20 September 2006

Blessed Assurance (Part One)

This post promises to be one of my most controversial!  I hope it will also be one of my most illuminating.

GNOSTIC BOOK OF THOMAS
Woe to you who love intimacy with womankind and polluted intercourse with them!

This startling statement is attributed to Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. Feminists and female theologians all over the world have quite understandably reacted with horror and incredulity. Could the Savior possibly have said such a thing? What on Earth could He have meant by it? Did He mean to say that women are evil and deserve to be shunned? Did He mean to say that women's genitalia is unclean? Why would He cast aspersions on the practice of intimacy with women? He wouldn't . . . and He didn't!

The Messiah loved women. We must never forget that, after rising from the dead, He first revealed Himself to a group of women and charged them with spreading the Good News of His Resurrection. He was not a sexist pig by any stretch of the imagination! His actions toward female figures in the Gospel narratives reveal a profound respect for womankind.

I don't doubt that some misogynist theologian somewhere has used this quote to justify his misogyny. I wouldn't be surprised if some Puritan hasn't used it to support imposing celibacy on unmarried people! To be sure, mainstream Catholics and Protestants have used it to support contentions that Gnostic scripture is heretical; citing the quote as undeniable proof of heresy, one Conservative blogger proceeded to dismiss the entire Gnostic canon as "garbage."

In my opinion, these kinds of interpretations are opportunistic and erroneous. Many if not most people will likewise see opportunism and error in my interpretation. However, after reading the Book of Thomas numerous times and praying over it, I feel strongly that God has unlocked the text and revealed important insights to me. Draw close, brothers and sisters, and let me now share those insights with you . . .

The Book of Thomas was partially written as a dialogue between Jesus Christ and His younger brother. Such a dialogue may or may not have taken place; I view the text as a camouflaged sermon directed at a specific population. The controversial verse which has outraged so many women is the giveaway!

The Savior would only have directed such a warning to men who were unsuited for sex with womankind. What kind of men might that be? Isn't it obvious? It's also obvious to me that the word "polluted" doesn't apply to womankind. It applies to the intercourse these kinds of men would attempt to have with womankind! In short, I believe that the infamous verse, as well as all the other content of this book, is directed at Gay men.

In this combined theological discussion and sermon, the Christ confirms what was only hinted at in Isaiah 56 and Matthew 19: That homosexual men are blessed people with a blessed destiny in Heaven! From across a gulf that spans thousands of years, He sends out a blessing meant to strengthen their resolve in the face of hardship.

He also sends out a warning to discourage them from becoming the slaves of sexual immorality that their enemies say they are. The text carries the unmistakable tone of a father lecturing his children, sometimes in a soothing manner and sometimes in a stern way. Significantly, the Christ refers to Gay men as "children", just as He was known to do when speaking to His apostles, some if not most of whom were undoubtedly "born eunuchs."

The most important event in our development as Gay people is discovering the truth about ourselves. I'm not talking about when we first perceive our inner difference; that event tends to occur very early in life, and more often than not, we don't understand its significance. What I'm talking about is the day when the truth about our same-gender attraction dawns on us, and we're suddenly required to re-position ourselves in relation to the world around us.

This can be a most painful and frightening process. Nevertheless, our Savior teaches that we mustn't shy away from the truth or sink into a state of denial:

GNOSTIC BOOK OF THOMAS
(Jesus Christ said)"Examine yourself and understand who you are, how you exist, and how you will come to be . . . it is not fitting for you to be ignorant of yourself . . . for those who have not known themselves have known nothing, but those who have known themselves already have acquired knowledge about the depth of the Universe . . . blessings on the wise person who has sought truth, and when it has been found, has rested upon it forever, and has not been afraid of those who wish to trouble him."

As I've previously discussed, Gnostic scripture (specifically, the Gospel of Philip) depicts Lesbians and Gay men as God's Holy eunuchs and virgins, destined to serve His Kingdom much in the same way that priests and nuns serve the Catholic church. In light of this revelation, we may be tempted to become vainglorious and boastful of our own importance. The Messiah guards against this possibility by reminding us that we're still unimportant!

We haven't yet become worthy of Glory; we're still human, still prisoners of the flesh and subject to temptations of the flesh. As long as we remain alive, we'll have to struggle against what He calls our "animal nature." The Savior acknowledges that what He's giving us is a "teaching for the Perfect," but he tells us in no uncertain terms what must happen before we achieve that lofty status:

GNOSTIC BOOK OF THOMAS(RECONSTRUCTED SCRIPTURE)
(Jesus Christ said)"All bodies have come into being in the same irrational way that animals are produced, and so they are visible . . . those that are above, however, do not exist like those that are visible. Rather, they live from their own root, and their crops nourish them. But the visible bodies feed on creatures that are like them, so the bodies are subject to change. Whatever is subject to change will perish and be lost . . . just as an animal body perishes, these modeled forms will also perish. Are they not from sexual intercourse like that of the animals? . . . you are beginners and have not attained the greatness of Perfection . . . you are children until you become Perfect."

In this passage, the Nazarene begins to lament humankind's vulnerability to its own animal lust:

GNOSTIC BOOK OF THOMAS
(Jesus Christ said)"Oh, bitterness of the fire! You blaze in the bodies of people, and in the marrow of their bones, blazing in them night and day, burning their limbs and making their minds drunk and their souls deranged. You dominate males and females day and night; you move and arouse them secretly and visibly. When the males are aroused, they are attracted to the females, and the females to the males . . . everyone who seeks truth from true wisdom will fashion wings to fly, fleeing from the passion that burns human spirits."

Again, it's very tempting to gloat and feel superior to the heterosexual population after reading a passage like this one. Know, however, that the Messiah isn't just talking about heterosexual status here. All sexual attraction operates according to a male/female dynamic. As I previously noted in Part Three of my post "Why Gay People Exist," the "female power" governs a Gay man's attraction to men, while the "male power" governs a Lesbian's attraction to women.

When you think about it, there's really nothing "homosexual" about the way we love! In our own complex way, we're still boys chasing girls and girls chasing boys, and we're just as susceptible to male/female passions as any Straight person! Our blended gender status makes the way we love look more unique than it actually is. The Savior understands this, of course, and so He cautions Gay men against carnal temptations that can lead them astray:

GNOSTIC BOOK OF THOMAS
(Jesus Christ said)"Some people have wings, but rush toward visible things that are far from truth. The fire that guides them gives them an illusion of truth. It will shine on them with a perishable beauty, and it will imprison them in dark delight and capture them in sweet-smelling pleasure! And it will make them blind with insatiable desire, (inflaming) their souls, and be like a stake that is jammed into their hearts and can never be removed. Like a bit in the mouth, it leads them according to its own wish. It has bound them with its chains, and tied all their limbs with the bitterness of the bondage of desire for those visible things that perish and change and fluctuate impulsively. They have always been drawn downward. When they are slain, they are drawn to all the animals of corruption."

In this chilling passage, the Savior all but predicts the rampant sexual hedonism that will conquer Gay men eons later and give rise to the horrendous AIDS epidemic. Is He saying, then, that homosexuality is sinful and should be abstained from? Those who consider homosexual relations sinful (but are wise enough to know that trying to coerce heterosexuality is futile) often urge celibacy upon Gay people. Frankly, I find this idea dangerous. Evidently, Gnostic Christians did, too.

The Gnostic Gospel of Philip tells us: Fear not the flesh, nor love it. If you fear it, it will gain mastery over you. If you love it, it will swallow and paralyze you. The concept of enforced celibacy doesn't come from God! It's a human invention. Sexual desire is one of our most powerful emotions; if we try to suppress it, it can consume us, overwhelming rational thought and perverting behavior in all kinds of alarming ways (just think of the Religious Right's obsession with sex)!

For human beings of all sexual orientations, there must be a safety valve. One exists, and it's the same for everyone. No, I'm not talking about masturbation! I'm talking about the committed relationship: Monogamy.

When Thomas rather timidly asks his brother if born eunuchs should seek companionship among themselves ("is it beneficial for us to rest among our own?"), the Messiah answers affirmatively: Yes, it is useful, and it is good for you.

Now, Jesus Christ certainly isn't naïve! He knows that if Gay men spend time together, some of them are bound to fall in love and pursue physically intimate relationships. It's a natural thing for them to do. If He considered such relationships sinful, wouldn't He have answered the question differently? He does not command that we avoid having sexual relations with one another! However, He does remind us that carnality will not exist in the Eternal Realm: The things visible among people will pass away.

"Blessed Assurance" concludes with Part Two.