Sexuality Religion Politics (Savage) (Wiener)

Jared, tree_fern_chichijima

Amazing review of Does Jesus Really Love Me? by Jeff Chu by Dan Savage in the New York Times Book Review. Chu’s book sounds interesting enough as are Savage’s comments about Christianity and homophobia as well as his frustrations with Chu’s book. But what really caught my attention is the clarity brought by Savage own confessions re: sexuality and sexual orientation and intellectual clarity. His comments make very clear how sexuality constitutes an integral mechanism of critical thinking. Refusing any form of apologetic, Savage understands that the conflict between his own sexual orientation meant not a walking away from the religion of his youth but rather a critical thinking through it and beyond it into what, for him, is a much better, more felicitous place.

I was in church every Sunday for the first 15 years of my life. Now I spend my Sundays on my bike, on my snowboard or on my husband. I haven’t spent my post-Catholic decades in a sulk, wishing the church would come around on the issue of homosexuality so that I could start attending Mass again. I didn’t abandon my faith. I saw through it. The conflict between my faith and my sexuality set that process in motion, but the conclusions I reached at the end of that process — there are no gods, religion is man-made, faith can be a force for good or evil — improved my life. I’m grateful that my sexuality prompted me to think critically about faith. Pushed out? No. I walked out.

Meanwhile, just over at the NYT Sunday Magazine, are the far less straightforward confessions of Anthony Wiener, the disgraced ex-Congressman of the infamous Twitter crotch shot, and his wife, the awesome Huma Abedin, as they contemplate his NYC mayorial run. It’s funny how things come together in the Sunday New York Times, in this case, criticism and self-criticism, the bracing lack of contrition on the part of Savage versus the calculating public contrition of this consummate NYC wannabe power couple. His wife is quoted as calling him a jerk and his brother calling him “douchey.” And that was before the scandal broke. I hope Wiener runs for mayor. He could appoint Savage to head the City’s Department of Education.

“Part of the challenge of getting to the bottom of it for me,” he said, “is that I viewed it as so frivolous that it didn’t spark a lot of, like, ‘O.K., I started doing it on this day’ or ‘O.K., now I’m crossing a Rubicon.’ For a thoughtful person, it’s remarkable how little thought I really gave to it until it was too late. But I think a lot of it came down to: I was in a world and a profession that had me wanting people’s approval. By definition, when you are a politician, you want people to like you, you want people to respond to what you’re doing, you want to learn what they want to hear so you can say it to them. Twitter and Facebook allowed for me — not only could I go to a town-hall meeting or a senior center or in front of the TV camera, but now I could sit and hear what people were saying all around. Search your name on Google, begat read comments on your Facebook page, begat looking at what people are saying about you on Twitter, to then trying to engage them. ‘Oh, you should like me!’ ‘No, that’s wrong!’ or ‘Thank you very much!’ And it just started to blur into this desire to engage in it all the time. Someone stops me in the airport and says, ‘Wow, you’re amazing.’ Well, O.K., now, at 2 o’clock in the morning, I can come home from playing hockey and I can find someone saying, ‘Oh, that was great’ or ‘You’re an idiot.’ So somewhere in there it got to a place where I was trying to engage people in nothing about being a politician. Or sometimes it would start out about politics and then, ‘You’re a great guy.’ ‘Oh, thanks, you’re great, too.’ ‘I think you’re handsome.’ ‘Oh, that’s great.’ And there just wasn’t much of me who was smart enough, sensitive enough, in touch with my own things, understanding enough about the disrespect and how dishonorable it was to be doing that. It didn’t seem to occupy a real space in my feelings. I think it would be pretty surprising to a lot of people: What was he thinking?” He scrunched up his face and shoulders. “I wasn’t really thinking. What does this mean that I’m doing this? Is this risky behavior? Is this smart behavior? To me, it was just another way to feed this notion that I want to be liked and admired.”

I also like in both articles the sense of agency and place, perception and mobility. The gods can take care of themselves, or maybe they can’t. But people are more fallible. In democratic politics, there’s nothing like a little begging. About religion, though, it’s best not to be apologetic.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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