The Bible gives us the word “shibboleth,”* but the Bible is more than a book of shibboleths. So how did gay-hatin’ come to be the “most-common perception” of Christianity?
Theory No. 2: Inner Demons
This theory has the virtue of being true. Or, at least, of being true in some cases — some very notable, high-profile cases.
The idea here is that many of the loudest, angriest and most single-minded preachers of the anti-gay gospel doth protest too much. They are self-loathing closet cases, denouncing homosexuality because they are homosexuals and they hate this about themselves. From Roy Cohn to Ted Haggard and Larry Craig, there are dozens of verifiable examples of this dynamic — and many, many more suspected but unconfirmed cases.
Only Sayin’ provides an excellent summary of this theory, along with a rundown of some of the more notable recent examples, in a post titled, “Why Social Conservatives Can’t Keep It in Their Pants.
But for a succinct summary of this dynamic, you can’t beat this from Ted Haggard himself:
“There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life.”
So, clearly, this is a real phenomenon. We’ve seen so many examples of this lately, so many self-loathing closet cases exposed as members of the anti-gay leadership, that it reminds me of that scene in The Man Who Was Thursday, when the protagonist succeeds in infiltrating the secret society of anarchists only to look around the table and realize that every single member of its leadership is, like him, an undercover police officer
Yet despite the startlingly large number of cases, it’s surely not quite as pervasive as Thursday’s dilemma. It can’t be true that every officer in the anti-gay army is secretly a member of the group it seeks to oppose. The religious right/social conservative movement certainly seems to include a larger-than-average number of closeted homosexuals in its leadership, but even if the movement is gayer than Disney World, we’re still only talking about a minority of its leaders and followers (a significant minority, but still less than half).
A significant number of leading social conservatives also seem to be warring against inner demons that have nothing to do with homosexuality. These folks are tormented by an impressive variety of freaky heterosexual appetites. Consider Sen. Vitter’s alleged diaper-play with prostitutes. Or the deeply sad case of the former aide to Jerry Falwell who was found dead due to a baroque autoerotic asphyxia mishap.** The interesting thing about these folks is that instead of lashing out at those who share their particular appetites, like Ted Haggard did, they turn their animosity toward homosexuals too. I can’t begin to explain the psychology at work in this bit of substitution, but in their case it seems something like a mix of the inner demon theory and the safe target theory is at work.The repressed and tortured psyches of Ted Haggard and David Vitter also don’t explain why so many have been willing to follow these leaders in their “warring against” their inner demons. They can’t all be self-loathing closet cases. Nor does this theory explain why others with apparently milquetoast, plain-vanilla sexual appetites — people like Pat Robertson or the late Jerry Falwell — should be even more vociferous in their condemnations of the Big Gay Menace. For them it seems less a matter of self-loathing and projection than simply your garden-variety hatin’ on the outsider.
So while I’m certain that the inner demons theory is valid in many particular cases, I think it’s more of a contributing factor than a sufficient explanation of the entire phenomenon of gay-hatin’s newfound prominence as the central perception of American Christianity.
Next up, the theory favored by the gay-haters themselves: The Innocent Backlash.
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* The condensed version of the story, from Judges 12:
“Art thou an Ephraimite?”
“Aha! Die Ephraimite!”
** At least we can say, as they always do of mountain-climbers or skiing casualties, that he died doing something he loved. General rules here, kids: 1) Always have a spotter, and 2) If it takes more than 10 minutes of prep time, you’re probably doing it wrong. The intricacies of this poor soul’s preparations calls to mind a line from Prick Up Your Ears:
“Have a wank? Have a wank? I can’t just have a wank. I need three days’ notice to have a wank. … It’s like organizing D-Day. Forces have to be assembled, magazines bought …”
Of course that story didn’t end well either. Both are tragedies posing as black comedies. The Rev. Aldridge, after all, didn’t really die doing something he loved, but something he hated, yet couldn’t stop himself from doing. (The second wet suit, after all, suggests that the first one wasn’t really doing it for him.) Unable to come to terms with his own inner freak, he declared war on everybody else’s. Misery loves company, they say, though the sad truth is misery is pretty miserable no matter how much of it you manage to inflict or project on others.