Monday, November 06, 2006

Haggard's homosexual horror

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I have resisted thus far writing about Ted Haggard, preferring to wallow happily in the schadenfreude of it all. The drug use, the closeted homosexuality, the solicitation of prostitution -- a life of hypocrisy, of empty moralism, of fear and self-loathing. And then the initial denials and subsequent admissions. And now the confession. It's such a good story, if a predictable one.

As his soul-bearing continues, his church has kicked him out, citing "sexually immoral conduct". In a letter to the members of New Life Church, Haggard admitted "sexual immorality" but neglected to mention drugs. To be kicked out of this church, it is enough to be gay, it seems. I find Haggard to be a repugnant human being, but I understand as best I can the self-loathing and self-denial that prompted such extremism in his public life. Self-hatred can make you do crazy things. But Haggard aside, what I find most repugnant of all in this entire episode is New Life Church itself. Collective self-hatred is perhaps as understandable as the individual kind, but this church's holier-than-thou extremism, its bigotry in the name of some hateful god, is truly despicable.

This is part of Haggard's confession: "The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem. I am a deceiver and a liar. There's a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it all my adult life." To quote Shakespeare's Sister: "Oh, go fuck yourself, you sanctimonious shit. There’s nothing 'repulsive' or 'dark' about being gay. What’s repulsive is your chronic compulsion to slander gays."

But this is the view not just of the "sinner" himself but of his (former) church and of every church like it, parishioners and all: Homosexuality is immoral. It is a "problem". It is some sort of disease. Shakes again: "Haggard believes even now he is fighting a demon, something outside of himself that, given enough willpower, enough moral rectitude, enough prayer, he can vanquish. He cannot bring himself to admit, and to tell the millions who share his view and watch with horror his fall from grace, that he is wrong, that they’re all wrong, that he’s fighting himself."

Haggard has confessed, but to what? That he is a fallen man struggling with his baser humanity, that he is another Adam. He will never admit that he is gay (or that he likes using certain drugs). For him, as for his former church, this isn't about living the truth, this is about the individual and collective self-denial, the denial of being fully human, that lies at the core of Christianity (and other religions). I suspect that Haggard will one day return to his church -- a purified man who has overcome his demons, but not an honest one, not a self-aware one. And the church will welcome him back. And this story of overcoming will be told over and over again as a lesson to all. We all have our dark side. We all know what it's like to succumb to it. Praise be to Ted Haggard for fighting the good fight and for being an example to us all.

So it will go. And then the gay-bashing will continue. And the self-hatred, for each and every one of them, will find its outlet in outward hatred of the diseased Other.

Jack Balkin: "The Haggard story is a story not only about Haggard, but about America itself. Our country has not yet accepted that it is morally ok to be gay or bi-sexual, even though America has millions of gay and bi-sexual people who are our friends, co-workers, and family members; moreover, we are a country with many gay and bi-sexual people who themselves won't accept that it is morally ok to be gay or bi-sexual. Therefore we as a nation hate ourselves, fear ourselves, fight ourselves and try to banish ourselves from the face of the earth. It should be obvious enough that such a strategy is doomed to failure, but the real tragedy is how long -- and at what cost in human suffering -- it will take us to recognize it."

The problem is, the people who should learn from the Haggard story aren't the ones who will. For them, homosexuality will still be an urge or temptation that must be denied. It will still be a choice. It will still be evil. And the complexity of human sexuality, the complexity of our individual natures and of nature itself, will be ignored.

For more, see Andrew Sullivan and Pam Spaulding. The latter puts it to Haggard this way: "The problem isn't sexual, it's your inability to psychologically reconcile your desires with your relentless internal self-loathing and your hypocritical public pious, judgment against people who don't have an issue with their orientation."

Ted Haggard will be cleansed and the delusionally righteous will feel better about themselves for pretending they aren't like him. And, with the truth giving way to yet more lies, America will be worse off for this entire affair.

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