Home > Uncategorized > Joel Osteen, Viktor Frankl, and Our Perverted Sin

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.

Thanks Osteen.

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.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. January 26, 2011 at 3:25 PM

    Devan,

    Interesting post, and very passionate to say the least. I’ve been thinking about the sometimes obnoxious Evangelical ‘war’ against homosexuality myself. There really does seem to be this strange emphasis on coming down hard on homosexuality and not on pride, for example. The Bible is very clear that God “hates pride” (Isaiah or Proverbs something). Yet put pride against homosexuality in the American Evangelical spotlight and homosexulaity wins the ‘top sin’ prize everytime.

    I think this phenomenon is due to the fact that many in Evangelical circles have linked their faith with their political party. It’s difficult for many of them to see where one begins and the other ends. So, as my theory goes, when they see gays and lesbians lining up with the opposing political party and seemingly attacking their version of family and social values on two fronts – politically and religiously – they take special angst against them.

    In truth, if one were to contruct a Biblical flow chart of sins from bad to worst, pride and arrogance would be off the scale. But no one, not even the Westborro Baptists crazies, are lining up with picket signs saying “God hates your arrogance” (which would actually be an accurate statement), instead they always say “God hates Fags.”

    I see your point 100% crystal clear that those who perpetrate hatred for gays in the name of God are the epitome of lost souls. I sometimes like to imagine Jesus standing in the streets with a sign saying “God hates Fags.” The image is so ridiculous it makes me laugh everytime.

    But I think what you are leaving out in your zealousness to make your well founded point is how this issue plays in one’s love for God. Can one show honor and love for God by engaging in homosexuality? This is an issue strictly between you and your Creator, but its important to note anytime you bring the issue into a Christian context. There is a body of Scripture and Church Tradition to contend with when analyzing the issue. To give homosexuality a thumbs up in the Church requires a major innovation to both its Scripture and Tradition, an innovation that the Church will likely never make. So at some level, and this is a deal that is hard for a heterosexual to relate to, and I don’t pretend to be able to, at some level a homosexual either has to (1) become comfortable dismissing the Church from their life altogether, (2) practice sexual asceticism, or (3) fight with the Church till the day they die.

    These are all terrible choices, the next one harder than the previous. What is your take on it? Is their a 4th option?

  2. January 26, 2011 at 4:52 PM

    I appreciate this, Eric. It’s an excellent question. From my experience, the only reason why I would imagine that one’s engagement in homosexuality would hurt one’s relationship with God is because one is taught, and has come to expect (or, perhaps, even defend the idea) that it is supposed to do so. That is, I do not believe that there is a necessary connection between loss of a connection with God and homosexual activity. If, when all is uncovered and revealed exactly that which is for that which it is, we discover that homosexual practices (or, at least, the activities we have labeled “homosexual”) are indeed a sin, then like many real, lived, here-and-now paradoxes, the answer will be have to be much more satisfying, convincing, and worth the expense than it currently is.

    In my view, the Church needs to ask itself if their insistence on maintaining that homosexuality is a sin is worth the price–the natural price–that it provokes. That is, when gays and lesbians must face the choice to relinquish their church home (with which, in many cases, they have built and developed a forceful relationship of loyalty and reliance), or stop attending in defense of maintaining their spiritual and emotional health, the alternatives can seem devastating. The same goes for children who face similar choices with their families. The Church has to decide whether this choice is fair, and recognize the alternatives for the LGBT person in question, especially when considering the loss of a family’s support and love. Can these things ever really be replaced?

    We are constantly negotiating the Bible, on any given issue, and I believe that it is impossible not to. I suppose the question to ask is not so much whether or not the Bible is the final word on this matter, but how we are going to go about applying it in ways that resemble what we sense and know about our very best idea of God. Gays and lesbians all over are discovering a heightened connection with God, as a result of their ability to face this issue directly with a healthy combination of faith, good sense, and, what I believe to be a very sincere, Christ-like honesty. I suppose the fourth option is for one to participate in the process of working in an understanding and loving space to be “civilly disobedient” in working to change views and bring the Church forward on this issue–not fighting, not pretending (for those who feel it is so) in white-knuckling asceticism, and not dismissing the Church altogether.

  3. January 26, 2011 at 5:37 PM

    Devan,

    Your first point is well taken. Indeed one confronts not the God who is there, necessarily, but the God they’ve been taught is there. I’ll tie my conclusion in with your second point.

    The God that I was taught in Protestantism was infinitely pissed at humanity in general, not just homosexuals. Homosexuals were simply in a special class of sinners who were especially disgusting to Him. So disgusting that He sent His Son to earth, beat the sh-t out of Him, killed Him, and His burning anger was somehow squelched as a result; but is easily sturred up again from unrepentent sinners, especially with those dirty homosexuals who are, of course, just liberals trying to destroy our God given American virtues.

    I crossed some mysterious psychological threshold once I converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. The Orthodox have a fairly inflexible stance on homosexuality as being a sin, however, their entire understanding of redemption, the fall of mankind, sin and death, etc, results in a theological position that fosters the kind of love you are describing, rather than the typical Evangelical judgementalism. But my point of bringing up the Orthodox Church is to show that here we have an example of an extremely long line of tradition, and that their tradition has been the cause of their near extinction in some parts of the world. The Orthodox have been running for cover ever since the Apostles. Most recently in Communist Russia of the past century. Being denied popularity over their stance on homosexuality is a slow pitch right across the plate, i.e. not intimidating in the least. And as far as their ability to foster community, I’ve never seen an organization – religious or otherwise – that has cornered the market in community like the Orthodox. But there is an obvious difference in what you and I would consider “community,” but I’ll leave that be for now.

    To your 3rd point, the Orthodox have very little thrill in modern “Biblical negotiations.” Protestants live for it, but the Orthodox fleshed out much of their negotiating in the first few centuries of the Church. I’m encouraged with your “4th option” of “civil disobedience” in discussing such issues with the Church. But again, unlike Protestant, the Orthodox are not taking the discussion as if it were between the contemporary Church and modern culture, but rather as if it was between the Church past, present and future, and contemporary culture. This is that element that makes such negotiations a foregone conclusion. The Bible alone, outside of the Tradition of the Church is a very deceptive and dangerous animal. The examples are many, but suffice it to say that witch-hunts, crusades, inquisitions, and tortures unimaginable have all at one time or another been derived from cock-eyed Biblical interpretation freed from its contraints of tradition. It is Church tradition that forever empowers the Orthodox to love homosexuals as Christ loves them and denying them any degeneration into Westborro Baptists-like, gay-hating cultists, pigs.

    Sorry for the long reply. You are one of my most trusted outlets to the gay and lesbian community in the sense of gaining right understanding. Thanks again for this post. You always teach me a lot.

    Cheers cousin.

  4. January 27, 2011 at 1:42 PM

    As the mother of a young man who is gay and who I watched from birth exhibit tendencies and preferences that were with him from day one, and knowing this young man to be honest and even fervent in his ways of showing love for God, I cannot say in the honesty of my own heart that there isn’t a godly answer to this quandary which the honest in heart on both sides of the gay question seek. There must be a better answer than we know from the Bible and other scripture, any bit as much as we do not know yet why one is born the way one is born.

    I also cannot say in the honesty of my heart that my son learned to be that way. I can however say that he was born with the same tendencies he exhibits today and what the world calls “gay”. This part at least is not confusing to me, nor is the question of it part of the discussion for me; I know better.
    I also know that parents who have raised a gay person do not need to feel they have contributed to it somehow, nor do they need to feel it is a disease they let happen or passed on to their child. Calling it such or saying we need to “help” them or worse, “fix” them, is simply adding a person’s misinformation and yes, ignorance, to the mix and making the problem worse for a gay person. Do they need that? I have talked to too many parents, women, mostly, who can tell me the same story about their son’s birth, childhood, early tendencies, etc., which all fit with my own story.

    Devan’s point is well taken when he asks us to replace what they do in the bedroom with another version of how we sees gays and he asks us to consider that male love for another man can be and is in his experience strong like the kind Frankl conveys for his wife. I have witnessed that kind of love from man to man in my own son and believe it wholeheartedly to be true. I watched him go through a beautiful love (which ultimately could not be) with another man which was entirely spiritual but contained elements of the same desire I would describe of heterosexuals. I join with his voice when he asks us to put aside our visualizations and assumptions concerning sexual activity of gays alone and to look at the whole person as someone who can love as well or better than a heterosexual.

    I am presuming Eric that you mean mostly sexual relations when you put forth the question about how God really sees it? If so, I can easily say that the same question occurred to me regarding heterosexual sex upon my own first experience—-which was something like: “ARE YOU SERIOUS? GOD APPROVES OF THIS????” This inner question has continued in one form or another up to the present. I wouldn’t want someone to get a visual of what I do in the bedroom upon sight of me, and yet gays are subjected to that. A gay by definition is someone who is identified by their sexuality, so it’s the first thing we might think of when knowing someone is gay. I’m sure I would detest it if I had to wear a sign on my forehead everywhere I went that described my bedroom activity.
    It seems to me vital if there is going to be any true communication on either side of the gay issue(s) that there be a willingness on the part of those complaining against gays to put aside bedroom details; heterosexual details are not all that godly either, if you’re looking at it from simply a physical standpoint without the spiritual love behind it. Love for another can come in any form, even between men and to deny that gay men can have great love for each other is to say that we just don’t know the whole story.

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