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← Advice for an Angry Gay Atheist

Cartomancer's Avatar Jump to comment 13 by Cartomancer

I must say I share your revulsion when it comes to the kind of self-loathing that homophobic religious ideas foster in vulnerable LGBT people. Even comparatively mild examples of it make my skin crawl. I found myself actively enraged the other day when some pitiful gay but catholic-indoctrinated quisling was wheeled out on a TV programme to oppose marriage equality - a young man in his twenties who seemed to believe that his sexuality was somehow wrong and less valid than that of straight people. No fire-and-brimstone you're-all-going-to-hell puffery, just a sense of pained unease that his religion had taught him to see his fundamental nature as lesser. It was truly horrible to watch.

It must be even more horrible when it's not someone on TV but someone you know and (even vicariously) care about. There's no shame in it being that which finally turned you into an outspoken critic of religion - immediate personal relationships are very important to human social existence. There would probably be something wrong with you if it hadn't brought you to the surface.

Indeed, I suspect that as gay people who have had to struggle with societal homophobia and the self-doubt it at least suggests to us if not in all cases inculcates, we are made particularly sensitive to this kind of travesty. I have never been religious, but even the lingering social conservatism and societal homophobia of 1980s-90s England made me very nervous and uncertain about my nascent sexuality, such that it took me until I was 22 to finally admit it to myself and come out to others. I suspect that this struggle to come to terms with ourselves and the understanding of how fragile the psychology can be adds to the revulsion we feel towards those who seek to perpetuate the anxiety and make us feel awful about ourselves on purpose.

Now, personally, I wouldn't get too worried about despising religion. Some things are so vile that hatred, contempt and disdain are the only valid and morally appropriate responses to them. I would actually think a lot less of someone who didn't hate vile religious homophobia. I'm not sure you'd be having this problem if it were murder or sexual child abuse or commercial exploitation of the vulnerable that were at issue. Then again I don't actually know any religious people, so outspoken criticism of the phenomenon isn't really a social problem for me.

What I would say, though, is that it pays to keep in mind that "religion" isn't a terribly helpful banner term to rail against. We have this idea in our cultures that there is this special category of ideas called "religion" that is somehow special and different and protected from criticism simply by dint of being a special category of ideas. This is a defence mechanism that generations of religious people have colluded in, it's not a reflection of the ideas which are labelled "religious" being in any way special or different from other ideas. If you take away the artificial label then you're left with just people's cultural foibles, and don't have to maintain any kind of jarring parity between things like the wishy-washy injunction that treating people nicely is a good idea and horrible neuroses like the you'll-all-burn-in-hell mindset. Those two things don't come from the same place. The whole gamut of ideas we traditionally label as "religious" are not a coherent thing. They don't really belong together in the same category of experience. They come from all over the place, and are inspired by, changed by, influenced by all sorts of personal, social and cultural factors. And we need to start treating them as such - as we treat every other kind of cultural idea - not coming up with a special set of protocols just for dealing with examples of "religion".

If you start to view the world in this way then it quickly becomes apparent that you don't hate "religion" per se, you hate (among other things I would guess) those particular nasty, homophobic, self-loathing mindsets that cause people great harm. Whether they're religious or not. I imagine you are not terribly fussed by someone who does charity work thanks to a vague notion that some disembodied deity likes it, and I imagine you would be similarly repelled by a self-hating gay man the root of whose self-hating psychology lay in a strong commitment to very old-fashioned and restrictive ideas of masculinity. Hating "religion" would be like hating "culture" or "ideas" - it's far too broad a term to mean much, and hating everything that is (arbitrarily) lumped in under it is indeed irrational.

The thing is, religious people WANT us to treat religion as a separate, special category of thought. It serves their purpose of prohibiting critical examination of their ideas very well. But we mustn't fall into that trap. And I don't think it is enough to just say "there is a valid category of thought called religion, but it's up for criticism", rather we must abandon the category wholesale because it was constructed, maintained and serves no other function but to keep ideas away from rational criticism. The only commonality between "religious" ideas is that they have had the label slapped on them. It's not taxonomy, it's branding. And we shouldn't fall for it.

Sat, 24 Mar 2012 13:37:39 UTC | #930159