Nonfiction · Queer

Review of Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance by Jakobsen & Pellegrini

Read for the LGBT Challenge on Niji Feels. My other reading choices won’t be this academic, I promise!

What we have here is a case of mistaken marketing. The title, Love the Sin, and the cover (which contains mild, painted nudity and is not shown) give the impression of an in-your-face anti-religious political book. I was interested in the arguments but prepared to ignore the style in which they were delivered. Instead, this is a surprisingly academic book about the structure of social arguments in the United States. I assume it was a publisher’s effort to get people to buy the book, but still. The other downside is that it’s from 2003, so the authors aren’t able to speak about all the LGBT+ developments we’ve seen in the past few years.

However! It’s still a good book! Since it is essentially about argumentative structure, the specific examples aren’t so important. The essential thesis is that sex (and morality in general) are too linked with Protestant Christianity in the US. It’s so deeply embedded that even many Christians don’t realize they’re operating on that basis, they think they’re being secular. Jakobsen and Pellegrini argue for more sexual freedom and more religious freedom, making “freedom” a positive right. The current structure, which Jakobsen and Pellegrini term “tolerance,” has the dominant culture being exhorted to “tolerate” difference, which still sets up an unequal hierarchy. Instead, all people should be free to practice whatever religion they choose, and all people should be free to pursue the sexual practices they choose, (excepting harm to others of course). The authors explain that “freedom” does not mean the absence of ethics, but it allows for a truly democratic discussion of those ethics, and allows people to be legitimately equal. They go much, much deeper into this and various related issues, and it’s all fascinating.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff here, especially if you’ve been involved in any kind of social activism in the US. It’s a way of defending sexual freedom that you may agree with and be able to use if you’re an LGBT advocate, and the argument easily extends to other social issues. I’ve heard some of their arguments before, like how the government shouldn’t be regulating marriages at all, but I think their full-fledged position deserves more attention. Despite my repeated use of the word “academic,” it’s quite a short book. Finally, I should mention that despite the title, they’re not anti-Christian at all. Here’s a paragraph from page 61 that I think best describes what it’s all about:

If we were to move outside the framework of tolerance to a framework of freedom, we would be able to stand up for the victims of homophobic violence whether or not we thought homosexuality was a sin. It would be possible for those who believed that homosexuality is a sin to embrace the religious freedom of those who thought otherwise. This stance is not the tolerance of loving the sinner and hating the sin. It is the democracy of religious freedom in which one group’s idea of sin does not limit the freedom of those who believe and practice differently, in which laws are based on democratic processes, not on particular religious beliefs.

I don’t know about you, but I think that sounds nice.

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