Chaos, Law & God: The Religious Meanings of Homosexuality

59 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2012

See all articles by Jay Michaelson

Jay Michaelson

Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Brown University - Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior

Date Written: September 16, 2008


What is the meaning of homosexuality in contemporary religious-political discourse? Though some explain homosexuality's disproportionate prominence in terms of homophobia, "church and state," or traditional values versus progressive ones, this article suggests that the legal regulation of sexuality has a specific religious meaning: sexuality is a primary site in which religious law is engendered, where the lawfulness of religion meets the chaos beyond it. Arguments about gay rights, same-sex marriage, and related issues are not merely arguments informed by religious values; they are arguments about the nature of religion itself.

The article begins in Part II by providing a taxonomy of the claims from the New Christian Right (“NCR”) regarding homosexuality and comparing those claims to Biblical text. While the Bible does not regard homosexuality as the NCR does, it shares the basic underlying concern of order and chaos. Most contemporary anti-gay arguments cluster around notions of family, pathology, and the decline of civilization. The Biblical texts of the Old Testament, however, focus on purity and impurity, order and disorder on the physical plane, and those of the New Testament are about creating so-called “natural order” by subsuming the physical to the spiritual. Yet the basic concern regarding order and chaos is similar: in both cases, the deeper meaning of homosexuality is chaos.

In fact, Part III suggests, NCR leaders are not entirely incorrect that liberated sexuality is indeed a threat to the mythic nomos of religion as they understand it. According to the developmental models of Wilber, Piaget, Kohlberg, and others, liberated sexuality represents a change in the meaning of religion itself -- moving from a "mythic" understanding of religion, in which fixed norms and narratives order society (and indeed the cosmos itself) to a "post-mythic" one , in which such structures are subject to liberal, individualist, and other potentially fluid values. And from the perspective of mythic religion, the post-mythic is anarchy. Indeed, two very different sets of GLBT thinkers -- queer theorists and the gay spirituality movement -- celebrate this very possibility.

Biblical concerns about law and chaos are still with us today, as described in Part IV of the article. Now as then, sexuality is the site at which legal-religious order is contested. Although the reasoning differs, liberated sexuality threatens the mythic nomos and its notions of order and disorder now as then -- especially when applied to mythic structures such as marriage. And now as then, neither conventional liberal theory nor the pathologization of homophobia is adequate to the practical task of religious state change. In its final section, the article draws on the work of Robert Cover and Kenji Yoshino to conclude with an account of how experiential encounters, peak experiences, and world-shattering moments of growth are the most effective means in moving from one stage of religious development to another.

Suggested Citation

Michaelson, Jay and Michaelson, Jay, Chaos, Law & God: The Religious Meanings of Homosexuality (September 16, 2008). Michigan Journal of Gender & Law, Vol. 15, No. 41, 2008, Available at SSRN:

Jay Michaelson (Contact Author)

Brown University - Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior ( email )

Providence, RI 02912
United States

Hebrew University of Jerusalem ( email )

Mount Scopus
Jerusalem, Jerusalem 91905

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