Bishop Robinson’s God of Low Expectations

Bishop Robinson’s God of Low Expectations October 18, 2010

I’m a huge proponent of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project, but Anglican Bishop Gene Robinson‘s upload really rubbed me the wrong way.  I’m holding my comments til after the video, so watch it before you scroll down so I don’t bias your reaction further.

Am I the only one who thinks it’s weird that Bishop Robinson is centering his message on “God loves you as you are, so you don’t need to change?”

It makes sense to say that God wants a better life for you, but can Robinson really believe that the life that God wants for us is necessarily the life that we presently desire?

He says that gay teens may feel uncomfortable because some “religions and religious people are telling you you’re an abomination before God” but instead of arguing that they’re wrong, that homosexuality is not offensive to God (which I assume is his actual position), he sounds like he’s denying that abominations can exist.  Instead, he says that “God loves you more than you can imagine and God loves you the way you are.”

I think of being gay as a part of identity that doesn’t carry moral weight, like a preference for a certain color, or a fondness for umami.  The reason God wouldn’t ask you to change these attributes is because they’re irrelevant to your ability to follow moral precepts, not because God loves you just the way you are.  There are plenty of attributes that might be ingrained and might be a part of your identity, but must be rejected because they are poisonous.

Bishop Robinson speaks disdainfully about the idea of labeling people or desires as intrinsically disordered, but this category is important and real.  Pedophilia is the best example of an intrinsically disordered desire.  A large proportion of pedophiles are not choosing to be sexually attracted to children, and they struggle to refrain from action.  This is the reason that some pedophiles ask to be chemically castrated; they are burdened with an identity that harms others.  Bishop Robinson’s theme wouldn’t make any sense here.

For me, the most baffling line in the video was: “There’s nothing to be healed from.”  I thought the entire premise of Christianity was that every single person is broken and is required to turn to God for the strength to be made whole.  Neglecting this idea, Robinson seems to be mouthing the creed of what Richard Beck described as Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism.

On the oft chance there are other Battlestar Galactica devotees reading this blog, doesn’t this theology remind you of cult leader Gaius Baltar?  In the season four episode titled “Escape Velocity” Baltar tells his acolytes:

“Love your faults. Embrace them. If God embraces them, then how can they be faults? Love yourself. You have to love yourself. If we don’t love ourselves, how can we love others? And when we know what we are, then we can find the truth about others, see what they are, the truth about them. And you know what the truth is, the truth about them, about you, about me. Do you? The truth is we are all perfect. Just as we are. God only loves that which is perfect, and he loves you. He loves you because you are perfect. You are perfect just as you are.”

I find the whole prospect creepy, condescending, and counterproductive.

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  • This blog is the best theology class ever given by an atheist.

  • Leah,I have to say that I don't think you're being at all fair to +Gene Robinson here. Recall that at the beginning of his video, Robinson describes his audience: lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people who have been hurt by the church or by religious people.Robinson does not argue against the possibility of behavior characterized as "abomination" – in fact, I imagine he might nominate centuries of Christian oppression of LGBTQ folk as abomination. He is, rather, entering into a specific Christian religious discourse around homosexuality wherein the word abomination – a translation of to'ebah – is used, largely because of Lev. 18:22, to condemn members of the LGBTQ community. The issue is similar with "intrinsically disordered" – parenthetically, my Calvinist streak (for which you should have a certain amount of sympathy) leaves me uncomfortable with calling any human being any more intrinsically disordered than another ("All have fallen short of the glory of God", "Chief of sinners though I be," etc.) – Robinson is NOT trying to comment on humanity qua humanity – and certainly not pedophilia. Rather, he is – as he notes at the beginning of the video – entering into a specifically Christian discourse around homosexuality and the church's relation to it.Similarly, at the end, I think it's pretty clear that when Robinson says "There's nothing to be healed from," he's talking about having a queer identity. The point here is that queerness qua queerness is not something sinful but rather something the church should affirm as part of the glorious diversity of God's creation. And I think that, given the video's context (an "It Gets Better" video which declares as its topic the intersection of faith/the church/religious people and sexual orientation/identity, complaining about Robinson's alleged MTD is kind of disingenuous. He's not talking about abominations in general. Nor is he talking about pedophilia. Nor is he talking about the fallen nature of man qua man. He's delivering a message of religious affirmation of queerness, and as a religious person and an ally I am grateful for it.

  • Yes, near the end this started sounding like Baltar's "theology" to me. (Which isn't to knock the show or Baltar, actually, but just his terrifyingly manipulated theology.)I have to take stance between Leah's and Ben's. While I think we can safely say that Robinson doesn't think that God doesn't want us to change as a general principle, that he was specifically speaking about sexual orientation, it does come off differently to a casual viewer. It often does sound like he endorses as casual Cosmic Butler theology, to refer back to previous discussions.But I also want to make very clear that the claim, "God loves you as you are," is an entirely distinct claim from, "God doesn't want you to change," and I'm a little surprised that you don't mention that, Leah. Your post seems to suggest that you think there is a problem with saying that God loves us as we are, as well as there being a problem with saying that God does not want us to change. I say I'm surprised because I know you read Mere Christianity, in which Lewis uses the analogy of loving a child, but not wanting the child to stay a child forever.

  • @Ben:I also appreciate messages of support from the religious community; I'm not saying I'm not grateful for the gesture, but I still think the execution was flawed. I still think it would be better if he just said that there was nothing wrong with homosexuality and that it isn't a sin. Instead of saying that last clearly, he stayed much too long on the love of the ever accepting God, and it led him to say things I doubt you agree with either. (You don't really sign on to "The life you want is what God wants for you" for anyone but saints, do you?)This video is intended for a particular context in the It Gets Better campaign, and that's why I think Robinson should have been more careful. For people linking in from Dan Savage, this may be their first experience with a Christianity accepting of LGBT folks. Robinson would benefit from showing his faith in its best light, rather than indistinguishable from MTD.@ChristianYou’re right, that was a little sloppy. I think it’s easy for one sentiment to bleed into the other, so when you mention the “God loves you as you are” you need to mention the second half of the message, as Lewis did.

  • Most people don't speak in youtube videos in the language of axiomatic analytic philosophy/theology. Many philosophers/theologians don't even *do their work* in that language. In short, I agree with Ben that reading "The life you want is what God wants for you" as a statement about the overall lives GLBT Xians want instead of the particular sexual lives they want is a deliberately uncharitable reading that treats a colloquial speech of reassurance as if it were written axiomatic theology solely in order to make a point. It's good rhetorical practice, but it's bad intellectual practice.I'm also still confused as to how you think you know the right way for a belief-and-action system to be ordered and circumscribed when you don't possess the single, central belief-and-action-motivator to which system adherents appeal to justify the system and the demands they believe it makes (and doesn't make) upon them. I'm fine with you saying religion shouldn't exist. I'm fine with you saying it should take X, Y, and Z forms given that it exists, because of U, V, and W secular principles. I'm less fine with your tendency to argue about religions as if they were all axiomatic theological systems. Some are, some aren't. The fact that some religions are not axiomatic theological systems may allow for a legitimate critique of those religions' moral and factual claims, but you have to explain *why* this critique is legitimate and meaningful.

  • @DylanBefore I respond, can you take your last paragraph and expand it? Could you give an example of a religion that is not an axiomatic theological system that you find interesting? I agree that some 'religions' like Unitarian Universalism don't fit this model, but they are also nearly contentless, so I prefer not to discuss them

  • Interesting video. I think you caught some issues with his pitch, but if he were able to participate in some Q&A; I would imagine that he wouldn't have issue with your observations. In other words, I wouldn't be surprised if he does subscribe to a theology suggesting human reparation through grace from fallenness. I think the issue has always centered on whether GLBT tendencies/desires/practices fall into the category of things god wants one to change or "be healed from."If we call the set of things god wants one to be perfected in X, my guess is that he would say that:- current teachings regarding anger, pride, malice, lust, etc. fall into set X and should be remedied through grace- contrary to widespread theological teaching, GLBT factors do not fall into set XDoes that make sense? Even if he does mean that, though, I would agree that his message didn't come across like that at all. It came across as a be-the-way-you-are-however-you-are-and-that's-fine kind of way.As pointed out, perhaps the main point was to offer comfort and an alternative view for those struggling some some opposing theological view on GLBT topics rather than to offer a full treatise or needing to squeeze in a message of, "Oh, but god hates all of your other sins, though, you worthless sinner. So forget this area but stop being a hell-bound heathen everywhere else."

  • To the average religious person not deeply familiar with philosophy (or even theology), I suspect the Bishop's message would be very comforting. There seems little to be gained by nitpicking the details.

  • @ Leah, Dylan: Shinto is often considered to be "a religion without theology," in that it has very little that looks like core doctrinal beliefs, but rather emphasizes ritual and behaviour. In fact, in anthropology it is generally accepted that religions begin ritually and become theological over time. (As a Master's student in English, I would be inclined to say that Shinto expresses an implied theology through ritual, however, and that "theological" religions are those that have made that implied theology explicit in almost always written doctrine… but even in light of this Shinto is still unaxiomatic.) Something like Unitarianism is coming out of the other side of this process, and thus it looks very vague and soft, as it no longer has a strong sense of ritual but has stripped itself of a strong theology. I imagine that something like Shinto is what Dylan meant, though I can't claim to speak for him.@ Keith: I don't think religion is before all else about comfort, so I think this knitpicking can indeed yeild a lot of gain. Those with no background in philosophy and theology can still be misled by inaccurate clergy (and academics).