Why Churches Fear Gay Marriage

 November 25, 2008                                                                                                 Salon

The crusade for Proposition 8 was fueled by the broken American family, explains gay Catholic author Richard Rodriguez

For author Richard Rodriguez, no one is talking about the real issues behind Proposition 8.

While conservative churches are busy trying to whip up another round of culture wars over same-sex marriage, Rodriguez says the real reason for their panic lies elsewhere: the breakdown of the traditional heterosexual family and the shifting role of women in society and the church itself. As the American family fractures and the majority of women choose to live without men, churches are losing their grip on power and scapegoating gays and lesbians for their failures.

Rodriguez, who is Mexican-American, gay and a practicing Catholic, refuses to let any single part of himself define the whole. Born in San Francisco in 1944 and raised by his Spanish-speaking Mexican immigrant parents to embrace mainstream American culture and the English language, he went on to study literature and religion at Stanford and Columbia. His first book, “The Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez,” explores his journey from working-class immigrant to a fully assimilated intellectual — angering many Latinos with his view that English fluency is essential. “Days of Obligation: An Argument With My Mexican Father,” which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1993, continued his investigation into how family, culture, religion, race, sexuality and other strands of his life all contribute to the whole, a complex “brownness” of contradictions and ironies. “Brown: The Last Discovery of America” completes the trilogy — but not his insatiable intellectual curiosity, which he is now shining on monotheism.

Rodriguez’ stinging critiques of religious hypocrisy are all the richer for his passionate love of Catholicism and the Most Holy Redeemer parish in San Francisco, where he and his partner of 28 years are devoted members. Today, Rodriguez is at work on a new book about the monotheistic “desert religions” — Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Ever since Sept. 11, “when havoc descended in the name of the desert God,” Rodriguez said in one of his Peabody Award-winning radio commentaries for PBS’s News Hour, he has been trying to understand the strands of darkness that run through these religions. (More)


Voyage to the top of the trees

June 8, 2007                                                                                                            Salon

Just as Jacques Cousteau opened up the oceans, amazing tree-climbers are discovering a new frontier in redwood canopies 35 stories above the forest floor. 

Flying around the planet via Google Earth, it’s easy to despair that there is nothing left for humans to discover. Having mapped every inch of the planet with satellites, we can type in London or Darfur or Redwoods National Park and see pigeons circling above Trafalgar Square, a tent city spreading out across the desert, or the green expanse of the forest canopy. This ability to instantly possess images of almost any place on any continent, to zoom in on a certain tree or building (hello, Dick Cheney!), then zoom out as if piloting a plane, can make the world feel like an entirely known quantity, bereft of mystery. 

Then comes Richard Preston’s thrilling, wondrous book “The Wild Trees.” Trees — the most familiar and beloved of all plants — turn out to be as unexplored by science as Tibet was by the West before Alexandra David-NĂ©el dressed as a man and sneaked over the Himalayas into the forbidden kingdom. The tree of life may be the archetypal symbol of the human experience, but we don’t know as much as we thought about the life of the tree — especially that of the redwood, the tallest species of tree on the planet. Higher than the W Hotel in downtown San Francisco, redwoods can grow to be 370 feet tall, and until very recently nobody thought, or dared, to climb them. 

But a new breed of tree-loving eccentrics — some of them are scientists, others have an almost mystical attraction to the species — has discovered a world above the forest floor, an aerial forest 250 feet aboveground teeming with biodiversity that is largely “undescribed” by science. “The forest canopy is the earth’s secret ocean,” Preston explains, “and it is inhabited by many living things that don’t have names, and are vanishing before they have even been seen by human eyes.” (More)