Book:The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex Is Too Important to Define Who We Are by Janell Williams Paris
This is a rather frank and engaging book about human sexuality with a focus on issues surrounding gay and lesbian identity issues. The author argues (quite effectively) that the categories we have given to sexual preferences (for example, “homosexual”) is harmful to a full understanding of human sexuality. By forcing the categories onto people, we inadvertantly create a crisis of identity that doesn’t need to exist.
A few months ago I read Masuzawa’s “The Invention of World Religions.” She makes the case that prior to the 1900s we didn’t identify Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism as monolithic religious blocs. By creating the category of “world religion” we erase the diversity and differences within these religions and understanding them less. This is similar to Paris’ argument regarding sexual identity categories. The invented social construct, in this case the meaning we infuse into the concept of homosexuality, is not something embraced by scripture (or by historical Christianity). Because of this, it is futile to attempt to discuss homosexuality from a biblical perspective using this construct. Instead, Paris suggests, we need to address issues of sexuality in a different way than to just say, “homosexuality is sin.” Paris holds to a historic Christian view regarding the morality of homosexuality. However, she doesn’t believe we should accept the identity-based version that we must contend with in contemporary culture.
In my experience working in a Christian organization, same-sex issues are difficult to discuss in a frank and open way. Paris, speaking from the perspective of an anthropologist, is able to very directly address the issues at hand without reducing the conversation to simple platitudes. This is a much more thoughtful and nuanced discussion of sexuality than one typically finds from a Christian author (there are a few sections which are startlingly frank so consider yourself warned). She argues instead for sexual holiness – a more positive approach than the condemnation of sinful acts.
It’s easy for us to thoughtlessly discuss issues of homosexuality using the “identity categories” of sexual orientation. Paris challenges this way of thinking which she calls a worldly system. After reading this it did strike me as odd that we encourage people to identify themselves on the basis of their sexuality.