Greetings of Peace. This blog contains selections from my correspondence and other sources on a variety of subjects related to religion, philosophy, and spirituality. I hope that they may be of benefit to the interested reader. Concerning the title of the blog, read this entry.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Homosexuality and Human Dignity

Too often the homosexual is reduced to a sex act rather than acknowledged as a human being created to love God and compelled by nature to love other human beings. A discourse informed solely by heterosexual and predominantly Christian men is reasonably inefficient in empathizing with the plight of the homosexual male and especially the homosexual female toward whom the prevailing condemnation of sodomy does not apply. From the perspective of the homosexual as I understand it, their tendency to love was bestowed upon them by the same God worshiped by heterosexuals. Again, from this perspective, to arrogantly attempt to deny them their innate disposition is not only to condemn them to a loveless life but also an affront to He who is their creator. In my personal life I have encountered some homosexuals of admirable faith who, while accepting the conditions and tendencies that God has given them, struggle with their ability to nurture their faith within religious communities that ostracize and condemn them in violation of the principles of the same faith that they seek to uphold, a faith which teaches to love your neighbor as yourself.

Perhaps a valuable lesson can be learned from the Divine Plato, not from the fact that he privileged homosexuality, but rather from his ability to convey through parable the power and universality of love as it is experienced by all human being

***

I was being deliberately provocative in my response. As there are no outwardly homosexual participants in the discussion, I thought it was necessary to introduce something of the perspective of the homosexual that I have gathered from my own discussions to more fully portray the dimensions of the subject under consideration. It is very common for those of various religions to band together in united and active condemnation of a perceived "other" in order to assert their own piety and privileged standing before God. In the sphere of religion, it is common for Muslims, for instance, to persecute Jews, and for Christians to persecute Muslims. All however tend to stand united in the active condemnation of homosexuals. Although this type of condemnation seldom escalates to acts of physical violence, the hate within the heart of the perpetrator is already an act of violence, both toward object of his anger and to the perpetrator himself. Needless to say, this type of violence stands in direct opposition to the tenets of the religions which these various collectivities claim to represent, all of which call to love your neighbor as yourself. As I strongly discourage the perpetuation of these tendencies in our forums, I felt it necessary to write in the deliberately provocative terms that I used.

Concerning the need to discern true principles within our discourse, I thought it pertinent to consider the nature of the human being and his irreducibility to a particular act. According to tradition, the human being is often represented as a complex of body, soul, and spirit. Although there are degrees of severity among sinful acts, the fact remains that any given human being is not reducible to that particular act. In the Islamic Tradition in particular we are taught that the weight of our virtuous acts far outweighs the impact of our vices. In the language of the Hadith it is said that on the Day of Judgement each virtuous act will be counted ten times, and each vice only once. Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, while the act of sodomy among men and women is (with few exceptions) universally condemned within religions, there is no tradition to my knowledge which portrays God as placing sanctions upon the love of the human heart, and it is precisely this love which is the defining characteristic of all human beings regardless of sexual orientation, or at least moreso than any particular act. At its highest levels, religion calls us to extend this love not only to other human beings, but also to all of creation - plant, animal, and mineral, and first and foremost to God himself.

My own perspective on this subject, in accordance with the Islamic Tradition, is that we are called upon to be agents of God's love and compassion, not of His anger and wrath. Reza Shah-Kazemi provided a profound reflection on this important practical element of the Islamic Faith in his book "My Mercy Encompasses All." The Christian poet Wendell Berry gave some insightful reflections on the same in his preface to the book which are particularly relevant to our discussion, so I share some of them here as a conclusion. He wrote,

"As I read, I thought with some dismay, and some amusement, that the adherents of the Koran and the Bible might be divided into two groups: those who appoint themselves as agents of divine anger, and those who understand themselves as called to be agents of divine mercy. As never before, I thought of the unimaginable distance between God's anger and God's love - and of the speed with which Christians sometimes move from God's presumed anger at other people to his presumptive love for themselves.

"To think of oneself as an agent of God's anger is exceedingly attractive; perhaps this is the temptation that the Lord's Prayer appeals to God not to lead us into. There are certain intense pleasures in anger, especially if one's own anger can be presumed to coincide with God's, and also in the use of an angry self-righteousness as a standard by which to condemn other people. This is a pleasure necessarily founded on the shallowest sort of self-knowledge. There is much comedy in this (as Shakespeare, for one, knew well), and also great tragedy. It is evidently possible to indulge one's anger, justifying it as God's, and relying on God's mercy hereafter - but that seems to bet against great odds, and with hell to pay here and now for a lot of people. For those who appoint themselves agents of God's anger, there can be only diversion and strife until the end of time.

"To take up, by contrast, the agency of God's mercy seems to involve one in a labor of self-knowledge and then knowledge of others that is endlessly humbling. This perhaps is a comedy of another kind: We ourselves are in need of those things we are called upon to give to others: compassion, forgiveness, mercy. And unless we give them, we cannot receive them. God's mercy is of interest to us only in the light of our recognition of our need for it. Those who accept the agency of God's mercy, understanding their own need for it as the index of the need for others, must forbear their anger and talk together ("hold discourse" in the language of Dr. Shah-Kazemi's translation) until the end of time, for God's mercy is a mystery never to be fully known or enacted by humans."

It is by encouraging a composite view of the human being in accordance with traditional principles as well as the Islamic practice of being an agent of God's mercy rather than his anger that I hoped to elevate the present discussion beyond the prevailing politicized discourse and hate-filled condemnation of the masses.

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