I've been thinking a lot lately about one of Andrew's posts. I also read this on-line NY Times article about fervidly ex-gay Michael Glatze. What struck me most in thinking about both posts is the ways in which we seem to be driven by our uncertainty.
Andrew was commenting on a debate over at Wheat and Tares about the nature of the Spirit -- how believers tend to emphasize the experience of the Spirit as something totally unique and ineffable, while unbelievers tend to write it off as emotion and wish-fulfillment.
But here's the thing about the Spirit. When someone tells me they "feel the Spirit," I of course can't possibly know exactly what it is they are feeling. They can describe it to me. I can try to compare my own feelings to their descriptions. But ultimately I can never know if what I am feeling is exactly what they are feeling or not. Ultimately, I'm left having to figure it out for myself. I have to make my own judgment call as to whether what I am experiencing in a particular situation is "just another feeling," or whether it is something transcendent, the result of divine Presence and activity.
Now, I do believe there are some objective criteria by which we can judge the presence of the Spirit. I have received revelations that have been objectively validated. I also believe that we can tell a life is being worked on by the Spirit when we see signs of moral amelioration; when we see growing patience, courage, honesty, and selflessness; in a word, when we see the blossoming of Love. So I look to other criteria as proof that the Spirit is at work besides just externally unverifiable feelings. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that one "chooses" criteria. Whatever criteria we accept as proof of the Spirit's presence, the fact that we can and do choose to be persuaded by certain criteria and not others does seem to point to the possibility that we experience the presence of the Spirit because we choose to experience it. There's really no getting around that.
OK, now let's consider another seemingly totally unrelated concept of "gay identity." When I was first starting to deal with my own feelings of "same-sex attraction," I experienced a similar dilemma. Yes, I had certain feelings -- very powerful feelings! -- but did those feelings make me "gay"? Were my feelings the same as the feelings of someone else who identifies as gay, or were my feelings something of an entirely different order? Am I really gay, or am I mistaken? This is why so many of us find "coming out" narratives so compelling. We study these narratives for clues about our own internal states. It is part of a critical process of figuring out who and what we are.
The question posed by the "ex-gay" movement really is, Can anyone have gay feelings? It actually denies that anyone can. It calls the belief that anyone can be gay or have gay feelings a delusion. So we've got a similar divide here to the divide between people who say that the Spirit is something unique and true and totally ineffable, and those who say the Spirit does not exist, that it can be explained away as "just" emotion or psychology or wish fulfillment. We have people denying the reality of gayness, and then we have people who insist that there is something distinct, something unique, that gay people are fundamentally different from heterosexuals in some basic way.
And interestingly, when individuals who once identified as gay cross that dividing line and insist that they are not and never were gay, many folks in the gay community respond by wondering if those people in fact were never gay. Maybe they were bisexual. Maybe they were experimenting or confused or something else besides gay.
But it's a question we will never/can never answer. Because we simply can't know what's going on inside of somebody else. Our personal, individual experiences are ultimately incomparable to the experiences of others. We can listen to all the testimonies we want on Fast and Testimony Sunday. We can read all the coming out stories we want in XY magazine. Or we can read all the secular humanist explanations of the psychology of religion. We can read all the ex-gay literature on the psychology of homosexuality we want. Ultimately, we are left in ourselves to decide what it all means to us, to figure out which narrative makes the most sense in terms of explaining our own experiences, our own feelings.
One reason I love the Gospel of Thomas is because of its nuanced analysis of interiority. The Jesus of Thomas makes the case through parable and paradox that the only things we truly can learn are the things we learn from no one else. It is the ultimate tract on pneumatic Christianity. It shows us how to honor that process within ourselves, and how to respect it in others.
I read the militancy of a Michael Glatze as an inability to cope with the fundamental, existential insecurity that is at the root of any human identity or choice. We are better served by the humility that acknowledges an ultimate lack of knowledge. In religious terms, we call it "faith."
Without that humility, it is impossible, I think, to achieve the compassion that needs to be at the heart of whatever it is we as a human species are about. Without that humility, our faith devolves into intolerance and tyranny.
Acknowledging our uncertainty, on the other hand, frees us in the only way that any truth can be capable of freeing us. It frees us to receive and to love.