Joel Osteen, Viktor Frankl, and Our Perverted Sin
“And when a gay child hears, from influential (and, in spite of how much a member of the clergy will deny it, judgmental) ministers of megachurch religion, that his or her expressions of love, which s/he knows is a primary motivational factor, are a perverted sin, so much that s/he begins to believe it, s/he loses a reason to live.”
On the way from Chicago to Pennsylvania this Christmas, I decided to re-read highlighted passages from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. In the book, Frankl details some of his experiences as a prisoner at Auschwitz, which he uses to make an important point about what is necessary to survive the kinds of evils he faced there, as well as to present his psychological theory of what he calls “logotherapy.”
There is certainly no way to represent his story with justice. Indeed, even Frankl himself admits of the impossibility to transfer his experiences at Auschwitz adequately. So, I won’t even try. Suffice it to say, Dr. Frankl’s book has sold over twelve-million copies, and has seen five editions, since it was originally published in 1959.
There are two passages from his autobiographical narrative, which I want to highlight in juxtaposition. In a moment of contemplating his wife (who, unknown to Frankl, had already been killed), he writes of an epiphany, which came to him while toiling alongside other prisoners:
“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth–that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved” (Beacon Press, 2006, pg. 37). He then continues: “Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance” (38). Then, in somber contrast with his surroundings, he exclaims: “How beautiful the world could be!” (40).
There are very few passages in literature dealing with the Holocaust, or with any subject, for that matter, which demonstrate such ardent wisdom for what we, as a human family, might perhaps consider to be one of the greatest truths concerning our often misunderstood or sometimes confused existence. The short of it is: you may put me in hell, but I will not relinquish my love!
When I came to this passage, I naturally interposed myself into his situation–as best as I could, at any rate. What would I do? Of whom would I think? I have been in love before, and I have come to know what it feels like to be loved back. And that love, the effects of which I have, I consider now and I hope forever, to be one of the most important gifts of my life. With the obvious present–i.e., that I have not been and most likely will never be in a situation like Auschwitz–I imagined that I would hold on to this love as he did, and allow it to feed what I know would be a broken soul.
Then, I came upon another passage. As part of his project to offer a psychological analysis of the effects of camp life on the human psyche, Frankl writes of how the conditions of the camp made it so that common sexual urges were eliminated among the prisoners. He then goes on to say: “Apart from the initial effects of shock, this [i.e., undernourishment] appears to be the only explanation of a phenomenon which a psychologist was bound to observe in those all-male camps: that, as opposed to all other strictly male establishments–such as army barracks–there was little sexual perversion” (32-33).
I think his point is obvious: he means to say that the male prisoners, at least to his awareness, were not caught in homosexual activities. The shock of the camp’s brutality, and the serious want for food, prevented prisoners from participating in what would ordinarily be a common practice, given an all-male environment.
The problem, here, is not so much with the practice itself, but Frankl’s characterization of it, especially in light of his comments on the power of love for one’s beloved. When I read this, and admittedly, quite disheartened, I put the book away–after mumbling a few select curse words to myself. My choice to discontinue the read was not because I was disappointed over the fact that the prisoners were not participating in homosexual activity (I hope this is obvious), but because I was (and am), quite frankly, over and done with being told that homosexual love is a perversion.
In all fairness, the book was first published in 1959; at the time, especially building upon Freudian (et al) psychoanalytic ideas about sexuality, Frankl’s judgment was a popular and acceptable one. However, one may note that the book has also been republished in four other editions (1962, 1984, 1992, 2006). We all know that, since the first edition of this book, the psychiatric community has removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). For whatever reason, he or the editors did not remove this allusion, however obvious it is, in the latest edition. Whether this was an oversight or a conscious choice, the author’s message is clear: the love of which I am talking–the kind which can give a person a reason to live, even amidst the horrors of a place like Auschwitz–is reserved only for those who have it for someone of the opposite sex… otherwise, we shall call it a perversion. It is a declaration–a requisition–of a monopoly on the only acceptable expression of love. This message, whether set forth blatantly or in discretion, is one that we in the gay community hear ubiquitously from our pulpits and on paper, our political establishments, our schools, our trusted communities, our homes, and our religious institutions. And the unfortunate fact of the whole of it is, for those of us walking through our own small, big, or whatever, versions of our own private encounters with the face of hell, some of us–many of us–believe that this love really is perverted, and we cut ourselves off from the power it can provide us–indeed, the very power that Dr. Frankl is looking to promote in his testimony. We lose sight of the affect that makes us human–the sort that, more often than not, gives us a motivation and purpose to live.
Homosexual youth are killing themselves, because external forces have been successful at convincing them that their natural, good, and healthy expressions of love are a fundamental perversion of who they are. Bullying is certainly a major cause, but it is also what’s behind the bullying, and what the bullied homosexual internalizes in the clear messages of disdain and disgust that bullying advances and instills. They convince us that the very best and most motivational part of ourselves is perverted; and the more we hear it, the more we believe it, even against our conscience. Can you blame us for our desperate and forceful expressions of gay pride (the very ones that often make you so uncomfortable)? Some of us are trying to force your voices out of our hearts and minds, and reclaim what we know you have taken from us without due justice or good cause. Can you blame us for our promiscuity and drug use? Are you giving us a good enough reason not to participate in these activities?
Then Joel Osteen comes out on CNN last Wednesday and reports for us, once again (and, in a way, we might add, that only shows he was ready for the answer, and looking rather forward to giving it), that homosexuality is a sin.
You’ve built a megachurch on the principle that God’s love can and will build, strengthen, and lend worth to the believer. And you have justified your platform on the testimony that you are a servant to what the Bible says. Are you really that ignorant of your own flexibility? Do you really believe that there is no belief or injunction in the Bible that you have not relinquished, because of its obvious immoral, destructive (or even just absurd) effect it can have on the people you love? Are you going to stone the child who is disrespectful to his parents? Are you eating shellfish or pork? Are women not speaking in your congregation? Are your clergymen not marrying? Are you charging interest on your investments? Have you given everything you’ve got to the poor?
And when a gay child hears, from influential (and, in spite of how much a member of the clergy will deny it, judgmental) ministers of megachurch religion, that his or her expressions of love, which s/he knows is a primary motivational factor, are a perverted sin, so much that s/he begins to believe it, s/he loses a reason to live.
Now, in all fairness, Joel Osteen does admit that he doesn’t understand this issue. I wonder if he should be commenting on it, then.
My advice (for whatever it’s worth): Stop thinking about what we are doing in our bedrooms. Start thinking about all the other aspects of sexuality–of your sexuality–that make up the whole of what it means to love and show love for another human being, especially someone in particular that you might chose to call “beloved.” Begin a concerted habit of asking yourself (and, perhaps, God?) if that love is as perverted as you’ve been taught to think it is. Get to know us a little in our relationships, and come to know us for something actually quite normal in them. We’re paying taxes, trying to raise children, stressing over mortgage and student loans every bit as much as the next couple, only, more often than not, we don’t have the securities and fortifications of the law and religion that you probably enjoy. We’re doing it in spite of the fact that we know many of you will seek to take these securities away, which you know–you have to know–assist you to have the frame of mind necessary to keep such relationships alive and intact.
I am dedicating this blog for the purpose of promoting a stronger sense of self, family, and love in relationships that I know is possible for those of us in the LGBTQ community–and, of course, beyond. I really do believe that when we encourage others to love according to the heart and conscience, we give ourselves permission to do the same.