Saturday, October 7, 2023

Queer Theology

    I've just finished reading Queer Theology: Beyond Apologetics, by Linn Marie Tonstad. It's very highly rated, with lots of rave reviews, so you may take my opinion with a grain of salt against the rest. But I found it very unsatisfying! It is a dense, academic book with depth and breadth on queer theory, defining "queer" very broadly (beyond personal sexual and gender diversity). It has some interesting things to say from philosophical, anthropological, sociological, political-economic, human perspectives. Where I find it wanting is in the theo part of theology. Where is God in all this, for her? The whole text, to me, is passionately and complexly theoretical, with only few and vague glances to the theological. It's all very intellectual, with passion around "queering" (challenging heteronormativity) but no evident passion around God.

    And this is why I've never studied theology. My understanding of God is based in a relationship with God, that is visceral, alive, personal, emotional, generative and embodied ... not theoretical, not analytical, not dogmatic. The only kind of theology that I have any time for is mystical theology. Yes, my mind is also very much involved in my faith, but it can never lead. My mind is engaged in finding ways to express and integrate what I experience with God, but I know I can never really define God any more than I can really define another unique human being, or even myself. The intellect comes in to generate the poetry, the metaphor, the art, the music, the symbols to surround this experience and attempt to express it, in some intelligible way. But I cannot define love, or God. The words, the rational explanation, can never express the reality.

    Anyway, I guess I'm a queer theologian, too. In both senses: my theology is as "queer" as any, and you could call me queer, too. I mean, yes, I am a cis-gendered woman who's at least 90% heterosexual. But on the other hand, I am a celibate woman whose whole sexuality is oriented toward God, which diverges pretty far from the heteronormative standard, right? I'm also neurodivergent, and "neuroqueer" is a whole other field of thought parallelling Dr. Tonstad's more gender-queer or sex-queer focus. I'm outside the box, all the boxes, most of the time I don't even see the box, and I am always baffled to find that other people's understanding of reality is so boxed in.

    As for queer theology: it seems self-evident to me that God transcends gender, or else where does the feminine in the world come from? How could I, a woman, be created in the image and likeness, be created as a self-expression, of a literally male God? That there are people in the world who believe that He is absolutely a He just blows my mind. God is an All of the Above. I do mostly relate to God as "He," personally, because I mostly relate to God as my Beloved, or even my Lover, and I am mostly heterosexual. But in my times of meditation, where God is very often so palpably present that I could almost reach out and touch Him, or be wrapped up in Him, God has also shown up as a mother bird cozying me like a chick among her downy under-feathers, or as the breathtaking (ungendered) Lord of the primordial chaos, or as gentle rippling light, or as an infant cuddled in my arms, or myself as an infant at God's milky breast. God is all, not one thing or another thing.

    The story of God's conversation with Moses at the burning bush expresses this so beautifully. Moses keeps on pushing God to give him a name, which basically comes down to a demand to know which God this is who is speaking to him. God will not play along. God finally answers with a word that more or less translates, "I am who am." The humans have found that answer so hard to grasp that the no-name word ended up turned into a name, a name which observant Jews today consider to be the name of God, too holy for humans to pronounce, so that the ineffable word "I-am-who-am" has been written out of the Bible and replaced by a euphemism (Adonai, or Lord) that does define something, something necessarily false, about the indefinable Being.

    My "queer theology" sees all Creation as sacred, as incarnational, as alive and inspirited with the breath of God. I see all the individual, finite (in time, and space, and characteristics), diverse creatures existing together as a whole unified Creation, a Gaia, brought into and sustained in existence by the Creator of all, who both transcends and infuses it, in whom we live and move and have our being. Like the physical law of the conservation of matter, there is a law by which life and spirit change form constantly without ever ending. Creation is generative, cyclical, which means it is sexual to the core. Look at all the wild diversity of reproductive strategies and gender expressions among plants and animals, and tell me that Creation is not queer, and how theology can be any less queer? 

    St. Benedict said that we should treat all the tools and property of the monastery as the sacred vessels of the altar, which is where the sacrament of divine incarnation in the Eucharist takes place. He said that all guests should be received as Christ, and that we must be especially reverent toward the poor, the infirm, children and old folks. Everything and everyone is sacred, everything and everyone is sacramental. 

    Tonstad makes up for thin theology by going deep into the implications of "queering" for human social structures and political economy. This is great. I'm in favor of liberation theology, up to and far beyond Gustavo GutiĆ©rrez's revolutionary formulation of it. It seems to me to be a necessary outcome of a radically incarnational kind of theology like my own. Still, I found the book disappointing, in that it seemed to me to be all about humanity, humans in relation to other humans, and hardly at all about God, and humanity in relationship to God. There's nothing wrong with that, it must be valuable (look at all those rave reviews), but is it "theology"? I only wish it could have been a little more clearly linked to my own end of the theological spectrum, which, as a monastic hermit, is definitely the mystical, contemplative end.

    And in all my words, my many, many words, trying to make intelligible theology out of the ineffable inward experience of the Divine, I wonder if I've obscured more than I've expressed. Maybe you find something here worth meditating on, or worth arguing with on the way to defining your own mystical [queer] theology, your own sense of who, what, what like, or if God is, in relation to yourself, to humanity, to all Creation.

☩⚧☩⚧☩⚧☩ PEACE ☩⚧☩⚧☩⚧☩


  1. I am glad I read your post. My feelings for, and experience of God, are much aligned with yours (though not 100%). I will certainly choose to not read the referenced book. Blessings and Pax from Kate Jesse (living in Michigan now).

    1. Thanks, Kate. I didn't know you'd moved to Michigan! Blessings and pax to you, too, sister.

  2. Your understanding of the Creator/Divine are very close to mine. Much more intellectualized, but that's what makes it interesting for me to read. Thanks for this.