The Quirky Conscience: How Spirituality May Resemble Sexuality

Several years ago, a few Swarthmore Christian students talking to the current Interfaith Coordinator and Protestant Religious Advisor, Joyce Tompkins, complained that it was very hard to “come out” as religious on this campus. They found that they had a hard time discussing their faith here and that, when they did, their points of view tended to be categorically dismissed without much sensitivity or consideration. They observed that there was a whole week – coincidentally, this week – dedicated to coming out as queer, and wished they felt that kind of support as religious students. It was out of this discussion and frustration that Religion & Spirituality Week was born. Now, every year in February, Joyce Tompkins and two student Interfaith Interns reach out to student groups and even faculty to organize events that will draw attention to the variety and vibrancy of religious and spiritual life on campus and promote interfaith dialog.

I share this anecdote because several of the comments on my last post latched onto my analogy between spirituality and sexuality as fundamental and often complicated facets of our individual identities, and as it turns out, the analogy actually has a bit of a history at Swarthmore.

Some of the commentators on my last post posed the question of how to define spirituality and even expressed some skepticism at the notion that we all engage with spirituality in some way or another much as we all engage with  sexuality.

Perhaps this is the place where some of my readers may see the spirituality/sexuality analogy break down: As one reader rightly pointed out, there is a concern that in making statements like “we are all spiritual, just like we are all sexual,” we may run the risk of imposing certain conceptions of human nature or behavioral classifications on people who may not share them.  Of course, like any analogy, it has its limitations, but I think it’s very apt in some ways. As messy as it can be to talk about sex, there may be less confusion as to what counts as sexual than as to what counts as spiritual. For one, it is easier to call an activity “sexual” because we have clearly identifiable sexual organs. Doesn’t the very word “spirituality” seem to presuppose the existence of a “spirit” or even “soul,” something we can’t exactly physically point to, and the very existence of which is controversial…? These are excellent objections.

Still, in the hope of achieving some clarity, allow me to break down the analogy into a series of claims:

Spirituality, like sexuality, is something on which many (probably most!) people have strong views and feelings. Like sexuality, it concerns subjective individual experience. As such, one’s engagement with spirituality or sexuality should be a matter of free, personal choice. At the time, spirituality, like sexuality, also often has to do directly with how we relate to other people – how we see ourselves in relation to them and interact with them.

Factors beyond our control like family or cultural upbringing often affect the way we think about both spiritual and sexual matters, although we may very well find ourselves at odd with what were “taught” by our families, churches, school groups, peer groups, the media, or other groups or institutions growing up. American society (and others!) saturates us with often conflicting messages about both spirituality and sexuality and, in spite of the individual dimension of these things, some often strong ideas of what the “right” personal decisions as we strive to live “good,” moral and satisfying lives.

While the realities of both sexual and spiritual experiences may differ starkly from what people hope to get out of them, people who engage in spiritual or sexual practices tend to see them as modes of personal expression. Many people see these choices (or the choice to abstain from such activities) as self-defining in a particularly important way. However, both spirituality and sexuality can be particularly repressive or alienating for people who feel like their true selves are stifled by existing frameworks or that they cannot identify with those frameworks.

 There are many labels out there to describe and classify particular individual beliefs and behaviors as far as spirituality and sexuality are concerned. On one hand, labels can be empowering. On the other, it can be all too easy to use labels to make assumptions about people without actually getting to know them or to marginalize certain groups. Moreover, labels may fail to take in account the nuances and fluidity of both sexual and spiritual identities.

I look forward to taking up some of the questions and objections raised here more specifically in my next post and throughout the rest of this column. I’m glad that readers are questioning my analogies and images and urge you to keep doing so! In particular, I hope you will call me out on any assumptions you find problematic so that I may be able to address them.

At the end of the day, spirituality, much like sexuality, can be complicated and even controversial to talk about… but I trust that it is well worth it!

You can also feel to email me thoughts, questions, concerns, or suggestions at my new, shiny, God-given (uh, Gazette given) email:

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  1. 0
    Don Salmon says:

    I suspect that negative feelings toward spirituality – particularly in an academic setting – have 2 major sources. The first, and probably foremost in most students and professors’ minds, is the negative effects of popular religion – both through the ages, and in particular, in the virulent fundamentalist form so prevalent in today’s world.

    The second is generally less obvious – the assumed conflict between science and spirit. I think this is based on some fundamental misunderstandings of the imitations of science. I’ve written an essay on this; “Shaving Science With Ockham’s Razor”, which you can see over at (‘click “news”). I’d be very interested in hearing your response, particularly from skeptics. My email is Thanks!

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    Atheist at Swat says:

    It’s interesting: as an atheist, I often feel that I have to suppress my beliefs on this matter in the “real world”, for fear of being discriminated against or being seen as an amoral person. Given the culture in this country in general, save certain “bubbles” like those at Swarthmore, it can be somewhat risky to admit these kind of beliefs.

    So it makes me sorry that at Swat, there is an almost reactionary sort of repression against people with strong spiritual beliefs. Although I do not share the same beliefs, I sympathize with the feeling of not being able to openly express one’s spiritual beliefs.

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    Holden Caulfield says:

    Regarding Phil’s question about religious experiences on campus….

    I was quickly turned off by the SCF community because I was rebuffed for my method of biblical analysis. This was the first or second week of Freshman year and I was at Freshman Small Group. We were reading from the Gospel of John and I took historical context into consideration, making the point that a common theme throughout all his works – both his Gospel and his epistles – is Love. I was told “we don’t do that here, we just focus on the passage at hand” and effectively silenced. Later that week at Large Group I was rebuffed for advocating universalism and claiming “my God would not do this” (“I’d bet a thousand bucks that Jesus never sent old Judas to Hell. I still would, too, if I had a thousand bucks. I think any one of the Disciples would’ve sent him to Hell and all — and fast, too — but I’ll bet anything Jesus didn’t do it”) while reading Revelation . I have not gone to either since (save small group at the BCC which is run in a much different fashion).

    On the other hand I have been mocked, called irrational, etc. for being a person of faith and while I know this is *not* by any means systematic or fully oppressive I must point out the fact that 1) I don’t feel completely safe discussing faith unless I am in a room full of other spiritual individuals (or in a religion class, my major) 2) Conservative Christians are not the only individuals mocked for their beliefs on this campus and I think that needs to be remembered/recognized.

    Regarding Phil and Conscience. I don’t think either was trying to downplay the hardships faced by queer individuals, I just think they were attempting to use the analogy to explore various aspects of spirituality. If I’m wrong and the opposite is true, I apologize, I just think some slack might/should be given.

    1. 0
      Phil C. says:

      Holden, thanks for your stories and your support as well. I’d love to talk more with you about your stories and thoughts sometime–Sharples?


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    Chris Newham says:

    After acknowledging that the fundamental similarity between sexuality and spirituality is that both concern relationships, comprehension of the distinctions becomes vital to the deliberations.

    Sexuality is a physical phenomenon whilst spirituality is a metaphysical one.
    Consequently sexuality is about relationships between people, between their egos or self-identities – relationships where the partners can be equal or unequal.

    Spiritual relationships are about each individual’s relationship with their creator, with God, or some other power greater than themselves and are not egotistical. Therefore spiritual relationships among people can only be on the basis of equality.

    An implication, is that discrimination of any kind, sexual or religious, concerns unequal physical relationships and is devoid of any spiritual component. Thus it can be said that people who celebrate any form of non-discrimination do so, knowingly or not, in a spiritual context, and are natural partners-in-spirit with those who celebrate their spirituality.

    [I have no physical connection to Swarthmore. Your article and comments turned up in my daily Google news alert, keyword ‘spirituality’ and stimulated this exploration down an otherwise untraveled path. Thank you.]

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      Sanaa '15 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      I don’t think I agree on the distinctions you draw between sexuality and spirituality.

      Spiritual relationships often include not only one’s relationship to god, but also that person’s relationship to the leader(s) of their congregation, the leader(s) of their religion, the members of their congregation, and many other possible relationships. Some of these relationships are inherently unequal, supported by the fact that priests are referred to as “father.” This creates a dynamic of inequality not present in the picture you paint of spirituality. In fact, some religions maintain that the average believer NEEDS the intercession of clergy members in order to reach salvation/heaven/nirvana (whatever the goal may be). True, spirituality does not always have to be connected with organized religion. However, for many people, the two coincide quite neatly. Therefore, the religious relationships that these people have are also highly spiritual.

      I also don’t believe that I agree with your characterization of sexuality. However, as I do not fully understand your explanation, I will not presume to critique it. Perhaps you can elaborate if you would like to continue our conversation?

  5. 0
    Darien says:

    Reading this made me curious…what are the religious demographics at Swat? It’d be cool to get a poll going sometime if we don’t have those numbers somewhere.

  6. 0
    Phil C. says:

    Hello friends,

    While I understand and sympathize many of the concerns that have been expressed in the comments, I would like to encourage a bit more reflection on the “sexuality is not a choice, spirituality is, therefore the experiences are not the same” line of argument. I don’t think that this is very carefully thought out, and I think it rests on a partial misconception of what spirituality is about. Let me try to flesh that out a bit.

    Here are some things that are choices: going to Sharples at 6:00pm; writing a paper at 6:00pm; pursuing a career in industry rather than academia; expressing one’s sexuality through word and action; expressing one’s spirituality through word and action.

    Is being spiritual a “choice” in the same way that expressing one’s spirituality is? Here I am far less sure. For instance: among other things, I believe that I ought to be reflective, that I ought to be a good listener, that reason has a place in the world, that my girlfriend is beautiful, that my friends make my life constitutively better, that life is (for me) a good place. Do I have a choice in these beliefs? Can I “choose [them] and change [them] depending on [my] thoughts?” (adapted from Jack’s comment).

    I’m not saying that the answer is no. But these beliefs run very deep. For some of these things, if I didn’t believe them, I wouldn’t be me anymore. To believe differently would be to become a different person, someone with a different orientation toward the world. My suggestion is that spirituality belongs with beliefs like this.

    If this is right, then spirituality is not, at least, a choice like the ones I listed at the beginning of this comment. I’m open to the thought that it is, in some deeper sense, a choice. But if it is such a choice, it is a choice that cuts to the very core of our being. Religious experience is deep. Spirituality or its lack is a major constituent of the self. “A choice?” Maybe. “Just a choice”? Definitely not.

    So, the whole “spirituality is a choice” line seems to me to be insufficiently thought out, and I can’t help but feel that it’s a way of trivializing the experience of people to whom their spirituality is important. Yes queers are systematically oppressed in a number of terrible ways, within Swarthmore and without, and no one is questioning that. Is it OBVIOUS that people of (certain) spiritualities are not? I don’t think so, and I’d like us to reflect on that question before snapping against Conscience’s analogy. I’d love to hear more from someone who can share a firsthand experience about oppression they’ve felt as a spiritualist on campus. If there are no such stories, then maybe I’ll agree that Conscience’s analogy is a bad one. But, somehow, I doubt this.

    Peace all,

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      Morgan '12 says:

      Hey Phil, I 100% agree with AM’s response to you. In particular, I think their first point that it’s, to be quite frank, rude, counterproductive, and belittling for you to be talking over the contributions from people from the marginalized community in question. I have been aware of your patronizing tone in many other DG threads over our years here and am glad someone’s finally called you on it. Generally I think you have productive things to say, though I very rarely entirely agree with them, and I think your arguments could benefit tremendously from a privilege check and a less superior tone.

      I would also like to add that the word queer should not be used as a noun. Queer is an adjective that, to give a really basic definition, refers to *people* who are systemically oppressed by heterosexism and/or cissexism. It’s dehumanizing when you reduce those people down to one facet of their identity by calling them “queers.” [And actually, it sort of makes you sounds like an uncle I have who likes to rant about “those queers and their perversion.”]

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        Phil C. says:

        So, AM and Morgan, some questions, some comments, some clarifications, and some thanks to follow.

        So, a question first. To either of you: could you say a bit more about what you have in mind by “talking over?” I’m assuming that you don’t mean that I don’t deserve to speak about spirituality here. Speaking for others in a silencing way is shitty, but I’m not sure that I’ve done that here. If you could say more about this, that would be helpful.

        AM: I wasn’t claiming that Christians are systematically oppressed in this country, and your points to the contrary are convincing. By the phrase “certain spiritualities,” I meant to encourage us to look for spiritualities that MAY be systematically oppressed—for instance, Muslims and Neopagans, as you yourself point out. So: I’m not claiming that Protestants should deserve to pull the oppression card, and I’m not actually sure that we disagree here at all.

        I won’t defend the article for treating the religious community as a “monolith,” though I suppose I should just say that I don’t share your reading of Conscience’s claim. I don’t think I suggested that the analogy is perfect, either.

        Indeed, I’m not really convinced that we disagree on anything here, except perhaps for your claim that the analogy conscience is trying to draw is homophobic. This accusation, I think, would be true if Conscience (or myself) had claimed either of the following:

        (a) People are, qua religious, oppressed in similar quality and quantity to people qua queer.
        (b) The experience of “coming out” as religious is just the same, or just as hard, as the experience of coming out as queer.

        I don’t think that Conscience did, and I don’t think that I did either. So I guess I just don’t see it. Help?

        Morgan: First, you clearly haven’t been following my comments very much if you think that someone has “finally called me out on it”—I get this fairly frequently. I’ve been trying to be better about it, and clearly I’ve missed the mark again. I’ll keep working. Help me on this? In particular, I’d appreciate it if you could expand “privilege” and “superior tone.” Yes, these are high-level problems, and no, I’m not expecting you to point at specific phrases (unless you want to!), but some general direction here would be useful for me.

        As far as “queers” vs. “queer people” goes, Morgan, thank you for pointing this out. I’ll keep this in mind for future conversations.

        General comment: when I wrote above, I meant simply to respond to those who were following the “spirituality is a choice, sexuality is not, therefore the analogy is bad” line. I didn’t mean to, and don’t think I did, suggest that spirituality-oppression and sexuality-oppression are the same in kind or extent. But, strictly speaking, the line that AM latched onto was beside the main thrust of my comment. If what I wrote there is really as problematic as you two claim, then I’m happy to concede the point.

        General thanks: I’m grateful to both of you for talking to me about this, and I hope that we’ll be able to continue this conversation in a productive way. It may not look like it to you, but I do feel that I’m learning a lot here.


        1. 0
          AM says:

          From the article:

          “Several years ago, a few Swarthmore Christian students talking to the current Interfaith Coordinator and Protestant Religious Advisor, Joyce Tompkins, complained that it was very hard to “come out” as religious on this campus. They found that they had a hard time discussing their faith here and that, when they did, their points of view tended to be categorically dismissed without much sensitivity or consideration. They observed that there was a whole week – coincidentally, this week – dedicated to coming out as queer, and wished they felt that kind of support as religious students. It was out of this discussion and frustration that Religion & Spirituality Week was born.”

          So, I’m not sure how QC is NOT appropriating or reproducing the appropriation of the metaphor of coming out here. The exact phrase is used to describe declaring oneself as a religious person (as a side note, neopagans have also appropriated this language as they can be “in the broom closet”) … the conflation simply continues as the Christian folks who approached the adviser explicitly mention Coming Out Week. I could discuss how I find it somewhat offensive that these Christian students seemed to miss the point of Coming Out Week entirely (systematic oppression vs. hurt feelings), but that’s obviously not QC’s fault.

          Then, of course, the entire article is trying to draw comparisons between sexuality and spirituality. QC never once criticizes the use of this metaphor, which was actually what my very first comment tackled.

          So, yeah, I think the article fulfills both the conditions you set out.

          Oh, wait. I’m pretty sure straight folks don’t get to dictate what is or isn’t homophobic.

          Which gets back to the talking over point.

          I quoted the part of your stuff I had the real problem with. Generally, it’s a tone issue. I think two adjectives I could apply to it would be “condescending” and “paternalistic.” While it’s maybe great in philosophy classes to pose questions on any point brought up, some points aren’t yours to question in the real world, as you have no experience of them (ie, you don’t experience homophobia/cissexism). When there are multiple queer people on a thread saying, “Uuuh, not cool to use our metaphor,” I don’t think I need a straight dude telling me to step back and “reflect” before calling it out.

          1. 0
            Zack '12 says:

            Oh, my TL;DR:

            Don’t conflate your Christian experiences with my Jewish ones. My experiences aren’t your playthings. When someone steps on my agency, don’t tell me, “let’ US reflect a lot more before WE say OUCH!” Even privilege-oblivious people mean well, and we should assume the best even if for our own sanities.

          2. 0
            Zack '12 says:

            (TL;DR at the bottom.)

            I generally don’t like to bandwagon lines of thought that other people have already spent a lot of time developing, but I think I might be able to fill in a few gaps. We’ll see. I’ll structure this the way my dad would: as a shit sandwich. That means OK things, bad things, OK things again.

            BREAD: I take some issue with the whole [dare I say Christian-centric] construction that religion is expressed through thought rather than deed. 14+ years of Jewish education and 21+ years of Jewish living under my belt and it’s been my understanding that my religion “lives” in the place of deed rather than some life in my head. And in my 4 years at Swat, I’ve never had anyone say anything less than positive in response to me telling them that I’m going to Shabbat services or going home to lead services at my schul at home. Caveat: Of COURSE I don’t speak for all Jewish/queer experiences on campus or in the world.

            SHIT: First, to address some of the things AM/Morgan have been bouncing around. Phil, I take issue with your tone as well. To me, your comments read as if our experiences are your playthings. I’m all for seeing theory as a thing to be questioned, handled, manipulated, extrapolated, etc. But sorry, you don’t get to make others’ lives into your rhetoro-philosophical toys. But, reality is you will if you want to, and that’s probably what it means to be privileged [in this context].

            Secondly, I find your use of the first person plural and “we should all think about X or in the future do Y” language patronizing: eye-rollingly so at best, infuriatingly so at worst. When you say “I think WE should think about this further,” it reads like you mean, “I’m going to tell you what I think.” When you say, “I’d like US to reflect on that question before snapping against Conscience’s analogy,” it sounds like you mean, “stop getting all worked up, queers, us big kids are having a symposium here.” As it turns out, you’re not the arbiter of what I’ll consider and not consider when I respond to something I think steps on my agency.

            You might want to do reading on this site. As the privileged and privilege-denying person in a wide variety of discussions, I’ve been pointed here and find it a useful site to start off some self-reflection. I think the sections “You Have a False Consciousness” and “You’re Not Being a Team Player” are especially relevant, so I’ll point you there.

            BREAD AGAIN: Phil, I am totally in line with the beliefs you cite above: I think you show that you value reflection, good listening, and reason. If you are who I think you are, I think your girlfriend is also pretty awesome (tell her I said so.) Just try to not listen selectively and ignore what people are telling you to reflect on, OK?

          3. 0
            Phil C. says:

            Hi again AM,

            Yes, Conscience is interested in drawing parallels between spirituality and sexuality in the context of the metaphor of “coming out,” and no, she or he does not spend time being critical of this metaphor. I’m not sure that this is her or his responsibility to do, but I’m glad that you’ve filled in some of that critical gap there, and I hope that your contribution will help us all to see the limitations of this parallel. I guess all I can say with respect to your homophobia charge is that I still don’t see that Conscience is somehow forwarding either of the points I mentioned. Yes, the points I listed are caricatures of two things she or he really is suggesting. But I think they are also just that—caricatures.

            No one is saying that being spiritual is “exactly like” being queer here, or anywhere else. That would be an obviously ridiculous claim, just as ridiculous as saying that is any unified identity of “being spiritual” or “being queer,” here or anywhere else. A lot gets packed into both of those ideas, and we try to make the best use of them that we can. Your writing suggests to me that you think Conscience is unaware of all of these complications, and therefore “conflates” spirituality and sexuality in campus life. I find this implausible, and I therefore try to be charitable. And charity here means looking for both limitations and insights behind this metaphor.

            “Straight folks don’t get to dictate what is or isn’t homophobic.” True, and I didn’t mean to attempt to dictate so. What I offered were two plausible possibilities that I felt would substantiate the charge, and suggested that those possibilities weren’t met (we probably still disagree on this). This isn’t to deny that there were other possibilities, and I’m sorry if my tone somehow suggested that this was what I meant. I might only add that, if “homophobic” is meant to play a useful public role, each of us has some claim on its meaning. Some claims are larger than others; mine is small. I don’t think that this means I’m not allowed to press on accusations of homophobia.

            “Appropriation” is a funny word in this context, and I have a hunch that a large part of our disagreement lies hidden behind its use. Yes, Conscience does suggest that “coming out” is a useful metaphor for one’s spiritual emergence. You point out that a number of queer people on the threat are saying “’Uuuh, not cool to use our metaphor.’” I’m not quite sure what to make of this, and yes, I WOULD encourage you, and those “multiple queer people,” and Conscience, and myself, to reflect on where this reaction comes from and what its significance is. Condescending and patronizing? You tell me. Maybe I can try to avoid these adjectives by trying to argue a bit, so here goes:

            If Conscience reflects on her or his experience as a spiritual person on campus, and finally decides that the “coming out” metaphor makes the best sense of her or his experience, I don’t really see how even experience of homophobia or cissexism would entitle anyone to deprive her or him of that. Of course, it’s always possible that reflection might illuminate differences which make the metaphor entirely inappropriate for her or his needs. But determining whether or not that’s the case is not an occasion for sentiments like “hey, back off our metaphor”—it’s a time for trying to figure out what her or his needs are, what the metaphor means to each person involved, and whether or not there can be some kind of understanding here.

            Yes, “some points aren’t [mine] to question.” But I don’t think I need to question any of that kind of point in order to make the kind of claim I do in my last paragraph. Is this false? I guess I find this a bit hard to believe, but I’m also interested in hearing an alternative point of view here. So, let me know?


    2. 0
      AM says:

      If at any point you would like to stop talking over what the marginalized folks are saying, that would be productive.

      “Yes queers are systematically oppressed in a number of terrible ways, within Swarthmore and without, and no one is questioning that. Is it OBVIOUS that people of (certain) spiritualities are not? I don’t think so, and I’d like us to reflect on that question before snapping against Conscience’s analogy.”

      Yes, it is obvious that Christians are not systematically oppressed in this country. Christians (and their families) receive healthcare, housing and civil rights with no snags. Christians are not fighting court battles to have their places of worship recognized by various levels of local and state government. Christians are the majority of this country and very rarely receive the sort of monolithic stereotyping oppressed groups do. SOME Christians are stereotyped and made fun of in a very certain brand of popular culture (shows with a “liberal” bent, for example, take on evangelical Christianity with increasing frequency), but the Republican party is doing just fine when it comes to political power. Moreover, no one goes up to a Christian person who gives change to a homeless person (or, does something Christian) and beats their heads in (being read as Christian does not translate to being threatened physically or otherwise).

      I think the situation gets really complicated really fast with anti-Islamic sentiment (as there’s an intersection of race and “foreignness” at play) and is more complex in regards to Judaism and Neopaganism. In other words, all religions ARE NOT EQUAL in this country and some may, in fact, be systematically oppressed (I’m thinking more Muslims and Neopagans here).

      However, the analogy was not discussing the general world, and it did not discuss a specific religious community (in other words, it picked up the metaphor without any sense of nuance). It was discussing Swarthmore, and it seemed to be discussing all religious communities here as a monolith which I find untrue.

      While Swarthmore is a glorious bubble for us queer folks who have faced real violence, at home or on the street, directed at our minds or our bodies, systematic oppression does not evaporate once you step on campus. I think part of this conversation is really a reaction from straight students who like to think homophobia/heterosexism and trans*phobia/cissexism don’t happen ~here~ /like that/ because everyone is so tolerant and understanding (students, faculty and admin). The analogy I objected to is homophobic: strike one. I’ve had professors who were unabashedly trans*phobic: strike two. The queer-bashing last year and its subsequent attempted cover-up: strike three! The queer community is often physically safe, but that does not translate to not being systematically oppressed (unless at Swat we suddenly have full civil rights or something).

      Religious students face prejudice. I already copped to that. Swat is hella secular. A lot of students don’t believe in a god or gods. A lot react against the sexist, sex-negative, sometimes xenophobic and rape culture endorsing strands of religious thought of a particular religion’s interpretations of ancient texts that no more belong to them than atheists WHOOPS THERE’S MY PULPIT. People make fun of religions and religious people on this campus.

      I think my last statement is a little too generous — I have mostly seen people on this campus reacting to a conservative version of Christianity or to an unthinking mimesis of principles that may be harmful to others (so, yeah, people make fun of the kind of believers that are willing to go along with whatever the pundit/priest is saying without questioning it; that’s still problematic in terms of a westerncentrism, btw).

      So … where’s the systematic oppression? If I really dislike straight people who think appropriating the metaphor of coming out, I’m not oppressing them. I can’t. They’re straight. I can be prejudiced, and maybe that means you don’t want to hang out with me. In the same vein, if I’m making fun of Christians who think Jesus is super forreal coming back in October, I’m not oppressing them. I’m making them feel little and small and being a douche, perhaps, but that’s not systematic oppression. It’s called not being able to put the damn filter on.

      I don’t think spirituality is always a choice. This article is making a hugely westerncentric claim. Many folks are born into their religions, and their religions are DEEPLY tied into their ethnic identities (the Tsalgi/Cherokee, for example, and Native American religions more generally). However, just because spirituality is not sometimes a choice DOES NOT MEAN it is like being queer (which is a choice OH SNAP I HAVE DISRUPTED EVERYTHING IDENTITIES AAAH).*

      So, to say again, religious=/=queer, particularly Christian=/=queer, in terms of ~suffering the same things in the same ways~

      tl;dr: Nope, still not like things.

      *”Queer” is an identity you take onto yourself. You’re not born queer. You can be born, maybe, interested in certain genders.

      1. 0
        AM says:

        Sorry, in regards to this:

        “I don’t think spirituality is always a choice. This article is making a hugely westerncentric claim.”

        I did not mean the article, which tried to challenge that spirituality is a choice (albeit in a universalizing way), but the commentators who have equated it to a choice in all cases. My b.

    3. 0
      Chris '13 says:

      I’m glad you brought that up, Phil. “Choice” is a complicated idea which is really quite slippery when one really tries to unpack it all. Many, if not all, deeply-ingrained perceptions and attitudes can be consciously changed over time, with carefully-applied effort. This is what enables reconciliation over major disputes and is part of the mental retraining essential to many religions.

      At least for some, this description doesn’t quite fit for spirituality. A great “spiritual friend” of mine once told me that the idea of a person searching for the Truth is backwards–“The Truth grabs you.” Kind of like one of the wands at Ollivander’s… it’s taken me a while, but I’ve started to see why people talk about “callings” and why so many folks in the Bible respond with, “Here I am.”

      (Thank you Phil and QC for reminding me of this!)

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    W says:

    Two instances come to mind when I think about situations at Swat where Christians have been marginalized. 1) In the first few weeks of freshman year, a close friend of mine stopped wearing a crucifix around her neck because she didn’t want to be judged. 2) Some of the worst talking-behind-your-back I’ve ever witnessed at Swat was some really nasty comments about someone for being a (highly conservative) Christian.**

    I think the sort of quiet self-suppression from example 1 is pretty common among Christians at Swat, and it shouldn’t be. Still, I don’t want to equate it with the fears that queer people face. My friend was afraid of being judged, not beaten up or disowned.

    I don’t think the notion of “coming out” as Christian holds up to much scrutiny, given that “coming out” as queer is fraught with a lot more isolation and insecurity, as commenters above have described. Perhaps a better direction to take this analogy is the notion of “safe spaces.” I hope we can all agree that Swat should be a safe and non-judgmental space for all groups and identities. During my friend’s freshman year, Swat (and spaces within it, e.g. her hall) clearly did not feel like a safe space to express herself. As for example 2, if I’d had the guts to say that it’s not okay to mock someone for being Christian (acting as a – dare I compare myself – an “ally”?), maybe people wouldn’t have felt as comfortable poking fun.

    So three cheers for SCF and other organizations for creating safe spaces and maintaining the Christian community on campus, and I hope we can all create safe spaces in our social circles, halls, classes, etc., while recognizing that religious groups face struggles distinct from those of other groups.

    ** I think it’s important to illustrate the problem with examples, but I really hope these examples don’t scare current Christians at Swat, especially freshmen. A couple caveats: these were both highly isolated instances, and the reason example 2 stands out in my mind is that this conservative Christian friend was generally highly respected at Swat for standing up for what he believed in.

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    Kat '12 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I don’t particularly agree with this piece, but it does remind me of at least twenty instances when I had to speak up for Christian family and friends in conversation on campus. Although I wouldn’t equate homosexuality (not a choice) and spirituality (should be a choice!), I do think it’s appropriate to point out how even the most “open-minded” students and professors at Swarthmore often crack offensive jokes about Christianity. I’m glad someone got this discussion going–although I think it may have been more effective if the author had avoided the awkward comparison.

    If someone wants to argue how Christians on campus deserve to be persecuted, I’d be interested to hear it.

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      jack '12 says:

      Yes, i agree Kat that the article could be motivated by the realization by the author that people at Swarthmore (and everywhere else in the world!) are not as open-minded as they should be. I think that is a flaw of humanity in general.

      But, when people at Swarthmore make jokes about Christianity, it is non-violent. When people are not open-minded about queer sexualities, people are sometimes physically abused. Our campus experienced this just last year.

      And jes, you make an awesome point about American anti-Muslim attitudes. thank you.

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        Kat '12 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

        This is exactly why I don’t think the comparison should have been made in the column. Just because abuse of LGBTQ people is generally a lot worse (I agree with you) doesn’t mean that abuse of Christians or other people is okay (right?). But, unfortunately, the piece definitely tries to draw direct parallels.

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    Sara '12 says:

    The above comments are pretty much exactly what I was thinking as I read this column.

    While I thought the general discussion of the similarities between how spirituality and sexuality operate in our lives was interesting and well-articulated, I found it hard to believe the difficulty of coming out applied in any comparable way as described in the article.

    For instance, there is a significant difference between a lack of appreciation and the very real threat of violence, persecution, a lack of access to participation in many parts of life, and the denial of rights that people tend to view as incredibly important and often rather painful to be excluded from exercising.

    That’s not to say that it’s necessarily easy to be openly religious on campus. But the overall tone of the experience and the huge potential for reaching understanding and acceptance through reasonable dialogue strongly separate the experiences aligned above.

    It’s probably pretty hard to have a reasonable discussion in a situation where your life is in danger, for instance.

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    jack '12 says:

    There seems to be a lot of “choice” in this article. Let us not forget that being spiritual is a choice. You can choose your spirituality and change it depending on your thoughts. Being queer is not a choice. Queer people cannot reflect on how their sexuality relates to society, because they are unable to change this part about themselves. We must deal with the ways we are treated by others.

    Another reason I find this article offensive is that it diminishes the pain and inner conflict many queers experience when coming out. Queer youth commit suicide at staggering rates due to the isolation they feel. There are also many stories of queer violence and bullying. The same thing cannot be said about spirituality.

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      jes says:

      I get what you’re saying, and I largely agree, but I wanted to point out that in the US, we have seen stories of anti-Muslim violence and bullying.

      Being openly queer in the world and being openly religious at swat are waaaaay different (for instance: families often support your religious beliefs, the voices saying that it’s not okay to be queer are loud and pervasive). Being out as either *within the swarthmore bubble* may be more similar- you can expect that no one will be violent about it, but some people might be jerks, especially about certain type of religions and certain types of queer identities.

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    AM says:

    Can we maybe be a little more critical of the analogy that being religious on a largely secular and at times hostile campus is in any way comparable to being visibly queer [on the same campus or in the world]?

    Not like things.

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