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The Australian government is currently conducting a Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. A major focus of this investigation has been the church; how the individual denominations have responded to allegations of sexual abuse, and how the denominations, in many cases, worked to cover abuse up. Having followed the lead up to, and evidence given to the commission fairly closely, I was not entirely shocked, but certainly disappointed to witness a number of religious leaders behaving defensively.[1]

What saddened me, as the evidence mounted up against the various churches, was the deep level of defensives rearticulated by lay members of denominations. Having known a number of people directly and indirectly implicated and associated with various cases before the commission, I was involved in a number of conversations that mirrored institutional patterns of self-justification and diversion. I was told that the bare minimum legal requirements had been met on many occasions (as if the Church, that which continually argues for a particular moral and ethical ordering of society, should be celebrated for doing the very least expected of them). I was exhorted to think of offender’s families, and the great cost to them in a time of public transparency. And I was I was reminded that all people sin and that we are not to judge. In short, I was reminded that institutions protect themselves at all levels of participation, and that power is always mobilizing to protect the powerful and the power discourses of those very institutions.

Of course the Church has a unique explanatory power when it comes to responding to the handling of sexual abuse. A tragedy laid plain in the testimonies given at the Royal Commission, is that religious intuitions not only dealt inadequately (and this word is hardly strong enough) with allegations of sexual abuse in the past, but that they can continue to do so. And it seems this defensiveness is made possible by the theological discourse that is rehashed time and time again.  Continue Reading »

I most love blogging for the way it places me just a keystroke away from people I would otherwise never even pass by on the street.  I can communicate with and receive feedback from anyone with an internet connection.  In this way, blogging is a form of communion.  It does not replace (or even come close to) the communion our bodies can make, but I am grateful for it nonetheless.

I received some rather unexpected reactions to my latest post, “Gay and Catholic? A Response to Eve Tushnet.”  I would like to address one of them here.

Both in the comments’ section of my post and in a separate blog post written in response to mine, I was accused of “reducing” gayness to sex.  One commenter contended that for people like Ms. Tushnet, gayness involves “desiring profound emotional intimacy with their own gender, deep spiritual friendship, appreciating the goodness and beauty of themselves and their companions–with part of that being sexual attraction…but not being the primary, overriding or sole determiner of the orientation.”

One blogger accused me of just not understanding what it means to be gay (people who know me in real life will understand how funny that statement is) because I do not realize that “being gay has much to do with how we love. Love, however, can be had without sex, just as sex can be had without love.”

Continue Reading »

Earlier this month, the Jesuit magazine America published an interview with lesbian Catholic blogger Eve Tushnet.

More than just an uncommonly gifted writer, Tushnet also tells an unconventional conversion story. She is proudly gay and unafraid to call the church out on its homophobia, but resolutely committed to living within the limits of the church’s teaching on homosexuality.

While affirming magisterial teaching on homosexuality as the truth, Tushnet describes her choice to “accept her sexuality” as

“being honest about where you’re coming from, what you’re experiencing, where your sexual desires are being directed, and not feeling that this area of your life is somehow shut off from God or turned away from God in a way that the rest of your life isn’t. It means not separating out your sexuality and your sexual orientation by saying they need to be repressed or destroyed in some way.”

But, I argue, if the magisterium speaks the truth when it classifies sexual relationships between people of the same sex as unconditionally evil, then this is exactly what homosexual women and men ought to do, seek to eradicate their orientation towards what the magisterium classifies as the categorical evil of gay sex.

While Tushnet strives to prove the church’s teaching on homosexuality both true and liveable, she actually ends up demonstrating its deep incoherence.

Continue Reading »

One of the main discourses to constitute social differentiation as hierarchy and domination is that of binary opposition. –Janet Jakobsen, 1998                                                                         

Is this the way the world ends? When groups that share common cause, utopian dreams and a joined mission find fault with each other instead of tearing down the banks and the bankers, the politicians and the parliaments, the university presidents and the CEO’s? Instead of realizing, as Moten and Hearny put it in The Undercommons, that “we owe each other everything,” we enact punishments on one another and stalk away from projects that should unite us, and huddle in small groups feeling erotically bonded through our self-righteousness. –Jack Halberstam, 2014

 

If there exists a madness that is laughable, it can only be one compatible with the general health of the mind,—a sane type of madness, one might say. Now, there is a sane state of the mind that resembles madness in every respect, in which we find the same associations of ideas as we do in lunacy, the same peculiar logic as in a fixed idea. This state is that of dreams. So either our analysis is incorrect, or it must be capable of being stated in the following theorem: Comic absurdity is of the same nature as that of dreams.–Henri Bergson, 1900

 

I’ve been thinking about Jack Halberstam’s brilliant and provocative piece on trigger warnings quite a bit this past week, especially in light of the many comments it provoked—which he aptly referred to as a “screeching apex of venom” in a clarifying post on his facebook page—as well as the flurry of responses, both critical , laudatory, and otherwise, that came soon thereafter. While my describing the piece as brilliant from the forefront clearly betrays my own position on the matter, I am also quite sensitive to a number of the critiques raised against the conclusion and/or implications of Halberstam’s argument. Continue Reading »

Unsure what to write about this month, I asked around for blog post topics people might like to see me explore. Somebody suggested that I write about things that high schoolers should know before arriving at college, so I’ll run with that. Except that it’ll just be about college, it’ll involve the axis of gender, and it’ll be a story from my own life.

My first semester of college, I elected to take an advanced writing course. The course topic was “power” (so “anything”), and it involved reading social theory and watching movies (read Weber and watch Fight Club and make them go together!), discussing the art of rhetoric and the structure of good argumentation, and then writing, rewriting, workshopping papers with the entire class, crying, laughing, rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. Continue Reading »

This morning the Instrumentum Laboris for the October 2014 Extraordinary meeting of the Synod of Bishops was released (topic: The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization). You can read it here. The first three paragraphs cover “The Biblical Teaching on the Family” and cite, respectively, Genesis, the gospels, and the epistles. But Paragraph 2 mentions only the wedding at Cana (John 2), Jesus as the Bridegroom (John 3:29), and Jesus’s prohibition of divorce (Matt 19) to show that “the Church’s proclamation on the family finds its foundation in the life and preaching of Jesus, who lived and grew up in the family of Nazareth.” There are many other passages that show Jesus’s commitment to the biological family. Such as:

Matt 23:9
“And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.”

Mark 3:32–35 (repeated in Matt 12:47–50 and Luke 8:20–21)
“And a crowd was sitting around him and said to him, ‘Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking around at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mothers and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.’”

Luke 14:26
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters and yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

Matt 10:34–36 (repeated in Luke 12:51–53)
“Don’t think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s enemies [will be] those of his own household.”

Matt 10:37
“He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Luke 2:48–49
“And when they saw him, they were shocked. And his mother said to him, ‘Son, why did you treat us like this? Look, your father and I have been desperately searching for you.’ And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my father’s house?’”

Luke 9:59–62 (repeated in Matt 8:21–22)
“But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ But he said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead. You go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another person said, ‘I’ll follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to those in my house.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’”

 

 

 

In a recent Facebook discussion I got drawn into regarding Zizek and identity politics, I started by arguing for an understanding of identity politics that is not synonymous with the politics of representation and recognition that desire more POC or queer people or women on television or as CEOs or politicians and presidents. That is, since it started, identity politics has had a radical critique of capitalism, a notion of building wide coalitions among various marginalized groups, and a desire for intersectional analysis that troubled the ideas that there was one source of oppression (class or sex or race, etc). I noted that I was not trying to position identity politics as a field of thought that is uncritiquable, but defend it as an important critical intervention in thought that gave an imaginative space for folks to decenter white men’s work as hallowed and sacred while also allowing people to develop critiques of identity politics. That is, identity politics, by and large, has been far more self-reflexive than the philosophical and theological projects of white men and can’t just be dismissed as a ridiculous project even if it gets things wrong.

Another commentor who self-identified as a reader of Zizek and agreed with Z’s critiques of identity politics responded that they DID want to argue that identity politics is a ridiculous project which “doesn’t mean it’s not important, or even emancipatory.” This stuck with me because it clarified for me why I did want to defend identity politics.

Dismissals of identity politics as ridiculous even as they are “important” or “emancipatory” strikes me as a kind of intellectual doublespeak that highlights the misunderstanding that grounds the dismissal in the first place. That these dismissals often come from persons who have probably read a handful of books by marginalized persons vs. hundreds of books by white men (insert “not ALL people who make these dismissals…”) is telling. The dismissals again position marginalized thinkers as those upon whom the burden of proof (that IP isn’t a ridiculous project) rests. While, of course, the folks dismissing identity politics are certain their ideas and philosophies and theologies are more convincing because they are more rigorous, it never seems to cross their minds that perhaps they find those fields more rigorous that they have rigorously been educated within? That is, the tokenization of marginalized thinkers on class syllabi, their introduction only as persons to be placed in comparison to white thinkers or male thinkers, is one of the best ways to fail at exploring the thought of marginalized intellectuals rigorously and is also the primary ways they are taught.

This logic of dismissal, where marginzalized persons are responsible for proving the necessity and validity of their fields of study, their lines of thought, their intellectual pursuits, reminded me of my time as an undergraduate at a predominately white institution that had one tenured black faculty when I arrived, and two when I graduated four years later. In my classes, the obvious gaps of thought when it came to race were places where I made very quick connections, pointing out the absence of thought on race, which impressed a lot of the white folks around me but didn’t solve my main problem which was, why do I have to teach this to myself in the first place? The answer to this was very clear from faculty and fellow students’ responses to my work, which is that it was interesting, but not central to the discussions at hand. Or, that I needed to engage with the primary white sources more, or that my work was ridiculous because the primacy of these white guys’ thought is just so obvious, why would I even bother making the critiques I was trying to make? Or that I was to blame for not bringing up race more and so, would have to suffer lowered marks on my grade because I didn’t bring myself into class sufficiently enough.

Having been in predominately white academic institutions since 2006, I understand why one would be able to dismiss identity politics as a ridiculous project. When one hasn’t lived through a college experience that is intellectually hostile to explorations of race and gender, when one is able to find one’s history and philosophies and theologies throughout the course catalog instead of hoping each semester that one of the maybe 5 classes on black people or race would be taught, it is quite easy to understand ones normative interests as being In a position to dismiss identity politics as ridiculous. Easily dismissing these ideas are not a surprise when one is not having to spend time hoping that the only class on a black novelist, Toni Morrison, wouldn’t just be an online summer class that you couldn’t afford to take because you didn’t have money for summer classes; or that the 3 paragraphs on black liberation theology in your Christian doctrine book might be expanded on in class, but never are. Or that the library would have the books by some black thinker that is a seminal work in critical race theory, but not important enough to garner space on the college’s bookshelves; or that you could find enough time between classes where you were always responsible for bringing race into the discussions and final papers where you always ended up doing a lot of research that wasn’t contained in the class—because your interests in race meant you had to make all the connections between primary white scholars and yourself (and probably not very well)—to finish the black feminist literary criticism collection or collection of poetry by Toi Dericotte or Cornelious Eady because that was a small piece of intellectual and literary solace you could find that made your days of racial microaggressions and obvious white supremacy a little more bearable.

The ease with which these dismissals come suggest a lack of understanding of what precisely is at stake for people who might gravitate to identity politics, which is trying not to let the waves of violence overtake one’s ability to imagine another way of being in the world. That it is Zizek’s work, dealing so heavily in Hegel (who dismisses the whole African continent from the history of philsophy) and Lacan (whose homophobia is well recorded), that is utilized to repeat the same kind of dismissal of black people and women and queer folks from histories of thought that his predecessors have also attempted is somewhat telling of the lack of reflexivity that occurs even in a world where critical theoretical interventions into white supremacist capitalist patriarchy have been made.

There are many critiques of identity politics to be had, many that I share and hope are heard. But there is a difference in critiquing because one wants to think more clearly about the political situation we find ourselves in—how holding onto identity can delimit our ability to imagine critical interventions that are necessary to dismantling oppressive structures—and dismissing because one never understood in the first place what people were trying to do with identity politics. That is, stay alive.

But perhaps survival is a ridiculous project.

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