In Chapter 1 of Soulfully Gay, “God Is Gay”, there is this moment of negative expression. I, a 33-year-old man, come to grips with the God of Roman Catholicism that I lost as a college freshman at Harvard. Here is the key piece of my earlier writing:
Friday, November 14
Breaking Up with God Is Hard to Do
When I was a boy in grade school, belief in a loving God came easily to me. God was the answer to my question, Where does everything come from? I prayed with confidence that my prayers were always heard.
I sometimes envisioned God as a benevolent teacher and humans as His dutiful pupils. Follow the rules, do your homework, learn your lessons, and when class is dismissed you can frolic forever in the divine playground. The classroom was sometimes stifling, but usually it was a nurturing place of joy and enchanted mysteries.
Being Roman Catholic was an important part of life during my teenage years and early adulthood. The church was where I learned to experience my spirituality—how to pray, how to celebrate the sacred moments of life, and how to cope with death.
As I became aware of my homosexuality, my faith was often a source of internal conflict. Like many others, I saw the Vatican as full of closed-minded hypocrites, and I suspected that many church leaders were themselves closeted, self-hating homosexuals. I had no desire to worship in such a church.
When I was 20 years old, I began to come out of the sexual closet. As a result, continuing to worship in the Catholic Church suddenly became very uncomfortable. However, leaving the church altogether was more than I felt I could handle, so I decided to take a break.
I called the break a “sabbatical,” and it lasted for about 13 years. From time to time, I’d attend mass. But worship always left me feeling fragmented and frustrated, never spiritually whole. When I did connect to authentic feelings, it was usually anger (at the Catholic Church) or sadness, not joy.
Religion was an integral aspect of my life, just as my hands and feet are part of my body. Remember Aron Ralston? He was the 27-year-old hiker who, after being pinned beneath an 800-pound boulder for five days, used a pocketknife to free himself by amputating his own arm. He told rescuers that he had run out of water and his very survival had depended upon breaking free.
For many religious people, leaving their religion behind can be as challenging a decision as cutting off one’s own arm. It’s not something one does lightly, and many people will avoid the break at all costs. For example, 70 percent of queer Catholics don’t practice their religion but still call themselves Catholic, according to the Gay/Lesbian Consumer Online Census.
That’s an astounding number when you think about it. Imagine if seven Republicans in ten didn’t like most of the policies of George W. Bush but stayed in the party anyway. Or what if seven out of ten members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals didn’t like animals but refused to give up their PETA membership cards?
What’s this about? According to Robert Fuller’s book Spiritual, but Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America, there are three main reasons why people maintain an ambiguous relationship with their religion despite “falling away.” First, they might be motivated to continue a nominal connection to an organized religion because of their family background. Second, they may be concerned that disaffiliating with their religion could harm their social standing. Third, they simply may be timid about making a final break from religion.
It’s primarily this third motivation that stood in my way of leaving the Catholic Church, because for many years I identified my religion with my spirituality. This meant that leaving the Church was almost like breaking up with God.
After over a decade of being lapsed, or “on sabbatical,” this year I finally said goodbye to the Catholic Church. I issued no press releases. I nailed no bulletins on church doors. For the most part I went quietly.
And I began the coming out process all over again. This time it meant telling people that I’m no longer Roman Catholic. The Vatican’s continual attacks on the dignity of gay people were simply more than I wanted to bear.
I respect that there are a number of gays who are staying in the Catholic Church and will continue to work for change. God bless them. I honor the difficult choices they have made, even as I know that my spiritual path is taking me in another direction.
What did leaving the Catholic Church mean to me? I finally realized that I could go no further in my spiritual growth by staying put, one foot in a hostile church and one outside. I wanted a spiritual path that I could step into with both feet. Like the hiker trapped by the boulder, I knew something invaluable was at stake: my survival. My spiritual survival.
Today I don’t have a church, but I envision the universe itself as a loving, nurturing Higher Power and benevolent teacher. And I see myself as a continuing student of spirituality. My faith hasn’t been lost so much as it has gradually grown into something new and more mature.
I predict that one day on my deathbed I will have no regrets about leaving the Catholic Church in 2003. But I will have no peace with the decision, unless I continue to explore my perplexing affinity with the Roman Catholic Church despite its many oh-so-human flaws. I must confess: I haven’t ruled out rejoining the Catholic Church as a regular churchgoing man. The decision I made in 2003 was essential to my spiritual development at the time, but I have begrudgingly acknowledged that it is not necessarily the best choice for me ongoing.
Nor do I feel that it is essential that I rush to rejoin the Catholic communion at this time, I think. I have attended a couple of masses in the last couple of years, one a memorial service for my Mom. Unfortunately I didn’t see stars, have exploding highs of spiritual delight, or feel serene oneness with the Body of Whatever Christ I Could. It was a lot of boredom and indifference rather than mystical union. If I choose to enhance my relationship with the Church in the future, I must weigh heavily the opportunity cost: hours of boredom and indifference … if that is in fact what I have ahead of me.
There are stories in the intervening 13 years — 2003 to 2016 — which have colored my present viewpoint. Let me relate one of them. People speak of dark nights of the soul, and mostly this is exaggerated. They don’t really know darkness of the mystic simply because they suffered human pains. They know the Dark Night of the Soul only if they have suffered quasi-human pains, divine pains, the hideous torture of the divine-in-human pain available to every one of us if we submit to our divine nature. So it was in my early 40s when I was in as dark a place as most of you can imagine (unless you have repeatedly been to the Dark Night while in a Bipolar I or schizophrenic episode): I had invented a mystical language which reorganized my consciousness and somehow, unanticipated and tragically, allowed a deluge of demons and devils into my inner world. I won’t bother defining “devil” or “demon” at this time; I’ll save that for a later blog post.
I WAS 43 YEARS OLD, AND MY LIFE COLLAPSED INTO A SINGULARITY OF GRAVITY AND DARKNESS, THE DARK MATTER ITSELF ARRIVING AT SENTIENCE THROUGH ME, AND ALL THE DEVILS AND DEMONS COLLAPSED INTO ME. DEVILS AND ARCH-DEVILS AND UBER-DEVILS CASCADING INTO MY “SOUL SPOT” … THEY CAME, AGAIN AND AGAIN … AND IF I NEEDED TO PRY THEM FROM MY BRAIN BY PUTTING FINGERS IN MY EARS UNTIL I BLED TO REMOVE THEIR IMPLANT, THEN I WOULD DO WHAT I HAD TO DO.
Or so it seemed to me, on every rational inspection of which I was capable. I was twisted and soulless and inhuman and incapable of escaping the heaviness of my consciousness. The devils had me, and they weren’t letting go. They blocked out the light and warmth. I lost hope of ever speaking to God again, for there was no lightness where I was. I was not permitted real human emotions, and I was prohibited from feeling and observing and loving and having pleasure as normal human beings do.
I was captive to a horrible enslavement of mind and body. Who could I trust to help me? Which friends could I contact with the hope that they would respond to me sympathetically and helpfully? Which spiritual leaders could possibly understand my torment and offer a remedy for a malady which began with the adoption of a magical alphabet which they did not know?
In this dark state, I turned to the Roman Catholic Church to see if I could find an exorcist to heal me. I won’t tell the full story today, except to note that I tried repeatedly and found mercy and rites of forgiveness and love in my time of need. But I found neither understanding nor, ultimately, rites of exorcism. Perhaps withholding exorcism was a bit of passive-aggressive posturing on God’s part, if I interpret the story with a sense of humor. I had said fuck you to the Church as a 33-year-old. When I pursued my path of spirituality and it led me to a devil-infested depression, was it up to the Church to heal me? No. I had brought the demonic possession onto myself, using my own wits, and if I was going to escape the Kosmic Horror myself, I was going to have to keep working at it, on my own lights, pulling myself by my own bootstraps.
I haven’t reconnected with the Catholic Church any more than I have said, but I have found religion. The idea that the universe itself is a Benevolent Higher Power seems extremely naive. According to NASA, “roughly 68% of the Universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27%. The rest – everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter – adds up to less than 5% of the Universe.”
If we are going to speak of the Universe as a Higher Power, then it must be the Universe that is 95% unknown to us, full of darkness and uncertainty and chaos, seemingly oblivious to the cares of human beings. Is that really a Higher Power worth believing in? I’m not sure. (There’s a longer story here I must save for a later date. It involves the testing of this theory of the Universe itself as Benevolent. And I must say my tests are inconclusive, but they led me to introduce the “Ro” as the Arch-Enemy in The Kalendar series).
But I do know this: If we are to live through this evolutionary moment as a civilization with the greatest possibility of survival, then we must not throw out the old gods. We must evolve with them, and let the gods evolve. Let the gods tell us how to understand our relationship to the higher matters and understand the lower matters in their underworldly ways. We must let God speak again.
We can figure it out. We need the gods/Gods/God of All. We cannot dispense with them lest we eschew the greatest psychological and spiritual achievements of our species in favor of a stubborn ego in the wilderness. We might find more young people collapsing into demonic decay, nihilism of different stripes, and worse. What is worse than nihilism? I have tasted it, I have more to tell you about it at the right time.
Breaking up with God is hard to do. Breaking up with the devil is hard to do, too, when you’re addicted to egoic individualism or other maladies of the spirit which still need God as the remedy.