I recently was questioned on why I call the extreme religious right hate-mongers and bigots. The temptation was to simply reply “because they are, end of story”, but in reality it needed a little better explanation, so I took a few days to think about it and composed a reply to the person who asked me.
Since sending the response, I’ve been thinking about the reply further, and thought it would constitute a good blog article – particularly since it’s almost full circle, given the very first websites I ever tried to setup on the net were coming out resources. So I want to put those thoughts down here now, in order for people to get an understanding of what motivates me. The only edits in my response are adding hyperlinks where appropriate, and a note in the second paragraph.
Why I rail against the extreme (religious) right
So, the question is whether the christian right are hate-mongers and bigots – or rather, whether I see them as that.
(I wouldn’t ordinarily say that an email [edit: or blog post] from me should have background music, but you might want to have a listen to “Chain Reaction” (1990) by an Australian legend, John Farnham. That song was released just as I was entering senior high school and as much as anything taught me to stand up and be heard.)
There’s a few things I’d like to explain that may help you understand my point of view. First, I don’t think all christians, or even all right-leaning people fall into that category by a long shot. Several of my closest friends even happen to be religious, and we even maintain a perfectly agreeable truce – I don’t try to convince them of the merits of atheism and they don’t try to convince me of the merits of religion. What I do vehemently disagree with though is the extreme religious right – and they are people who I won’t hesitate to call bigots and hate-mongers if they espouse such values. That comes frankly from a mix of being an atheist and being gay. And for what it’s worth, I don’t hate them – I feel that they must be terribly lonely and emotionally crippled to need to strike out so vehemently at others, and while I struggle sometimes to find it, I usually feel pity for them.
I’ll start with a personal story. Mine is no different from millions of others over time, and comparatively I had a fairly easy time, but I grew up in a small country town that was modestly religious in its population. I first realised I was gay around the age of 13 or so. I then spent the next three years loathing myself – not just a mild wish to change, but a vehement despair that I even existed. Never to the point of suicide, but suicide amongst the LGBT youth who find themselves isolated is much higher than their heterosexual peers. One day I managed to snap out of it, realise that I was born who I was and had no reason to hate myself. What changed funnily enough was finding a book in the local town library called “Living in Sin? A bishop rethinks human sexuality“. It’s a book I’d thoroughly recommend, written by John Shelby Spong, a (now retired) episcopalian bishop from the US.
What drives that sort of self loathing period that most LGBT experience growing up is entrenched societal attitudes – usually these have bled down into their parents as well, making home life at least usually uncomfortable. What drives those attitudes is an extreme right view of “if it’s not like me, it’s wrong”. That comes from the side of society most mirrored by the extreme right – regardless of the religious convictions of that right view.
There’s a parallel, a very strong parallel, particularly in the United States, and that’s race relations. Swap “gay” for “African-American” in speeches and views espoused by the extreme religious right and suddenly they don’t sound like people just espousing their point of view, they sound like they’re card carrying members of the Klu Klux Klan.
Take Westboro Baptist Church, one of the most vile and inbred associations of hate that has existed in decades (made worse by their defence that it’s their god that hates, not necessarily them) routinely pickets funerals with signs saying “God Hates Fags”. OK, so what if they started picketing funerals with signs saying “God Hates Blacks?” (Or picking even less politically incorrect words for African Americans … after all, “Fag” is hardly a nice alternative to “Gay”.) There’d be outrage, because America wants to believe that race is becoming with every step less of an issue. (I’m not criticising the US on this – personally I think the US has come a lot further than Australia on that front – we only apologised to our original indigenous inhabitants 3 years ago for just some of the transgressions done by our original settlers.)
There’s no actual difference between racism and homophobia – both are expressions of hate and intolerance based on how someone was born. There’s no choice in being LGBT, the only thing you can choose is to not hate yourself over it. I’ve known enough married men who struggle with their sexuality to know that forcing themselves down an “easy path” to avoid social intolerance and attitudes just leads to decades of self loathing and a near constant feeling of failure. You have kids, right? Imagine loving them, but regretting every decision you made in your life that led you to having them. I know people in that situation. The closer description to their life-outlook is misery. Enduring misery for the sake of others’ intolerance? I can’t accept that. Sure, endure misery as an act of heroism or self sacrifice if you have to, but not because you fear the intolerance of others. What a dreadful life. What a dreadful life I see people I know and care about living.
I rail against the extreme right (which just so happens to be closely aligned to extreme religious views in many places) because I think back at how I grew up, and I wish that I was the last generation that it happened to. But it’s not – it still happens. New crimes of the ilk of what happened to Matthew Shepard still happen across the world because people blithely say that others are entitled to their own beliefs. Yes, they are – but not to the point where they have to espouse hateful views and incite others towards violence. Not to the point where they are able to inflict emotional or physical damage on someone who they feel is different.
So that probably leads to your last point – does that make me as intolerant as them? Some might argue that it does, but I see it as very different. I don’t care what they believe in – and I don’t care how little they think of me in the privacy of their own house, but I won’t accept that they are entitled to shout those views from the streets or indeed even from the pulpit. That’s the sort of “tolerance” that leads to new versions of the Klu Klux Klan.
I can’t change who I am. (Nor would I, for a moment, want to.) I may not even be able to change the views of the extreme right. But I sure as hell won’t allow them to preach, unchallenged, their message of hate knowing the emotional and physical damage it does to people who are different and are struggling to find their place in the world.