To Win, We Just Have to Show Up

In the wake of marriage equality’s victory in New York State last Friday, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler posted the following to Twitter:

Now, fully 1 in 9 Americans will live in a state with legalized same-sex marriage. Our mission field is getting more complicated.

On the surface, this is a strange statement. Mohler apparently believes that the legalization of same-sex marriage will make it more difficult for Christians to win converts. Why would he think this?

My wife and I discussed this, and I can only come up with one explanation that seems reasonable: Mohler is against same-sex marriage because he wants society to discriminate against non-Christians, thereby making conversion to Christianity a more attractive offer. If all people have equal rights, then Christianity will be forced to rely on its own persuasive power to make converts, rather than holding out unique privileges that are only available to Christians – and that’s a competition he fears!

And it’s not hard to see why. If proselytizers like Mohler seek to convince gay people that their sexual orientation is sinful, wrong and must be changed, they’ll have a much harder time making the case to people in a happy, stable, committed relationship with all the benefits offered by the state to opposite-sex couples. They’d prefer that GLBT people be a downtrodden and oppressed minority, punished and scorned by the state, unprotected against discrimination in jobs or housing, shut out from all the legal benefits society has to offer. They don’t want to compete on a level playing field, but one that’s tilted in their favor; they want people who won’t convert to suffer for their defiance.

The same thing happens with atheism. In their furious hushing of atheists and demanding that we be more respectful, in their efforts around the world to pass bills punishing speech that insults or denigrates religion, we see that what the major religious groups and their allies want is to silence dissent. Again, they don’t want to compete in a marketplace of ideas; they want society to be their parishioners, sitting in enforced silence while they alone stand in the pulpit and preach.

There’s a lesson here for freethinkers: to win the debate, we just have to show up. If we can speak freely and make our case, we’ve already won. If we can successfully claim the same rights and the same privileges as religious people, we’ve already won. If ordinary people have friends and family who are atheists, and know that they have friends and family who are atheists, we’ve already won. If the battle is waged on a level playing field, our victory is assured, because we know that in an open and fair debate, our arguments are the better ones and will carry the day. It’s only coercion and prejudice that can hold us back, and both those obstacles are weakening and falling one by one.

* * *

In other news, New York’s churches are still sputtering in fury over the passage of marriage equality this weekend. The Catholic bishops were caught off-guard and were never able to mount an effective opposition, but now that they’ve lost, they’re venting their anger by spitefully vowing to ban pro-equality politicians from events at Catholic schools and churches:

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, of the diocese of Brooklyn, called on all Catholic schools to reject any honor bestowed upon them by Gov. Cuomo, who played a pivotal role in getting the bill passed.

He further asked all pastors and principals to “not invite any state legislator to speak or be present at any parish or school celebration.”

Personally, I couldn’t be happier that this naked bigotry is on open display. I want the bishops to announce it far and wide, preferably in bright neon signs. I want the whole world to hear the message loud and clear: “If you believe gay people deserve the same rights as everyone else, we don’t want you in our church!”

I say this because every survey shows that the younger generations are overwhelmingly in favor of equality. By making assent to bigotry a non-negotiable condition of membership, by vocally insisting that the one thing that defines a Christian more than anything else is being anti-gay, the bishops are accelerating their slide into irrelevance. Some denominations are bowing to the inevitable, but the Catholic authorities have made this their hill to die on. And the way they’re going, they’ll get their wish. Already, as many as one in ten Americans are ex-Catholics, and that number is only going to increase. In twenty years or so, the religious landscape in the Western world is going to be very different, and that’s a change that I look forward to seeing.

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.

  • Nathaniel

    Whats that? You want more rope? Sure, have another foot…

  • http://onthewaytoithaca.wordpress.com EvanT

    Has anyone heard any reaction from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America? I went by their website, but they hadn’t posted anything relevant yet. They certainly won’t cheer over the bill (and their views are clearly against, though a lot less vociferously) but I wonder if they’re gonna take the hint and antagonize people’s sensibilities less. This bears watching.

  • Fumio Takeshi

    I only wish Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and ChildRape Inc. would put their money where their mouth is and refuse to accept state funds which is in part contributed by The GHEYS™. Oh wait…

  • http://www.ooblick.com/weblog/ arensb

    My wife and I discussed this

    How is this possible? I thought that allowing gay marriage was going to instantly destroy every straight marriage, and you were going to be forced to marry some dude.

    But your point about fighting on a level playing field reminds me of an analogy Greta Christina made: that religion is like a house of cards inside a castle. Once you get past the castle (e.g., the idea that one shouldn’t criticize religion, or that religious institutions should get special privileges), the rest (arguing the merits of religion or lack thereof) is easy.

  • http://www.unequally-yoked.com Leah @ Unequally Yoked

    I think it’s even simpler. Gay marriage debunks their truth claims and hurts their conception of the Church as a reliable truth generator. Think about Frum’s about-face because, after he saw the reality of gay marriage, he realized the scare stories were false. The reality of gay marriage will force them to either change their stance (conceding they were wrong) or remain glaringly out of step with reality.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    “My wife and I discussed this, and I can only come up with one explanation that seems reasonable: Mohler is against same-sex marriage because he wants society to discriminate against non-Christians, thereby making conversion to Christianity a more attractive offer. If all people have equal rights, then Christianity will be forced to rely on its own persuasive power to make converts, rather than holding out unique privileges that are only available to Christians – and that’s a competition he fears!”

    Wait … THAT’S the only explanation you could come up with that seemed reasonable, as opposed to the more obvious one that if same sex marriage and relationships actually do become mainstream it’ll be more difficult to convince people to adopt a philosophy that goes against that? I mean, that explanation not only seems obvious but also seems reasonable, whether their opinion on same sex relationships is right or wrong.

  • NoAstronomer

    “If all people have equal rights, then Christianity will be forced to rely on its own persuasive power to make converts, rather than holding out unique privileges that are only available to Christians.”

    One unique privileges that christians used to deny to others of course was the privilege of breathing.

  • monkeymind

    “If all people have equal rights, then Christianity will be forced to rely on its own persuasive power to make converts, rather than holding out unique privileges that are only available to Christians.”

    I think you’re on track but I don’t think the focus of concern is on making converts of non-believers. Christianity in the US is basically a big business and the major players have long ago realized that outreach to non-believers offers a paltry return on investment. All mission work to the unsaved and unwashed is really PR and a dead loss to the bottom line – the real business of “church growth” is to convince people who are already Christians to switch brands. Thus bored Baptists become “Reformed” or “Messianic”, evangelicals become “emergent” etc. Furthermore church leaders know that however much they like to pose as purveyors of timeless truths of ultimate authority, they are as dependent on the whims of public taste as any business. Widespread acceptance of same sex relationships introduces instability into the market and exposes denominations and pastors to high levels of risk: they will likely alienate current and potential church members no matter what stand they take. Mainline denominations that are gay-friendly might actually begin to gain market share after years of losing.
    And the whole thing risks exposing the fact that most Christians do not believe what they say they believe. If you truly believe that the supreme eternal ruler of the universe forbids teh gay, how could temporal laws and ephemeral public attitudes possibly affect your position?

  • Alex Weaver

    “My wife and I discussed this, and I can only come up with one explanation that seems reasonable: Mohler is against same-sex marriage because he wants society to discriminate against non-Christians, thereby making conversion to Christianity a more attractive offer. If all people have equal rights, then Christianity will be forced to rely on its own persuasive power to make converts, rather than holding out unique privileges that are only available to Christians – and that’s a competition he fears!”

    Wait … THAT’S the only explanation you could come up with that seemed reasonable, as opposed to the more obvious one that if same sex marriage and relationships actually do become mainstream it’ll be more difficult to convince people to adopt a philosophy that goes against that?

    How is that different?

  • Demonhype
    “My wife and I discussed this, and I can only come up with one explanation that seems reasonable: Mohler is against same-sex marriage because he wants society to discriminate against non-Christians, thereby making conversion to Christianity a more attractive offer. If all people have equal rights, then Christianity will be forced to rely on its own persuasive power to make converts, rather than holding out unique privileges that are only available to Christians – and that’s a competition he fears!”

    Wait … THAT’S the only explanation you could come up with that seemed reasonable, as opposed to the more obvious one that if same sex marriage and relationships actually do become mainstream it’ll be more difficult to convince people to adopt a philosophy that goes against that?

    How is that different?

    Exactly. How often do the religious anti-gay nuts point to high rates of suicide in gay teens as “evidence” that there is something wrong with them, while conveniently leaving out the middle man–that you and/or your child (who has been well-trained by you in the art of bigotry) have been oppressing and persecuting gay kids and following behind them at all times smashing your Holy Book against their skulls and calling them abominations? Or claiming that those higher rate of STD’s are caused by being gay, rather than the fact that it likely has more to do with gay people having, in the past, been forced into a more risky sub-cultural underground lifestyle by the bigotry and hatred and persecution of religious people with way too much power? Or claiming to non-gay people that these obvious “evidences” that there is “something wrong” with a gay lifestyle proves that their God and Holy Book are True, because the Bible says it’s wrong to be gay and just look at how bad their lives are because they defied God’s Word and “chose” to be gay, and so you defy god to your own peril, sinner!

    Much like how their religion creates the disease and then sells the snake-oil to cure it, the religious create a life of horror for those of whom they disapprove and then use that horrible lifestyle as “evidence” that they were right, that god punishes the unbeliever/”sodomite”/etc and rewards the properly faithful. Always conveniently leaving out the factor of their own persecution of others, that fact that they themselves (and not God) have always been directly responsible for enacting such rewards and punishments,

  • John Nernoff

    The pope wears a gold wedding band since he’s married to Jesus. The bishops and cardinals too. They’re all married to Jesus. Am I wrong about this?

    The pope, the bishops and the cardinals and Jesus are all men.

    The leaders of the Catholic Church have had same sex marriage for centuries. They dare to complain?

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Alex,

    The difference is that my explanation makes no claim that he wants society to discriminate to make his advocacy easier, and Ebon’s makes that precise claim,

    Demonhype,

    I’ve always found that the misery of gay people tends to be a secondary argument for most Christians who think homosexuality is wrong; they tend to start with “It’s wrong” and only retreat to that in response to the demand of “Who is it hurting?”.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    John Nernoff,

    Do you have a source that says that the Pope and Bishops wear wedding rings and are claimed to be married to God? I know that’s the case — or at least used to be — for nuns, but have never heard that that was the case for male religious leaders.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    John #11,

    I’m not sure that the pope’s ring is a wedding ring. It is the Ring of the Fisherman according to Wikipedia with St Peter on it. Though I’m pretty sure that the pope and all other priests are “married” to the church (which is somehow female) and Jesus is married to her too so it’s pretty fun either way.

  • 2-D Man

    The difference is that my explanation makes no claim that he wants society to discriminate to make his advocacy easier, and Ebon’s makes that precise claim,

    Actually, they both did. There is no appreciable difference between your position and the one already advocated by Ebonmuse.

    I’ve always found that the misery of gay people tends to be a secondary argument for most Christians who think homosexuality is wrong; they tend to start with “It’s wrong” and only retreat to that in response to the demand of “Who is it hurting?”

    And as Demonhype already pointed out, that’s where the game of Stupid or Evil begins; it’s gone on long enough that many people around here have concluded “Evil”. (“Both” is also an acceptable answer, I suppose, when I’m feeling generous.)

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    2-D-Man,

    My point talked specifically about how the laws reflected societal attitudes, and how that change in attitudes would make it harder to convince people to support an institution that claimed wrong something people thought was at least not wrong. It said nothing about discrimination, and you can only get there by a huge logical leap that has nothing to do with the attitudes I was purporting to the person.

    My point about Demonhype’s comment is precisely that that sort of argument is not, in fact, generally used as evidence that it is wrong. They start from wrong and defend it from charges that it can’t be wrong because it’s harmless.

    Note: Over the weekend I probably won’t be able to muster up enough interest to keep on with this discussion, so I’ll bow out now and give everyone else the last word.

  • http://www.politicalflavors.com MissCherryPi

    How is this possible? I thought that allowing gay marriage was going to instantly destroy every straight marriage, and you were going to be forced to marry some dude.

    Well the law doesn’t go into effect for 30 days, so I think the time line would go something like this:
    July 24: The state begins issuing same sex marriage permits.
    July 25: Gay weddings begin.
    July 26: New York is destroyed.
    July 27: Gays take over during the chaos.
    July 28: All straight marriages are dissolved by our new gay ruling class.
    July 29: We are assigned our new same sex spouses.

    As long as I don’t have to move to Staten Island. That would be blasphemous. And I hear the commute is a pain too. ;)

  • http://peyre.byethost8.com/ Leon Baradat

    Already, as many as one in ten Americans are ex-Catholics

    Yup! I’m one! (‘Course, I deconverted decades ago…)

  • Demonhype

    Actually, my point was that they start with “it’s wrong”, use their obscene privilege and power to make life miserable for those who follow/commit “it” (whatever “it” may be), then use some version of Prosperity Gospel reasoning to “prove” their point that “it” is wrong, arguing either “see how God punishes them for their evil, how do you explain that if it’s so harmless?” or else “God was wise to forbid (insert thing they don’t like here), just see how everyone who does it ends up with their life ruined, that proves it’s not harmless”, as if those miserable conditions are directly caused by, say, being gay rather than by the persecution of bigoted believers.

    Well, I’m mostly making that point from some of my personal experience. That’s the attitude I’ve gotten from a few people who, for example, believed homosexuality was wrong. “See, they have a higher rate of STD’s, they have higher rate of suicide, that is clear evidence that there is something objectively wrong with being gay and so God was wise to forbid it, what more proof do you need that Jesus is Lord BTW than that God Himself forbade such a Dangerous Perversion even back then, and things were just great until we chose to disobey Him, and we NEED to bring back the Godly Days of Yore when these people were forced to Be Straight or Die, it’s for the sake of public health and totally not my own prejudice, and if you still want to deny this you’re just close-minded and stubborn in the face of the irrefutable evidence–do we have to go over the suicide and STD rate again? REPENT!”

    And yes, I have had the occasional argument that God Himself so “accurately” predicting the modern epidemic of AIDS by demanding all gays be put to death–because “God knew even then that this was a virus caused specifically by sodomy” and tried to warn us even then–is clear evidence that their particular religion is the One True Faith and that should be evidence enough for me to convert. (And no, I didn’t leave that “AIDS caused by gays” bullshit alone either.)

    I have to admit they are often taken aback a bit when I take that excluded middle and put it back into the equation–pointing out that those gay teens are committing more suicides because of being persecuted psychologically and physically day-in and day-out, pointing out that any lifestyle will become dangerous when it is forced into the underground (much like alcohol became Big Business for organized crime during Prohibition, for example). Some of them immediately lash back with extra malevolence, but others seem to have never considered this point before and don’t quite know what to say. They still try to lash out, but it comes off more like they’re floundering.

  • RipleyP

    It would seem counter productive for the goals of religious organizations to ban the politicians. Surely they would seek to keep the lines of communications open with said politicians so they could continue to promote their position and agenda.

    If they want to stop talking to the politicians then the opportunity to promote said agenda is reduced. I say good on you church, you keep on not talking to the politicians.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    My wife and I discussed this, and I can only come up with one explanation that seems reasonable: Mohler is against same-sex marriage because he wants society to discriminate against non-Christians, thereby making conversion to Christianity a more attractive offer. If all people have equal rights, then Christianity will be forced to rely on its own persuasive power to make converts, rather than holding out unique privileges that are only available to Christians – and that’s a competition he fears!

    This reminds me of something Johann Hari wrote about conservative Christians making LGBT people’s lives difficult, and then trying to argue that their being LGBT is causing them to be depressed, so they should change. I agree that religious leaders seem to be realizing the difficult position they’re in; since the bad things they claim will happen in the afterlife are supernatural, they have to use bad things like discrimination in this life to act as persuasion.

    By making assent to bigotry a non-negotiable condition of membership, by vocally insisting that the one thing that defines a Christian more than anything else is being anti-gay, the bishops are accelerating their slide into irrelevance. Some denominations are bowing to the inevitable, but the Catholic authorities have made this their hill to die on. And the way they’re going, they’ll get their wish.

    The day when it becomes absolutely embarrassing to be a member of a denomination that discriminates against LGBT people can’t come soon enough.

    -Ani Sharmin