspective began to arise. Unlike the previous relativistic worldview, this level of consciousness sees the unity beyond the diversity, and there is a demand to honor both pluralism and universality. Gayness is acknowledged as an entity with both surface features and deep universal structures that has developed in consciousness from the basic impulses of Stone Age peoples to contemporary worldviews and beyond. This is the truth recognized for the first time with the integral approach to homosexuality.
One of the claims most frequently made in the culture wars is that until recent times virtually every culture and religion condemned homosexuality. It is said that homosexuality was disapproved for thousands of years in the Jewish scriptures, the New Testament, the Koran, and scriptures of Eastern religions. Conservative religionists gloat when raising this uniform moral tradition and liberal scholars write dubious books that seek to undermine the historical basis for the claims.
The truth that is revealed by such claims in that for the past 2,500 years or so the major world religions have given expression to the mythic level of belief regarding homosexuality. Homosexuality isn't always and everywhere condemned; it's only condemned at the relatively primitive mythic stage of consciousness.
Another claim frequently heard about homosexuality is that everything worth knowing about gayness is revealed by scientific inquiry. It is said that homosexuality can be explained by a "gay gene," psychoanalytic theories, or studies of socio-cultural constructions. Reacting against the incredible and outlandish claims about homosexuality by conservative religionists, secularists toss out all values and transcendental meanings. These positivists attempt to reduce gayness to that which can be perceived with the senses (or extensions of the senses by scientific instruments).
The secularists improved on the worldview of the conservative religionists, but the liberals did them one better. They sought to meld the respect for the mind with the best aspects of religion: the quest for peace, justice, and good will towards all people. They subjected myths to historical-critical analysis, they reconceived God as the Ground of Being, and they advocated tolerance and justice for all. Lesbians and gays were welcomed into open and affirming churches, synagogues, and mosques.
Gay spiritualists weren't happy with the solution of the liberals. Why try to fix religions that are fundamentally broken? Why not return to a magical spirituality that derives from an era before the patriarchy? Let us go back in time, say leaders of the gay spirituality movement, to paganism in order to reclaim our "queer heritage."
For all the progress over the past several thousands of years, the culture wars continue. It's not because there isn't enough truth about homosexuality out there. It's because everyone has a slice of the truth and they think they have the whole pie. The spiritualists think the religionists are oppressive and the secularists are greedy materialists, liberals think the conservatives are stupid and prudish, the secularists think everyone else has gone soft in the head, and the conservatives think everyone else is going to hell.
Only an integral spiritual approach can find a way through this mess. We can come to understand that God is the fluid, dynamic consciousness that includes and goes beyond all of reality. Like life itself, God is constantly evolving into new forms and bringing about innovative potentialities.
When you think about God this way, it becomes possible to settle the culture war debates once and for all. Each of us must grow spirituality to see how we feel and think about homosexuality at higher and higher levels of consciousness. Until that happens, it is worth mentioning a simple truth that appears to be justified based on the best evidence available at this time: the more spiritually evolved you get, the less homophobic you become.
Too often gays have become mired in interminable debates that purport to examine whether or not God approves of homosexuality. Instead, we should transform the cultural debate by acknowledging that no definitive answer to these questions is possible without first bringing about deep transformations of self, culture, and society. And to heal homophobia, we must go to its root in the form of a spiritual alienation that expresses itself as a forgetfulness or outright denial of the identity between our highest self and Spirit.
The greatest taboo existing in our culture is not a prohibition against homosexuality, but a demand that we deny our own ultimate identity and highest Self. Society demands that everyone keep our unity with the Godhead or Spirit deeply in the closet. But if we are all one with a Divine reality, then that must include gays.
From an integral spiritual perspective, what is homosexuality except a particular surface manifestation of a deep universal structure that is present in and accessible to all persons? It is that which I call homophilia, that which Ken Wilber calls self-immanence (one of the four prime tenets of all holons), and that which Christian tradition calls Agape (God's love for creation). At the integral level of consciousness, gayness is revealed to be the unfolding reflection of the Divine itself, embracing all manifest reality in an act of same-directed Love.
So long as people today think of homosexuality as just a "moral issue," they will never understand that it's really a "God issue." If your God is homophobic, then homophobia is your God. Just as God is the evolving consciousness that includes and transcends everything, gay ways of loving are God's.
It is hard to speak such scandalous truths in a homophobic world without feeling like a latter-day Friedrich Nietzsche. The German philosopher famously declared that God is dead. God isn't dead. God is alive and well, and God is Gay.
"In the Spirit" is a bi-weekly column on spirituality by Joe Perez. This installment of the column features a previously unpublished article, "Does God Approve of Homosexuality?" which was originally written in 2004 as a brief summary of views articulated at greater length in the book Soulfully Gay.