God chose to empty himself of language and become a life. But along comes Christianity and turns it back into words, trillions of them, poured out incessantly in pulpit, book and on the airwaves, reducing the mystery of what is beyond all utterance to chatter. I told them I had come to mind religious overconfidence more than I minded its atheistic opposite, because atheists did not claim to put ultimate reality into words.
agnosticism should not be described as a hypothesis, because it is not positing an answer to the question so much as learning to live without one
...there is no doubt that Anglo-Catholicism, as it evolved, became attractive to gay men, though the reasons for this are probably more theologically rooted than is commonly understood. The high camp aesthetic of the more florid wings of the movement was clearly attractive to a certain kind of gay sensibility, as anyone who has had to negotiate a high mass in one of the more fashionable outposts of Anglo-Catholicism will testify. This is surface attraction, however, and there is usually a certain amount of self-parody going on. At a deeper level something more interesting and more moving is happening. Even in societies that have stopped persecuting homosexuals, gays remain a minority community, and minorities are always under some kind of threat from the surrounding majority, even if it is only from their curiosity about or incomprehension over their sex lives. Gays will always be outsiders in straight communities, and it is their status as outsiders that draws some of them to Christianity and, in particular, to its Anglo-Catholic variant.
I have known many gay priests over the years. What has moved me most about their persistence in remaining within a Church that at best only grudgingly accepts them, and at worst actively persecutes them, is their identification not with campery and high jinks in the sanctuary, but with the figure of Jesus, the great Outsider.
His theory of profession, based in gaudy Saturday matinées:
I loved the cinemas on Sauchiehall Street and Renfield Street; much grander than anything in the Vale. So I usually devoured the advertisements in the Sunday Mail for ‘future presentations’ in the Glasgow picture house. One Monday morning I found myself describing to a group of boys an exciting movie I had not actually been to, but had seen advertised in the Sunday Mail. Soon I was locked into a playground routine on Monday mornings, as a group of boys gathered round me to hear about the movie I had ‘seen’ that Saturday. I became fluent at spinning stories based on the information I’d picked up from the previous day’s paper; and I began to feel guilty about it. One night, in an agony of remorse, I woke my mother and poured out my difficulty. "It’s a’ right, Dick, she said. You’ve jist goat a good imagination. Don’t worry about it. Go back to bed." And I went back absolved.
Implicit in my fraudulence was a theory of religion, though it would take me years to figure it out. I was to become fascinated by Saint Paul’s description of Christian preachers as ‘deceivers yet true’. We become true deceivers when we understand the purpose of our deceptions, when we admit that the stories we tell carry their own meaning within them, even if there is no objective reality beyond them, no movie actually seen, no stone actually rolled away from the tomb. Trouble comes when we understand what’s going on and start feeling guilty about it. That’s when we become false deceivers. To be a true deceiver you have to believe your deception — the movie actually seen, the stone actually rolled from the tomb by an angel. Tell your listeners that there was no movie, no resurrection, but that the story itself has its own power to release them — try to stop deceiving them, in fact — and they will turn on you.
I never found it hard to reject the vulgarity of the idea of Hell and see it only as human darkness made visible. We have made enough Hell on earth to know how creative human cruelty can be, not excluding the grimmer theological metaphors it makes up. It was never fear of Hell that was to haunt me. It was the lacerating sadness of disappointing God that hurt. The idea of the heartbroken God reaching out to his children for their love and being rejected by them is emotionally powerful.
David Hume noted that, while errors in philosophy were only ridiculous, errors in religion were dangerous. They were dangerous because when supreme conviction is threatened it turns nasty. There would be a time when I would land in that trap myself, but I wasn’t there yet. I was with Schweitzer and his escape from words to action. The romance of religion was alive in them — something greater than themselves was pulling them — but it was shown only in love and service. Whatever doubts they had about the claims of Christianity, the need to help the poor was self-evident to them. They were content to be social workers. So was I. Except now I was more than that. I had a church to run. That meant speaking. It meant preaching and teaching as well as action. It also meant opening myself to the projections of those who assumed I was morally and theological sorted, the way any good minister ought to be. Being in charge of a church suggested arrival rather than pursuit, the settler rather than the charismatic drifter.
A few months later a bigger crisis hit. God himself went absent on me, though it would be more honest to say that a presence that often felt like an absence now became an absence that really was an absence. I was well aware that faith in God was not like one of these mutually supportive relationships we aspire to nowadays... God was like those emotionally unavailable Scotsmen who were such a potent part of my heritage. He cared for me — he just wasn’t good at showing it. The big difference being, of course, that emotionally unavailable Scotsmen are physically all too available...
Bishop after bishop, mainly but not exclusively from Africa, got up to denounce the wickedness and animality of lovers of their own sex... Immediately after the vote, on a grassy knoll outside the conference hall, a Nigerian bishop attempted to cast out the demons from Richard Kirker, the director of the Gay and Lesbian Christian Movement, who had bravely challenged him...
Behind Lambeth's contempt for gay men lay a deeper contempt for women, because they are incapable of the fuck, in Dworkin's primordial sense. Men fuck. Women get fucked. That was the demon released that afternoon, and it will never go back whence it came. It began the unravelling of the Anglican Communion...
We put together a resolution apologising to the world's lesbian and gay Christians for what the Lambeth Conference had said about them... The only sweet memory I brought away with me was throwing my mitre into the Thames.
I don't any longer believe in religion, but I want it around: weakened, bruised and bemused, purged of everything except the miracle of pity. I know that the people who keep it going will have to believe in it more than I do. Who could be persuaded by my whisper? Who could even hear it?
Was religion a lie? Not necessarily, but it was a mistake. Lies are just lies, but mistakes can be corrected and lessons learned from them... Religion is human, and like humanity it is both a glory and a scandal. It is full of pity and full of cruelty. Just like us. So is the Bible. Don't abandon it, any more than we ought to abandon the great flawed cruel epics of the human imagination: but don't listen to its mad voices.
I no longer want to persuade anyone to believe anything - except that cruelty, especially theological cruelty, has to be opposed, if necessary to the death.