Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Gays and Religion

We live in a multi-spectral world. Sometimes that fact can be a great source of wonder... as when you realize that it takes all kinds of people to make the world go around...or that life will always hold another mystery to be pondered no matter how much we know about the world. Yet sometimes, that same capacity for infinite diversity can also be a source of frustration and strife, as when you realize that with the endless possibilities that life manifests, a few of those possibilities fly in the face of your own reason and intelectuall comfort. How we use these circumstances can be a measure of who we are as human beings. Such is at the core of the debate over whether or not gays can...or should... believe in religion. Many on both sides of the aisle believe that you cannot be gay and spiritual with any integrity. Hogwash

todays discussion is brought to you via a recent Youtube video of our Yosemite camping trip in which Tom, aka Fruityteen09 appears onscreen wearing a cross around his neck. For which a commentor immediately picked that detail out...ignoring his shirtless dive into the icy stream behind our campground...and proceeded to berate him as ignorant for wearing it. My question is....Why? Video after the jump:

I have no wish to return an unkindness for an unkindness. I believe that what you do...or do not believe is very personal to each individual and that we have no right to look down on each other for such. The question that I wish to address is: why exactly must gay people shun religion to be considered good gays?

No one can argue that religion has done some horrible things in history. However, in looking through the lense of the past the focus remains mainly on Christianity so its to that tradition that I will refer considering it is where I come from. Christianity has given us the inquisition, the crusades, centuries of intolerance of gays and lesbians as well as those of other races and creeds. In the modern day it gives us Promise rings, abstinance only sex education, pedophilia cover ups and a multitude of other wrongs. But then again...so have many other things.

Since scientists first split the atom they came the realization that the world was forever changed. Immediately came the foreboding that this incredible energy source could be harnessed as a weapon...and sure enough it was. Hiroshima and Nagasaki stand as testiments to the horrible things that nuclear energy can do....and yet everyday nuclear plants continue to provide electricity to a good portion of the worlds homes. Yet no one cries out. Why is that? Is the raw force that is released when an atoms bonds are broken somehow inherently wrong? In the sense that it leaves toxic byproducts perhaps....but haven't taken the same energy and put it to two wildly different uses?

Even a common flathead screwdriver....Its use is seen in nearly every home that needs to hang a picture or pry the top off a paint can. It can also be sharpened for use as a knife. Are all screwdrivers now to be banned?

In my opinion...religion..or lack thereof can be used in the same manner. What for one is a source of comfort...for another may be a fairy tale...and another a source of torment. George Allen Rekers used his faith to justify his self-hatred and internalized homophobia. Through these internal forces he helped pass a ban on gay adoptions in the state of Florida...and then also sought out gay encounters on the side. Conversely, Mother Teresa comes from the same faith that gave us the inquistion, yet she gave up her life to helping the poor in Calcutta. The suffering she encountered  affected her so deeply that it made her question her faith. After all, how could a loving GOD allow such misery to happen? Yet she persevered in her cause...perhaps because of her faith..and mayby in spite of it. How many peoples lives where positively impacted because she carried with what she believed to be the core ideals of her religion? Two different people...similar faiths...very different effects on the world.

So..returning this converstation back to the gay community...no one will argue that religion is used most often as the reason why gays are left standing outside societies doorstep. A handfull of passages labling us as "abominations" continue to be used to justify why we should never have a place at the collective table. Some of us become so hurt by this we reject it in return...others chose to see it as a relic of a byegone time...thats understandable...I can never condemn someone for  coming to that conclusion given the history of gays and Christianity...but just because we read the Bible in a litteral sense and draw our conclusions from that...does that make it true? Are we so secure in our understanding that we stop there? The Bible has changed over time, does that mean it is without value as anything other than a view into an ancient culture? Not just for gay people, but for anyone?

Not from my point of view...while I acknowledge that others will have a different take on this. For me the core of the Bible wass always about an evolving relationship with GOD that did not end with its last page. If that were so, than perhaps we should includ the other "abominations" listed in Leviticus when tossing about the condemnations...yet we conveniently overlook those. We overlook the the changing morals of history that the Bible describes in our literal interperatation of it. We look on as barbarity such things as slavery, animal sacrifice, incest and a host of other actions. We have changed our attitudes about these actions partially because of our changing understanding of the bible and also because of human reason. Yet homosexuality can not be seen through the same evolving lens?

I maintain that the core of Christianity as I was taught it was "Love GOD with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself". Beyond those basic actions all of us will be at a loss to know what will happen to us at the end of our lives unless you have been their and returned to tell the tale.

In addition...I believe that what I feel for my partner is love..honest, genuine, true love. If one of the attrubutes of GOD is that he IS love then how is the love I express for my husband separate? I don't believe it is which leads me to believe that our understanding of Christianity and its scriptures is still incomplete and evolving.

To those who would say that you CANNOT be gay and have spiritual beliefs I would say..."sorry...still gay and I still believe GOD made me that way." Also... Lack of belief for whatever reason can itself be used by controlling people as a method of coercing others who don't share that same point of view to believe as they do. How is that palpably different from force-feeding people Christianity?

So Let that young man have his cross and I my spiritual beliefs and in turn you deserve the respect of your own point of view....none of that should make you a bad gay any more than being gay itself should put you outside the realm of GODs creation. We must acknowledge the fingerprints of humanity on both and dig a little deeper to find our common respect for each other as human beings making our way through the unexplainable mystery of life......Just my two cents...

until next time...


  1. The reality of Mother Theresa was that she used all that money that people donated to build up a religious order in her name. She never used it for treatment and palliative measure for the dying.

    I look at it as a balance sheet. Christians on the whole have a very big deficit to make up. The Crusades, Inquisition, Medici popes, WW II, etc. Lots of lives lost because of Christianity.

    And myself, I realized early on that the whole God and Religion thing was just so much hokum. It's a cause of great consternation on my fathers part but know what, it is MY life, not his.

    I do get a little irritated when people where the cross though. Because most Christians have forgotten the real message in the New Testament.

    And as for gay Christians, maybe you belong to a UCC chapter, or some other welcoming congregation. But by and large, Christians are bigots. They need to repent.

  2. I was thinking about what you said about most forms of Christianity being flavours of Catholicism and your dislike of ritual.

    I think the lack of structure is what I particularly dislike about evangelical churches. Ritual is an excuse to be alone with your own thoughts in an environment and situation that makes you sit and think in a religious way. Just you and god if you believe in him.

    The less of that and the more preaching you have, the less of what you think yourself about it all and the the more it is about what the preachers think about it all.

    I think perhaps this reliance on what other people think about the bible and not thinking about it yourself is one of the reason US Christians can be so... stubbornly unreasonable.

    Having said that I disagree with almost all the core tenants of Christianity so it didn't do me much good :D

    Off topic sorry!

  3. Lovely! I agree totally and completely with you. Spirituality is very personal. And for someone to complain about that fact, is just as guilty as those who think everyone should all worship the same way.

    Unfortunately we are all so busy trying to make everyone else the same so that we dont stick out, we aren't different. Same same across the board. If you believe and I don't that makes one of us different, and to many people that is bad. So, because WE are the correct one, the other person must be the "wrong" one.....

    As usual, a wonderfully thought provoking post, I really enjoy reading your posts, they without fail make me think. And yeah, thats a good thing!

  4. Supposedly Christ was all about love-love of your fellow man..also kindness and helping the downtrodden. So the people out there HATING gay people and JUDGING and calling themselves Christian are not. They are FAR from anything that Christ preached.
    What is the old saying..."beware of wolves in sheeps clothing?"

    Glad to see you back Bryan-looks like you guys had a blast! :)

  5. I missed the religious argument on your last video. The critic's comments were all removed by the time I took a look at it, although I have a fair idea of what probably went down.

    Honestly I struggle with my stance on religion. I don't know what's right. I don't know what's ethical or politically correct. Should I hate it? Should I accept it? Should I care or not care?

    On the one hand, technically I shouldn't have a problem with religion, because as you've said and I've mentioned before, technically you can classify any system of thought as a religion or at least a philosophical equivalent. Anybody in any philosophical group can do harm or good (Christian, Muslim, Hindu, athiest, etc.), so generalizing isn't necessarily accurate or ethical.

    Perhaps more importantly, we still don't know what's actually right or the truth, and I'd bet good money we probably won't ever. Especially not in my lifetime. I would bet on "ever". So even though I believe strongly that man created religion, I am humbled by the possibility that I could be absolutely wrong, and not only look like an idiot but face eternal condemnation and suffering in a painful unforgiving hell as well as be unintentionally snubbing a god/creator/savior. So naturally it's always risky to have strong opinions about anything you can't prove let alone monumental issues like life, reality, death, etc.

    On the other hand, at some point we all judge. Even when we try not to or at least try not to impose our opinions or ways on others, you almost can't help but have some sort of opinion on anything you come across. And as long as you don't take it overboard, judgment in and of itself isn't bad. We judge killers. We judge backstabbers. Like just about everything, these things come down to context. Judgment and generalizing, like religion or the absence of it are not inherently good or bad. They are both and neither.

    Personally, where my dilemma with religion comes from is its political element. Now technically, just about any institution, belief system, etc. has a political element and can be used as a vehicle for evil, so I definitely don't mean to pick on religion. As you've pointed out science has been perhaps just as bad. Even modern schooling, which I've been taught under and value, I know has a lot of flaws. There is the argument that the government run education system is the byproduct of a ruling class who uses it to subordinate the population (which to an extent I believe).

    So 1st off, I have a bias against religion. I didn't come from a particularly religious background and I was most influenced (or as a critic might say "brainwashed") by secular academia. Since I was never religious there is no vested interest in me holding on to any particular religion. So it's much easier for me to be critical of it or not seek it out or believe in it. That is the main reason for my atheism and this was even before the gay thing

  6. The 2nd big reason is the explanatory element. From a truth seeking standpoint, while we can never know the truth, a lot of at least try to do the best we can at figuring it out or making sense of things. I've studied and compared many different schools of thought: Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Muslim, Confucianism, Taoism, some African and Native American religions, academia, etc. Naturally, some I know much better than others and some I spent more time on or were "brainwashed" by more. So while I acknowledge I am biased and probably just believe the philosophy I was exposed to most (academia), that does happen to be the explanation I found most plausible for explaining reality. So again, I realize it's just my opinion and I could be wrong, but I do have a fairly strong opinion for my "religion" or what I believe to be the truth. Since I believe what I believe, when I hear about the other religions, I do have the feeling that there is a great injustice that so many people are being taught non-truth. I'm not saying that that's true, that's just the feeling I have personally because of my particular belief/opinion.

    So who cares what others think right? If they're wrong let them be wrong? For the most part that's how I am. The other thing I constantly remind myself is that I could be the one who's wrong, so all the more I should not preach to others. I could not only be screwing myself, but I'd be hurting others! However, if I am indeed correct, then I could be enabling a problem. What grates at me is that even if you take the attitude of let everybody believe what they want to believe and nobody should judge anybody else or put their beliefs on others--the reality is that others will. Others will judge. Others will impose their beliefs and policies on others. On you. On us. So what do you do? Take the high road? Let others do bad but be good anyways. Or sink down to their level, stand up for yourself, and fight fire with fire. But 2 wrongs also don't make a right. So I struggle with those 2 ideals: be nice and potentially be trampled on by those who aren't, or fight back but possibly contribute to the problem. It is very similar to the whole Civil Rights tactical dilemma of doing the hard sell versus soft sell

    So yeah I was already wary of how religions act as large influential and constantly evolving political alliances. They've made a major impact since early time and anytime a large number of people and resources can be mobilized I get nervous and wary. Whether that be the mass media, our government, multinational corporations, etc. Religion isn't just philosophical or spiritual. It's a complex institution that's embedded in political, social, and economic systems. The larger ones like Christianity are on par with multinational corporations. They are international organizations that are or have controlled governments, militaries, and what worries me most is their capacity to corner the mental and emotional markets of morality, truth, and values. The fact that all this power and influence is possibly based on a falsehood scares me. Don't get me wrong, science and academics also can and do too, but where my bias comes in is that I don't see a special need for religion. With science, even if it turned out to be wrong and we were misled, I can at least feel like hey at least we got air conditioners and cars out of it. With religion, I feel like there is a better equivalent to each one of religion's functions. Of course, this opinion comes from someone who never had much religion in his life, so of course I'm less likely to see the value in it than somebody else who did. So sorry if that remark comes off arrogant and offensive, but you can understand why I might feel that way right?

  7. And of course the thing that really makes me more biased against religion is the whole gay thing. That's where my fear of religion's capacity to control and influence people's sense of morality, values, and reality becomes not just theoretical but a real threat that directly impacts my self-interest. What was before a nagging nuisance now is a force that can vilify gays through its social, political, and economic influence. And subtly too. It can turn people against each other and against themselves. It can teach people at young ages to hate themselves, to revile their nature, to redefine reality based on the faith of a book written in a different era or the words of a trusted pastor. Again, secular thought can and has been used in evil ways too like how homosexuality was once pathologized and treated as mental illness, so I'm not trying not to pick on religion.

    I guess what I'm getting at is that I feel like schooling, science, and technology probably isn't going anywhere right? So whether it's right or wrong, good or bad, etc. it's kind of unavoidable. With religion though, if it's wrong, then it seems like the mistake is large and costly with marginal benefits to offset the high cost. There is no major function that it seems to provide superior to another counterpart. If it's wrong, the opportunity cost seems very high, and in particularly unnecessarily burdensome when it's being used in unethical ways like when the Bible suggests that homosexuality is bad, and then certain believers take that and run with it. If Christianity is wrong for example, tolerating that potential lie/made up story is politically the equivalent of enabling the more militant and delusionally hateful believers to be homophobic by opening the door for them to generate their own assumptions, interpretations, and value systems around a sanctified premise that nobody dares challenge due to religious political correctness no matter how inaccurate it may be

    So yeah as usual I made another rambling stream-of-consciousness mess of a post but I vacillate over the ethics of acceptance, love, and tolerance for all religions, or the ethics of being politically apathetic in enabling religions, which I believe to be unnecessary, to continue being used as divisive and harmful political vehicles by the militantly imposing believers who make the institution seem to do more harm than good

  8. A couple of weeks ago a youth that have mentored for years asked me what my ideal form of Christianity is. It was a good question to be shared between two people who no longer self-identify as Christians yet met at a Bible Camp (me as his cabin leader, him as one of my youth). I told him that I didn't know what it looked like, but that I would get back to him.

    I'm now living out of town from him, but I think he is planning on coming to visit me in the near future for a camping trip. That is when I want to answer a lot more of his questions - he has a lot of them. Most of them about Christianity.

    The reality is that I think the pursuit of God as an ideal is a good thing - even if he doesn't exist. Because the idea of God has no bearing on how one can judge others; in fact, it should make one so incredibly humble that they feel unworthy speaking up and only interested in listening and hearing more things. Not all of them good - not all of them meant to be learned - but all worthy of being heard (well, almost at the very least).

    I think I am a spiritual person, or have at least learned how to be. Because my spirituality rather than my religion have altered my understanding of myself and the people around me in a way that is very positive (I think). I've moved away from the religion that made me come to this spiritual development, but that is ok because it helped me develop this sense that I should love something other than myself and, through that, find love for myself.

    I like what OrangeGoblin has said. I was raised as a Christian in an evangelical church, and it was the more ritualistic sites that made me more aware of my spirituality and less in touch with religion. Those moments of silence, reflection, and spiritual discipline can be very rewarding...

    I don't know how to feel about Religion (and I should probably spend more time on this in the near future) but it is likely not great. I do know how I feel about spirituality, and as a result I think I will have to spend more time on it in the near future. God is worthwhile - whatever his name is... just don't confuse God with humanity and you should be relatively ok.

  9. I agree with you and am happy that you have found a way to do what many say is "impossible." The idea that Christianity in principle is anti-homosexual is a traditional, fundamental and ignorant reading of a book that has been re-translated (and poorly, might I add) for thousands of years, every time being tweaked to fit the time's cultural setting. The grammar of the passages defined as "anti-gay" suggest alternate, and even more correct translations (asserted by some historians) which contradict the popular understandings of them. Most of these (in the ancient Hebrew) cite that men who lie with men "unnaturally" commit a grave sin (Romans, etc.). These were meant to curtail the practiced sexual acts for Pagan gods, which is why the qualifier "unnaturally" is used. Thus, these passages hint that there is a correct, natural way for men to lie with men. Even more interesting is the Matthew 19:12 verse, where Jesus identifies "natural" eunuchs as legitimate people of God.

    Beyond grammatical nuances is the far more understandable declaration by the founder of the religion, Jesus himself, about the two greatest commandments (The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength... Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.). What about "Judge not lest ye be judged"? I could go on and on.

    Now don't go misunderstanding me: I'm NOT a Christian. I know all about the past tragedies of Christianity and its extremely oppressive ways, but I'd like to clarify a little of its history so then a better perspective can be gleaned. As a Roman historian, I have intimate knowledge about the early Church before Constantine elevated it to a dominate role. This Church was very inclusive and devout to its principles, so much so that it took the horrific brunt of persecution by many emperors, most notably Nero when he burned many alive both in the Coliseum and his own public gardens. There are accounts of Romans being deeply moved by their courage and faith, some even to conversion and the risk of execution themselves. Did they ever strike back? There is no evidence to suggest that they ever reacted violently while all the evidence points to their courage and conviction of love and passivity. Thus, the faith in its entirety cannot be condemned as innately violent or discriminatory.

    Rather, it was when the religion was institutionalized into the sole state religion, given political power of the emperor's ear and arms, that it began to change. When religious positions also became bureaucratic positions, the desire for power created a potent hierarchy which became powerful politically and materialistically. Therefore, the institutionalized and highly politicized Church we know today was born. It spawned participants so powerful that they could move entire nations and Emperors (St. Ambrose and Theodosius I is one such example). This new institution reacted violently whenever another source within its own confines (and also outside forces, like Islam, though that would be yet another discussion of great length) rebelled, such as the terrible massacres of the Huguenots and Anabaptists. They simply couldn’t allow others to challenge their power.

  10. This is where I believe everything went wrong: the institutionalization of a religion never meant to be applied and defined the way it was. All of the sudden, a good Christian needed the priest to communicate with God, and rituals became more and more specified and tied to Church structure. A good Christian fought, killed, and died for the government, which was also seen as part of the Church. The word “Church,” in Greek ἐκκλησία, became synonymous with the political hierarchy instead of the body of believers (the literal meaning of the word).

    The result of this is clearly and painfully evident today: fundamentalists who hinge on being “most orthodox” in their interpretation (even when they work with corrupted translations, talk about irony) and a general understanding that what the pastor and bishop, or Pope for that matter, says is right. No one seems to know the history behind the religion and its development, something that is essential to interpreting both the Bible and the religion as a whole. I believe spirituality is an individual matter and not one left to the decision of others (like pastor and Pope). It is YOU who must decide what is right and wrong, and it is you who must figure it out for yourself.

    Attacking religion, especially Christianity, is one of the popular things to do in a society that holds everything to a scientific standard. Do not blame Christians today for crimes done by long-dead Christians! Despite what sort of atrocities Christianity is branded with, there have also been incredible good that has come out of it. Look at the magnificence of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and majestic of St. Peter’s Basilica, da Vinci’s Last Supper and Madonna of the Rocks. Not just a patron of the Arts, the Church has been instrumental for charitable organizations, for much of its history the only institution doing so.

    To finish, I disagree with Canadianhumility on one point: confusing God with Humanity. I’ve never seen an angel or a god, but I have seen the divine. For if anything in this world is divine it dwells within Humanity itself: love, compassion, and kindness for one another is the undeniable quality of divinity that we all hold.

  11. Beautiful blog, I think that you made your point very eloquently, I really wish that I was half as good as you.

    It is always nice to see another gay person that believe you can be gay and still be spiritual, it's so strange to feel like you get the rejecting third degree not only from the religious community at large but the gay community as well. I am always amazed by that, I would think that of any group we as a community would be excepting of those with different beliefs then our own.

    @Orngegobline I have never been to an Evangelical Church, The only church I have ever been to is the Episcopal Church that I grew up going to (baptised confirmed) up until I stopped. (about the time I really stated struggling with my sexuality) I don't know that I would want something with less structure and ritual then that if I where to start going again.(even though I do fallow what happens with the church relatively closely)

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  14. God loves sinners, but doesn't love sins.
    People,let's love sinners like God loves them.
    Sinners, love people, but don't love sins.