Why Do They Care?

In the summer of 2006, Republican Senator David Vitter (about whom you might have heard some news lately) said the following about a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage:

“I don’t believe there’s any issue that’s more important than this one,” said Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican. “I think this debate is very healthy, and it’s winning a lot of hearts and minds. I think we’re going to show real progress.”

No issue is more important than the drive to ban gay marriage. This, while the U.S. is bogged down in a bloody and deeply unpopular foreign war; while one of our major cities still struggles to rebuild in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane; while terrorist groups abroad seek to impose their will by random violence; while we still confront crime, poverty and racism. All these issues pale before the urgent need to prevent same-sex couples from filing joint tax returns. (I noted Vitter’s remark at the time, as well as some even more unhinged rhetoric, in last June’s post Groundhog Day).

What is it about gay marriage that gets religious conservatives so worked up? Their speeches on the subject are one long stream of apocalyptic rhetoric and obsessive, unrelenting hate, bearing no relation to the actual severity of the issue. Meanwhile, they seem perfectly content to ignore issues that continue to cause suffering for untold thousands of real people. Something similar seems to be true of abortion, where they focus tremendous amounts of energy on making that option unavailable, but comparatively little on helping women avoid unwanted pregnancy or escape poverty so that they would not desire to have an abortion in the first place. What can explain their obsessive, tireless zeal?

Most people, but especially fundamentalists, assume that God is just like them; he cheers on all their opinions and shares all their prejudices. (What they imagine to be a window through which they can see God is in truth a mirror held up to their own faces.) Thus, when they see gay couples together and feel disgusted, or when they see atheists standing up for reason and feel angry, or when they see other people practicing their religion and are appalled, they automatically assume that God feels the same way. Naturally, they assume that God will use his supernatural power to hurt these groups in revenge.

But the problem, according to the Bible, is that when God gets angry, he rarely stops at hurting just the person responsible. Innocent bystanders tend to suffer as well. The Egyptian first-born suffered for Pharaoh’s keeping the Israelites hostage; all the world’s children and other innocents drowned in the great flood; Achan’s family was stoned and burned for Achan’s sin; the nation of Amalek was massacred for the deeds of their ancestors; Job and his family were tormented as a result of God’s bet with Satan; fifty thousand Israelites died because a handful looked into the Ark of the Covenant; the wives and children of Daniel’s false accusers were thrown to the lions, and so on.

Viewed in this light, I think the fundamentalists’ behavior is more explicable. Their Ahabian obsession with culture-war issues is not because they prefer to concentrate on ginned-up, phony controversies rather than issues of true importance. It’s because they believe these issues actually are the most important ones. Their behavior is, to them, a matter of self-defense. These theists believe themselves to be hostages of their psychotic god, whom they fear will hurt them badly if they cannot force everyone to conform to his wishes. (Consider this horrifying cartoon from an extreme Christian site.)

As long as religious conservatives continue to hold these views, compromise will likely be impossible. After all, they do not believe that God will change his standards. The only feasible long-term solution is to show that their views are unsupported by evidence and unfounded. There may always be holdouts, but by forceful, effective advocacy of reason-based views, we can deconvert as many of them as possible and win society over to our side.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • mithraman

    Hmm, I looked at the cartoon and actually thought it was pretty good. God fed up with being called “Mother Nature”. I thought maybe an atheist did it, but no, it is a strongly religious site. Obviously I’m amused by this cartoon for a different reason than the cartoonist intended. I’m looking at it from the standpoint of someone who knows there is no god to unleash his wrath upon us. In that light, the cartoon has an aura of silliness to it but seems harmless. But I imagine the cartoonist might actually think its a good thing for god to send destruction towards us when he feels insulted.

  • Polly

    I don’t believe there’s any issue that’s more important than this one,” said Sen. David Vitter

    What a coincidence, I just watched a Simpsons rerun where a guy in a burning building calls out to his would-be rescuers, “Somewhere, two people of the same sex are getting married. THAT’s the real emergency.” It’s pretty close to a perfect analogy.

    Most people, but especially fundamentalists, assume that God is just like them; he cheers on all their opinions and shares all their prejudices.

    So true! I sometimes wonder if the fundies around me are worshiping a compilation of their own character flaws. Many things that offend them aren’t even in the Bible – like recreational drug use and even alcohol despite JC’s very FIRST miracle.
    And a lot of things that they support seems to have tenuous Biblical basis – like dog-eat-dog capitalism and NOT giving to poor people. I am very pro-capitalist, but it won’t subvert the system to provide a helping hand where it’s genuinely needed.
    Some use the OT Biblical injuction against marrying heathens as a basis for prohibiting their children from marrying members of other races of the same religion!

    Something similar seems to be true of abortion, where they focus tremendous amounts of energy on making that option unavailable, but comparatively little on helping women avoid unwanted pregnancy or escape poverty so that they would not desire to have an abortion in the first place.

    Sadly, some would like to see a woman “suffer the consequences of being promiscuous” rather than showing her how to “get away with it” by using contraception. Preventing abortion through preventing conception in the first place should also be a major area of focus.
    I’ve actually heard a fundie voice their vehement opposition to developing an AIDS vaccine on the grounds that all it would do is let sinners keep sinning.

    As long as religious conservatives continue to hold these views, compromise will likely be impossible.

    That’s why conservatives and conservativism need more atheist input. If I were to defect from the Republican camp, it would simply result in one more step to the theocratic right. It’s not an inherently religious party, or rather, it doesn’t need to be. The fact that we have parties at all are an affront to a unified democracy. Our leaders ought to all be on the same team, working for US. In the mean time, each citizen ought to make the best of whichever side he more closely identifies with. I don’t know any candidate that matches my opinions on more than a small majority of issues.

  • OMGF

    Sadly, some would like to see a woman “suffer the consequences of being promiscuous” rather than showing her how to “get away with it” by using contraception. Preventing abortion through preventing conception in the first place should also be a major area of focus.
    I’ve actually heard a fundie voice their vehement opposition to developing an AIDS vaccine on the grounds that all it would do is let sinners keep sinning.

    Or the HPV vaccine?

  • boomslang

    This article seems as pertinent a dissection of the hate/fear fundie mindset [sic] as I’ve ever found… note, not coincidentally, that it comes from perhaps the most liberal of the Abrahamic congregations…

  • James Bradbury

    I think I’ve mentioned this before, but:

    Gott mit uns!

    Even the Nazis thought god was on their side.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    I suspect there’s more to it than just the fear that God will punish the whole society. I’m sure that idea strengthens and solidifies their viewpoint, but it’s not the only factor.

    I’d say their view is somewhat less individualistic. If you consider yourself to be defined by the society to which you belong, then it does matter what other people do. Moreover, I’d say such people might be aware on some level that they are determining their opinions according to the society in which they belong (in this case, a strongly religious subset of society). They might be — no, they are — afraid, for instance, that their children will be swayed by more liberal viewpoints, and they can see that that’s less likely if such viewpoints are stifled.

    I suspect that some issues also get blown up because there’s more controversy about them. They become defining issues — ways of distinguishing them from us.

  • Brock

    I’m not convinved that people like Vitter really believe the things they say about issues that they perceive will resonate with the electorate. After all, “everybody” is against gay marriage, so it’s cheap political points to jump on the bandwagon. Look how much rhetoric is wasted on the flagburning issue, which is obviously just a feel good issue that appeals to red-state chauvinists for whom the symbol is more important than the substance. That being said, it seems the height of hypocrisy for a man who seems to take so little account of his own marriage vows to be legislating morality for the rest of us.

  • andrea

    In my opinion, the main reason that many Christians get so worked up about gay marriage is that they truly hate to see someone happy. They wish that everyone was as unhappy as they, with their guilt, sin and fear. They are simply miserable and desperately waiting for that carrot that their religion dangles in front of them. And as they say, misery loves company.

  • http://infophilia.blogspot.com Infophile

    In my opinion, the main reason that many Christians get so worked up about gay marriage is that they truly hate to see someone happy. They wish that everyone was as unhappy as they, with their guilt, sin and fear. They are simply miserable and desperately waiting for that carrot that their religion dangles in front of them. And as they say, misery loves company.

    I think it was Tony Danza who summed up Catholicism quite eloquently, along these lines: “If it feels good, stop.”

  • http://kellygorski.blogspot.com Kelly

    It absolutely pains me to read this. There is no debate. Period. Marriage is marriage. Marriage is the civil and religious union between two consenting adults. It doesn’t matter whether they are same- or different-sex partners; it is sex discrimination to allow a woman to do something that a man may not do and vice versa. If a man can marry a woman, a woman must be allowed to marry a woman. This is common sense.

    The very fact that the religious want their faith-based beliefs politicized disgusts me.

  • http://superhappyjen.blogspot.com superhappyjen

    It absolutely pains me to read this. There is no debate. Period. Marriage is marriage. Marriage is the civil and religious union between two consenting adults. It doesn’t matter whether they are same- or different-sex partners; it is sex discrimination to allow a woman to do something that a man may not do and vice versa. If a man can marry a woman, a woman must be allowed to marry a woman. This is common sense.

    The very fact that the religious want their faith-based beliefs politicized disgusts me.

    Amen to that! :)

  • http://blog.myspace.com/ozzyrules Chris

    I usually just read all of these blog posts via RSS and don’t say much else (aka, I’m a lurker) but I wanted to say this is an excellent essay! Thanks for keeping this blog updated regularly with such thought provoking words, concepts and ideas.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Fundies oppose gay marriage for the same reason that they oppose evolution. Since the Bible says God created man in his image, then they cannot accept a scientific theory that says that we share a common ancestor with apes and we got to where we are through millions of years of evolution and natural selection.

    The specifically says that a man shall not lie with a man as he would a woman and some similar sounding passages. Therefore, there can be no compromise with a Fundy. If they do not oppose these things, then it’s saying that God’s word is not to be obeyed and the whole edifice of belief comes crashing down. What a sad way to think.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Fundies oppose gay marriage for the same reason that they oppose evolution. Since the Bible says God created man in his image, then they cannot accept a scientific theory that says that we share a common ancestor with apes and we got to where we are through millions of years of evolution and natural selection.

    The specifically says that a man shall not lie with a man as he would a woman and some similar sounding passages. Therefore, there can be no compromise with a Fundy. If they do not oppose these things, then it’s saying that God’s word is not to be obeyed and the whole edifice of belief comes crashing down. What a sad way to think.

    While they quote the bible about a man not sleeping with another man why don’t they quote it about killing anyone working on the sabbath, or a man being able to sell his daughter into slavery, or a man not going near a woman on her period, or being able to kill disobedient children?

    Of course, this kind of brings up the whole question :”if god hates gays so much, why would he make the option available?” But that’s venturing into reason and logic; something religion is very uncomfortable with.

  • uhclem

    “It absolutely pains me to read this. There is no debate. Period. Marriage is marriage.”

    Maybe I’m old fashioned, but marriage and weddings, at least in America, have historically been pretty religious institutions, usually conducted in a church or synagogue. As such, it’s not clear to me why a gay person would want to have anything to do with “the institution of marriage”, where a guy stands up in the front of the church holding a holey book that contains literal death sentences against homosexuals.

    Maybe it’s just a hangup I have with the word marriage. I think the substantive issue is that of benefits that married people “enjoy” which are denied to gay couples. For these reasons, a fully equivalent civil union seems to me to fit the bill. But then, I’m not gay.

  • OMGF

    uhclem,
    Marriage is also a conferred status by the government (usually state government) that allows those rights, like power of attorney, visitation, etc. I think all unions should be civil unions, personally, and if one wants to be “married” in front of their church then that can be in addition to the state sanctioned civil union. But, until states start issuing civil unions to everyong and not issuing marriage licenses, then gays are right to fight for marriage.

  • lpetrich

    I’m very cynical about this obsession with gay marriage. I think that it’s a way to rally the Republican Party’s base and to distract both them and everybody else from the war in Iraq, increasing wealth disparity, and other problems.

  • KShep

    I have been bewildered for years about the fundies fire-breathing obsession with everyone else’s sex life. Even as a teenager I thought, “If you don’t think men should be kissing men, then don’t kiss a man!” But it goes so much further than that. Nowadays the fundies think THEIR beliefs are being violated whenever OTHER people use birth control, have sex outside marriage, live together before marriage, remove life support, watch pornography, etc. Even worse, to me, are the numbskulls who think that the law should changed to respect the idea that pharmacists or landlords beliefs are being violated when those ‘other’ people come looking for their services or housing. Why is it any of their business?

    I guess I’m just venting here—this issue (concerning a landlord who refused to rent his properties to unmarried couples) got a lot of media coverage here in Michigan a couple years ago. It went all the way to the State Supreme Court (the landlord lost, again, but the SC decision was vacated by the Chief Justice, a right wing nutjob), and I followed the issue closely, silently raging the entire time. Okay, maybe not so silently.

    I like to try and think like other people do, in an effort to understand them better. But I just can’t get my head around the mind of a fundamentalist who is more concerned with ‘other people’s’ sex life than with a corrupt government and criminal white house (or homelessness, or hunger, or education, or health care).

    Sort of like David Vitter.

  • SM

    Uhclem, anthropologically marriage is a socially sanctioned sexual and economic union. I believe it is one of the few universal customs. In plenty of societies marraige has had no mandatory connection to religion. So call it marriage or civil union, if it fits that definition it is a form of marriage!

  • Jorge

    Oh guys I am really glad I ended up here, I am no atheist but pantheist that said guys you’re reason in this night. You see I was looking for creepy cartoons, just to have a bump little scare and ended up in a really scary place a christian forum…

    I’ll get on topic now, I will tell you something you may not like but for me these fundies in yours and my country (Even if they are of different religions) are a more latent and real danger than muslims, because all the bad things media says about them it actually applies to fundies, but they have acces to some power in here next to us.

    It is enough to say that some of our politics are driven by their dogma rather than their mission to represent the people, probably in US there is some way to control them, here not so much.

    Guys really it is just nice to read something that freaking makes sense after finding that some people are willing to believe that the earth is flat…


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