liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
[personal profile] liv
Recently two special interest groups I'm second degree connected to have been involved in scandals around religious attitudes to homosexuality.

The leader of a tiny UK political party, the Liberal Democrats, resigned because
To be a political leader - especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 - and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible's teaching, has felt impossible for me.
And a tiny UK Jewish denomination, Orthodox-aligned Sephardim, are up in arms because R' Joseph Dweck taught something about homosexuality in Rabbinic sources and commented
I genuinely believe that the entire revolution of…homosexuality…I don’t think it is stable and well…but I think the revolution is a fantastic development for humanity.


This stuff is minor on the scale of things, but the media love the narrative of gay rights versus religious traditionalism. Anyway lots of my friends are religious Jews or Christians who are also gay or supportive of gay people and other gender and sexual minorities. So lots of my circle are exercised about one or both of the incidents.

It's easy for me to just point and laugh at people tying themselves in knots over whether it's religiously permissible to be fractionally less horrible to gay people. My approach to religion already doesn't accept any authority, whether God or scripture or religious leaders or institutions, telling me to be horrible to anyone. But I don't think that's really a worthy response; there are lots of ways in which a hierarchical, authoritarian approach to religion appeals to many people, including people from GSM and I want to do what I can as an outsider to help those people to exist as their whole authentic selves within all their communities.

I have a lot of admiration for both Farron and R' Dweck. Farron is that rare creature, a principled politician. He belongs to a Christian community whose mainstream teaching prohibits "homosexuality" (whatever they may understand by that), and he is a committed liberal who really works for equality for everybody in the political sphere. It's possible to read his resignation statement as saying he feels it's wrong for him to promote the welfare and rights of gay men when his religion prohibits their relationships. He's also very aware that being perceived as a homophobe is damaging to his Liberal party and is putting off voters, and it seems to me that the second is the bigger driver for him stepping down as leader. R' Dweck is likewise a compassionate and courageous leader, and one who really does accept Torah authority about prohibited homosexual behaviours. Note that the comment that's got him in hot water for not being sufficiently homophobic really looks quite homophobic from a mainstream liberal perspective: he doesn't think homosexuality is stable and well, and he upholds the Torah’s prohibition of male homosexual intercourse.

The reason why my response to these news stories is more than just Schadenfreude is that making a scapegoat of Farron and R' Dweck closes up the space in which gay people can live their lives. Yes, I want gay people and other GSM folk to be fully included and not have their rights curtailed, and that very much includes the right to be members of conservative religious communities. I think there is a lot to be said for the approach that religion is homophobic so people who care about the welfare and rights of GSM people should give up religion. But I also think that religion isn't inherently homophobic and that people, whether Queer or their allies, shouldn't be forced to reject all the good things it offers.

The thought I'm trying to shape is something like, this isn't in fact a conflict between "religion" and "homosexuality". It's a paradigm shift away from the late 19th to early 20th century Western nuclear family system, where the only permitted relationship was marriage between one man and one woman. And the woman was wholly responsible for raising a couple of future capitalist children, and the man had to work at least 40 hours a week in waged employment. I'm pretty confident that it's wrong to force that model on everybody, especially legally, but socially also. But the new permissive liberal paradigm that's replacing it is still somewhat in flux, and I don't assume that it's already the most perfect form of organizing human society. The consensus seems to be forming towards something that's quite individualized; there's no central moral authority, whether that's religion or tradition or the state or general social norms. And because it's individualized it tends to be quite identity-focused; people have a sexual orientation and a gender identity which is fundamental to who they are, and it's absolutely wrong to discriminate based on those. I don't know if it's possible for a system of moral authority to coexist with liberty and equality, and if I have to choose between them I choose liberty every time. For me, visionaries like R' Dweck and people like Farron who are both religiously conservative and politically liberal, are trying to hold on to both, and I want to at least admit the possibility of that. After all, the point of being liberal is to make as much space in society as possible for everybody, including up to a point some less liberal approaches.

Some religious institutions are (IMO mistakenly) investing religious authority in the really quite recent capitalist nuclear family paradigm. But it's not "religion versus gay rights", by a long chalk. Like recently with the development of legislation around same-sex marriage, a vocal conservative minority within the Church of England insisted on banning religious same-sex marriages. But that's not even the whole of the CoE, let alone all Christians, let alone all "religions"; plenty, including my own denomination of Reform Judaism, consider same sex marriage and other positive measures for LGBTQ+ inclusion to be very much part of our religious tradition. I know it's possible to survey historical Christianity and find evidence that Christian same-sex marriage and all kinds of different approaches to relationships and gender have always been part of the huge complex Christian civilization, and it's also possible to cherry pick texts to justify the view that anyone gender non-conforming in any way is deserving of exclusion and violence. And it's the same within Judaism; R' Dweck is by no means the only teacher who is working with extremely traditional methods of bringing about social change, adding to the tradition rather than rejecting it when it doesn't match ethical values. We in liberal traditions benefit quite a lot from this kind of work, because while we're much more willing to throw out prejudiced ideas, we also do want to be part of tradition and not just a society of people who are vaguely nice to eachother, and having access to these interpretations really helps with that.

Maybe it's ok that people trying to hold this balance have very few allies. I can understand that authoritarian homophobes see their authority threatened by leaders who try to introduce compassion and nuance into interpretations of anti-gay views. And I can very very much understand that GSM people and all of us who love them have little time for any attempt to work within a paradigm that classes loving same sex relationships and non-standard gender identities as a moral problem at all. I really want to support holding the balance, though, above all for my friends of any number of genders, orientations, relationship styles etc who belong to conservative religions.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-06-23 07:25 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
Yeah, I don't know. You raise some good points, and some questions I struggle with. After listening to Rabbi Dweck's lecture, I, out of some futile gesture toward open-mindedness, listened to Rabbi Bassous's rebuttal, which was almost more than I could handle. I recognize that in Rabbi Bassous's position I see little that isn't hateful homophobia, and I don't see how there could possibly be Torah in that. But I'm still aware that for GSM friends of mine, the positions that Rabbi Dweck and I have staked out (which are not quite the same, though they share a lot), are also read as homophobic.

What struck me in Rabbi Dweck's shiur that I hadn't seen laid out quite that way before was his emphasis on, as you say, the idea that in modern Western society individualized sexuality is seen as a defining characteristic of personal identity, and banning someone's identity is a quite different proposition than banning some particular behavior. Rabbi Dweck in the latter parts of his shiur expands this idea far beyond just the question of male homosexuality, to all sorts of questions about how Torah sees the relationship between sexuality and love and identity, and I feel like there is yet room for much more expansion than he managed in the scant 90 minutes he had. So it felt like he'd managed to speak to the question of homosexuality and Torah not by lecturing heterosexual Jews on how to treat homosexual Jews, and not by lecturing homosexual Jews on how to live a Torah life, but by offering a challenging musar that applied to everyone.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-06-25 01:05 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
in modern Western society individualized sexuality is seen as a defining characteristic of personal identity, and banning someone's identity is a quite different proposition than banning some particular behavior.

I'm not sure it is.

I think that this fissioning of personal identity and behavior is itself a curious and possibly dangerous modernism. A baker is someone who bakes. A cantor is someone who sings. A thief is someone who stole. We have a vast and venerable history of building identities out of behaviors, and there are reasons that is a good thing: it ties identity to something concrete and within our power to do something about. There are alternative ways of managing identity which are deeply terrible for lacking those properties.

If a king issued an edict that baking was criminalized in his kingdom, we would not be surprised to hear that "the bakers" – the people who make an identity of the activity of baking – were upset with this. We would not expect them to take any comfort by the reassurance, "you can go on being a baker, it's just that you can't bake".

The distinction between homosexual sex behavior and gay identity has been enormously important in pursuing social justice for gay people. I appreciate that. And at the same time, I am also aware that this identity/behavior distinction is used in a way that's somewhat facile. There seems to be a double standard, where gay people are expected to accept with equanimity a "you can be a baker, you just can't actually bake anything" distinction that nobody would ever apply to any other identity, for reasons of obvious ludicrousness. We all know that that's not how identity usually works.

It's not wrong to read the "homosexual people are okay, homosexual behavior is a sin" distinction as homophobic. The bakers would take it personally when the king outlaws baking. Nobody would tell them they have no special cause to complain because the law applies equally to everyone; the bakers, quite obviously, have a greater interest in being able to bake than anyone else, and everyone would understand that such a law would quite reasonably be contrued as punative of and hostile towards bakers. "Do not," the bakers would reply, quoting the ancient aphorism, "Piss on my shoe and tell me it is raining." People who love and desire those of their own sex have a very great interest in being able to express that love and desire freely and physically. It is important to them. As such, efforts to condemn or criminalize those behaviors are against their interests, and thus target them. They are not wrong to point to such attitudes as at odds with their interests as a people; they are not wrong to identify them as homophobic.

And at the same time, it's certainly less homophobic than taking same-sex sexual behavior as justificatory of hating the person who does it. It is, from a harm reduction standpoint, a step in the right direction. And it is a position, I think, many people who believe deeply in the divine nature of homophobic religious rules, are stuck with, because nothing else is available to them, unless they are prepared to overthrow the idea that their religious rules are not divinely ordained.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-06-25 02:36 am (UTC)
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
I get the impression from this comment that you have not listened to Rabbi Dweck's shiur. That's reasonable- it's fairly longish at 90 minutes, it requires a decent understanding of Orthodox Jewish law and culture to understand, and most people on the liberalish end of the spectrum are still going to find the ideas he presents homophobic. But the only reason I was able to comment on [personal profile] liv's post with only two paragraphs is because she's listened to it and has sufficient context to hopefully understand things I wasn't saying explicitly- and which would take a lot more words for me to say explicitly.


I may respond to your comment in more detail if I get the time.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-06-25 02:52 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
I have in fact now finished listening to the whole thing! (Er, at least, the hour and 37 minutes of it linked to – the youtube recording seemed to cut of abruptly before he was entirely done speaking.)

I am impressed at how passionately he argues against homophobic attitudes, and how he chastises hypocrisy. I'm sure it caused many heads to explode, because at the end of the day, what many people want is a legitimizing reason to look down on others (his mentions of lashon hara were clearly not random examples), and people don't like their punching bags taken away.

But very little he said surprised me, and in fact it made me feel a bit precient in what I wrote in my other comment to [personal profile] liv and to you.

ETA: To clarify, I don't for a moment believe that Dweck should be castigated or attacked from the left. But as magnanimous as his position is, it still is homophobic. The homophobia is not his, but, as he understands it, his god's. It clearly sorrows him that this is so; he is left trying to cope with it.
Edited Date: 2017-06-25 03:43 am (UTC)

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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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