Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Burden Of Overreacting

First things first, I apologize for this most recent gigantic gap in blogging. Junior year is in full swing, and the past few weeks have been a roller-coaster ride of projects, assignments, papers, social events, meetings, interviews, on-campus programs, and the like. I've run an emotional gamut and frankly, I've kind of forgotten about this thing. It's a good think I'm e-mailed about comments because otherwise I would not have responded to some folks, and if there is anyone who I haven't gotten back to about anything, sorry about that! Here's to hoping I can get into some more regular blogging soon.

Anyway, the other day, I happened upon a blog post by Tim Challies, who was reviewing a portion of a book by Al Mohler, who was expanding upon an idea by Anthony Esolen. Got all that? Good. The post was about the burden of "perverse assumptions." Mainly, the idea was that increased cultural acceptance of homosexuality has led to the decline of close male friendships. For example, guys don't show affection towards each other nowadays because they are afraid of being labeled as "homosexuals."

On the one hand, the post made a good point. It is likely today that when two men are being affectionate towards one another, it's going to be looked upon strangely. Challies' post makes a few references to "The Lord of the Rings" characters Sam and Frodo, whose platonic love for one another was the subject of many jokes when the movies were being shown, even though it was clearly always meant to be nothing more than a close friendship between two men (um, hobbits) in the mind of author J.R.R. Tolkien.

However, that's really as far as I can go in saying that this line of thinking about "perverse assumptions" is good. It really, really isn't. For one, since when do Christian men let the culture define our relationships anyway? If one is afraid of being mistaken for a gay person, what are the reasons for that fear? In my mind, it's one of two things: the man doesn't have a strong sense of his own masculinity, or he's afraid that being labeled as gay will put him at risk of ridicule and possibly even violent crime.

Neither of these really speaks well for the Christian man. If the first is true, then the man is basically admitting to himself that being gay makes one less of a man. Actually, that's not a shocking opinion; a lot of Christians seem to hold it. It's condescending, of course, but the irony here is that it's a view that has been more or less spread by Christians themselves. Therefore, if a Christian's sense of his own masculinity relies on others' opinions about him, and more than that, relies on their belief that he is straight, then in a lot of ways he really only has to blame conservative Christianity itself.

If the second is true, and the man fears that he will be ridiculed or injured, then that's even more ironic, mainly because Christians have been rather silent about crimes against gay persons for quite some time, only really speaking out against them in afterthoughts, and usually fighting hate crimes legislation that would give the same benefits to gay individuals that Christians already enjoy (also note that I'm not a fan of hate crimes legislation in general, but if we have it for religion, we should have it for sexual orientation as well). This is a shame, because if anything, Christians should be the first people to speak up for those being hurt, and it turns out more often than not that we are the ones doing the hurting.

The second issue I raise with this line of thought is that it seems pretty exaggerated. I know many Christian men who have very close relationships, and don't seem to care what others think at all. In fact, these are the guys I like best. They're confident, assured, and don't care what the world might think. They also don't mind making fun of the fact that they might be perceived as gay. There is the whole idea of "bromance" going around nowadays, and that's actually a pretty good way to reclaim male friendship in a time when romance has been emphasized over all types of relationships.

The third issue I raise is probably the most important. Where do some Christians get off thinking that this is the worst kind of thing one could assume about them? Rising cultural acceptance of homosexuality might mean that two men who go to dinner together might be seen as boyfriends by passing strangers, but it also means that those passing strangers aren't likely to give a hoot. And like I said, a Christian man shouldn't give a hoot about the thoughts of the passing stranger, either.

This rising cultural acceptance is also good for Christians like me who are also attracted to the same sex. In another time period, fears that I could lose my job or even life if I came out of the closet would have probably either driven me to abandon my faith or enter a sham marriage to throw people off the trail. Nowadays, I can give myself fully and openly to God without that fear. I can tell people my story without being afraid of their reactions. I can make an informed decision and decide that celibacy is both the most theologically sound and realistic way to live out my life, and I can get the support I need for that. In other words, this cultural shift has been a good thing for me and for people like me, and I'd like other Christians to recognize it.

Unfortunately, some just don't. There's a great little exchange between a commenter named Bon and another commenter named Nathan, who also struggles with homosexuality, at the end of the comment thread on the Challies post.

Bon: The sexualization of male friendship is a great evil. I am deeply frustrated that referring to the good friend whom I run a business with as “my partner” invites raised eyebrows. What a thing has been done to us, or should I say we have allowed to happen. It is a conspiracy of cynicism.

Nathan: Such horrors for you and your partner, Bon!

When I tell some people that I have an attraction for men, they assume that I kidnap and eat children… or at least recruit them to do nasty things… or that I purposefully chose to slap God in the face… or I want to mutilate my body to change it into a female form … or I’m a disease ridden animal clawing the fabric of civilization apart… or I’m the cause of terrorist attacks…

You get the idea — I get more than a raised eyebrow. None of those assumptions are even remotely true nevertheless they are allowed to happen to me. Talk about the burden of perverse assumptions …

That's right folks. You want to hear about perverse assumptions, talk to Nathan. Talk to me. Talk to any other gay or lesbian you know. Sure, the world has a lot to answer for in its twisting of things that are innocent like friendship. But that's the world; they don't know better. Let's not forget that Christians have a lot to answer for too.

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