Saturday, February 22, 2020

Centering Religion on Possession or Lack of a Penis Seems to Have Some Significant Downsides

Tina Beattie, "A 'frozen idea of the feminine," The Tablet, 20 Feb. 2020

I think this morning of three famous men in the world of religion I met while I was active in the religion academy as a scholar and teacher. One was a theologian whose work has been very influential in the area of peace studies, especially in his Protestant world.

The other had a high profile because of his founding involvement in a ministry to young people who experience mental and physical challenges. He has been treated as a lay saint in Catholic circles.

The other was a priest-theologian at a major U.S. Catholic university. That university, as it happens, gave shelter to man #1, the theologian influential in Protestant theology, when things became hot for him at his home college as his manipulative, coercive sexual advances on women became known there.

In each case, these men gave me strong vibes that made me want to be away from their presence at all cost. The first two men have turned out, we now learn, to have had abusive, coercive sexual relationships with women, and knowing this now, I can "read" the vibes they gave me much better: they had discerned that I am a gay man, and they wanted to send me signals of their superiority and my inferiority. Their being a man depended on their lording it over and demeaning the "feminine."

In both cases, I could see, somehow, from their body language and how they dealt with me that they were manipulative, bullying men underneath their fa├žade of being all about peace-preaching and concern for the least among us.

The priest-theologian turned out to be a closeted gay man who eventually lost his job because he was coercing young men he counseled into unwanted sexual relationships. I met him at a theology conference. I can so well remember my interaction with him there. I was talking to one of the presenters, a nice young woman whose work interested me and who had a lot in common with me.

For whatever reason, this priest-theologian had claimed her as his, and he made a point of conspicuously intruding into our conversation, shoving me out of it in a very nasty way — treating me like dirt — and then squiring her into the dinner attached to that evening's events at the conference.

When I later learned what I learned about him — it was plastered all over the news when he was found out — I recognized what was going on in that encounter with him: he could spot that I was gay, and he was living a closeted life in which he needed to look like a Lothario and ladykiller to distract attention from himself. Publicly demeaning a gay man to claim "his" lady was a way for him to achieve that goal.

The world of religion can produce some pretty twisted men, I conclude — especially in religious groups that permit men so many liberties and afford men so few opportunities for self-reflection and acknowledgment of the unmerited privileges that come their way solely because they happen to have a penis. I am sorry that Pope Francis seems so oblivous to this conspicuous downside of building a religious system around the possession or lack of a penis. I rather suspect the Catholic church cannot move in any fruitful direction until it stops this nonsensical thinking and reforms its ministerial and governing structures accordingly.

No comments: