Friday, June 27, 2008

religion, sexuality, and guilt (part one)

a couple of months ago i was blessed with the opportunity to talk about my faith with a good buddy of mine who walked away from his faith for a number of reasons, one of which i believe was his sexuality. i am always grateful for the chance to talk with friends about my personal (!) relationship with God. i don't get many opportunities to talk about my faith with my gay friends mainly because of how much mainstream christianity has turned them away from God, so this conversation was definitely a God-thing. my friend asked me how i could reconcile the guilt aspect of christianity with my sexuality, and it took two rather long emails to give him a bare-bones explanation of where i stand. i divided the first email into three parts: guilt, sin, and same-sex attraction. here is part one, restructured from casual email to something a bit more formal.


the old testament contains a significant number of laws and rules given to the jews by God; these include the ten commandments which are, as far as i understand it, only meant for jews, though Jesus reiterates the majority of those commandments to us common-folk gentiles. because of the fall of man and the entrance of sin into humanity (genesis 3), these laws were necessary for people to be considered "righteous" before God, and if any person broke the laws he had to make a sacrifice to make himself right again. sacrifices go as far back as cain and abel, and they eventually came to involve the shedding of blood by killing generally-harmless animals. the main bulk of the laws are found in the book of leviticus, broken down into the priestly code and the holiness code.

i follow the line of thinking that believes that these laws were put in place not to be followed, but to show us and remind us that as humans we will never be able to adhere to all laws and do enough "good" things to be considered righteous. therefore, we need something else to save us from our failures and our current sinful and imperfect state before the eyes of God. we need Jesus, who as a human sacrifice saves us presently from our sins but who also went back and redeemed all the sins of God's followers in the old testament (romans 3:21-25). following laws is not a bad thing since God gave them to us to show us the best way to live, but the point is not just to follow laws or rules, it is to connect with God and have a relationship with him.

eventually, some of the jews believed that the laws were there to be followed, and that bad things happened if they weren't followed, so they created a more intricate set of laws to keep the original ones from ever being broken. religion got dumbed down to following laws mindlessly, instead of the original purpose of communing with God. this is why Jesus had such a problem with the jewish priests when he lived. for example, one of the ten commandments is "you shall not murder" (exodus 20:13, NIV) so people assumed that if they didn't murder they were alright. but jesus didn't care about following a rule about not murdering (or killing, as the king james bible translates it), he cared about the way that we approach the world and our perspectives. so he said that not murdering was not good enough: even if we looked at someone hatefully, it was enough to be condemned (matthew 5:21). i don't think that he said this to make people have to worry about one more rule to follow, i think that he said it to emphasize that no one will ever be good enough to earn salvation, even if we think we've got things figured out. we will always fail at being fully righteous before God.

this idea of following rules stuck in our human minds because i think that it is easier for people to think that they have to earn salvation, or, more subtly, earn God's goodwill, instead of accepting it as a gift, as the bible says. because of this, a lot of modern-day christianity has become a game of following rules, do's and don't's, and feeling guilty if we don't follow them. i have heard people preach about the example in the previous paragraph and their conclusion has been that we should focus on not looking at people hatefully or else we are breaking a commandment from God. i think that they're missing the point. i don't agree with people who are only concerned with making others feel guilty about their actions. the hard work of christianity is the hard work of trying to have a relationship with someone, fully knowing that at more than one point we will mess up, but that God will always be there to forgive us and not hold our shortcomings against us because Jesus' sacrifice has already covered our sins.

i don't think that christianity is about never making mistakes, or that being a christian means going out of our way to not do things that might be questionable before God. i think that following God is about a change in perspective, and about how we react and deal with the mistakes that we inevitably make. guilt is important to an extent because it can act as a conscience through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and it can shape how we think about and react to situations. but my main concern isn't feeling guilty about doing wrong, it is making sure that my worldview is aligned with God's and that i seek forgiveness and reconciliation when i do something wrong. i think that this approach to christianity requires a certain type of critical thinking and examination of motivations that scare a lot of people who would rather just think about good behaviors to practice and bad behaviors to avoid.


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