One of the perks of being a writer is that you also have to keep up on your reading. At a time when we all waste too much time frittering away on the screen, it is a Lent discipline of mine this year to have less screen time and more book time. I have a policy that I try to at least take a look at every book that comes across my desk. For many I don’t get past the first page–either because they are badly written or the content does not appeal to me or it it is simply repeating the same old stuff.
Because of this I often find myself reading two or three books at a time from totally different authors on totally different subjects. It’s my challenge to connect the dots and see unifying themes.
So over the last couple of weeks I found myself reading books by two Josephs. Joseph Sciambra’s memoir Disordered and Joseph Pearce’s biography of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, A Soul in Exile. Joseph Sciambra–for those who don’t know him, is a former gay porn actor. In Disordered he tells how, as a young man, he made his way to San Francisco and got involved in the gay scene. Joseph’s book is an unrelenting journey into the darkest of dungeons. Longing for the love of a true male friend, he falls into the trap of the homosexual lifestyle. Sciambra does not spare the reader the details, and anyone thinking of reading Joseph’s book should be warned-you will be confronted with scenes of utter, hellish deprivation. There are few writers willing to discuss the sordid and lurid extremes of the homosexual underworld, but Sciambra does not falter.
Sciambra is an angry, deeply wounded man, physically and psychologically raw, his health was ruined and he watched as numerous friends died from AIDS. But his searing account of the homosexual scene takes a surprising turn. He doesn’t go on a self righteous rant against homosexuals. For the most part he looks on his fellows with pity not with blame. In fact, now that he has returned to his Catholic faith, Joseph has a daring ministry going back into the Castro district with the message that God loves the guys who are trapped in cycle of sex and loneliness. Sciambra reserves his greatest ire not for the gay men, and not even for the pornographers and marketeers of the gay scene, but instead he rants mostly against the Catholics who are attempting to normalize gay sex.
He tells how, as a young man, a priest trusted by his family told him to be happy and accept his homosexual desires…to “just find a nice boyfriend.” He rails against Fr James Martin SJ and the “gay mafia” amongst the Catholic clergy. On social media he calls out Bishop Robert Barron and Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles for allowing gay propagandists at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. He does the research and publicizes on social media the numerous “ministries” across the Catholic Church in America that foster homosexuality and subtly seek to normalize gay sex under the guise of “building bridges”. While the Church he loves is bankrupted by lawsuits brought on my (mostly) homosexual abuse of young people he is astounded that the powers that be not only stand idly by, but give the nod to individuals and advocacy groups that have been banned by Rome because they condone homosexual behavior.
Why link Sciambra and Solzhenitsyn? We can’t pretend that Sciambra is a writer of Solzhenitsyn’s status. Disordered is uneven in parts. The story often drags and becomes somewhat confusing. As Philip Lawler has point out in his review, Sciambra could have used a good editor. However, what struck me in reading these two books was the righteous anger that produces a prophet.
Solzhenitsyn is famous for being a Jeremiah de nos jours. Whether he was raging against the inhumanity of the Soviet regime or raging against the decadent and superficial commercialism of the West, Solzhenitsyn, like Sciambra, spoke the truth to power, and for their efforts both men have been persecuted. What was most heartbreaking for both men was the rejection and ridicule they suffered from their own friends and the people they trusted most.
It is this rejection and persecution that gives their voice power and authenticity. The self righteous religious person who condemns “those wicked people” from the comfort of his suburban home and comfortable life will be ignored. We yawn, shrug and dismiss their self righteous rant. But Solzhenitsyn and Sciambra speak from the depths. They scream in the dungeons of the gulag, the sado-masochistic basements of the Castro, the loneliness of exile and the humiliating treatment of the proctologist. It is their suffering that denies the critic the luxury of dismissing them as self righteous suburban neurotics.
Sciambra regularly receives hate mail and death threats. He’s been marginalized, vilified and ridiculed not only by the homosexual community, but also by his fellow Catholics. When he attempted to discuss the secret homosexuality in a conservative religious order he was shunned and excluded, and his attempts to engage the svelte priests and prelates of the established Catholic hierarchy he’s given either a polite brush off by a lackey, and when that hasn’t worked aggressive threats have come his way. His requests for “dialogue” and conversations have, of course, been ignored by the smooth talking priests in suits who continually plead for “dialogue” and “accompaniment”.
So it has always been with those courageous men who are called to be prophets. They will be thrown into cisterns, jailed, lied about, ridiculed, rejected and hated for their efforts for men love darkness rather than light for their deeds are evil. Most astounding of all, of course, is that the fiercest persecution and most thoroughgoing hatred is not from the “sinners” but from the self righteous religious leaders. It is not so much the gay activists, but the politically correct bishops and priests who cast the stones.
Solzhenitsyn’s famous persecution by the Soviet regime is now the stuff of history and Pearce (who actually went to Russia to interview Solzhenitsyn) chronicles the whole story crisply and objectively, but with deep sympathy for the great man. He lays out clearly the system of oppression and calculated persecution by the Soviets, and one of the details that is most telling is that when Solzhenitsyn came to the West he observed that things were not really so different–but in the West the persecution was conducted by the media, the lawyers and the private interests rather than an overbearing bureaucratic collectivist government.
Sciambra would agree–as would any writer or commentator who dares to poke the hornet’s nest of contemporary Catholic decadence. There are many types of gulag.
Sciambra’s e-book is available on Amazon. Hard copies from his website here.