08 October 2012

Book Review: God v. Gay?

Jay Michaelson is a Ph.D. candidate in Jewish Thought at Hebrew University and has taught at Boston University Law School, Yale University and City College of New York. He has written on spiritual thought and the law.

This is a fascinating book. I have not extensively read in LGBT focused theological writings although I have extensively read about the historical closeness between the LGBT movements and the religious right in the U.S. -- I have reviewed a few books on this topic here on this blog such as How the Religious Right Shaped Lesbian and Gay Activism, Straight to Jesus, God Hates Fags, Recruiting Young Love.

Perhaps the only other book that I've reviewed that deals with this subject is The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology and perhaps Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe.

Although I am Buddhist, Christianity informs the immediate world around me historically and ideologically and much of the political and legal regulation of sexuality in this world is based upon various interpretations of Christian and Jewish scripture. I have been waiting for a compelling and thorough examination of the issues with regard to sexuality.

Michaelson makes this case. As he says,
We should not suppose that the only religious values that attach to sexuality are tied to marriage and family. Every sexual act is an opportunity for ethical choice, and even for spiritual transcendence. Is a spiritual encounter loving, passionate, ethical, respectful, consensual and safe? Does it celebrate the energies of the body, and invite in holiness, as you understand it? These are ethical, moral and religious questions that present themselves in all sexual experiences, whether in traditional contexts or not. Yet there is only a small constituency interested in asking them. On the conservative side, there is a great deal of moral discourse but only a limited range of acceptance. On the liberal side, there is a wide range of acceptance but only a limited amount of moral, ethical and spiritual discourse. This is a shame, because asking such questions can be empowering and liberating.
Michaelson case is simple: intimate relationships heal the primary flaw of creation, a loving God could never want the 'closet', love demands authentic compassion for others, sexuality diversity is natural and part of God's creation, honesty and integrity are sacred and 'coming out' is a religious act, and inequality is an affront to religious values. His arguments are simple and elegant. It will likely not persuade the most reactionary of fanatical believers who are driven by a psychological complex tightly wrapped up with gay sex and sexual shame, but it should persuade at least thoughtful individuals who do not accept sexual diversity as part of God's creation to do some soul-searching about this issue.

The only limitation on Michaelson is that there are shadows of judgments against other sexualities outside of his expanded range of normative sexualities. His chapter on authentic compassion does the closest to working out this problem. It is significant as The Trouble with Normal and Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times both discuss the dangers, in different ways, of narrowly redrawing the lines of normalcy.

Michaelson's limitation is that he does not present a robust and coherent account of all of the sexualities that he doesn't think is normal and what the religious, ethical and moral response to those might be. It wasn't his intention to present that case so it isn't his fault, but it is an area of further consideration and argument that a theology of sexual diversity will need to consider. This is a minor consideration, however.

If we can educate the members of Congress and the Senate to this understanding, the direction of Philippine law and the good life will be radically transformed as God's will will not be understood to be a product of reasoning in legal formalism, but rather, on the basis of love, honesty and integrity. This is a theological basis to Alikpala's God Loves Bakla.

The version I read was a 232 paperback published by Beacon Press (May 8, 2012) ISBN: 978-0807001479. The book is written in English. The lowest available priced book is used at abebooks.com.


  1. How strange. I just read a blogpost about God and love.

    As for teaching our government to be more understanding.. I wish there was a way to do it more easily. Perhaps adding subliminal messages to the senate muzak? lolz

  2. a little bit of MDMA could go a long way, the problem is how to administer it to all of them so they get into the mood at the same time. lol

  3. Hmmm.. that's a tough one. Maybe we can host a luncheon? Then with a truck of MSG and the "right" music, we can set the mood. :p