A Follow Up Post On Gays And Christianity

A Follow Up Post On Gays And Christianity July 6, 2009

In reply to this post I wrote about a bishop of the Anglican church’s claims that those Christians who accept homosexuality do not share the same faith as him and that such people are being rolled over by “cultural trends,” came this passionate defense of Christian leaders’ right to discriminate against gays in the comments section:

Why is this so offensive to the homosexual community? If you want to be a part of the religion then you have to accept its doctrines. Or else youre simply not a part of the religion. Even the Devil believes in God, right? I dont get what the homosexual communities issue is. If you aim to change the religion then you’d might as well abandon it or create your own occult practice, because that is just as good as changing the one that is there. Im sorry that you feel unaccepted. But it is what it is. Accept the religion for what it is or dont accept it at all… why the religious intolerance? Is that not hypocritical of you? What are you accomplishing by mutilating a religion and its beliefs just so that you can be accepted into it? Would that help to validate you? Would it help you to feel better and sleep better at night? You might be able to force societies and laws to change, but you cannot force a religion. A religion is by definition spiritual, transcendental. God has spoken, right? The law-setter. No amount of petitioning will change Gods mind. If you dont accept that then you dont believe in the faith. What more is there for you to do?

Thanks for your reply, Cogito.

There are several issues.

1. For one thing to treat someone’s views on homosexuality as the arbiter of whether or not you “share the same faith” as this bishop does is a real stretch. I studied church history, there’s nothing in the Apostle’s Creed or the Council of Nicea about homosexuality. It’s not exactly a historical test of Christian orthodoxy. That opposition to gays is rapidly becoming the litmus test of Christianity says more about contemporary biblical literalism and fundamentalism than the history of the Christian churches.

2. If you take the time to watch this excellent speech by Gene Robinson to which I linked earlier or read this Newsweek article or the three books referred to in this post about the possibility of an outright homophilic reading of the Bible, you will see that interpreting what “God says about homosexuality in the Bible” is a lot harder than fundamentalists simplistically posit.

3. If all that sophisticated historical contextualization sounds too much like rationalization to you and you want to read the Bible in a straight up literalistic way, then you really should take to heart all of what the Bible literally says about what our sexual mores should be. For that, I encourage you to take a look at this biblically literal video, which shows just how obscenely ridiculous and appallingly ethically clueless sexual ethics in the Bible literally are:

4. The point I made in my post was that even if the Bishop were correct biblically or ethically, his flippant dismissal of a serious moral disagreement on the other side shows what contempt he has for everyone who does not share his arbitrary faith or his contestable reading of his religious texts.

As a secularist myself I find the religious arrogance that thinks the only serious ethical thinking happens when one rejects reason and makes authoritarian claims on behalf of God insulting.

5. Demanded by religious teaching or not, it is harmful to well past the point of unethical to demand an entire segment of the population to either be celibate or to try to change their natural pair-bond orientation in order to gain the social, economic, political, religious, and other institutional forms of respect for them and their relationships that everyone else enjoys.

If there is such a God who created people this way in order to force them into a choice between (1) being in a loveless miserable marriage, or (2) being ostracized, or (3) being left to die alone and celibate, then he’s pretty simply a sick bastard not worthy of worship.

But for those of us who actually reason about morality instead of take it on the authoritarian word of others who claim to speak for God, it’s a much more likely moral inference that anyone claiming such a ludicrously unfair arrangement is God’s will is expressing their own homophobia rather than the will of a God.

6. A religion does not need to be interpreted in terms of divine command theory the way you do. There are some who rationalistically assume that an immoral God would not be God or that even if there were such a being his decrees would not be just simply because he declares it so and he is more powerful than us. You call that “spiritual” and “transcendental” but all such an arrangement would be is a tyranny of “might makes right” which makes a mockery of reason and morality.

Faced with the choice to believe in a tyrant God who creates a morality at odds with our actual natures (where in the case of the gays, this means their sexual love-orientation) and a God who affirms the virtues of love wherever they are found (be they in gays or straights, in romantic love or in other kinds), many of those who believe that God by definition must be good find the latter a more rational inference.

While I don’t think we can or should talk at all as though we know any god to exist or to be probable and while I think all talk about the “spiritual which goes beyond our reason” is just  empty words—-nonetheless the view that an ideally good being cannot be a mere tyrant but act in ways that comprehensibly accord with our moral intuitions is at least more coherent a concept than the God which you are speculating exists.

7.  A high proportion of homosexuals are religious believers too,as recently confirmed by the major conservative Christian polling outfit the Barna Group. As gay Catholic Andrew Sullivan has passionately argued, it’s his church too. To assume the church belongs to the homophobes and those cruelly indifferent to the plight of gays is only to beg the question in their favor. That it rightfully belongs to them is not at all clear just because they currently have strangleholds on most of the reins of power.  As I argue in this post, Christianity is an amorphous set of historical traditions, capable of continued reinterpretation.  Christians, including gay ones, are free to redefine Christianity in accord with whatever more sophisticated ethical lens that they want. And, if my apostate’s opinion matters at all, I’d prefer they chose the most humane and ethically progressive interpretation possible if they at all can.

And there is even an entire directory of gay churches trying to do this.  Here’s the atheist transgendered blogger at Haunted Timber on the transformative effect visiting such a church had on her ability to see anything positive in religion:

My friend introduced me to a local LGBT church in Minneapolis. She and I attended the church for several months and got to know some of the people there. It was the first time in my life that I experienced a community of religious people that felt vibrant, healthy, and free of bigotry. The experience changed how I view religion. I spent much of that summer reading about liberal sects of Christianity and their philosophies. I was surprised by what I found and I have grown as a consequence of the experience. I started to let go of the hatred and prejudice that I once felt against Christianity. I now realize that there is much more to religion than the horrors of my childhood, the narrow views of my family, and the scary specter of the Religious Right.

There are plenty of terrible things to focus upon when it comes to most religions. If that is all you focus upon, then surely, that is what you shall see.  I’ve been trying my best to embrace this realization. I accept that organized spirituality doesn’t have to be grounded in hatred and intolerance. It can be so much more… and in many churches and religious organizations, it is.

8. There’s nothing “hypocritical” about what you call my “religious intolerance.” I expect my ideas to be assessed by commonly accessible standards of reason—appeals to logic, experience, a priori intuitions, defensible moral categories, etc. I judge religious opinions no differently. They get no special respect for being “religious,” I criticize them as harshly and under the same rubrics with which I assess any other claims to abstract knowledge or moral wisdom.

There is no special unfairness involved and no special tolerance involved. If a religious group wants to attempt to ostracize, belittle, and demonize a vulnerable segment of society, I have every moral right to criticize that group and root for its loss of power, out of the hope that the sway of its pernicious ideas and harmful practices will be diminished.

There’s nothing unfair about that.  I’m happy to subject all harmful organizations and belief systems to that same standard be they religious or secular institutions.

Be sure to read the excellent comments below this post and then to read my follow up post in reply to one of the commentators: Gays and Christianity 3: If God Exists and Is Good, He Cannot Oppose Gay Love

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