Religious Privilege, Same-Sex Marriage and Bigotry

The Whitehouse was lit with rainbow coloured lights to celebrate the SCOTUS decision.

The White House was lit with rainbow coloured lights to celebrate the SCOTUS decision.

Note: For those who may find them them offensive, at the end of this post is a Jesus and Mo cartoon.

I happened to hear the beginning of Fox News’s Hannity today before my dive for the remote shut him up. The opening words were, “Tonight, Christianity under attack!” This has been typical of the rhetoric that’s been coming from the Christian right in the United States for the last week.

Everyone knows by now that their Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage for the whole country on 26 June 2015. Twenty-two countries had done so before them including of course New Zealand in 2013, after ten years of same-sex civil unions. In the United States, attitudes towards same-sex marriage have gradually been changing. Although a majority now favour it (57% according to the Pew Research Center), there is a big difference in attitudes when you drill down into the demographics. Those unaffiliated to a religion have always been significantly more likely to favour same-sex marriage; the more conservative the religion, the less likely their adherents are to be accepting of same-sex marriage.

SSM Approval by Religion Pew

(Source: Pew Research Center)

I’ve been interested by the response of those opposed to marriage equality. They are entitled to their opinion, and to speak out about it. What they are not entitled to, is to expect not to be criticized for holding that opinion. They routinely insist they’re not bigots while defending their “right” to practice bigotry by treating people in same-sex marriages as somehow less than other married couples. I’m finding the constant mantra that these are “good people” who have “sincerely held religious beliefs” and are therefore immune from any denigration, to be offensive.

One of the favourite objections to same-sex marriage is that marriage has always been defined as one man and one woman in the Bible, and that is the way it should remain. Indeed, those opposed to same-sex marriage call themselves supporters of “traditional marriage”. Anyone with any knowledge of history or the Bible knows that to call marriage between one man and one woman “traditional” marriage is completely farcical, which Betty Bowers herself does a great job of explaining.

What this shows is that their claim that marriage between one man and one woman is “traditional” is ridiculous. Further, this claim is based only on religious texts which they have interpreted to support their claim. In reality, religious texts offer no support to their opposition. Faith is not truth, and is certainly not empirical. It is nothing more than a personal belief. A religious faith, because of the number of its adherents, often manages to dominate the rules of a society. Christian conservatives mostly insist they don’t hate gay people, they just don’t want them to take part in an institution they see as sacred. (Never mind that it’s only been about 700 years since marriage has been a sacrament.) What this really is, is an inability to accept they’re losing power.

There are many Christians who just as sincere in their religious beliefs who interpret scripture as supporting same-sex marriage. They argue that their religion is about showing God’s love for one another and that love is always a gift from God. Therefore, when two people of the same sex fall in love, that is God’s will too.

The-Open-Mosque2And it’s not just liberal Christianity that takes this stance. Many within Judaism have celebrated same-sex marriage for some time, and there are even mosques where gay couples are welcome, although they struggle to get acceptance from more conservative Muslims. There are two in Cape Town, South Africa that are reaching out to gay people. One calls itself The Open Mosque and has been attacked several times since announcing last year they welcomed gay people. It also allows women to preach and pray alongside men. Within days it was closed down as it allegedly didn’t meet parking by-laws, and a few weeks later on the eve of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha (4 October) there was an arson attack. The founder of the mosque, Professor Taj Hargey has also received multiple death threats. Riad Fataar, deputy president of the Muslim Judicial Council in Cape Town, said the mosque was not “a proper place of prayer.” Hargey has credentials when it comes to Islamic theology though. He has a PhD in Islamic Studies from Oxford University and was director of Oxford’s Muslim Educational Centre before moving to South Africa. His mosque has proven popular with many who are thrilled that women and LGBT people are fully integrated as equals in its activities.

Hendricks, Muhshin Photo by Salym Fayad

Imam Muhsin Hendricks in the mosque in his home. The inscription reads, “There is no God but Allah.” (Photo by: Salym Fayad)

The other Cape Town mosque where gay people are welcome is in the home of openly gay imam Muhsin Hendricks. Jaime Velazquez of Vice News wrote of the mosque. He reports Hendricks is the son of an imam who had wanted to be an imam himself since he was a child. He fell in love at his Salafi school, but was taught that being gay meant he was going to hell so he married and had three children. This, he thought, along with prayer and fasting, would change him. “He couldn’t understand why a god of compassion would punish him for something he couldn’t choose.” He came out when he was 29. Hendricks started The Inner Circle in 1996 as a support organisation for gay Muslims. He later integrated it into The People’s Mosque, which he established in 2011. More than a dozen gay men and women say Friday prayers there each week.

Jaime Velazquez writes further:

Homosexuality here is not a sin. You don’t need to change the way you walk or the way you speak to avoid disapproving glances. God accepts you as you are. You can even get a blessed marriage. Here it is possible to be a queer. And a Muslim.

For years, Hendricks has studied the verses of the Quran, particularly those which talk about Sodom and Gomorrah and have been used as to condemn homosexuality.

“In Sodom and Gomorrah there are a number of atrocities, and only one of them is a sexual atrocity,” said Hendricks. “It is about assault and rape where men are the victims, sexual acts which violates the rights and integrity of a person. [But] it is not about sexual orientation. The Quran is silent about [that].”

These two mosques, and a small number of others around the world, show that Islam too is evolving, allowing the large numbers of Muslims to be open about the liberal views they hold. Even in the most conservative of religions, religious texts can be interpreted so that bigotry is not required if the people reading them aren’t bigots.

Interracial marriage Bloomberg Business

(Source: Bloomberg Business)

Every time I hear people going on that now they’re going to be labelled bigots for their beliefs and how unfair it is, I remember inter-racial marriage. When SCOTUS made that legal, there were still 16 states where it was illegal and Good Christians were crying the same lament. This was an attack on their beliefs, and we should leave it to the states to decide. It’s pretty obvious from the map on the left that those states that still refused inter-racial couples the right to marry were the Bible Belt states. As is so often the case, it was the conservative Christians that were loudest in objecting to the change. Ever since the Enlightenment, it is secular humanists who have led the way in moving society forward, dragging the religious along kicking and screaming in protest. Then when they realize society is now a better place with the change, most of them won’t even admit they were ever a part of the problem.

US View of Religious Groups 2014Yes, you are bigots, and that’s your choice (determinism aside). Being gay is just another excuse for you to pass judgement on your fellow human beings. One day most of you will get over it (or conveniently die off), but I’ve no doubt you’ll find something else to focus your ignorance on. More and more of you are becoming accepting of gay people, and that’s great. I can’t help wondering if that will mean we atheists will become an even greater focus of hate than we are now since you’ve got one less group it’s acceptable to criticize.

Because that, it seems, is what religion is so often about. Every single one thinks they are the one that has got it right, and everyone else is wrong and is therefore less in their god’s eyes. Many will accuse atheists of the same thing – that we think less of the religious. There is a difference though. Yes, we think you’re wrong, but for us there’s no supernatural consequence for you because of that. You think atheists are going to suffer in hell for eternity, or at least are not going to heaven or some sort of afterlife, and are quite happy to let us know about the eternal torment we’re in for. It’d be pretty awful if we didn’t think it was a load of rubbish.

There are too many religious people who think that treating some of their fellow citizens less well is OK because their imaginary friend told them so. Yes, you are a bigot. Religion is just your excuse.

As someone once said about inter-racial marriage in the United States “One day it won’t be called ‘inter-racial marriage’, it’ll just be called ‘marriage’.” Let’s hope it’s not too long until we have the same situation with same sex marriage.

SSM 2015-07-01


Jesus and Mo website:

22 Responses to “Religious Privilege, Same-Sex Marriage and Bigotry”

  1. As always a job well done Heather. The graph showing the percent change in views over the last ten years is interesting. I’ve always wondered if social issues finally hit a critical mass and then become unstoppable. (So I laugh at any pol who wants a pat on the back for this ruling and surrounding legislation – at this point it’s either get on board or get run over.)

    Interesting, too, that there are openly gay Muslimin countries where it would seem much more dangerous.


    • Thanks Dennis. I appreciate your support as always.

      South Africa can be pretty dangerous for LGBT people despite the good stuff happening – the crime of “corrective rape” is fairly common for example. Gay people there, especially black ones, report that they think they would suffer as much as those in Uganda and Zimbabwe if it wasn’t for the law. They’ve had strict laws protecting LGBT people for some time, and were the fourth in the world to legalize gay marriage (2006), and they’re still the only place in Africa where it’s legal.

  2. Oh – and I feel the same way about Hannity. I watch O’Reilly sometimes but cannot bear for one minute to have Hannity filling up the TV screen. How he keeps a very lucrative job says many bad things about humanity.

    • He’s so frustrating! Sometimes I watch because he’s doing an interview I want to see, and the ignorance that comes out of his mouth is just unbelievable. It’s not just the usual feeling you get when you’re listening to someone with a different opinion, it’s complete amazement that someone can even think what he does and as he’s saying it, you know there are millions nodding in agreement with him. His show is later than it used to be though, which I assume is because of low ratings.

  3. Diane G. says:

    Excellent post, Heather! So forthright and all-encompassing.

    PS: I never realized how much the US resembles the periodic table. 😀

  4. Conn Suits says:

    This was fantastic. Yes, they are bigots and they are using religion to excuse it. And yeah the idea of all those far right southern US Christians deciding that now they are a persecuted minority scares the hell out of me. They are appallingly fantasy-ridden already, they’ll have no difficulty becoming passionately devoted to something that is not true. And doesn’t make any sense.

    Thank you! For the info about the progressive mosques in South Africa. Who knew? People really do want to have happy lives and thankfully there are some people who will devote themselves to changing things.

    The Bible interpretation about Sodom and Gomorrah was spot on too. Somebody should do a story and/or a comedy show about the version of the Bible that right wing Christians have in their heads. All the things that completely do not exist in either actual Bible. Abortion is another goodie. It’s just never even taken up.

    And there is a US TV movie about the Loving case with Timothy Hutton. But I forget what it’s called. Mr. and Mrs. Loving? That is a brilliant parallel, that I’ve never heard anyone make before discussinggay marriage in the States. Kudos.

    • Thanks so much Conn. It always makes my day when I get positive comments like this. 🙂

      There’s a recipe for an abortifacient in the Bible – they don’t tell you that in Sunday School! The go nuts about atheists cherry-picking the bad stuff, but we learned the tactic from every religion’s use of their holy texts.

      I’ll keep an eye out for the movie about the Loving case – I didn’t know there was one and I’d like to see it.

  5. paxton marshall says:

    Good one Heather. I think that, for a lot of people, religion is primarily about circling the wagons for protection against external threats to their world view and way of life. Religion is stronger in the US than in other rich countries, because successive waves of immigration have provided endless challenges to the insular back woods societies of the earlier settlers. Irish, Italians, catholics, jews, Hispanics, Asians, Muslims have challenged the smug mindsets of the protestant nativists, and they have retreated further and further into evangelicalism and fundamentalism.

    That society has come around so quickly to an acceptance of homosexuals is one of the most encouraging and astounding developments of my lifetime. It provides hope in the possibility of human moral progress.

    Heather, I especially applaud your recognition that Muslims too can overcome inherited prejudices and stand up for fairness and human equality. We are all humans.

    • Cheers Paxton. It is great that things have changed so quickly. It’s not long since homosexuality was decriminalized in NZ (1986). By 2001, only 15 years later, we had same-sex civil unions, and another ten years after that (2011), same-sex marriage. All in a single generation. It gives me hope that all the other prejudices that still plague us can change just as quickly.

      I agree with you assessment of what has happened in your country too. There’s a strong Hobbesian streak in some areas that is buttressed by the Second Amendment.

    • AU says:

      “Heather, I especially applaud your recognition that Muslims too can overcome inherited prejudices and stand up for fairness and human equality. We are all humans.”

      Muslims aren’t unique, we all inherit prejudices, atheists included. The greatest prejudice however is to believe that their side has the prejudices and our side doesn’t/

  6. paxton marshall says:

    Heather, I have been having a conversation with Eric MacDonald on his blog “Choice in Dying” about the Crusades. You may know Eric from WEIT. I recalled that you have studied the crusades at some length and I wanted to get your opinion of Eric’s claims that the Crusades were a perfectly justifiable Christian response to Muslim imperialism. Here is a quote from Eric:

    “Paxton, regarding relationships of Christians, Jews and Muslims. A lot is made of the idealistic image of al Andalus, whereas the truth is that Jews and Christians were both second-class members of society (and certainly not citizens), having to wear distinctive clothing and badges, disallowed from riding horses or being armed, subject to the jiyza tax system, etc. etc. Don’t forget that when Rambam moved to Egypt he is said to have been forced to convert to Islam. The Muslims were conquerors of an heretofore Christian land, just as they did in Sicily and Southern Italy, and eventually in the Balkans (including Greece). Since Muslims made regular raids into non-Muslim lands and came back with loot and slaves, and this had been going on for centuries, it is hard to see how the crusades can reasonably be thought as unprovoked. Indeed, the Eastern Emperor appealed to the Western Church for defence, since the Muslims were at the time, having already conquered most of Asia Minor, moving in force into Anatolia, upon which the Eastern Empire depended for its sustenance. Unfortunately, the crusades did not have a disciplined army, and ran riot, concentrating on the “Holy Land” instead of pursuing what was supposed to be their main aim in relieving the Muslim pressure on the Eastern Empire, the Muslims having already conquered and subjected the heartland of Christianity, from Asia Minor to Egypt, and along the North African littoral. The crusades were, actually, from any reasonable point of view, a legitimate defensive move against an ever-expanding area of Muslim hegemony.”

    The whole discussion is toward the end of the comments at:

    • Hi Paxton. When it comes to the history you and Eric discussed, I mostly agree with the position you have taken.

      As regards the Crusades: The most significant point you wrote was, “At the time of the Crusades, the Levant had been in Muslim hands for over 400 years. Muslims had made no major incursions into Europe for over 350 years.” The error Eric made here was, “The crusades were, actually, from any reasonable point of view, a legitimate defensive move against an ever-expanding area of Muslim hegemony.” And earlier, “Regarding the Crusades, the fact that the first Crusade was instigated by the Byzantine Emperor.” The Byzantine emperor called to the pope for help with a specific local problem. What he expected was a proper army to come and help him sort it out. Instead, the pope took advantage of the call to solve a problem France had had for decades.

      The pope was French, which was, then as now, unusual. They were always mostly Italian. There was a problem in France of knights that went around in gangs attacking the peasants whenever they felt like it, killing, raping, pillaging, whatever took their fancy, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Popes had tried with such things as the “Peace of God” movement and other movements to try and stop them, or at least limit their attacks to certain days etc, but nothing worked. It was the problem of young men with too much energy and nothing to do. When the pope got the call for help from the east, he came up with the idea of promising forgiveness of ALL sins for those who went to help. He traveled around France making speeches where he made the knights scared for about what would happen to them after they died, then offered them redemption for going on an adventure to kill heretics. The pope added the idea of freeing Jerusalem into the mix to make it all sound more attractive to the knights, but that was never what the emperor asked for. The pope gave open air speeches, and they were inspiring, so a whole lot of other people decided to join in too. You may know that the Muslims referred to the Crusaders as Frenchmen – that’s because they mostly were. They sewed a small red cross to their shoulders to show they’d taken the pledge. (Other countries had crosses of different colours to differentiate themselves from the majority French).

      The Byzantine emperor was terrified when the Crusaders turned up, and wouldn’t let them into his city apart from a few of the leaders. This was not what he was expecting. The First Crusade was successful, but that was largely because there was stuff going on in the Muslim Empire that Christendom knew nothing about, and they basically couldn’t have picked a better time to attack. When the Crusaders reached Jerusalem, they killed everyone, including the Christians living there peacefully, albeit as second-class citizens.

      I haven’t studied Spain in depth, but my understanding of what happened there largely gels with yours.

      When Eric says, “I may be mistaken, but I think there are more offences against Jews in the US than there are against Muslims,” he is correct. Jews suffer about five times more attacks than Muslims in the US when adjusted for population. (It’s even greater without the adjustment.)

      When Eric says, “There is absolutely nothing that the new Islamic State (Daesh – which in Hindi or Urdu simply means country) that isn’t widely practiced wherever shariah is in force,” he is not correct. DAESH (aka DAISH) is an acronym of “Dawlat al-Islāmiyya fī al-Irāq wa s-Shām”, and the word itself means nothing, but is similar to one that means to tread underfoot, to trample on, or to crush, which is why those particular letters have been chosen to create the acronym. The way DAESH interprets Sharia and carries out punishments is far more harsh even than in Saudi Arabia. It also bears no resemblance to the way the Caliphate they are trying to emulate was run, which is something I plan to write about.

      You said, “I would also remind you that it was Christians, by and large, who committed the holocaust, and if Jews were to be compensated for that they should have been given East Prussia or some German territory. The western powers just compounded the evil by giving them Muslim lands.” You are right about it being Christians who committed the Holocaust of course, but the Christian allies did not associate themselves with what was done – it was a Nazi action to them, not a Christian one. Israel was, of course, chosen because of the Biblical associations – it was “their” territory historically. Also, there was the whole thing of punishing those who sided with Germany, which the area had in both world wars. Eric is right about the way those displaced reacting causing a big part of the problem, but, of course, who can blame them? We’ve got to where we are now in the region, and you already know what I think about that.

      For its first ten years, Muhammad spread Islam via missionizing (if that’s a word!). Since then, it has spread via conquest. Christianity spread via converting leaders, who then forced their people to convert, and the conversion was held militarily. Christianity was sold as the religion of power to the leaders, but at is best, preached love, forgiveness, charity and other good stuff. Islam isn’t so hot on the forgiveness side. These days though, there are liberal Muslims who are trying to reform the religion, some of whom I wrote about above. There has always been a tradition of tolerance within Islam, but as always, there are plenty who use their power in bad ways and they are dominating the numbers at this particular period of history. They haven’t always.

      These days Islam is more dangerous imo not because it’s teachings are any worse than Christianity (they’re not), but because more of its followers are fundamentalists. Currently, more followers of Christianity are strongly influenced by Enlightenment values, and therefore the religion is not as dangerous as it was when it had the power it did at the height of the Inquisition. That’s not to say it’s better, but there is a problem in that its followers think of it as better, and as members of that same society we atheists cannot help but be influenced by that.

  7. paxton marshall says:

    Thanks Heather. May I direct Eric to your page to read this? Have you written on the crusades previously?

    • Hi Paxton, you’re welcome, and yes you can. What I haven’t written about in my response to you is the strong link between the medieval tradition of pilgrimage and crusade, and that was really where the idea originated. Medieval people wanted to experience their religion physically, and it was through relics and pilgrimage that they did this. Crusade was simply an armed pilgrimage in the eyes on contemporaries. I’ve just found an essay I wrote about the link between pilgrimage and crusade. Another reader suggested I write something about the Crusades during a discussion on WEIT a few months ago too. It’ll take a bit of mucking around with the formatting, but I’ll post it later today or tomorrow. It’s hard for us to understand how religion infused every part of life back then, and until we do we can’t get our heads into the same space as medieval people.

      • I should also add that DAESH is a name only used by it’s enemies. In the Middle East, only supporters of IS call it that – it became that when the group that then called itself ISIL/ISIS declared a caliphate just over a year ago and were now just Islamic State.

  8. paxton marshall says:

    Heather, I love the last comment of your long comment above. “These days Islam is more dangerous imo not because it’s teachings are any worse than Christianity (they’re not), but because more of its followers are fundamentalists” I agree completely. And Christianity, though still influential in the west, is not as much so as Islam in Muslim countries. Our approach should be to try to quiet things down. Fundamentalism feeds on anger, grief, and uncertainty. Instead we have just stirred up the hornets nest. But everything can (and will) change. China and even India may emerge as greater threats to world peace than either Judaism, Christianity or Islam.

  9. paxton marshall says:

    Heather, I love the last paragraph of your long comment above. “These days Islam is more dangerous imo not because it’s teachings are any worse than Christianity (they’re not), but because more of its followers are fundamentalists” I agree completely. And Christianity, though still influential in the west, is not as much so as Islam in Muslim countries. Our approach should be to try to quiet things down. Fundamentalism feeds on anger, grief, and uncertainty. Instead we have just stirred up the hornets nest. But everything can (and will) change. China and even India may emerge as greater threats to world peace than either Judaism, Christianity or Islam.

    • A hornets’ nest has been stirred up in the Middle East – people are joining DAESH if they’re Muslim in the same way they join gangs in the inner city. It’s about power and identity and feeling like they matter and are a part of something bigger than themselves as much as anything. That situation though has been created just as much by the crappy leaders in the Middle East as by the interfere from the West. Instead of helping, we’ve just made things worse, but I’ve got no idea what the right thing to do is.

      China certainly could be a huge problem long-term – the building blocks are being created every day. Short-term, I’m most worried about Russia, or rather Putin. Although there’s a valid argument he’s been provoked in some ways, that is not enough to justify what he’s done. The only thing stopping him launching a takeover of Ukraine, Transnistria, Moldova, the Baltic states and Georgia is Saudi Arabia using their power in OPEC to keep world oil prices low, thereby putting the economic squeeze on Russia. He’s one scary dude imo.

  10. AU says:

    >> You think atheists are going to suffer in hell for eternity, or at least are not going to heaven or some sort of afterlife, and are quite happy to let us know about the eternal torment we’re in for. It’d be pretty awful if we didn’t think it was a load of rubbish.

    That’s a MASSIVE generalisation – there are many religious people who think God is the most merciful and even atheists will be forgiven.

    • Hi AU – that’s a fair comment. There are many religious people who think atheists will be forgiven too. My comment was directed more at those who think people who marry someone of the same sex are going to hell, who are usually (but not always of course) the same ones who think atheists are going to hell.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.