Book Review of Light in the Closet: Torah, Homosexuality, and the Power to Change
by Arthur Goldberg, Red Heifer Press, Los Angeles, 2008, second printing 2009.
His Word to a Thousand Generations
Stephen & Janice Graham
Before being asked to review Arthur Goldberg’s book, Light in the Closet: Torah, Homosexuality, and the Power to Change, just about all I knew about the Jewish faith came from Fiddler on the Roof, Dr. Laura, and the novels of Chaim Potok. Now, after carefully reading 575 pages and filling many legal pad pages with notes I feel I have a bit better understanding of Judaism: of the utmost sacredness in which they hold their books of scripture, of the timelessness of their Holiness Code for sexual morality (Leviticus 18), and of their doctrinally-based obligation to offer hope and help to all souls struggling against unwanted thoughts, feelings, and conduct which are not in keeping with G-d’s will. The author means to educate the public in behalf of strugglers of his faith dealing with unwanted same-sex sexual attraction and behaviors, but reminds us that G-d’s everlasting Truth applies and should be available to all of His children for all time. (In this review I am respecting the Jewish custom used throughout the book of avoiding spelling out the name of G-d in case it should have to be erased.)
Ancient Wisdom and the Sacred
In his careful study of Torah prohibitions and G-d’s plan for His children, Goldberg implicitly calls for a general revival of and return to wisdom and a sense of the sacred. Here we are living in a world where many people care only about the superficial and fun, the here and now, the self and its pleasures. In a repudiation of the most fundamental duties of humanity, our culture no longer concerns itself with the dead and the aged and what we must learn from them, or with the unborn and the young and what we must leave for them. All privileges go to the current movers and shakers. Thus we see our huge individual and national problems with spending, debt, hedonism, abortion, euthanasia, and the demand and creation of new sexual “rights.” Turning our backs on the past and shrugging our shoulders regarding the future, we’ve lost interest in and reverence for the sacrosanct, exchanging it for the false, the vain, and the foolish.
Goldberg reminds us that wisdom is an understanding of reality and truth that ultimately gives the only real consolation. He asserts that G-d’s ancient word must remain our guide, that any sexuality other than what G-d decrees is sexual disorientation, and warns us that we live in a climate of sexual indulgence and experimentation that is out to deliberately corrupt young children. “Once we throw away the compass of right and wrong bequeathed to us by ancient wisdom, we find almost everything to be subjective in opinion–usually the result of a little self-indulgence and a good deal of creative rationalization. By contrast, the Jewish People have lived for well over three thousand years in accordance with a deeply rooted persuasion that morality is not some vague notion of living in a general state of rosy self-satisfaction, but a specific and intricately defined set of dos and don’ts . . . that regulate every possible aspect of public and private life” (5).
Throughout the book is an overwhelming sense of compassion for those who, damaged by abuse and influenced by pervasive wrong ideas, have separated themselves from G-d and personal growth through temptation and transgression, who are miserable with “sexual conflictedness . . . in which one’s arousals, fantasies, behavior or sexual identity conflict with one’s deepest religious beliefs and values” (8) and who yearn for a way back toward the authentic self, truth, and the sacred. “For Jews, ‘establishing boundaries’ means respecting the differences between sacred and profane, permitted and forbidden, pure and impure, man and woman, human and animal—because that is the way of peace and well-being, and it is through inner peace and physical and mental well being that a person develops his or her fullest potential” (226).
The Holiness Code
“Nowhere are the contradictions between Jewish teachings and today’s cultural climate more evident—or more profoundly confusing to the individual—than in the area of sexual morality and conduct” (107). Anyone can see that in practically all denominations of worship has crept a milquetoast attitude toward reality, a shyness toward truth, a weakening of doctrine. Reports Goldberg of the Jewish faith, “Most recently, even the Conservative Movement has attempted to develop a ‘new age’ theology that redefines sexual morality in a way that legitimizes the theory and practice of homosexuality. Meanwhile, the Orthodox community stands firm, also bearing the brunt of politically correct criticism and opprobrium” (104-5).
Goldberg gives mighty evidence that there is no ambiguity in orthodox Judaism when it comes to G-d’s boundaries for human sexuality, both in thought and deed. The Holiness Code is clear. Sexuality is either holy or a desecration, with nothing in between. As Goldberg puts it, “How can one advance in the path of spirituality when one is enslaved by one’s own physical desires and passions and entangled in a web of reciprocal sexual exploitation? Spirituality, or the devoted quest for the deeper meaning of life and of the universe, demands a focus away from one’s bodily appetites and cravings. This principle has been fundamental to all the world’s great religions . . . Judaism was the first religion to articulate this principle clearly, accomplishing this by making the laws of human conduct paramount over bodily desires and needs” (101). But today, repudiating the Torah is being done “in a desperate attempt to fashion a pro-gay theology that will satisfy political correctness and accommodate the growing power of the gay lobby and their media friends” (173).
Seeing all this occur, Goldberg co-founded Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality, which he informs us has now been renamed to Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing because of the increased demand for help and resources in all areas of sexual brokenness. JONAH is one of several organizations bravely dedicated to spreading knowledge of the causes, nature, treatment, and religious implications of same-sex sexuality. JONAH helps individuals who struggle with any condition “in which a person’s sexual behaviors, desires or fantasies are inconsistent with the Torah’s treatment of sex as pure, holy, and the private and exclusive domain of marriage between man and woman” (9). Goldberg goes to great pains to give scriptural foundations of G-d’s boundaries for human sexuality, and then goes to even greater pains to persuade readers that the sexually broken can avail themselves of the possibility of healing, a change of heart, forgiveness, and spiritual growth. As Rabbi Dresner stated, “the first lesson in holiness is to remain sexually pure” (177).
As is necessary for any book sincerely addressing homosexuality today, the author brings us up-to-date with gay activism, how in recent decades this vice was systematically transformed from an act to a condition to an identity and a cause celebre with the help of sexualized education and media systems and the public blessing (49). He chronicles how our society has been conditioned to reject G-d’s rules for sexual morality (Holiness Code), making homosexuality, in the words of the gay activists Kirk and Madsen themselves, an abstract social question thereby distracting the public from “the grim realities of homosexual behavior” (55). Gay activists now work to lower age of consent laws and aggressively model and promote homosexuality in our schools through panels, books and booklets, instructions in gay sex, providing information on where to meet gays, acting out in skits and plays, all without parental notification or consent. Goldberg rightly calls this movement “the sexual brainwashing of school children” being carried out under the false pretense of promoting safer schools.
Goldberg quotes John McKeller, leader of a group called HOPE (Homosexuals Opposed to Pride Extremism): “Introducing kindergarten and grade one students to alternative behaviors and lifestyles is psychological pedophilia. You don’t have to engage solely in physical contact to molest a child. You can diddle with their minds and their emotions. And this is exactly what some of my radical brothers and sisters are up to. And this is exactly what a disheartening majority of educators, school trustees and teachers unions endorse” (97).
Tragically, the scientific community also continues to succumb to radical homosexualism, beginning with the politically-pressured removal of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s manual of disorders in 1973. This travesty has reached a point where most psychiatrists today are treating sufferers according to widespread gay propaganda rather than reliable science, responsible ethics, proper therapy, and the client’s own wishes. Generously sprinkled through the book are testimonials from real sufferers and ex-gays. One ex-lesbian says, “People like myself have been politicized out of getting the help we desire by the one-sided arguments presented by the gay lobby” . . . [F]inding no one respecting my desires, I set about reading everything I could get my hands on . . . Nearly a decade later, I have experienced the shift to a heterosexual orientation along with an exponential improvement in overall well-being.” (40).
Incredibly, many professionals now insist that homosexual tendencies must be affirmed (including through the use of pornography and sexual experimentation, even for young teens) and that an invention they call “internal homophobia” is really the cause of the unhappy homosexual’s suicidal misery. “What has happened, in essence, is that political correctness in regard to homosexuality has substantially eroded the right of a patient to be fully informed of all treatment options and to determine his or her own therapy” (40). “So when a therapist encourages a resistant SSA client to live his fantasies and enjoy them at the cost of his or her ‘personal value system,’ that therapist is actively working to degrade the meaningfulness of that client’s life” (42). Two must-read case studies in chapter two chronicle tragic results of this highly misguided and abusive pseudo-professional course of action.
Speaking of professional care, Goldberg devotes an entire chapter to the tragedy of “sexual reassignment surgery” by which deep emotional and mental problems are merely artificially masked by the mutilation of healthy bodies by medical doctors. He reports a study in which it was found that SRS is actually cooperating with a mental illness and that these people’s basic problems remained unchanged after surgery. Said Dr. Paul McHugh after ordering the SRS clinic at Johns Hopkins closed in 1979, “We have wasted scientific and technical resources and damaged our professional credibility by collaborating with madness rather than trying to study, cure, and ultimately prevent it” (286).
A stunning story not to be missed is contained in the page notes about a five-year-old boy who exhibited all-around effeminate behavior and repeatedly demanded his penis be cut off. Fortunately, rather than steer the boy’s parents toward SRS, the MD they consulted (a member of the American College of Pediatricians), astutely looked into the environmental and medical factors that could be causing the child’s problems, and found several, including a painful medical condition affecting the boy’s penis (263-4).
No, Goldberg is not squeamish, and neither can the serious reader be. He devotes sections of the book to the strong Jewish judgment against masturbation, pornography, child sexual abuse, and bestiality. Here are some tidbits: “The habit of masturbation . . . renders many homosexual persons vulnerable to promiscuity. First, fantasy and masturbation, then cruising the haunts, and later, finding someone for a one-night stand” (233). “[T]o abuse a child for sexual gratification is to violate that child in body and mind and soul at an age when all three are defenseless” (217). Citing new-age bestiality advocates (yes, they exist), Goldberg points out that “because animals are unable to be fully informed, communicate consent, or speak out against the abuse,” bestiality is animal sexual abuse (223).
Contrary to the unabashed one-sided sexual propaganda we are increasingly bombarded with, Goldberg believes that sexual disorientation should be looked at with an objective eye that distinguishes between normal and abnormal, right and wrong, health and sickness, personal fulfillment or personal frustrations. Along with great thinkers throughout the ages, he points out that the normalization of sexual vice levies a huge cost to both the individual and society as a whole.
Real science, as opposed to junk science founded on intimidation from activists, proves that G-d’s traditional boundaries for sexual morality, that is, confining sex to man-woman marriage, are best for human society, for families, and for individuals. As A. Dean Byrd, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, noted, in Light in the Closet Goldberg does “a masterful job bringing the truths of science in harmony with the Truth of the Ages.”
Goldberg points out that without rules and laws for human conduct, only the opinions and fashions of the moment remain (215), and why should those be trustworthy? Of course today’s trendy political correctness here is doing more harm than good, whereas the Holiness Code, by any other name, is still as true and as important as ever for everyone, G-d’s word to a thousand generations.
Bridging the GAP
In our reading we learn that “Torah sees sex in general as an enormously powerful force of nature that needs to be harnessed and controlled in order to realize its full potential for good” (108). We understand the Jewish belief that homosexuality “constitutes activity that will diminish an individual’s capacity to fulfill, in his own life, G-d’s expressed plan for creation. . . and achieve his full potential as a human being” (115). And we see that in Judaism “compassion does not mean condoning or remaining silent in the face of another’s errors” (104). Now, we ask, what is Goldberg’s solution? Is there hope for Jewish people with unwanted SSA who desire sexual orientation in accordance with their personal value systems? What should replace misguided public legitimization, corrupted science, and demoralizing oversexed gay-affirming therapy?
The overwhelming message in Light in the Closet is that there is hope and help for those with unwanted sexual disorientation. According to traditional Jewish teachings, the power of repentance is unlimited and homosexuality is a reversible transgression. Change for the homosexual is distinctly possible from the inside out.
In Goldberg’s experience, the Jewish homosexuals he has known are unwitting victims stuck in the middle of a reprehensible trilateral attack. On one side are militant gay activists who insist they cannot change, on another side are ultra-conservatives who loathe them, and on the third side are misguided and unethical psychiatrists who urge them to accept their gayness while ignoring their patients’ wishes and deeply-held, conflicted value systems.
Asserting, with the support of real science, that sexual attraction is primarily an acquired and not an inherited characteristic, and that sexual freedom always leads to self-destruction, not to mention social decline as shown throughout history (173-4), JONAH promotes GAP (gender affirmation process) through free will and free choice as the panacea for the problem of unwanted same-sex sexualization and sexual conflictedness. GAP seems to emphasize two equally important factors: (1) the necessity of rooting out the causes of a person’s homosexuality and (2) affirming the gender of one’s birth. Indeed, behavior will change as a bi-product of intense self-examination of past issues and true gender rediscovery (as encoded in one’s DNA). A great portion of the book is devoted to these two issues, including scientific research studies, clinical technics, and case studies from professional experts. As to sexual reorientation therapies for those with unwanted homosexuality which are much maligned by gay activist propaganda, even pro-gay scientists admit there is no harm. In fact, studies show a high level of success in development of healthy and wholesome heterosexual attraction as a result of reparative, gender-affirming therapy.
Not to be missed, especially in chapter 15, are the experiences and testimonials of ex-gays who have been helped to reorient to heterosexuality through JONAH and GAP. Not only do individuals break free of obsessive, harmful, and indecent behaviors, but they free themselves from inappropriate sexual fantasizing and arousal. Yes, says the Talmud and other sources, thoughts can be sinful and harmful, and thought patterns can be changed: “The thought of sin is worse than the actual sin.” Perhaps my favorite quotes in the entire book are: “[T]o engage in sinful thought is to sin with the noblest portion of the self” (201) and “It is not a light thing to restore one’s purity of soul” (380). Indeed, this applies in both homosexual and heterosexual contexts, and every circumstance. We all can and must submit not just the physical body but the inner vessel for divine cleansing if change is to be sincere and lasting. Goldberg provides a good description of what it takes to change from The People Can Change website:
“A man with homosexual attractions will usually maintain them unless he consciously surrenders them. [. . .] [S]urrender is letting go. It is choosing to release specific obstacles–whatever is holding you back and hurting you. It is a deliberate mental, emotional, and spiritual attitude of giving away these obstacles to G-d . . . in a spirit of humble trust in the wisdom, strength and goodness of the Divine Power.”
Yes, people can and do change, if they so desire. Thousands have changed. One psychotherapist and recovered homosexual urges the religious community toward a proactive attitude: “Let us promote true healing and restoration by getting involved, reaching out, and being there for those who wish to change. Remember this is a behavior, not an identity. Each man and woman who experiences same-sex attractions is somebody’s son or daughter . . . We must not sell them out by making new laws or modifying religious doctrine” (347).
But Goldberg astutely shows us we will encounter other problems. “The question still remains: how do we handle the ‘self-declared homosexual’— the man or woman who has openly adopted a gay lifestyle, sees nothing wrong with what he or she is doing, and even goes around aggressively advertising his/her views?” In response he determines: “There is no reason why behavior disrespectful of the community should be tolerated just because the person doing the misbehaving happens to be gay. Clearly, the community of Torah-observant Jews has just as much right as any other to bar or expel those who would come to shul (synagogue) to scoff, to shock, or to provoke trouble. Moreover, little can be done, in the short term, for the militant homosexual who angrily rejects all efforts of outreach and reintegration.”
Goldberg adds: “It goes without saying that healing programs cannot coexist side-by-side with gay advocacy programs disguised as ‘diversity training.’ As now taught in the elementary, middle and high-school systems, several ‘diversity’ courses actually encourage students to experiment with homosexual acts, and even counsel them where to go for homosexual encounters.” He goes on: “Moreover, it should be obvious that a society that honors Torah-based sexual morality cannot support legislation that attempts to establish, or results in the establishment, of homosexuals as a special protected class. To enact special legislation legitimizes the unhealthy behavior of broken men and women in need of true love and understanding.” The author notes that one thing that is surely needed, then, on a society-wide scale, is education as to the causes of SSA and the importance of embracing one’s authentic male or female gender identity (352-3).
Still, Goldberg’s primary concern seems to rest with the same-sex attracted person’s relationship with G-d. Homosexuality, in the faithful Jewish mind, is a sin that erodes this relationship more deeply and more radically than the more “ordinary transgressions.” Interestingly, Goldberg quotes Freud: “‘Homosexuality represents the acceptance of a neurotic resolution of conflict with the oedipal father in a way which will eventually distort one’s relation to the Heavenly Father.’ How this distortion or alienation develops can vary. It may manifest in anger and deliberate loss of emunah (faith in G-d) owing to an apparently unanswered plea for salvation. Or, it may involve recourse to intellectual sophistry in an attempt to ‘reinterpret’ the words of Torah and Talmud so as to make homosexuality appear consistent with G-d’s will” (354).
Someone said that an attempt to tidy up reality is to succumb to the sin of pride. This seems to be the case when it comes to the public embrace of the indulgent political correct homosexualism of the day. Where can one find the truth about the “grim realities” of homosexuality in a culture of people more interested in being cool, popular, and worldly than in standing for health, goodness, and rightness? Indeed, animosity against normalcy and against religion are nurtured in gay society (503). And the push for gay marriage is practically a hoax with only between 1% and 5% of gay couples actually tying the knot, and those numbers are dropping (504). Homosexualism today is not about marriage and family, rather it disparages the nuclear family ideal. It’s not about committed loving relationships, rather it is overwhelmingly and inordinately promiscuous and transient; the incentives for staying together are missing or illusory (519). It is not about reality, rather it mocks and harms the human body and its natural biological functions. The gay lifestyle is overwhelmingly and inordinately dangerous and life-shortening. Most especially, the innocence and safety of children are being sacrificed to this deceptive and false idol that has become the national taste.
One can find plenty of reality, uncomfortable as it may be, in this book. Rather than going through the gyrations required to squeeze shut the door of the crammed closet many young people are “coming out” of into a life of sexual disorientation and self-destruction, Goldberg allows the door to fall open and the tragic mess to fall out. Pulling the string attached to a 100-watt bulb, he shines the light on a jumbled mountain of human error and pain, the sorting and cleaning out of which he has found is prerequisite to a sparkling soul and a free life uncluttered with escapist addictions, suicidality, failed relationships, chronic illness, disease, and early death.
I’ll conclude with a success story in the words of one Jewish struggler who went through reorientation therapy and in the process discovered G-d and His timeless truths for all generations.
“Whereas I used to be totally preoccupied with my SSA issues, I am now more and more occupied with Torah—G-d’s design for creation—and His Teachings for mankind. I am now connected with an inexhaustible well of wisdom that makes a difference in how I live, what I do, and the meaning and significance of everything I encounter in life. And wow, what a difference it has made. I am not just saying this either – people have told me that they have seen me change significantly. (Yes, for the better!) The path He has lit and on which I travel is indeed a journey of discovery, learning, growing, and progressing.”
--Stephen and Janice Graham, Standard of Liberty
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