Last week I shared a quote from Christian Wiman from his conversation with Krista Tippitt on the On Being Podcast;
“…doubt is so woven in with what I think of as faith that it can’t be separated. And I am convinced that the same God that might call me to sing of God at one time might call me, at another, to sing of godlessness. And that sometimes, when I think of all of this energy that’s going on — all of this, what we’ve talked about, these different people trying to find some way of naming and sharing their belief — I think it may be the case that God calls some people to unbelief in order that faith can take new forms.”
This quote caught my attention while I was driving through rural Ohio during my two-week academic intensive. I heard this quote through the filter of Queer Theology. Theology being any conversation or thinking about God or a higher power. As we talked last week, Queer theology is multifaceted, but is centralized on lifting and centralizing queer experience, liberating queer folks from the oppressions of homophobia and heterosexism, seeking the Divine in relationships with others, and deconstructing binary systems. All as a way and means to understand and relate to the Divine. After WildWood last week, Lu shared about a training they went to about transgender and gender non-binary for therapists and folks who work in mental healthcare. The presenter introduced the idea of a gender spectrum and shared that aside from the most perfect male and the most perfect female, everyone else, is transgender in some way.
On Sunday we made a spectrum graph and talked about what makes someone male or female? Dresses? Short hair? Penis? Being emotional?
Based on this chart, how many of us are perfectly female, or perfectly male? The premise is that there is no way that anyone is perfectly, 100%, male or female, and so, in the broadest terms, we are all transgender or gender queer in some way. Through this lens, gender is so much a fabrication of society and culture that even society and culture can’t live up to it. What we’re left with are impossible expectations not only on women, think photo-shopped models and Barbie Dolls, but men are also constrained by unrealistic societal expectations of what it means to be male, think ultra-masculinization, body-builder with no emotions, stoic. Anyone who doesn’t ascribe to live up to the expectations of “perfect male” and “perfect female” are challenging the gender binary. Queer Theory invites us to challenge these expectations in intentional and systematic ways. That we could imagine a world beyond limiting binaries. There are so many binaries that limit us.
So often, for any binary, the idealized archetype is a total stereotype, a conglomeration of idealized attributes that rarely, if ever, coexist in the same person. Sometimes we’re strong enough to be able to see it for what it is, but not always. Some are harder to let go of than others. That quote from Wiman started me wondering if faith/doubt/belief might not actually be the binary that we are led to believe. “…doubt is so woven in with what I think of as faith that it can’t be separated. And I am convinced that the same God that might call me to sing of God at one time might call me, at another, to sing of godlessness.” Perhaps Queer Theology isn’t just about breaking down binaries in our understanding of gender and sexuality in our relationship with the Divine, but Queer Theology is calling us to break down the constructed binaries of religion, to examine faith, belief and doubt too. Together, we drew faith and doubt as a spectrum like our gender. We had the Pope as our archetype for perfect faith and Darwin or Stephen Hawking as our archetype for perfect doubt. From there we filled in acts of faith and acts of doubt. We talked about fear vs. love and how often the opposite of faith isn't doubt, but fear.
Following the same premise from our gender spectrum, any act of doubt or faith would mean you are queering belief, queering doubt, queering faith. You are both faithful and doubtful. Despite what we have been raised, taught or acculturated to believe, I don’t think there is any such thing as perfect faith or perfect doubt. We are faith and doubt, all rolled into one. We are a conglomeration of all of these things, in differing proportions, moment to moment. The strength in our identity is that we are all of these things. We are a diverse multiplicity, and we experience that full breadth. So often doubt is construed to be the lack of faith, like it’s a bad thing, but just as there is a richness and depth in queering gender and existing in the both/and, there is a richness and depth in having doubt and faith. Doubt is not the absence of faith, any more than faith is the absence of doubt, they are together the presence of doubt and faith. Just as those who are gender queer are nether male or female but instead are a multiplicity of gender identities, we are nether people of faith or people of doubt, we are a multiplicity of faith and doubt together.