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Toby Johnson's books:
YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned
from Joseph Campbell: The
GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe
LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:
Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods
THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers
THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell
IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD: A Mystical Journey
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Articles and Excerpts:
Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
EnlightenmentYou're Not A Wave
Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging
What is Enlightenment?
What is reincarnation?
How many lifetimes in an ego?
Emptiness & Religious Ideas
Experiencing experiencing experiencing
Going into the Light
Meditations for a Funeral
The way to get to heaven
Buddha's father was right
What Anatman means
Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal
The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika
Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva
John Boswell was Immanuel Kant
Cutting edge realization
The Myth of the Wanderer
Change: Source of Suffering & of Bliss
What the Vows Really Mean
Manifesting from the Subtle Realms
The Three-layer Cake & the Multiverse
The est Training and Personal Intention
Effective Dreaming in Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven
What Religion Really Is
Spirituality for Our Global Community: Beyond Traditional Religion to a World at Peace
by Daniel Helminiak
Rowman & Littlefield
paperback, 204 pages, $24.00
Available from Amazon.com in soft cover
Spirituality for Our Global Community: Beyond Traditional Religion to a World at Peace
This review appeared in White Crane Journal #80, Spring 2009
Roman Catholic priest, theologian, minister to souls, beloved Dignity celebrant, and all around good guy turned psychologist, theoretician, college professor, popular lecturer, and interpreter of the “real meaning” behind religion, Daniel Helminiak is a real jewel in the gay spirituality movement—as well as in the modern American Catholic Church in general (I hope they’re paying attention). Helminiak’s writings are only indirectly gay-genre; he is addressing bigger issues, but he identifies himself as a gay man and claims this identity as bestowing a certain authority to speak critically about religion and he routinely uses homosexual cases in his examples. His book Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth, as the title shows, is specifically gay and The Transcended Christian: Spiritual Lessons for the Twenty-first Century is based in great part on talks he gave to Dignity. But his message is so much bigger than homosexuality and religion. He is actually deriving a new vision of what religion is—or at least could be. That he is doing it as a conscious and open gay man is real evidence of the role of gay identity in the transformation of human consciousness and the progressive evolution of religion.
Daniel Helminiak is a sentimentalist, but a no-nonsense thinker; he has no sentimentality for vague and foggy thinking. His major thesis, expressed in various ways through almost all his nine books and referenced explicitly in the title of one of them, Meditation Without Myth: What I Wish They’d Taught Me in Church About Prayer, Meditation, and the Quest for Peace, is that what is called “spirituality” is really about humanity, not about God or invisible metaphysical entities, even about so-called “afterlife.” He doesn’t entirely object to the idea of God—he clearly identifies himself as a theist, though saying the best description of God is Mystery. But he observes that there’s no clear answer to the multitude of religious questions about God and these questions are the source of so much human discord—and which paradoxically is contradictory to the teachings of the religions that are concerned about God. It would be better to set that question aside and find what the religions are good at and good for—community.
Spirituality for Our Global Community opens with a sentimental journey in memory back to “The Lost Paradise” of Helminiak’s youth in Polish Catholic South Side Pittsburgh in the 1940’s and 50’s. With loving memory, he recalls how traditional culture and common belief created an environment of meaning, camaraderie, happiness and safety. That’s what religion should do. Those good feelings and sense of mission and meaning in life propelled him into the priesthood as a way of giving good service to that loving community.
But, of course, as time passed he became aware of sexual feelings that didn’t fit the model of reality and he was forced—by his good will and holy intention—to more seriously question what was going on. Helminiak was fortunate in coming under the influence of Canadian Jesuit theologian, philosopher and methodologist Bernard Lonergan. From this amazingly insightful teacher, he learned to think rigorously about religion, myth and morality; he learned how to question—and to do so in a way that resulted in right answers, not just more vague, confused language and discord. That questioning then propelled him out of the active ministry, but for the very same high-minded, good-willed sentiments that had called him to it. He is now a college professor and teacher in the Atlanta area.
This current book follows Lonergan’s principles to articulate a human spirituality—the truth that underlies all the religions and allows them to generate positive community (if not necessarily to agree on how to express this mythologically, an issue which the no-nonsense logician in Helminiak doesn’t see productive anyway).
Following four transcendental precepts he learned from Lonergan: openness, inquisitiveness, honesty, and goodwill (which correlate with four aspects of consciousness: experience, understanding, judgment, and decision), Helminiak states the basis and method of his inquiry into spirit: Be open-minded, Be questioning, Be honest, and Be good-willed. He derives a cross-cultural, universally valid “generic spirituality,” inclusive of all views theist and nontheist, by delineating the human spirit and its unfolding psychologically. Helminiak argues that spiritual growth is tantamount to on-going personal integration and psychological growth (and he observes that for a gay person, psychological-spiritual integration of homosexuality sets the ideal, if not always attainable, goal for such personal growth).
The goal of religion and the goal of true psychotherapy (and “self-help”) is the same, fulfillment of the spiritual aspect of the human being in this life. What he means by “transcendent” and “transcendental” are not metaphysical entities, but the self-transcending, self-aware drive in human beings: we are able to think about our actions and to make decisions based in weighing evidence and seeking positive outcomes and holding intentions beyond our individual happiness and success. Human spirit is “intentional consciousness according to Lonergan, an inherent principle of self-transcendence, exemplified in the experience of marvel, wonder, awe, and in the fact that we ask questions and expect reasonable answers about ever new topics. As human, our consciousness is open-ended, opening out to what there is to be known and what there is to be loved. Helminiak says, “Spirituality is explicit dedication to the meanings and values, the ideas and ideals, the beliefs and ethics, that a person holds. Spirituality is primarily about the ongoing enhancement of the spiritual potential that is ours as human beings.”
These meanings and values, etc. are part of being human. It is part of our humanity to seek to fulfill ourselves psychologically. And that is what “virtue” and goodness are: the behavior traits of psychologically healthy and fulfilled human beings. We don’t need revelation to tell us what is right and what is wrong; we don’t need revelation to tell us how we ought to treat one another—and the Earth, for that matter. Human beings can develop ethics and morality directly from our own experience. And people worldwide would agree on basic ethics and morality (that they don’t is a sign that somewhere along the line “religion” has gotten in the way of open-minded, questioning, honest goodwill—and, of course, that’s the problem). Helminiak’s open-eyed analysis of “spirituality” provides the answer to the questions culture-bound religion gets in the way of understanding. And that common, generically human spirituality is our best hope for global community.
I commented above that this book is a great contribution to the work of the gay spirituality movement. By that I mean that Helminiak helps us to achieve the self-transcending, critical perspective on religion that I argue in my own writing is the real essence of gay spirituality—that is, our ability to use our “naturally gay” talents as outsiders/gender-blenders/social critiquers to understand and make sense of religion and to further its necessary evolution.
This is a wonderful book. In a way, I think, Daniel Helminiak is exactly right about almost everything. Now I hasten to add that the best part of reading this book was the cascade of self-talk, imaginary conversations and debates with Daniel in my mind and the intense moments of reflection and insight in my meditation practice that accompanied the experience. The book, however heady and deadly serious, is quite easy reading; Helminiak has developed a conversational style that pulls the reader right along with him. You might want to stop for a moment and argue with him about this or that, but you’ll keep reading and keep learning.
Daniel Helminiak doesn’t have much patience for magic and mysticism, fanaticism and superstition, what’re often the problematic parts of religion. But in a real way, he is a kind of prophet, teaching a new religion, not out of “divine revelation,” but out of good sense and hope for peace and satisfying community. What Helminiak calls “spirituality for a global community” is going to be the religion of the future. Inevitably the human race is going to wake up, and this is what they’re going to wake up to.
Reviewed by Toby Johnson, author of Gay Spirituality: Gay Identity and the Transformation of Human Consciousness, The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell and other novels and books
Toby Johnson, PhD is author of nine books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, four gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality and editor of a collection of "myths" of gay men's consciousness.
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They
YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth
of the Great Secret III tells the story of Johnson's learning the
real nature of religion and myth and discovering the spiritual
qualities of gay male consciousness.
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