Wednesday, March 7, 2007

About me

About me: My profile
I’ve decided that my first post will be about me, so that you will have a sense of who I am and my concerns.
I am a 73-year old, white, gay man. The main influences that have shaped my life are my physical impairment (I have cerebral palsy on my left side with a hand, arm, foot, and leg that are shorter, smaller, and weaker than those on the right), my homosexuality (I’ve had sexual feelings for men and boys since I was 12), science (I have a Ph.D. in biochemistry and have used my background in various jobs), and religion (I’ve been an active church goer most of my life).
Although my cerebral palsy is mild, my awareness of it has been my constant companion throughout my life. My awareness became acute particularly with the onset of adolescence when I began to have feelings for boys, especially muscular, athletic boys, who have no apparent physical impairment. Of course, many homosexuals are attracted to muscular athletes, but in my case, my palsy brought with it a sense of inadequacy, and perhaps this contributed to my long stay in the closet. I didn’t come out to friends and family until 1998.
I am a poster boy for the dubious benefits of “ex-gay” approaches and ministries. In high school and college, I would pray not to have gay feelings, but they persisted through graduate school and post-doctoral fellowships, interfering seriously my work. As a result, I never became a successful scientist. Finally, in 1967, my heterosexual roommate, seeing my distress, suggested I enter therapy. My psychiatrist, following the guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association then in force, suggested that marriage was the “cure” for homosexuality. In 1969, I married, and for awhile, it did indeed seem that my homosexual feelings were gone. We had two sons. One is a physicist, now studying to be a teacher; the other is a venture capitalist.
I worked in various capacities in science and allied health education, and, eventually, as a medical writer for communication companies that prepare materials to encourage doctors to prescribe new drugs. Although never out of work, I never was a great success, either, and this strained the marriage. About halfway through the marriage, my homosexual feelings re-appeared, and the marriage was effectively over although we didn’t divorce until 1999. I met my partner in 2000, and now I live happily as an out gay man, being who, I feel, I was always meant to be.
Throughout most of my life, I’ve been religious, and, for more than 50 years, I’ve been a Lutheran. I was raised a Presbyterian, but during my teenage years I did not attend church. In college, a friend invited me to go with him to the Baptist church across the street. Worshiping there reignited my desire to belong to a congregation. However, I missed Holy Communion, which the Baptists only rarely celebrate. So, I began to imagine the kind of church I was looking for, and I read Roland Bainton’s “Here I Stand,” a then new biography of this troubled reformer. Lutheranism appealed to me because it seemed potentially a framework for a sacramental life. It also had, in my eyes, the advantage of being primarily a religion for the stolidly middle class. I knew I wasn’t upper class enough to become an Episcopalian, the other sacramentally aware protestant denomination. And, having been raised in the Presbyterian Church, I wasn’t about to consider going to Rome.
So, in 1956, during my first year of graduate study in Berkeley, I became a Lutheran. I was very much a loner. My family was far away, my relationships with women were never satisfying, and my gay feelings tormented me. Through these difficulties, the congregations I participated in were like a possible family. Furthermore, I believe I participated in a relationship with Jesus that helped me cope, very imperfectly, with my homosexuality. I think that Christianity owes much of the popularity it has among gays to the potential we see in Jesus. He can become, in our minds and groins, the accepting big brother, the model lover, and the forgiver of our “sin” of homosexuality. Of course, Christianity’s violent rejection of carnal love means that the sexual undertones of our relationship with Jesus best remain hidden from us if we are to be “good” church goers. However, even though conventional Christianity encourages this physic blindness, almost in spite of itself, it cannot completely hide its revolutionary, life-changing elements. Thus, although it’s a gross oversimplification, one verse kept coming back to me as I struggled with coming out, John 8:32: “...and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” The truth is that I am gay, and, if I incorporated that truth in my being, letting it be my truth, I would potentially be free. It took many years and a lot of struggle, but I finally accepted myself, didn’t fight who I was, and, as a result, I now am happier and less conflicted than ever in my life. I believe that my life is a testimony to the damage conventional Christianity does to gays, the damaging futility of ex-gay ministries, and contradictory power of the Gospel to help those who hear it to overcome even (perhaps most especially) the power of conventional Christian preaching that demonizes not only gays, but also sex.
Even though I wasn’t successful as a scientist, I’ve never lost my interest in science, specifically biology and more specifically evolution. Evolution is the organizing principle of modern biology, and the concept of evolution has made possible biology’s great growth and powerful influence in society since the publication of Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” in 1859. In Darwin’s view, all life stems from a common ancestor, and evolution is the mechanism by which the diversity of life has developed from the common ancestor. Evolution occurs over a very long time, as chance changes in the genetic makeup of some organisms allow them to reproduce more successfully than similar organisms without such changes. The ability to reproduce more successfully leads to, what Darwin called, natural selection. Natural selection is the mechanism by which new, better adapted organisms arise. Organisms, which have a genetic change that allows them to adapt better to their environment, reproduce more, and, in turn, more of their progeny grow to reproduce, giving them an advantage over other organisms in their biological niche for obtaining food, mates, and everything else needed to reproduce again. No direct divine direction is needed to produce the past and present diversity of organisms.
Of course, the Darwinian narrative has been a challenge to Christianity, not only because it contradicts the Genesis story, but also because it based on the chance working of random mutations over a very long time. Classic theism in which so much Christian doctrine is couched, just doesn’t work with Darwinism. Non-realism is one way of approaching this problem. It has the advantage of casting religion as a human activity that seeks answers to “Why” questions. Like all human activities, religion is mediated through language. So theology is “Godtalk.” This idea is elaborated in the work, particularly, of Don Cupitt, who I find very accessible. I find non-realism a good approach to questions about religious issues because it can be a recasting of natural theology in terms that can take into account recent developments, particularly in neural studies, such as consciousness, emotions, and feelings. Until recently, these have been areas that were not amendable to scientific study, but now they are all active research topics. They have always been areas of concern in religion, so this can be an area of cross-fertilization.
Theism, however, is not dead, and John Haught is one of its more able expositors, and I will share my reactions to his work, as well. In his book “God After Darwin,” Haught cites Jürgen Moltmann, re-casting theism to highlight Paul’s insight in the second chapter of the letter to the Phillipians that God empties Godself for the sake of the world and suffers with it.
So, this a précis of the topics I plan to discuss in my blog. I hope you will read it and respond.


Carolyn said...

Hi Peter:

I love that you have written here so openly about your life. Being your youngest sister, I have witnessed your struggles throughout our lives, and I must tell you that you are one of my heros! It has not been easy, I know that.

Success in our society is most widely defined as success in job, how much material gains one has been able to amass, and how good looking one can become. You know, the quest to be 'lookin good' to be one of the 'beautiful' people. Is that true success?

You say several times that you were not successful... as a scientist, or on the job etc. But, to my mind you have become successful as a human being - your courage,generosity,caring,your work on your own self evolution- honor that most often goes unnoticed and unannounced in this culture. No walk down the red carpet for that!

What you overcame to be able to be an openly gay man AND especially to have continued to search for that honesty even in the later years of your life, is miraculous. You never gave up.

Politics, sex, and religion..yes,
explosive subjects and mind sets that can generally obsess our lives if we allow. I am not sure of your definition of 'non-realism' why that term? Is Evolution real and religion thought unreal - non-material?

Your thoughts, my brother?


Anonymous said...

i like that u are open too and r u saved in the christian way is wat i wnted to no. chek out my blogs becus thyre funny