22 July 2011

Book Review: Recruiting Young Love

Mark Jordan is the Richard Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Divinity at the Harvard Divinity School. He wrote this book as a sequel to his 1997 award winning book The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology.

I was attracted to this book because of my abiding interest in the interaction with social LGBT type movements and religion. It happens that most of the work being produced these days focuses on American Christian sects. If you consider some of the other books I have reviewed here, you will come to see my belief that American Christian sects had a tremendous shaping of LGBT identities in the US and globally: God Hates Fags, How the Religious Right Shaped Lesbian and Gay Activism, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe and Straight to Jesus. But, of course, the books I have reviewed here have not been limited to Christianity: With Respect to Sex, and The Hindus, An Alternative History.

This book, in some ways, reverses the proposition of How the Religious Right Shaped Lesbian and Gay Activism. It could have been titled How Lesbian and Gay Existence Shaped Religion.

Jordan is a Foucauldean and a theologian which, after much thought, is actually quite consistent. He does a genealogy of the present religious understandings of sexuality. He shows how both the liberal and conservative church reactions to the changes of scientific understanding of sexuality and sex were not theological (or only very superficially theological). Rather, the churches completely give up theological positions and enter into the rhetorical field of modern psychiatry, psychology, sexology and biology and just paste over some out-of-context biblical citations to rationalize the position.

Now, I'm not a theologian so it took me a few chapters to understand this. You see, theology is not reading a biology textbook and then making judgments about what you read and then finding Biblical passages to support your judgments. That is what political activists do. Theology is supposed to be a science itself so you can see by giving up the entire field to modern medicine, sexology or psychology and then backing in with Biblical passages eliminates the relevance or focus of theology (which is the study of God).

The other point that Jordan touches on, but unfortunately, does not do well or completely with a Foucauldean method is how American gays create myths and rituals to contain the affect of their life (He focuses on the consequences of AIDS to vibrant gay communities). Of course, I'm a Jungian so I would think that. I do think that Christian symbolism and ritual heavily shaped American gay identity. However, I don't think LGBT is the post-Christian. Human beings gravitate as a group by symbols. Christians borrowed and gays borrow, but nobody considers Christians to be post-Krishnas or post-Buddhists because themes were mixed and borrowed until significantly limited by the Nicene Council.

I found the Foucauldean method to be a little burdensome but the book kept my interest through out. I have even put his first book on order.

The version I read was a 296 page hardcover published by University of Chicago Press (April 15, 2011), ISBN-13: 978-0226410449. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com and amazon.com.

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