“Among the loneliest creatures in the universe”

The other day, Eve Tushnet posted a link to this post by Mark P. Shea.  Shea is responding to remarks by Watergate figure Charles Colson, who was in turn discussing the question of whether puppets Bert and Ernie, of Sesame Street fame, should marry each other.  Colson approvingly quotes the official statement from the producers of Sesame Street to the effect that as puppets, Bert and Ernie “do not have a sexual orientation.”  He sees a deeper significance in the idea that Bert and Ernie’s close friendship suggests a homosexual relationship, and quotes blogger Alyssa Rosenberg’s remarks about it.  Colson’s quote from Rosenberg included the beginning and middle of this paragraph:

And more to the point, I think it’s actively unhelpful to gay and straight men alike to perpetuate the idea that all same-sex roommates, be they puppet or human, must necessarily be a gay couple. Having close, affectionate friendships with another man doesn’t mean that you two are sleeping together, just as liking fashion doesn’t automatically flip a switch on your sexual orientation and make you only interested in dudes. Such assumptions narrow the aperture of what we understand as heterosexual masculinity in a really strange way. As much as I write about how narrow depictions of women can be in pop culture, depictions of men may end up being more positive, but that doesn’t mean they’re less limiting.

To this, Shea adds that the idea that friendship between people of the same sex must somehow represent “sublimated homosexuality” is:

just a lie and the incredible poverty that is foisted on our culture (and on men in particular, who are starving to death for lack of male friendships) is one of the great famines of our time. Some of the most nourishing relationships I have ever known have been friendships–with both men and women. American men are among the loneliest creatures in the universe, not for lack of women, but for lack of friends.

Shea’s blog is called “Catholic and Enjoying It!”   Like Shea, Tushnet is a tradition-minded Roman Catholic; the tagline of her blog is “Conservatism reborn in twisted sisterhood.”  Unlike Shea, she is an uncloseted (though celibate) lesbian.  Colson is neither a Roman Catholic nor a lesbian, but his ardent Baptist faith comes with quite an old-fashioned view of sexual morality.  So Shea’s comment puts them in an awkward spot.  If the label “gay” holds such terror for American men that they would rather take a place “among the loneliest creatures in the universe” than risk being identified with it, surely it is an urgent matter to drain that label of its terror.  To be sure, this is no easy matter.  For decades now, legions of people have been laboring mightily to destigmatize homosexuality, and the work isn’t half done yet.  But it is the obvious answer.  Indeed, the only conclusion I can draw from Shea’s remark is that heterosexual men have a vital stake in the movement to gain full social equality for sexual minorities.  This conclusion, however, is not one that Christian conservatives such as Shea, Colson, and Tushnet can accept, and so they are left facing a vastly complex, perhaps hopelessly complex, problem.  I believe their hearts are in the right place, and so I feel sorry for them.




Do you favor or oppose ___ serving in the military?

Thanks to Language Log for results of a CBS News poll showing these response rates:

Do you favor or oppose homosexuals serving in the military?  Strongly favor, 34%; somewhat favor, 25%; somewhat oppose, 10%; strongly oppose, 19%

Do you favor or oppose gay men and lesbians serving in the military?  Strongly favor, 51%; somewhat favor, 19%; somewhat oppose,7%; strongly oppose, 12%

George Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island


Since today is George Washington’s birthday, I decided to include my favorite of his writings, his letter to the Congregation Yeshuat Israel of Newport, Rhode Island. 

Letter from George Washington to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport

c. August 1790


While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.

If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.

G. Washington

The Atlantic Monthly, March 2009

atlantic-march-2009A profile of Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, focuses on this gifted theologian’s attempts to lead the Anglican communion in its effort to make up its mind about homosexuality.  Williams himself has many friends who are gay and took a consistently liberal line on gay issues before 2002, when he became the nominal leader of Christianity’s third most popular tradition.  In 1989 Williams gave a speech to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement called “The Body’s Grace,” in which he argued that a Christian understanding of grace requires us to understand that persons need to be seen in particular ways.  Sexual relationships provide one of these ways of being seen that are key to the development of the human person.  Christians must therefore find value, not only in persons who are inclined to engage in  homosexual acts, but in those acts and the relationships of which they are part.  The essay is, from one point of view, quite conservative- Williams claims that the kind of being seen that deserves this value is a kind that must be developed over time and that only one person may do the seeing.  He thus sets his face against sexual liberationists who would resist the imposition of couplehood as the one appropriate form of human sexuality, and aligns himself with those who would merely extend that imposition to same sex relationships.  Compared to other Christian leaders, of course, Williams does not seem conservative at all.  Even the view that same-sexers should be allowed to imitate opposite-sex couples and to assimilate their behavior to norms that have traditionally been imposed on them is daringly progressive in the world where the Archbishop of Canterbury moves.   

Since most of the Anglican communion’s 80,000,000 members live in African countries where homosexuality is the object of extreme cultural disapproval, it has been quite difficult for Williams to hold to his liberal, assimilationist stand while at the same time meeting the first requirement of his job and keeping the communion united. 

Atlantic editor James Bennet recalls his meeting with recently assassinated Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan.  A theologian of a very different stripe from that of Rowan Williams, Rayyan’s “bigoted worldview, and his rich historical imagination, gave him a kind of serenity.”  This serenity was nothing daunted when Rayyan sent his own son on a suicide mission against an Israeli settlement and planned to send another on a similar mission.

Those of us who call for the abolition of the US presidency (what with today being Presidents’ Day and all) will thank the Atlantic for its note of “Politicians: Be Killed or Survive,” a study finding that the only political figures who face a significant risk of assassination are those who operate in systems where power is so highly centralized that assassinating one person will effect significant change in the policies of the state.

Brian Mockenhaupt reports on an effort to persuade US combat veterans that it’s okay to seek help for psychological injuries by showing them performances of Sophocles’ plays about wounded warriors, Ajax and Philoctetes.

Is Your Marriage Ever Legal? Ask Ken Starr!