I was traumatized by my time in church. The years of sitting in pews, Bible studies, and coffee shops with Christian leaders, listening to variation upon variation of how wrong homosexuality is, slowly eroded me. Words might not seem that powerful, but if they are a steady trickle, coursing over your young mind which is porous as fresh soil, they carve out whole canyons of self loathing.
Over two years ago, I met the love of my life. Gentle, intelligent, and incredibly present, I knew from the first phone conversation that we would be together. I had only been fully out of the closet for about two or three years – not nearly long enough to reverse a lifetime of training that homosexuality is intrinsically bad, disordered, and ugly. When I met my partner, those tapes were still playing deep in my subconscious. When J and I got together, those voices exploded from the nether realms of my brain. They came out like vengeful spirits, torturing me. This is what, in part, sparked my total meltdown at the beginning of 2015.
I’ve spent years of my life sorting through what I believe about homosexuality. I’ve been all over the map in this rugged terrain of theological belief, from ex-gay, to “Side B” to accomodationist, to affirming. Now, mercifully, I’ve journeyed beyond the gay Christian debate. I’m happy with my life and I’ve dedicated myself to what are, in my view, better, nobler things than a life-devouring obsession over my sexual orientation.
However, as I struggled with what I believed about homosexuality, I started to learn about people, and why we believe what we believe. The greatest things I’ve learned from the gay debate have little to do with homosexuality, and much more to do with human nature.
For January, 2017, we explored my personal struggles with faith and doubt. I examined the things I want people to know the most about struggling with doubt, what Donnie Darko taught me about religious doubt, why my Christian give-a-damn is broken, and how I define Esoteric Christianity. As usual, my readers offered some compelling responses, and I want to take a moment to feature the best ones here.
For over a year now I’ve been describing myself as an Esoteric Christian. I adopted this terms before I fully understood what it meant, but I also knew that it was the best description of where I am in my faith journey. Whenever people ask me what an Esoteric Christian is, I jokingly respond, “it means I’m a Christian who’s into weird shit.”
I used to care so deeply.
I used to care so deeply about right belief, about Orthodoxy, about the church’s teachings and how to best live them out.
I used to care so much about being part of the inside, part of the Right Crowd. I used to care so deeply about not being cast outside for some minor heresy.
On Christmas Eve my partner and I watched an old favorite of mine: Donnie Darko. The film is a trippy, incoherent and yet strangely cathartic philosophical exploration of reality. Running through the film is Donnie’s struggles with belief in God. The film captures well the unreality and alienation that accompanies such deep exploration: little makes sense in this world, and we are surrounded by delusions and nightmares.
The scenes that struck me the most powerfully were the discussions Donnie has with his therapist about his struggles with belief in God.
For as long as I have had faith in God, I have also known doubt. My doubt and I have been in a dance for years, now, growing apart and then coming together, sometimes fighting, sometimes talking, sometimes choosing to understand one another.
As I struggle with navigating the faith I love so dearly, I turn to the internet for guidance, and I find a great deal of cerebral talk with little soul. I hear Sam Harris and Dawkins and Christian apologists talk about the pros and cons of faith, but what’s missing for me in almost all discussions about doubt is humanity.
Last week I wrote about my sexual compulsion which flourished in grief, despair, and self-loathing. Most of all, the sex addiction was watered by the unwillingness to allow myself to love and be loved in a distinctly erotic way.
In 2013, I was sick with heartbreak. My boyfriend, on a sunny January day in Baltimore, broke up with me.
He was a conservative Christian, and so was I. We both believed that homosexuality was not God’s best for humanity, and that it would be a sin to act on it. And yet, here we were: deeply in love, and now deeply heartbroken. We had lived in a horrible in-between place, unable to change our beliefs and unable to stop loving each other. The dissonance drove us mad, and it ended in him breaking up with me. I’d never known such rending emotional pain.