A few weeks ago a friend phoned to tell me that after much painful inner debate she had concluded that she had to accept the Bible as the literal word of God, and that while God does not hate homosexuals, he does hate homosexuality.
Now before everyone gets worked up over what the Bible does and doesn’t say on the topic of homosexuality, I want to point out that theologians and Biblical scholars can’t agree on this topic, so we’re not going to solve it here in heated comments on Jessewave’s site. According to various Biblical interpretations, homosexuality is wrong. It’s a sin — depending on who you ask. Therefore my friend is not technically “wrong” for listening to her conscience, and while I was shocked and hurt by her words, I wasn’t angry. In fact, I find it impossible to be angry with other people’s religious beliefs, however weird or misguided they seem to me.
So my initial response to her was, “All right. I respect your beliefs. I still love you.” I have a number of conservative friends and family members and I was hopeful we might l manage to salvage some kind of friendship. However, after I got off the phone with her I began to think how difficult it would be to maintain a friendship with someone I am intellectually, philosophically, and spiritually opposed to.
The difference here was that, unlike my uncle the Franciscan priest, my friend was someone I met through my writing. We went on to become real life friends and I saw her on a regular basis. I kept coming back to the (possibly childish) idea that…she knows better.
“Why is this bothering me so much?” I asked my SO.
“Because we’ve had another death in the family,” he replied.
And that’s exactly the truth. I was mourning my friend as though she had died. In some way, she had — or at least the person I thought I knew, had. My understanding of who she was, and our shared core values, was apparently wrong.
And yet…she’s still a kind, caring person of great integrity. That hasn’t changed. It wasn’t easy for her to call me. I find it interesting that we had never discussed religion or spirituality in the course of our friendship, and it turns out that religion and spirituality are crucially important to both of us. We just happen to have conflicting viewpoints about our spiritual paths, and the more I thought about my instinctive response to her, the more I thought that perhaps it was more patronizing than loving. Essentially, I was treating her new-found belief like a bout of mental illness. Which is exactly how it seems to me.
This story doesn’t have a happy ending, by the way. It doesn’t have any ending at all. She will go her way and I will go mine, and I’m glad for the friendship we had. I do still love her although I believe she is wrong in just about every way it’s possible to be wrong.
What came of all this, though, was my reflection — because everything is grist for the writer’s mill — that spiritual struggle gets short shrift in m/m fiction. Apparently my friend had been struggling with her convictions for the three years I knew her. In fiction, these spiritual tug-o-wars tend to be comfortably resolved within a few hundred pages. In real life…they may never be resolved. Sometimes they lead to spiritual fulfillment. Sometimes they lead to religious wars. Sometimes they lead to warped, unhappy lives and a never-ending cycle of ignorance and fear.
Very few characters pray in m/m fiction. Even in my own work — and though I pray myself — I can only think of one or two instances where my characters pray. Of course that perception of godlessness may have more to do with the fact that I tend to avoid stories with religious themes due to initial exposure to romances about sexy priests getting it on. Yep, although I have my problems with organized religion, I have an ingrained dislike of get-your-freak-on monks, pedophile priests, hypocritical ministers, and murderous rabbis. Not that these things don’t exist, but their opposites exist as well, although they seem under-represented in our genre.
Could it be because m/m is still working to free itself from being categorized as erotica that the mix of religion and romance makes for odd bedfellows?
Anyway, I thought this month I’d throw the question out to the readers of this column and leave it to you to share your thoughts on spirituality in m/m fiction. If you’re a writer who addresses the topic, I think it would be informative to hear from you. And it’s always helpful to the rest of us to hear what readers think. What are your thoughts on the way religion is portrayed in m/m fiction? Is it addressed in a serious way or is it pretty much just another kink?