He prowled back and forth across the room giving his prepared speech. The lecture hall of thirty or so students reduced itself to only me. Only me, and my faith, and my teacher.
There was something about confession, something about the personal betrayal, I thought, as he read from Foucault’s interview “Philosophy and the Death of God.” I was betraying myself every time I looked at him. I watched him from my seat in the very back of the classroom. I had promised myself that I would never let a man devour me again. Sure, I’m all for love, but the moderate kind of love, not the consumed by passion, lose yourself in him, live only for desire kind of love. And here I am again losing all my sensibilities, questioning everything.
He is talking about sexuality in religion today and I can’t help but laugh at how close the two really are. I mean here I am listening to this brilliant man talking about torture, confession, and the life of Christ – and I’m wet. He says that there is an intrinsic element of pleasure in torture. Isn’t that what life is, an endless charade, one moment playing the sadist, the next the masochist. In every relationship one person loves too much and the other loves too little and the one who loves the least has the power.
“Foucault believes the sexual defining of ourselves: who we sleep with, the terminology we’ve created for sexual preference is a prison we enclose ourselves in,” he said.
I felt like shouting, “free me from my prison, be with me, love me.”
“I’m going to show you a clip from the Martin Scorsese film ‘The Last
Temptation of Christ;’ I want you to think about how this relates to Foucault.”
The room darkened and I watched as the naked Mary Magdalene tried to tempt Christ with her body and He refused.
After he showed the clip I went out for a cigarette wondering if love was nothing more than a temptation. “Am I his temptation? I don’t want to be” I said to myself. Temptation is fleeting, it means nothing, it exists only in the resistance. I want something more; I want to be something more…to someone. I went back inside for the second half of the lecture.
“What happened last week, what was the film?” my friend Blue asked as I sat down. She had a habit of only showing up every other week and falling asleep when she did come to class.
“We watched this really weird French film, ‘The life of Jesus'” I whispered back as the lecture began.
“Oh, what was it about?”
“Basically it’s this French couple fucking non-stop. The guy has epilepsy, half way through the movie he and his friends rape this girl, his girlfriend finds out and breaks up with him. Then this Arab guy starts hitting on her and the ex-boyfriend finds out and beats him until he’s practically dead, the ex-boyfriend gets arrested, and that’s the end” I said.
“Oh…” she said, with a look of perplexity at the films the teacher chose, “that’s the French for ya.”
For the last two hours of class we watched “The Priest,” an English movie about a gay priest.
I watched the movie and I watched him, my teacher. There was something almost religious about it – the juxtaposed images of the church and its men of God and the object of my affection. I wanted an easy answer. I wanted him to save me…from myself, my bad habits with men, to give me a burning passion for something other than men, to inspire me. He was more than just an attraction, he stood for something. But as I sat in the hard metal chair contemplating and watching the movie, I thought, isn’t that how everything starts – big and full of possibility, only to become a meaningless exploitation of desire.
I thought about Blue, I knew she wanted him-the teacher; they all did. Every girl wanted him and every guy wanted to be like him, or at least hang out after class to be closer to the hot chicks who tried to impress him with their intellect. Blue worshipped his looks. I think that’s what good looking men want, to be loved only superficially. I thought about the class, what kind of secrets were they hiding? Had any of us really discovered the truth of ourselves? The truth only comes when the world turns against a person, forcing an inner world – the world of the self, which establishes guilt. From the guilt we begin to see the truth. How many of the short-skirted, heeled, blondes were intermittently floating and sinking on the tides of the inner self, consumed with guilt? Who was faithless? And who had nothing to offer their stomachs or their bank accounts but intangible faith? My eyes scanned the room searching for signs. I didn’t even know what I was looking for. Maybe that’s all one can do, search for someone guiltier to relieve the pressure; look for a bigger sin, a bigger confession, to diminish our own. Or maybe the answer is to find someone with more faith, to be inspired by.
I watched him, in the front row watching the movie. I put my attention back on the film.
The priest got caught by the cops, in a car with his lover. He was arrested and thrown out of the diocese. He had a choice, he could leave the diocese and cower in hiding or he could remain where he was, say fuck the bishop, and say mass with the only priest who would support him. It’s not really much of a choice, is it? Well, he chose both. He let his persecutors run him out of town and then decided to go back and face a congregation who despised him. I was inspired. The man had a true crisis of faith, was ridden with the guilt of who he was, questioned and challenged everything, and the world collapsed on him. He didn’t just give-up and take what was offered, he found truth. But why is it that these stories are always about priests? Everyone struggles with faith and I don’t just mean faith in God, I mean faith in general, in ourselves, in truth, in others, in love.
I looked over to my left in my half elated, half resigned, philosophical haze and saw Blue asleep with her legs sprawled out on the chair in the row ahead. I smiled. Maybe I’m just taking all this shit too seriously, and it is only a class. But I looked at him…him. I wanted so much to be with him. His black hair, tan skin, French accent. I wanted to be with him and I wanted to resist him because if I resisted him I wouldn’t be less than him. I would be in charge of my desires, not subjected to them.
The music began, the credits rolled and the lights came back on.
“Remember that your final paper is due next week” he said.
Blue stretched and yawned and asked me what she missed when she fell asleep. She leaned over next to me and said, “he is so hot isn’t he?”
“Yeah,” I said, “he’s alright.”
I pulled out Foucault’s “Sexuality and Solitude” to read on the train ride home. I walked to the station sad that I only had one more class with him.