When you boil most religions down, the core elements are almost identical. If you follow everything that's central across all of them, you'll be doing pretty good.
For young people, I know when I was a teacher or talking to young people today, for many of them, their church community was not appealing to them. But for many people, they were very appealing places. It was a place where you felt community, and made friends, and if you went to church camp or whatever, it was a very positive experience for them and they had a personal relationship with Jesus that was very life-giving to them. But then the whole stance against homosexuality, it's hard for them to dismiss what was so wonderful for them.
My view was that organized religions are sort of the middle men. It's sort of like the Internet, there's a lot of ways to get stuff now without adding all that extra cost onto things.
I've always felt the same way. People ask me that, 'Well, what are you now?' But I have a personal relationship with God. I used to say that about confession in the Catholic Church, where if you sin you go to a priest for confession, and I would always say, 'Well, why do I need to tell the priest, and then the priest tells God? Why can't I just tell God? Why do I need this middle man?' And that's where my spirituality is today. I don't belong to anything organized, but I still have a really strong prayer life and a strong connection with God. I would like to find a place where I could worship, just because I think community is a very strong thing. I think it's great to spend time with a group of people together worshipping.
But even, as much as I think they do good work and that, the MCC seems to exist too much in opposition to the other side. There's this whole 'We accept you here' thing that just seems like... just do your thing, we know why we're here. To me, I'd rather it be a source of positive energy, but there is always that underlying reference to other options being negative that always seemed a bit off to me.
Like 'We have the right way of doing it, and they're wrong.'
I think anything spiritual has to come entirely from positive energy. Not 'We know the way the bible was supposed to be interpreted.' But back to the book, there are obviously people who are going to thin that this is entirely your story. You're Vito. And you have to accept that on some level...
It doesn't bother me because I think Vito's story is my story ... the heart of his story is my story. The experience that he goes through were not all of my experiences. Like I said, I was a brother for six years, and the novel takes place over one summer. I don't mind if people think that everything that happened to him really happened to me, because at the heart of it, his struggle of really trying to have a full life that incorporates spirituality and sexuality really was my struggle. And the other thing for me is, the book seems to be so heavy for people who kind of hear that or read a little blurb or see the religious imagery. They may think it's a very heavy book. I really wanted to just, one of my main goals really, was just to tell an entertaining story. I wanted people to read it on an airplane ride and have it be a page-turner and be enjoyable. So that's why it's humorous at parts, but I wanted to touch on things that are more serious. A lot of gay novels are fluff, you know? They're beach reads and they're about circuit boys, and there's nothing wrong with that. They're entertaining books. I just wanted to tell an entertaining story that wasn't about that, but maybe made you think a little bit, too.
Even though Vito has this struggle in the book, it never seems he's in constant angst and feels the weight of the world on him. It's almost like, in the back of his mind, this stuff keeps coming up. It's almost like he only sees an option with two paths and wherever he is, he's thinking of the other path.
Which I think is true for a lot of people who are young. At my age, I can see looking back at that, there are two options and you've got to choose one or the other. I think that happens too people when they're young. You feel like that's the way it is. One of the first blurbs I got for the book was from Felice Picano and he wrote that it's a book he would recommend most to younger gay and lesbian people, simply because of that reason. So many young people feel like, 'This is it! These are the options.' And as you get older, you realize things don't have to be so divided.
At my age, I'm happy when anything's black or white! Grey seems to be everything. But when I go on Oasis, everything is black and white.
But that's why I wanted to set it in that time period, to bring people back to what was going on, and you forget now, but it was really shocking for people when Madonna would wear the rosary beads around her neck, and it was very scandalous that there was this religious image.
She got that again this year for being on the cross. She's never stopped.
That's true. Even when she had her children baptized in the church, people would say, 'Well, how can you do that?' Both times, she wasn't married and had this very kind of sexual life. People were like, 'Why are you baptizing your kid in a church, that doesn't make sense.' Even myself, when I do visit my family for Christmas or whatever, like you do, I go, and I get something out of it.
I kind of flip it around, almost. I go because I know they get something out of it. And it's important to them that I go with them.
As for me? Not as much. But it seems to have enough benefit for them that I can pass it off. Even though I don't have anything official, it's kind of a Buddhisty, Tao Te Ching... I'm really into Wayne Dyer a lot. It's all spiritual, but it has no connection to any one religion. On paper, you can plant what I do in the middle of any organized religion, and I'd be fine.
Right. And what you're saying, even what he writes about, that is really the basis of what every organized religion started out to say. But then, like anything organized, once you organize things you come up with rules and a hierarchy, a leadership that says 'We're going to do things this way,' and you really move away from what the core of it is.
I think my biggest thing with being Roman Catholic was that I was never able to buy in that you were a sinner from the moment you came out. I mean, they just start negative.
It's a religion founded on guilt. 'We're here to save you from the guilt we know you're going to commit.' It's like, damn, give me a chance here!
That's true. I never really thought about it that way before.
Can't we all be on a path and sometimes we stray? Why focus on the straying and not the path?
To say that it's from birth, right. To me, there was always something nice. It was probably said to me in the right way. I was very lucky because I grew up in a time in the church where, when I went to school, the nuns and the priests and all that really were about that. Just feeling like, 'We all stray. All of us.' Including them. That was the big thing, because even though I'm a priest or I'm a nun, we're all human and we all stray, and that's okay. And what's wonderful about our faith is that we can go to God at any time and say, 'OK, I messed up,' and I'm welcomed back. I'm not dismissed. I think it's unfortunate in a lot of Christian churches today, there's a sense of 'You messed up, so we're done with you.'
Poor Haggard doesn't have a job anymore.
And even with stuff like that, anything that has to do with sex, even just talking about sex or straight sex, sex is just not part of religion and I don't understand why if it's part of our makeup why these two things have to be so divided.
Well, even their whole origin story is immaculate conception. They don't even want sex involved for their savior to be born. Not even then...
And there's a whole separate issue about the treatment of women in the church and in The Bible. But the funny thing is that most people I know who are religious, they don't have Bibles. Every time I'm home for Christmas, our priest does the exact same gospel so, as far as I know, my family knows 52 parts of The Bible. The Church whittled a lot of stuff out just to get it down to the Bible, they're really taking it down to a whole new level.
With me, a lot of times when I argue with people about the Bible and homosexuality, people expect that I know scripture really well.
It's there's in the book. You don't chapter and verse people in real life?
No, for me, when I wrote the book, I really needed to go back and find passages. Because, for me, that was never really a part of it. But I talk to people who know exactly where they are in the Bible and they can fight tooth and nail over the fact that 'It says this here, and so...'
But they'll say that stuff while eating lobster at the same time and still feel OK with it all.
That's why I write in the book, where he's teaching in the classroom, there's one kid who really comes from a family that is more fundamental and takes everything so literally, and that's why Vito gives them that little lesson of you can pick and choose things to make your arguments seem right. He says, 'How many of you are left-handed and how many are right-handed? I could say if you're left-handed, you're doing it wrong because most of the world is right-handed' and all that kind of stuff.
And people can chapter-and-verse each other without ever coming to a resolution. But as soon as anyone brings up any chapter or any verse, they're already off-message for me.
Exactly, I feel the same way. That's why it was never a big, big thing for me. And people always say, 'Why were you someone who was openly gay, going to clubs, had boyfriends, were bringing them over to meet your family, why did you want to join a church?' And for me, it was always because I really felt like I wanted to have a life of purpose and, unfortunately at the time, things were so divided for me, I thought the gay world as I knew it wasn't life's purpose, only because I was 17 and what I saw of gay life in Greenwich Village in New York was you went out, got drunk, went to clubs, and you had to wear the right clothes, and I was really only seeing that and I wasn't seeing anything outside of that. That's why I'm really glad things have progressed a lot for us, and for a young, gay person there's more of a sense of 'I can have more of a full life,' where I really felt at the time when I was coming out that I had just those two choices.
And it's been inferred quite a bit through the interview, but we should point that you have achieved a full life.
Yeah, we should say that. For me, it took leaving religious life to find that wholeness. And all those years where I prayed to be whole, it actually did happen for me in life. And that's the point that I wanted to share with people, that these things are not mutually exclusive. You can be an openly gay person with a whole life and still have a great relationship with whomever your creator is for you. That's really the bottom line of the book and of my life's journey.
So you left religion and found purpose.