July 21, 2019 | 83° F

Queering faith, understanding spirituality without religion

Opinion Column: Reason in Revolt

As part of my journey for spiritual renewal, I searched for answers through various conversations I had with queer people of color who have struggled with their queerness and growing up in Christian households. Despite the pain endured from shame and condemnation coming from oppressive ideologies and hateful communities within major organized religion, like Christianity, many of my friends recognized their personal need for spiritual growth in their lives. And moving beyond religion, it’s part of a framework that contributes to the overall struggle of many non-white, non-christian folks of faith, who are the biggest threat to the white-supremacist and imperialist dominance.

For example, Western Christianity has been used as a tool for colonization. How channeling our indigenous blood points to pre-colonial communities, contrary to the belief that their savagery and lack of morals are what brought them to their destruction or assimilation, were destroyed because of the capitalization of violence. Many of these communities had distinct traditions, ideologies and spiritual practices that held them together, but eventually these indigenous people had to choose between dying to keep their cultures intact or find ways to survive to either assimilate or to keep their spirituality in disguise. As an Asian queer immigrant who grew up in an Evangelical Christian household, it was difficult to be part of a church that condemns my queerness as immoral and unspiritual. I realized that it was necessary for me to work together with people who struggle to fight for liberating, by using a critical and queer lens to criticize the past, to queer up the present with our actions and activism and to envision a liberated future.

Whenever I hear the argument that “It’s not the religion, it’s the people who use the religion as a tool for good or bad purposes,” I also remind myself of Audre Lorde’s quote, “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.” I cannot accept the fact that the same words people use to contribute goodness in society can also be co-opted for the hegemony of white patriarchal ideologies.

Another argument people use is that religion facilitates the need for spirituality, but can we envision a world where spirituality can exist outside of the domination of religion? While many denominations within these major religions are slowly accepting queer folks as part of their institutions, I challenge that that accommodation still upholds the dominant power of the Western Christian Church and is a cop-out from actual spiritual access, which should be a complete dismantling of hierarchies, positions and ideologies.

Many major religions were crafted from certain geographical spaces and needs, and created with distinct traditions and rituals. In an age where more people are claiming to be spiritual, but not religious and as I explore on how the queer body leads to a queering of faith, our experiences can be a basis on a possibly dominant spiritual norm that is not based on normative concepts, but is based on interaction between personal lived experiences and concepts.

As I claim my queerness as a personal and political identity, I discovered that my social justice activism brings a renewed vision of spirituality. My God is not confined in material, sacred texts and buildings. The God of Religion that upholds the status quo with rigid dogmatic institutions becomes this universal and non-gender God of Life that is less of a being and more of an essence of goodness that lives within us and around us. In turn, my faith in God becomes a faith in humanity and a just society, despite the ills of today’s society. 

My radicalized view of community is one that is inclusive of diverse backgrounds and spiritual practices. My vision of a spiritual community is composed of people who are woven by struggles and shared goals to end injustices, and ultimately and most importantly, an access to reclaiming spirituality for everyone without shame and judgment. An anti-capitalist spirituality that troubles and critiques binaries and borders. A spirituality that opens people to the unknowns instead of closing their minds and communities based on ignorance.

My argument is not that of the end of religion’s role in people’s lives and communities, as its spiritual essence has been a fuel for survival and resistance for many marginalized folks, but what I’m arguing for is the end for the co-optation and capitalization of spirituality.

Rachel Landingin is a School of Arts and Sciencs junior majoing in journalism and media studies with minors in art history and digital, media and information technology. Her column, “Reason in Revolt,” runs on alternate Mondays.

Rachel Landingin

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