Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Theologically Queer?

The non-religious have been struggling with how to characterize themselves. Atheist, secular, agnostic, spiritual but not religious, etc ad nauseum. This problem, looked at through the prism of David Niose's book Nonbeliever Nation, begins to look a lot like the struggles of queer culture in including ever more marginalized groups. Trans folks and bisexuals still aren't entirely "one of us" in all gay rights groups. And even the term “gay rights” doesn't really describe all the people that movement means to liberate and protect. But they are all queer in respect to a broad and poorly defined set of norms around sex, sexuality, gender, and orientation. What groups them together is there failure to conform to a collection of norms. 

Would it therefore make sense for learn these lessons of the process of including the excluded and group ourselves under the umbrella of religiously queer? I am not sure but there are deep sympathies and similes here that I would love to hear other people thoughts about. 

Edited for having been written on my phone on the bus. 


  1. Interesting. When we were talking yesterday about the segment of the atheist population who feels the need to wear their beliefs on their sleeve, I was thinking that it was like being at a GBLT meeting at which every discussion was derailed because the attendees were all trying to prove their "gay-ness". I didn't mention it because the conversation went in a different direction, but it doesn't surprise me to see you post this.

    You are thoughtful caring people who believe and support the finer qualities of humankind. You are sincere in the beliefe that human beings are their own 'higher power'. You're not just doing this to knock organized religion or screw with the status quo. Focus on your sincerity: We're here. We're sincere. Get used to it.

  2. I think any group formed around being not-the-norm should always keep in mind the many little "not-even-the-norm-in-this-not-the-norm-group" groups that exist and be sure to keep them included. I think that that's always a struggle. This particular comparison is neat, apt in some ways, but I don't really like throwing around "religiously/theologically queer" since it basically reduces the actually queer community to a convenient and possibly misleading metaphor -- it might suggest that being a nonbeliever in our society is as much of a challenge as being gay, trans, etc... And I really don't believe that. At least not in most circles. Generally, I feel like it's more like having strong political leanings, liberal or conservative. You can talk about it with your friends and most people you meet and sense are your peers, but there are family members you avoid the topic with (or else you fight) and maybe you shouldn't mention it around your boss...

    We're a minority in this country, but I don't feel like we're a very significant and growing one, especially in the New England region. And if we look at the whole of "western culture," are we even a minority at all? I haven't looked up any stats lately (could google before posting, but, eh.)

    But yeah, it's an interesting comparison. Funny too that I heard the term "coming out" used at the atheist brunch the other day. Again, I'm uncomfortable with taking that terminology, but on the other hand, there is a similarity there... It's not as much a part of your actual personal identity, I think, as your sexual orientation? But it's also, maybe, closer to that then politics. And to be honest, coming from a Catholic family with a very religious tradition (my grandma was a leader in a pro-life group, my great-uncle was a priest, my great-aunt was a nun, I actually day-dreamed about becoming a priest/nun myself back in the day (women not being allowed to be priests, and in some parishes not even being allowed to be altar girls, was one of the first things that started pushing me away from Catholicism, actually))... And uh, basically, just -- yes, for me, it has felt similar to how I imagine it might feel to be gay and know that your parents couldn't accept it if they found it. My dad didn't like it when I told him, which surprised me actually, and my mom -- I still can't tell. Back when I was just a passionately heretical deist, she and I discussed theology all the time. But now that I'm an honest-to-god (lol) atheist, we just never talk about any of it, because I'd have to lie through the whole conversation and I can't.


  3. Btw, this (anonymous above) is Steph.

  4. Steph my head nearly rolled off my shoulders when you said we weren't a significant and growing minority. You realize the non-religiously affiliated are about 16% or more of the population right? According to wikipedia Latinos make up 15% of the population. The homosexual community is something like 3%. We are the BIGGEST minority and we're COMPLETELY unrepresented. And it gets BIGGER every year. The Green Party has more clout. I mean heck, the LGBTA gets a lobby for equal rights but I have to stomach Michelle Bachman telling me that god "spoke to her" and told her run for the presidency. There is enormous amounts of bigotry against the non-faithful. Just look at the number of threats and hate mail that Jessica Alquist got for complaining about the school prayer that hung in her school. But I'm fairly certain that no one asked Bachman "If god speaks to you, what does his voice sound like"? Please youtube / google atheist discrimination.

    Back to the original topic. I think that the non-religiously affiliated / non-desist / atheist /religious "queers" (though I'd label the neo-pagan / occult community that)need a "religious" club the way the Unitarian Universalists have. We like to get together, have a community that is based loosely on similar beliefs but we disagree on some stuff. And we don't really care how serious you are as long as you aren't extreme. And we name our club xyz.

    It's too difficult to label the individual. Better to label the movement. Like Occupy. They had a bunch of different interests. Some people had specific ones. But their general message melded with each others'personal message. Occupy is kind of unrelated to a religious movement, but people who were involved had a common belief and a bunch of different and converging ideas that generally jived with the central point.

    1. Heh, that – that part that made your head almost roll off your shoulders -- was a typo. I actually meant to say… the complete opposite. That is: we’re a minority, but not by much. I feel like we are a very significant and growing part of the population, especially if you zoom in to just New England or zoom out to include Europe and other first world nations.

      Even if I did believe we were a tiny minority, I would never suggest that that means we don’t need as much of a voice - if anything the opposite is true! It’s the little guys who need protection from being trampled. (Although it does highlight the absurdity of oppression when an oppressed group is not even a minority, but, for example half the population (hi, essentially every culture in history around the globe)).

      I'm that aware discrimination against atheists (and agnostics and “heretics”) exists. (Although I don’t feel like “having” to listen to Michelle Bachman is an example of that. And yes, I bet there probably were people who asked her what god sounds like. She is mostly famous for being mocked, not for being a respected political leader.)

      I just don’t think that we experience systemic discrimination on the same level that queer folks do.

      Nor do I think that atheism/agnosticism/non-believers as a group really has the level of complexities and disagreements within it. The queer community is constantly generating and navigating new identities that never existed before and having to figure out how they relate to each other. I don’t see atheism operating quite that way. The basic categories that have been around since the 1700s still seem to work all right, by and large – throw in a few new ones like “spiritual not religious,” but other than that... Maybe if you were trying to encompass all non-christians, or even all non-judeo-christians/monotheists. That would be very complicated.

      Of course, the judeo-christian world is its own bizarre amalgam of seething rivalries and complicated alliances as well.

      Jesus this comment is out-of-control long.

    2. And this comment has typos too. And I can't edit it because it's posted anonymously. (I could have hit preview and read it over first. But I didn't. So. Meh.)

  5. First of all, thank you for the comments, especially as they were more extensive than my own original writing.

    To Steph: My idea is not to equate the degree of challenge for being outside the norm, I don't think being areligious is in any way as challenging as being queer generally. But that the structure of definition is the same. We are labeled as outsiders by those considered insiders for our failure to comport with a set of norms. This makes it very difficult to systematically represent membership in the out group because it is defined by the enforcement of a set of norms that are themselves not systematic.

    to White_Girl_in_Japan: I would like to address your comment that "I have to stomach Michelle Bachman telling me that god "spoke to her" and told her run for the presidency." What do you see as a response to this, if indeed it requires one at all. I understand her as a clown and as a source of cringe worthy entertainment. But I do not see how her avid public buffoonery represents an affront to me personally, or how to remedy it if in fact it is an affront.

    But your reference to Occupy is interesting, there may be something there.

    1. Yeah, I agree with that. I didn't think you actually intended to pit the struggles of the non-religious against the struggles of the non-straight -- I guess I just meant to say, we should be aware/careful of some of the potential the implications that might come out of such a comparison? I do see your point about being similarly structured and united around an outsider-identity.