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Sometimes when my wife and I are out driving at night and we pass a well-lighted house with a lot of cars parked out front, I’ll remark, “Another party we weren’t invited to!”

Of course, it’s only a gag when we’re passing the house of strangers. When we actually know the people who are entertaining, I don’t say it as a joke, but with a huge sigh of relief. You see, I’m one of those people who hate parties. It’s not that I dislike people, I just dislike them in large groups.

Which is just one of the reasons I’m glad I wasn’t invited to the big shindig the American Academy of Religion held recently in San Antonio, Texas.

The AAR, founded in 1909, is an organization composed of professors of religion, church historians, theologians and ethicists. Some 7,500 of them were expected to come together to share research and team up on various projects.

Well, you might think that I was glad not to be invited simply because they went 7,497 people beyond my comfort zone, but in this case that wasn’t the major turn-off. You see, these alleged scholars were congregating to talk about sex. That’s right, sex was almost exclusively on their minds. And not just the plain old variety that seems to permeate our society the way smog pollutes our air.

No, these distinguished fellows were traveling thousands of miles to attend seminars with such titles as, “Power and Submission, Pain and Pleasure: The Religious Dynamics of Sadomasochism;” “Love is a Many Splendored Thing: Varied Views on Polyamory” (that’s participation in multiple sexual relationships); “Ecstatic Communion: The Spiritual Dimensions of Leathersexuality;” “S/M Rituals in Gay Men’s Leather Communities: Initiation, Power, Exchange, and Subversion;” “You Seduced Me, You Overpowered Me, and You Prevailed: Religious Experience and Homoerotic Sadomasochism in Jeremiah;” “Rending God’s Flesh: The Body of Christ, Spectacles of Pain, and Trajectories of Desire;” and the sure-fire crowd pleaser, “Proleptic Sexual Love: God’s Promiscuity Reflected in Christian Polyamory.”

Now you can tell at a glance that these are serious subjects treated seriously by serious scholars and theologians. The tip-off isn’t just the fancy words for sexual perversions, but that all important colon. Without that essential piece of punctuation, you might get the silly idea that these 7,500 people were just going to spend the better part of a week talking dirty.

You understand, I hope, that I believe in freedom of speech. If people want to pass off smut as scholarship, who am I to deny them their constitutional right? I mean, after all, the AAR receives funding from the likes of the Lilly Endowment, the Henry Luce Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Hewlett Foundation, and even the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education. So who am I to suggest that these high-minded benefactors might, without working up much of a sweat, find a better use for their money? What they and drunken sailors do with their own dough is, I know we’d all agree, their own stupid business.

The brochure for the San Antonio event promised sessions devoted to:

  1. promoting transvestism and transsexualism in Christian theology;

  2. analyzing the ways in which leather is a foundation for personal and spiritual identity;

  3. explore how S/M rituals may subvert cultural icons of violence by eroticizing power;

  4. yada, yada, yada …

Frankly, I’m bored just reading about it. I mean, if I’ve heard that the book of Jeremiah, chapter 20, verses 7-18, “can be construed as a kind of ritual sado-masochistic encounter between the male deity Yahweh and his male devotee” once, I’ve heard it a thousand times.

And by this time, isn’t it a cliche to write, as Timothy Koch – of the New Life Metropolitan Community Church – does, that “One of the constitutive elements of S/M interactions is the removal of the masochist’s choices, making it possible for both masochist and sadist to proceed in a spiritually powerful state of relative shamelessness”?

Feeling as I do about crowds, I don’t entirely regret not being there to hear Julianne Buenting, of Chicago’s Theological Seminary, deliver her seminal paper, “Oh, Daddy! God, Dominance/Submission, and Christian Sacramentality and Spirituality.” But, as if I had been in attendance, I can shut my eyes and imagine the ovation she received.

But it was nothing, I imagine, compared to the hosannas that must have greeted Kent Brintnall, Emory University’s pride and joy, when he shared with the congregation his conviction that “sado-masochistic homoerotic desire is part of what makes the spectacle of the crucifixion attractive and desirable.”

I suspect that some of you, the less sophisticated, the less academically-inclined, think the mothers of these people should wash their mouths out with a bar of soap. And I bet some of you old timers would like to see their fathers take them out behind the garage and use a strap on their backsides.

But, judging by their apparent preoccupations, I can’t help thinking that just might be the equivalent of tossing Br’er Rabbit into the briar patch, and would only result in one of the papers at next year’s AAR gala being titled, “Soap and Straps: The Dynamics of a Masochist’s Religious Epiphany.”

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