Morality Without Humanity

A shocking story has recently come out of Texas. It seems that High Point, an Arlington megachurch, abruptly canceled a planned funeral after finding out the deceased was gay, and that his family planned to mention that fact:

The pastor said that he could imagine a similar situation involving a different sin. Perhaps a mother who is a member of the church loses a son who is a thief or murderer, Mr. Simons said. The church would surely volunteer to hold a service, he said.

“But I don’t think the mother would submit photos of her son murdering someone,” he said. “That’s a red light going off.”

These words blaze with ugly and unrepentant bigotry. Comparing homosexuality to theft or murder is a disgusting slander, and shows that, when it comes to gays and lesbians, these people have nothing but hate in their hearts. They are consumed with an obsessive drive to punish everyone who engages in lifestyles they do not approve of. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t allow the funeral to go forward as planned so that they could deliver a sermon, a la Fred Phelps, about how the deceased is now burning in Hell and all other gays must repent or else share his fate. (I note that the deceased man, Cecil Sinclair, was not a church member; it was his family who wanted the memorial service held there.)

In either case, they’ve made it abundantly clear that people who practice different ways of life are not welcome within the doors of their church. I hope that all gay people and friends of gays take this lesson to heart and withdraw their support from churches that continue to disseminate such repulsive prejudice. I don’t understand why Mr. Sinclair’s family wanted to hold the memorial at High Point in the first place. Were they unaware of the church’s position on gays? Or did they believe that they would be welcomed, regardless of their differing views on the topic, because Christianity is a religion of love and tolerance? If so, I’m sorry for their disillusionment, but I think this only further underscores the point that most conservative denominations only extend that hand of welcome to people who believe and act just like them. Far from being a universal offer, their compassion is extended only to members of the in-group.

But there was another part to this story that also shocked me:

For instance, the family was willing to allow the church to issue an “altar call” asking people to accept Jesus at the end of the service.

Perhaps I’m naive, but is this a common occurrence at conservative religious congregations? Do they routinely exploit families’ grief as a way to proselytize for their own beliefs? It strikes me as tasteless and insensitive in the extreme to use a death in the community as an occasion for advertising.

High Point Church’s dismissive comparison of homosexuality to theft and murder underscores a point I made last month, in the post “Why Do They Care?“. The reason this bigotry seems so shocking is because it blithely equates murder, an act of violence inflicted on the victim without their consent, to a consensual, loving relationship between people of the same gender. To rational humanists, that is an outrageous equivalence, to compare an act of violence and harm to an act of pleasure and consent.

But to religious fundamentalists, there is no relevant difference. In their eyes, the only evil is that which offends God. No other factors are relevant – whether it causes harm or not, whether it is consensual or not, whether it causes pleasure or pain. If it angers God, it is wrong; and every such act receives the same punishment. They group all sins into the same category, recognizing no distinction or difference among them. A morality so blatantly divorced from human concerns, bearing no relation to what actual people need or want, is bound to cause great suffering whenever it’s applied to the real world.

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.

  • Stranger Jane

    “Perhaps I’m naive, but is this a common occurrence at conservative religious congregations?”

    I don’t know if it’s common or not, but it happened at the funeral for my 16 year old brother, at least, in the sermon. There wasn’t an actual “come up to the altar” that I can recall, but there almost certainly was a prayer.

    Needless to say it took an already stressful and painful situation for me and made it profoundly uncomfortable, especially since a majority of the family on both sides are not the ultra-religious fundamentalists that my mother is. My significant other is agnostic, and I lean fairly strongly towards atheism, and I was so offended by this that I have not set foot in a church since then.

  • Stranger Jane

    “Perhaps I’m naive, but is this a common occurrence at conservative religious congregations?”

    I don’t know if it’s common or not, but it happened at the funeral for my 16 year old brother, at least, in the sermon. There wasn’t an actual “come up to the altar” that I can recall, but there almost certainly was a prayer.

    Needless to say it took an already stressful and painful situation for me and made it profoundly uncomfortable, especially since a majority of the family on both sides are not the ultra-religious fundamentalists that my mother is. My significant other is agnostic, and I lean fairly strongly towards atheism, and I was so offended by this that I have not set foot in a church since then.

  • OMGF

    IIRC the offending pictures were simply pictures of Cecil with his significant other, not engaging in any homosexual acts, which renders the argument about showing pictures of someone murdering another quite moot. It’s hatred, plain and simple and it’s time that religious people stand up and say something protest it. I wonder how many of the congregation stood up and said, “This isn’t right. We should have this funeral.”

  • OMGF

    IIRC the offending pictures were simply pictures of Cecil with his significant other, not engaging in any homosexual acts, which renders the argument about showing pictures of someone murdering another quite moot. It’s hatred, plain and simple and it’s time that religious people stand up and say something protest it. I wonder how many of the congregation stood up and said, “This isn’t right. We should have this funeral.”

  • Matt R

    OMGF,

    I think that you would be happy to know that last week at the Bible study my wife and I host at our house, while addressing the topic of racism, I also brought up the problem of discrimination against homosexuals and highlighted the fact that we need to be sensetive to them as people.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Paul

    I just sent an email to this “church” expressing my outrage at their un-Christianlike behavior. Please do the same. http://www.churchunusual.com/general-email.html

  • Matt R

    Ebonmuse,

    I agree that the actions of the Pastor in Texas were reprehensible. I would like to add that, while some religious fundamentalists are not thoughtful in their actions, others are and this sort of scenario is not the necessary end to the moral ideas found in the Bible. I would also like to add that there are religious fundamentalists whom I know who think that God’s rules are designed to help people. With this mindset, in caring about God’s laws, they are caring about people.

    The obvious objection to this is that those people who think that way are ignoring reality. Well, reality is a difficult thing and they think that their view of reality is right in the same way that you think yours is, complete with their respective apologetic arguments which they think work.

    My point is that you may call them wrong or foolish but some of them truly believe that by pleasing God and teaching others to do the same, they are acting in the best interest of people.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.skepchick.com writerdd

    >Perhaps I’m naive, but is this a common occurrence at conservative religious congregations?

    Yes. Bleh.

  • Mrnaglfar

    My point is that you may call them wrong or foolish but some of them truly believe that by pleasing God and teaching others to do the same, they are acting in the best interest of people.

    Now it’s hard to word this so as not to deny people free speech and the ability to hold their own opinions. People, by all means, are entitled to them, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to respect other people’s beliefs, particularly when those beliefs are harmful to others. This is nothing but a hatred of gay people, mostly fueled by that passage in the bible everyone likes to cite about a man lying with another man. Of course, this will take me right back into the classic line of “which parts of the bible do you want to use and which parts don’t you and why” line of questions, but really, this whole thing is pathetic. It’s all reminiscent of when women or blacks were struggling to get on equal footing civil rights wise. Maybe we could learn a little bit from history, since we seemed to be doomed and repeating it again.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Oh, and this part was just charming

    After the church decided it would not host the funeral service, it offered to pay for another facility, Mr. Simons said. The family declined and found a local funeral home to hold the event Thursday night.Even so, the church sent over food and the video – minus the images church officials found to be offensive.

    “Some of our people will be there at the memorial service,” Mr. Simons said. “We tried to do the very best of our ability to express the love of Christ.”

    The church wanted to express the love of Christ the way they seem to be doing lately; by buying it. Sure, they tried to seem compassionate, offering to pay for the service elsewhere, but the underlying message is still “not in my backyard”. They compare their homosexual son to a murderer, cancel their offer to hold his funeral, and then have the nerve to tell people they’re trying to express love? Kind of like how the love of Christ was expressed to the children the church officials molested; by paying them off and never speaking of it again.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Oh, and this part was just charming

    After the church decided it would not host the funeral service, it offered to pay for another facility, Mr. Simons said. The family declined and found a local funeral home to hold the event Thursday night.Even so, the church sent over food and the video – minus the images church officials found to be offensive.

    “Some of our people will be there at the memorial service,” Mr. Simons said. “We tried to do the very best of our ability to express the love of Christ.”

    The church wanted to express the love of Christ the way they seem to be doing lately; by buying it. Sure, they tried to seem compassionate, offering to pay for the service elsewhere, but the underlying message is still “not in my backyard”. They compare their homosexual son to a murderer, cancel their offer to hold his funeral, and then have the nerve to tell people they’re trying to express love? Kind of like how the love of Christ was expressed to the children the church officials molested; by paying them off and never speaking of it again.

  • http://atheisthussy.blogspot.com/ Intergalactic Hussy

    Wow…I’m not really surprised. Yet I am always taken back by Xians with un-Christianlike behavior. Aren’t we supposed to love our fellow neighbors?

  • tommy

    Ah thanks for the Email link, I let them know that they failed at basic humanity, and therefore failed at life itself.

  • http://dallasnews.com Jeffrey Weiss

    Much more content on this topic on the dallasnews.com religion blog, including what may be the photo that set the church off.
    http://religion.beloblog.com/

  • OMGF

    OMGF,

    I think that you would be happy to know that last week at the Bible study my wife and I host at our house, while addressing the topic of racism, I also brought up the problem of discrimination against homosexuals and highlighted the fact that we need to be sensetive to them as people.

    Cheers,

    Matt

    Good. Of course, it’s a little disappointing that you actually have to tell people to respect other human beings and be sensitive to them as people. But, I guess one has to take the first step somehow.

    Just please tell me that you didn’t use the “It’s all right to be gay, just don’t act on it” line.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ John P

    Or “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” double bleh.

  • Michael

    Yes, it’s VERY common at evangelical/fundamental churches to have an altar call or similar during any ceremony they hold. In a twisted way, I recently found it a blessing. I was an emotional wreck at my father’s funeral, but having my mother’s church push their religious propaganda throughout the ceremony helped me keep from breaking down. It’s amazing what offensive sermons can do for helping you maintain your composure.

  • Jeff T.

    Altar calls were always given at the end of every single church service that I attended at the Church of God and Assembly of God. Altar calls were not considered proselytizing by the church, rather it was just another means of worship. Believers as well as those who wanted to ‘accept Jesus as their Savior’ would go up to the altar—usually following the sermon. Sometimes the believers would go first, sometimes at the same time, at other times afterwards, but in the end, the altars were always full of worshipers.

    When I tried the Catholic church later in my life, I found the altars that were placed directly in front of the pews preferable to the ones of the four square churches that I attended as a youth. The four square ones were at the front of all the pews, but beneath the preacher’s podium.

    I remember being taught that any sin was punishable by hellfire, so you might as well be a murderer and thief if you sinned by lusting after women— obviously this teaching is in direct conflict with actual social evolution and therefore was without substance— but it was repeated often in sermons.

    I am often amazed at how much hatred flows from the religious. What a sad story.

  • James Bradbury

    They probably thought they were helping by bringing up Jesus. Perhaps I’m naive, but I doubt they saw it as “selling”, more as suggesting something they genuinely thought would help. If they are under the impression that Jesus made a big difference in their lives, it’s perfectly natural that they’d want to share that. The fact that they’re misguided bigots doesn’t mean they’re not sincere.

    But yes, I’ve been to funerals where the deceased is made out to be more religious than they were. I think it’s fairly common.

    Mitchell and Webb humourously lampooned this fact in Peep Show where a guy is given a humanist funeral much to the annoyance of his nephew who witnessed his dead bed conversion to Christianity.

  • RiddleOfSteel

    Perhaps I’m naive, but is this a common occurrence at conservative religious congregations? Do they routinely exploit families’ grief as a way to proselytize for their own beliefs? It strikes me as tasteless and insensitive in the extreme to use a death in the community as an occasion for advertising.

    I am glad you wrote about this, because it’s something that has been bothering me quite a bit of late. I refer to the way that some religious folk never seem to miss an opportunity to insert their faith into other people’s grief – whether or not asked for. It is indeed an unseemly type of advertising.

    Last week in my area, there was an unfortunate murder/suicide involving a mother and her two children. The mother apparently had some type of dementia brought on by MS. Of course the next day, someone had implanted three white crosses in front of the house where the incident had taken place. The victims were immigrants and possibly not even Christian, and yet someone apparently felt the need and entitlement to use the situation to stick crosses in the victim’s front yard. Is this the same god that allowed the mother to contract MS, I wonder?

    These type of incidents bring to mind the stories I have read about the religious who pester unbelievers on their deathbeds – it really is ghoulish. Then claiming false deathbed conversion to prop up their faith. I have had to tell my wife that should I pass away before her, these people should not be allowed to turn my death into an advertisement for their faith. It really is unfortunate I should have to leave that instruction, but these people are shameless.

  • john

    i genuinely do not understand the religious out there. if you deny someone a proper funeral because they are gay, why don’t they deny murderers, adulterers, and any other ‘sinful’ thing that the bible spouts about.
    i know that i’m not the kind of person that cares what religious people do or say, but this kind of crap gets my goat every time.

  • Alex Weaver

    If you deny someone a proper funeral because they are gay, why don’t they deny murderers, adulterers, and any other ‘sinful’ thing that the bible spouts about.

    Pork eaters?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    “A morality so blatantly divorced from human concerns, bearing no relation to what actual people need or want, is bound to cause great suffering whenever it’s applied to the real world. ”

    Well put, but forgive my presumption in proferring an alternate version:

    “A morality so blatantly divorced from human concerns, bearing no relation to what actual people need or want, but based solely on the whims of this God fellow, is bound to cause great suffering wherever it’s applied; and the accountability for this suffering belongs to the deity cited.”

  • http://www.operacast.com G Riggs

    “[I]nasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” Matthew: 25: 40(b)

    Maybe — if deity exists — s/he also suffers from bloodthirsty fatwas like this one just as much as anyone else here who’s reasonably humane? [shrug]

    G Riggs

  • MikhailMulentov

    Who are we to assert the weighs of an individual sin? As of yet, I haven’t found a quote from the Bible misquoted/taken completely out of context.