A few weeks ago, I received a title that had me exposed to the best and the worst of our local gay scene. One evening, I found myself immersed in nothing but the worst of it. I remember walking away feeling degraded and disgusted with myself – not because of anything I had done, but because of the way I had been treated.
I’d been warned that I’d be objectified; I hadn’t thought it could be that extreme. What scares me is that this was normal behavior for this person and his close friends. I found it dehumanizing. They didn’t seem to think I had boundaries; they looked at me, and saw what they wanted and none of my personhood – nor their own. I have never seen people so cut off from whatever it is that enables us to see the full humanity of others.
It seems that our baser nature, cut off from that light, mentally Picassofies and mutilates the people around us into pieces of themselves that exist to serve our desires. To be in the presence of someone to whom you are entirely a means to his sexual ends, someone whose eyes don’t give a hint of anything except the manipulative animal glut to consume you, throw aside the remains and move on, is not glamorous; it’s terrifying. I remember hearing somewhere that false goodness is dry and boring while real goodness is ever-renewing, ever-surprising, and that conversely, false evil is glamorous and promises much while real evil is, well, evil. That night, I saw something of that truth. Good and evil are real, and we are each traveling further into the one extreme or the other.
Anyway, no matter what I did after I left, nothing could restore me to wholeness afterwards; nothing could make me feel clean.
In the wee hours of the morning, I remembered that my real identity is not entirely on this plane of existence. The vital parts of it are hidden safely somewhere else beyond the lies we tell ourselves and one another. Because there are lots of lies here – about race, significance, value and virtue. There are lies about personhood. I had just emerged from an encounter with their effects.
So slowly, in that morning, I began the process of finding myself again. Perhaps I cried, and then felt stupid for crying about something anybody else would view as trivial. Perhaps I got angry at myself for my convictions, for my commitment to putting personhood before pleasure, people before things, and for never quite living that conviction out coherently anyway. And I prayed.
The next morning, not realizing that I was in this state, a friend of mine began making fun of the worldview I share with other Christians by isolating parts of it from the whole, and mocking them. I started trying to explain where those pieces fit into their greater puzzle but found that he was not interested in listening to that, just in making fun of the belief. It was innocent fun for him and I would never want him to feel bad for it. But that doesn’t mean It didn’t hurt like hell.
So, to give him as much room to do that as he wanted, I left the group. I do not tell other people what they may or may not do if leaving is a feasible step.
I seriously believe that though he never lords it over us as human creatures, God is wholly and holy superior to us. That is why I evacuate myself entirely from anywhere I sense a complete lack of reverence for the transcendent. I know that finite beings don’t know everything there is to know about the Infinite, so I also know that when they speak disrespectfully about it, I’d better leave. It’s not a me-thing; it’s a creature-Creator issue. If we, as creatures, zero the Uncreated in whose image we are, what becomes of the created order? Quite frankly, less than nothing. And when the Creator is eclipsed, and the creation is less than nothing – well, then, why not pollute and exploit it? When the Creator isn’t hallowed, then the creation is not sacred, and when the creation is not sacred why not annex parts of it? If we don’t respect the Creator’s handiwork, why not Picassofy and mutilate it just to serve our ends? Why not cut ourselves off from the ability to regard personhood? If we’re traveling in the direction of fake glamorous evil, why not tear down its pretty visage and go all the way into it? I love sex and sexuality but when we allow that need to blind us to underlying spiritual realities, then there is no reason to do anything by half. Let’s choose untruth over truth, evil over good, and selfishness over love.
I believe creation derives its significance from its Creator. The created cannot be greater than its Creator, nor the thing caused greater than that which caused it. Love, friendship, sex, colour, breath, language, art, science, wisdom, loyalty, truth, beauty point to something greater than themselves; when we zero the Creator, we likewise say that these gifts through which we experience the Source are shit.
For me to tolerate an unprovoked, sustained and unhearing irreverence towards the being we call God, I’d have to tolerate an ongoing Auschwitz, Rwanda, Sharpeville, Soweto, and Marikana. All at once. Consistency demands it. I would have to tolerate the perpetuity of Golgotha’s cross without a resurrection Sunday to explain it; having tolerated that absurdity, I’d have to tolerate any and every other abortion of justice in history. History itself would dissolve into nonsense.
If I tolerate someone speaking unprovoked, sustained and unhearing evil of God, I would have lost the moral basis from which to call anything evil because I would have tolerated the slander of the Ultimate Good from which every other moral value judgment gets its validity. So while I won’t bomb anyone for this sort of behavior, neither will I stick around to listen to it. I love the people in my life too much to hear the God in whose image they are being slandered; it’s a complete, simultaneous character attack on all of them, putting Mother Teresa on the same moral plane as Adolf Hitler and then pulling the bottom out, saying that there is no moral plane in the first place.
“If there is a God, then why isn’t he stopping the evil in the world?” people have asked me. I have tried to explain that “good” and “evil” make sense in the first place only because there is a God, and that without him, they’re just sounds we made up and refer to when it’s convenient. The real questions are, “If there is a God, why is he still extending any good towards a world that has so resolutely spat on his self-revelation towards us?” Why did Jesus pray for his crucifiers’ forgiveness? The crucifixion is a picture of what man does with God whenever man finds him: we treat the Creator with contempt because we don’t like the meaning he has given creation, because that meaning doesn’t place us at its centre. If creation is someone else’s handiwork, which is what theism claims, then the limits of what we may or may not do with it are no longer ours to arbitrate; they become realer than we want them to be. We want morality on a dimmer switch or a buffet. God’s existence denies us that luxury. So we deny him any way we can – by crucifixion, rape, murder or any other way by which we can snuff out any contest to our claims over the created order – which we did not create. It irks us not to be able to say, “My time, my body, my spouse, my world” and if God showed up, his existence would expose the falseness of those claims as well as the injustice that has followed them.
The crucifixion is also a picture of how God responds to the lies we tell ourselves and one another: with unconditional love. That characteristic of God is why the word “good” makes any sense, and why we experience any goodness in this world. It is due to an excess of selfishness on our part that we deny that God exists and then exploit and mutilate his handiwork, treating with contempt and cruelty the various forms of life about us to which God has given his breath and on which he has placed his image; it is due to an even greater effulgence of love on his part that God lets us.
To tolerate an unhearing, sustained and unprovoked attack on God, I’d have to say that the things that made me feel so degraded were okay, because I, being in God’s image, likewise have no inherent value – along with the love, friendship, sex, colour, breath, language, art, science, wisdom, loyalty, truth, beauty that point towards God. Nothing matters, because the Good that imparts goodness and value to all of these is not worthy of respect or worship. Absent or blaspheme God, and anything is permissible; there ceases to be an incontestable, final argument against any evil or a standard against which anything can be gridded as good or evil. The feelings I had about being violated would have been sheer subjectivity, having no objective wrongness. There would also be no hidden place from which I could get healing or wholeness. If a person can speak ill of the God I worship and am in the image of, it’s an attack against the very core of who I am and what I stand for.
I’d rather just leave.
I’m sorry if people don’t understand that the behavior that comes from that worldview, but it’s the only truth I can embrace with any intellectual honesty.