Monday, January 22, 2007


You ever say you’ll do something but then realize you’ve obligated yourself to not the best idea? Well, I said I’d make a post of a too long comment in L’s blog last week, and I did. As I’ve said before, I hope to stay away from arguing the truth of anyone’s religion here. From much experience with numerous faiths and some very good people, I know that goes nowhere and upsets many. I’ll not do that here either, but I will be discussing religious motivation and I’m sure I’ll hit many of the same nerves. That said, fair warning and all: (yes, this was written before my last post and resulting comments, and now I don’t feel so hesitant ;-))

Numerous times now I’ve heard the notion that remaining in the LDS church (or any church really) as a gay believer constitutes a denial of a desire. That part is true; if you’re gay and deny yourself coupling with a person matching your orientation, you’re sacrificing something.

Often though that something is debased, as a merely a corrupt physical pleasure. This is very understandable, as it helps keep resolve, but I does set me off. Our opponents do it all the time, only look at gays and think sex, sexual desire, physical pleasure, and so on. To a gay guy who sometimes forgets the physical aspects and yet is absolutely head-over-heals in love, I find this ignoring of the mental aspects of orientation both factually wrong and demeaning. But, eh, what you gonna do? It’s often not meant and, sure, I know it.

It’s the second part of this reasoning that really gets to me: that to be an active gay man a person would be sacrificing less or no desires, even those often considered corrupt physical desires. In truth, there’d be far more motivation, physical or otherwise, in obeying, in not being actively gay, if I believed such dictates actually came from God. I mean, for most Protestants, to avoid burning in Hell and an eternity in an unimaginably pleasurable heaven are both very simple and potent motivations for humans, and inflated into infinity. For faithful LDS, being with God, and becoming a God with families still around isn’t bad either. People don’t want pain, they want to live forever, they want their families, they want power, meaning, questions answered… These are all basic human desires satisfied by ideas of Heaven and threatened by ideas of Hell, and most far more potent and visceral than the desire for any sort of sex or coupling.

In fact, if I truly believe that I’d be made heterosexual in an afterlife, then even the hope to best fulfill such mental and sexual desire is moved to the other side of the equation, save for a sliver of this time in a hoped-for eternity. There’s no contest, and for good reason.

I mean, how would a religion’s faith and love of its God fare if, to keep it as God wants in this hypothetical, you’d be placed in Hell (not LDS Hell, Baptist Hell :-)), and all the doubters go to heaven with their family and become Gods? It would fail. Of course all organizations using these tools both downplay and put such up front, as it’s more respectable, dependable, and right to do right without coercion, but the coercion and motivation is undeniably there and used.

Maybe the LDS faith is true, maybe the Zoroastrians, but at least all but one of such organizations, those claiming to have the best path to truth, are using such to control people without such a path behind their promises, knowing people act on and are motivated by what they’re convinced to believe will happen, not on actual future rewards or punishments. And it’s clear many people, once they believe and submit to each Gods’ will with these motivations, will defend that to no end. It works. Many are loyal to their different faiths and build belief in them strong with supposed miracles and unassailable personal experiences, sometimes even to the point of giving their lives (or their neighbors’ lives…). Harsh, sure, but either the AUM in the Japanese subway attack or Eric Rudolph, blowing up gay clubs and Olympic parties, are in the wrong when acting on such strong faith. Though they show more dedication and personal sacrifice to their particular idea of the supernatural than most, at least one set of thinking is wrong and won't be rewarded as expected. But they both have strong and very real motivations there that we all--religious, agnostic, or atheist--must take seriously. It’s simply not only a problem for gay people with regards to the far more cultivated and safe religious ideas.

Certainly, though, I must give the disclaimer that, more often than not, religious leaders use such motivations believing it themselves and for the betterment of humanity. It’s certainly not all Jonestowns. For instance, they give the believing amoral thief, who’d otherwise steal, something to consider above being caught. It’s just, when you’re playing with such strong human motivations, it can and does go wrong, and otherwise good people do end up doing evil, as demonstrated in many historical examples.

Finally on this topic, it’s true people such as myself don’t believe we’re sacrificing such supernaturally; we ain’t stupid either ;-). But there are other this-world sacrifices that need consideration. They may even keep an amoral atheist unwilling to sacrifice such for innate human coupling. I went over some of them here, but they can range from physical threats, to health insurance, to simple added complexity. On the other hand, there are gains certainly above meeting your orientation, such as giving your partner the knowledge that you are attracted to them in that way, making it easier for gay kids generations later, and to be able to share the comfort that comes with not fighting yourself with those who love you. In short, there are base and high-minded pleasures and pains on both sides. Can we meet at that point?

In the end, I really don’t want to turn this argument back around and demean the other side for wanting pleasures. What use is that? But it’s not something one can hide; such motivations are there and are very compelling. I do read the hopes of believers in many different religions and the promises of their texts, you know :-). The rewards are at least anticipated, wanted, and a strong motivation, and it should be known to claim otherwise trips the mental alarms. I just want to stop the weapon’s use by the other camp.


Now, to my pointing of this out, my favorite pro/an-tagonist ;-), reacted with “The idea that following God is always fundamentally selfish is a narrow one. ”, here.

I’d not say following a God, or any other human action is always selfish, as most think of the word.

Forget all the above, and say the motivation is love of a God alone. If He wanted, you could honestly tell me you’d lose your family and writhe in an eternal Hell for that love, just because you think it would please Him and thus be good by a mystery you don’t understand by your limited mortal mind. I’m sure there are people in all religions who have come to feel they'd do that. Off the top of my head comes to mind the famous picture of the Buddhist monk, setting himself on fire (Though sure, Buddhism’s “God” is a bit complicated ;-)). So let’s just say the 100% only motivation people feel is the love for this omnipotent being. They’ve chosen to love this particular being for no other reason than to love Him, regardless of what He does, not for Heaven, not Hell, not by appreciation for supposed prior rewards, not because they think he gave them life or anything else. They just love Him.

On much smaller scales, people do this all the time; it's a common motivation, and we’d never call it selfishness. It is in fact a saving grace of humanity, but it can still be misused and it’s still based on pretty common and understandable human desires. A person simply cannot act unless they first experience a desire to act.

It’s just, in this case, what you want is a function of the pleasure of another. Though, as with any choice, there may be pain associated with it, it pleases you when they are pleased. This is part of the state of being in love, and if I were to complicate it by claiming I’m somehow selflessly doing what I don’t want, what I’m not most compelled to do, when feeling love, to me, that denies the obvious, etherealizes my will, and undermines the love.

Can you imagine telling your child you don’t want to be up at night rubbing his fevered back, but you still do it for some sort of brave self-denial? No, besides upsetting to the child that’d not be true. I do it because that’s who I am; it’s what I do, what I’m built to do by very basic insistent and ingrained rules of behavior and he should not doubt that. It’s not some mystery of will, of an action that’s somehow neither caused nor uncaused; it’s how I, his father, work, dependable like clockwork. As long as I exist, I’ll want to rub his fevered back, to comfort him, even if that comes with pain. I’d literally give them my life, if it somehow came to that, and I’d want to do it, and it would please me most, and I’d want them to be assured of that.

It’s can be a boost to our self impression and a tool of manipulating the will of those not so inclined to pose ourselves as self-sacrificing, a master of will doing what we don’t want, and so on, when we act for motivations such as love (odd though how often the same people describe the very real pleasures of giving and loving). But there is also real strength in what I see as the actuality, in admitting that you really want to suffer a loss, for love, for someone else; it’s a reward in itself. People go to jobs they hate, parents stay up all night with sick children, friends move heavy furniture and drive friends to the airport :-), and some devout followers of various gods will even subject themselves to the sort of physical and mental pain most humans will never know, for love of their God, even if you or I don’t believe in their God or Gods, and even if we’re right. People suffer pains all the time for the incomparable joys of love. Crazy human behavior, huh? ;-)


-L- said...

That same conversation you mentioned that partly prompted this post also prompted me to write a piece about motivation, knowledge, and truth. I haven't finished it (it always tends to get long and boring... and confusing), but I'll throw it up on the blog sometime soon. Plus, you seem to be a lot more interested in the motivation aspects of things while I find that topic too nuanced to really accept most descriptions (including parts of yours here). For example, most fundamentally I think I want gay love and gay sex, but I don't act in a manner consistent with that being my primal motivation, so you automatically demote it as less important to my desires than the rewards of spirituality. It's some subtle begging the question. I guess I can't get away from the idea of a natural and spiritual nature in the same person that are often in conflict--frequently wanting completely opposite things. You seem to see an individual as cohesive--with only a single will. See? Nuanced and hard to describe.

Of course, Occam's razor suggests that it's not too hard to describe, I just don't get it. And I'm okay with that too.

Nah. That can't be it.

Scot said...

it always tends to get long and boring... and confusing

On my blog, I don’t give such a second thought :-).

It's some subtle begging the question.

Seems like a simple design to me, though with complicated results, and I’d love to understand from start to finish how you believe any human action happens, if you’d take a post requests ;-).

While I sacrifice desires all the time, particularly short term pleasures, I simply don’t see how anyone chooses to do that which they don’t first experience a want for above other options. To say, out of two options, an entity wanted most his hand to reach for one but the hand instead reached for another, to me, describes an involuntary action.

And of course I’m concerned about people’s motivation. They’re the number one cause of the motion of muscles, from trigger fingers to transporting people to ballot boxes :-).

I guess I can't get away from the idea of a natural and spiritual nature in the same person that are often in conflict--frequently wanting completely opposite things. You seem to see an individual as cohesive--with only a single will.

No, I’ve not been clear then.

We are always in conflict. Do I want a candy bar, or health? Money, or to not be a thief? We can literally watch the battle in our minds on a MRI, if we pit the right parts of us against another. In some cases we could even predict the winner quite well, even before an action is taken. For example, in that trolley car post I made a while back, here, the two combatants are thought to be the moral sense that simply says “do not kill people” located in the older portion of our brain vs. the more nuanced recent moral sense that says “kill 1 man to save 5”. Also, that seems to be an easy translation to what you’re calling spiritual vs natural desires.

I hope I didn’t give the impression it’s not a war zone in making moral decisions. It certainly can be a messy battle. But to say you don’t do what you’re most compelled to do seems to declare the winner of the battle the army left dead on the field, not the one parading through the conquered streets.