- Religion and Sexuality: Diversity and the Limits of Tolerance ed. by Pamela Dickey Young, Heather Shipley, and Tracy Trothen
Beginning with the division of the book into three parts of three chapters each, Religion and Sexuality’s focus is firmly on the religious, and, in particular, Christian. In fact, one wonders why this edited collection is not called Christianity and Sexuality since it focuses nearly all its attention on this particular religion. Be that as it may, the contention of the editors is that too much focus has been on points of conflict between religion and sexuality, and this volume seeks to nuance this relationship to avoid unjust oversimplifications. In itself, this is a keen observation, and this volume itself is a product of a noble idea. However, the collective modus operandi of this volume’s nine contributors is a bit philosophically shallow, as they quickly and without argumentation assume that religion and gender are social constructs and then use this assumption to nuance the borders between religion and gender. While those who share the contributors’ philosophical assumptions will likely find many chapters in this volume rich and helpful, those who do not will find this volume only of moderate worth. [End Page 329]
Part One deals with issues surrounding religion and the construction of sexual minority rights. In chapter one Janet Jakobsen argues for the need to move beyond religious and sexual “tolerance” to religious and sexual “freedom.” She attempts to queer heteronormative and Judeo-Christian normative conceptions that merely tolerate others qua individual rights, arguing that these normative concepts need to be more radically challenged, allowing greater freedom to dissenters. Her analysis of different secularisms, in particular, Christian secularism, is helpful, but her imagined state of freedom beyond tolerance sounds, in places, a bit like a reversed form of oppression. In chapter two Pamela Dickey Young applies Jakobsen’s notion of Christian secularism to Alberta’s Bill 44—a bill having to do with the Alberta school board sending notices to parents when the subject matter in schools deals explicitly with religion and sexuality. The need to send notices to parents about these subject matters suggests a sense of the “severely normal,” which is alleged to be problematic. In chapter three Lee Wing Hin further explores how unexamined assumptions of normality apparently distort political discourse, but her focus is on the fascinating and confused pairing of ethnicity (Chinese) and sexual orientation (heterosexuality). However, Hin’s claim that Christian values are really at the root of this pairing is only somewhat convincing since she surprisingly says nothing about Confucian values, which are certainly relevant and complementary to the Christian ones here.
Part Two focuses more attention on how sexuality constructs religious identities. In chapter four Heather Shipley examines the history of the debate over the sex education curriculum in Ontario, which, though informative in places, is sadly already out of date. Along the same line, chapter five, by Andrew Kam-Tuck-Yip, which focuses on the intersection of religion and sexuality in the United Kingdom, feels somewhat out of place in a volume otherwise concerned with the Canadian context. In chapter six Catherine Holtmann applies a feminist care critique to what she sees as the Catholic Church’s de facto position on domestic abuse (i.e., a culture of silence). And while much of her chapter is convincing, it is both unoriginal and, in the context of this volume, oddly placed since it complements Nancy Nason-Clark’s thoughtful, balanced chapter (chapter nine) in Part Three.
Part Three examines the inextricable connection between sexual bodies and religious bodies. In chapter seven Donald Boisvert offers a thought-provoking piece of personal testimony—and a rather unimpressive piece of theory—about how his childhood adoration of young male saints encouraged his budding homosexual desire. Tracy Trothen’s chapter is an equally interesting piece, but hers pertains to the “religion of sport” and the debate about enhanced bodies. Yet as interesting as her piece is, the claim that sport is a...