Tillich, S&M, and Belle & Sebastian


So I’ve just finished my two first works in queer theology by Althaus-Reid: Queer God and Indecent Theology. The latter in my opinion is far superior and offers a strong internal critique of liberation theology. I’ll be sure to be post some separate reflections on both books over the weekend.

In ninth grade, my favorite album was Belle & Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister. While reading Althaus-Reid’s Indecent Theology today I recalled some of the lyrics from their song If You’re Feeling Sinister

“She was into S&M and bible studies
Not everyone’s cup of tea, she would admit to me”

This was one of my favorite songs off that album and it captures the cynical wit of Belle & Sebastian. I hadn’t though of this song in a long time, but Althaus-Reid’s commentary on Tillich brought it to mind.

Althaus-Reid writes “Mary Daly reminds us of Hanna Tillich’s memories of her late husband the theologian Paul Tillich, and how he was unable to confront the immediate reality of his life drawn as it was into sadmasochistic practices and bondage and which he replaced by theo-ideological abstractions…What is to be condemned and regretted is not that Tillich was a sadomasochist, but the fact that he did not find ‘the courage to be’ out of the closet of his sexuality; a sadomasochist theologian, for instance, reflecting on an issue of importance in his life and the life of others…An out-of-the-closet Tillich may have reflected on ‘leather salvation’ or at least dreamt of pleasurable options to Vanilla Christianity. His taste for photographs of crucified young woman tells us so” (Althaus-Reid, Indecent Theology, 88-9).


3 Responses to “Tillich, S&M, and Belle & Sebastian”

  1. Brad Johnson Says:

    Brilliant post.

  2. Chris Rodkey Says:

    This bit is also the most memorable bit from “Indecent Theology” for me, which may be because part of my dissertation was on the intellectual relationship between Tillich and Daly (and Altizer).

    What is important about this is that Daly’s critique of Tillich is that Tillich opens the door for a genuinely post-Christian notion of self-transcendence, but for her Tillich’s Power of Being is too fixed, logocentric and Christian to offer a self-transcendence that is perpetually challenging itself and moving forward. I’m not sure that this is necessarily a fair reading of Tillich, as Althaus-Reid suggests that Tillich’s kinks were not indicative of this failure to actualize a gerundive self-transcendence, but rather the cultural stigma attached to his own guilt caused him to never fully realize the theology he himself was putting forward.

  3. Jeremy Says:

    The tension you’re locating in Tillich is one of great interest. I think one does get this sense reading Tillich that he somewhat retreated from the radical theological openings his thought engendered. Although there’s something to be admired in the way he toed the fence for so long theologically.

    Reading Althaus-Reid I felt as if she was calling forth the spirit of Altizer in her rather damning critiques of homphobic theology. I’ll say more about this as kenosis is a central theological concept she employs in Queer God.

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