Friday, October 7, 2011

Quote for Day: Jay Michaelson on Queer Discernment and the Huck Finn Moment

Quote for today: Jay Michaelson writing at Religion Dispatches about tshuvah, the call to repentance during Yom Kippur, and the dangerous heteronomous ethics with which we end up when we absolutize biblical texts and refuse to respect the process of interpretation that requires us to wrestle with texts if we're ever to fathom their authentic meaning or to make that meaning significant for our own lives:

The situation religious many queers face is like that faced by Huck Finn in Mark Twain’s novel. Huck has been taught that if he helps escaped slaves, he will go to hell. But he has befriended Jim, the runaway slave, and cannot turn him in. So, Huck decides at a pivotal moment in the book, “I guess I’ll go to hell, then.” That moment, of course, is not damnation but salvation. It is the birth of a mature conscience.

As Michaelson notes, gay and lesbian people born into religious communities always face a Huck Finn moment--as does anyone within a religious tradition who wants to arrive at spiritual maturity, because spiritual maturity requires us to move beyond heteronomous notions of conscience to respect for the sacred nature of individual conscience.  Though he doesn't spell this out, he might well end up concluding that gay and lesbian believers bring an exceptionally precious gift to religious communities: that of teaching all members of those communities the supreme importance of wrestling with authoritarian norms and absolutist notions of moral teaching in light of personal experience. 

Gay and lesbian people have the potential to help religious communities retrieve the valuable notion of discernment, in the face of draconian fundamentalisms that seek to coerce the conscience of believers and keep them at the level of moral infantilism required by the fundamentalist mindset--a level of moral infantilism which makes believers who remain at this level malleable and useful to the autocratic leaders of fundamentalist movements.

Whether most religious communities will recognize that their gay adherents offer this gift to them: that remains to be seen.

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