Below is part 8 of a series of posts presenting excerpted videos and transcripts of an interview I conducted October 14, 2012 with my college best friend John Hazlet, whose struggles with doubt and depression were instrumental in my personal deconversion. (The full two part interview is here and here.) At the time of our interview John was a Benedictine monk, publicly discussing his homosexuality and struggles with mental illness. In June of 2013, John left the monastery. He is in a relationship with a man. He remains a Catholic. In the segment of our interview excerpted and transcribed below, John rejects reparative therapy that aims to “cure” people of being gay; calling it “fundamentally destructive”.
Dan Fincke:We’ll make the theme here, Christianity and psychological health, right? So… the question will be this … these’ll be the questions together. One of my readers asked whether or not you found that your faith … the … what was the interaction between your faith and your mental illness, you know, as both a help and as an antagonism for it. Related to that, would you be willing to condemn reparative therapy that tries to teach gay kids to be straight. Thirdly, I mean, very recently, your last, most traumatic episode was, I believe, a year ago, you had your worst incidence, and so… and then, finally, along all of these lines, I guess the fundamental question is, are you trying to understand your homosexuality as still something… as something inherently good and a gift from God that you need to come to terms with in a different way than consummation, maybe through sublimations, maybe as an obstacle for growth or something? Or are you seeing it as an inherently sinful part of yourself to be expunged? How do these things about how you find a mental balance, whether or not you would approve of other people taking measures to try and become straight, what is it… and how all of this, and your general issues with depression and mental illness, how does this all combine to… for a picture of the interaction between your faith and your well-being psychologically?
Bede (John) Hazlet: Well, first on the question of faith and psychology, I think that the best way of putting it would probably be to say that my faith at its best or deepest has been and remains a help, in terms of my psychological health. My faith at its most naïve and superficial is a hindrance. And I think that naïve and superficial level of faith has an idolatrous element that really needs to be expunged. This way of thin…
Dan Fincke: Idolizing what?
Bede (John) Hazlet: Idolizing, um, a God that’s too, um … well, too easy in one sense, but too difficult in another sense. Too easy in the sense of being too like other, sort of, human authority figures. And difficult in the sense of being superego-like in the way that those figures can sometimes be. I think getting to a deeper level of faith that acknowledges that I’m loved by God, period, without qualification, and that I have been made by God, so that whatever is essential to me, to who I am, comes from God and is good and blessed and loved. And that aspects of myself that need to change, selfishness, injustice, lovelessness, and so forth, are deficiencies that God is eager to help me to… to fulfill, you could say. But that God is not an entity that stands outside me, and is waiting critically for me to pull myself together, and sort of grumbling in the process. God is within me, and around me as love, and helping me to become love.
Also, I’ve found that in the course of… I mean, I’ve been in therapy before in various degrees, but for the last year or so it’s been in a fairly intensive way. And I’m constantly noting parallels between what I take to be the best of contemporary psychotherapeutic practice, because I have a very good psychologist, and the tradition of the Desert Fathers. There are constantly occasions where my therapist will be telling me something, and I’ll think, “Gosh, that’s just like what I read in Evagrius Ponticus,” or The Sayings of the Fathers, or something. This whole sense of being aware of your thoughts and their direction, and being prepared to arrest them early on, before they start moving in a toxic sort of direction, that’s very much a part of the Desert, and of the wider monastic tradition.
Dan Fincke: Sounds like the Stoics.
Bede (John) Hazlet: In some way, yeah, probably influenced by them. So, I think basically my faith has been a help. The second thing you asked about was… it was faith and mental health and…
Dan Fincke: Um, reparative therapy, would you be willing to condemn that, the attempt to try and …
Bede (John) Hazlet: Yeah.
Dan Fincke: … make gay kids straight?
Bede (John) Hazlet: I think condemn is probably too strong a word. I would certainly be strongly critical of it. I can’t imagine it being helpful in my own case. But I’m not sure we understand the phenomenon that it’s trying to deal with, namely, the phenomenon of queerness, deeply enough to say whether it’s a good thing or not. I’m inclined to say, it’s not a good thing. It strikes me as fundamentally destructive. But I recognize the possibility that for some people, gay kind of desires at one point in their life, maybe some gay behavior at one point in their life, might actually represent something temporary that they’ll move beyond. But I don’t think that one can expect that that’s going to be the case for most people with those desires. So I think, setting up as paradigmatic the idea that if you have these desires, they’re an illness to be cured is certainly a mistake that I would condemn. But recognizing that these desires can play a complicated role in somebody’s life, and might not be with you for all of your life, might not be part of who you most deeply are, that’s probably true for some people. So, using it as a kind of therapeutic paradigm, I think is not a good thing. Recognizing the inherent complexity of this whole question of orientation, I think is a good thing.
The rest of the excerpted videos and transcripts from the interview:
How My Best Friend Helped End My Faith and then Became an Openly Gay Monk
Out of the Closet for the 1st Time, at Oxford
On Anglicanism and On Celibate Love
How Catholic Moral Teaching On Sexuality Is Evolving
Does A Good God Guide The Catholic Church? A Debate
Is The Catholic Church’s Treatment of Gays Morally Defensible? A Debate
Does Celibacy Infantilize and Create Child Molesting Priests?
A Gay Monk Argues Against Reparative Therapy
On Treating Mental Illness, Rather Than Romantically Theologizing It
How the Catholic Church’s Views on Gays Might Evolve
The transcripts in this series were created this summer by Josiah “BibleName” Mannion. He donated his time to produce the more than 22,000 word transcript of the entire interview.