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.
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.
And 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.
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.
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.
Yes, 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.
Jesus and Mo website: http://www.jesusandmo.net/2015/07/01/dead/