Life / Spirituality & religion

Is Religion the Problem? 133523469_111c109207_bWhile the latest terrorist attacks in Paris weren’t directed toward gays, they were certainly aimed at societies that tolerate gays, as well as separation of church and state, and a whole host of other modern concepts and approaches.

After my first trip to the Middle East (Egypt in 1997), I asked myself, what’s up with homosexuality in this part of the world?

On the first night of my trip, I strolled down a major avenue toward the Nile with my straight German friend, Mike. As we walked toward the river, enjoying the night air and evening atmosphere, dozens of men whistled at us.

Of course, homosexuality was illegal at the time—and still is. And yet, I received far more invitations than I’ve received in gay neighborhoods in my hometown of Chicago.

Play hopscotch across the Middle East and you’ll discover similar laws. The less separation of church and state or the more fanatically religious the government and/or a country’s citizens, the greater the opposition to homosexuality.

And such laws have been considered or adopted by sub-Saharan countries, too. But these African measures aren’t homegrown. No, these are exports of American evangelicals who have turned from spreading the Good News about Jesus to advocating for the guillotining of gays, the lynching of lesbians.

What is it about gays that so unhinges religious conservatives? After all, it takes two to tango and religious zealots can always just say no (sorry, Nancy Reagan, I realize I’ve perverted your words.)

So why are religious extremists afraid of two consenting adults of the same sex getting it on?

I can’t answer that question and I’m sure they can’t either (not rationally, anyway).

But lest we in the West feel superior and more evolved, we best watch our flanks—and those dark corners of our countries inhabited by religious zealots. After all, in Israel orthodox Jews have recently attacked gays and Italy’s government, influenced by the Catholic church, is an outlier in Europe by not joining its peers in supporting gay marriage.

And here in the U.S., Red States and the Republican Party continue to scheme to overturn gay marriage and even gay rights. Recently, perhaps inspired by Uganda, ISIS and Saudi Arabia, some American evangelists have proposed putting gays to death.

On a more hopeful note, there are a growing number of religious moderates. Let’s hope—and pray—that whatever their religion, it is these moderates’ positions on gays, government and society that prevail.


Photo Credit: cute yoga couple via photopin (license)

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  1. In short, yes . . . I do believe that religion is the problem. I can’t say it better than Christopher Hitchens: “We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid.”
    It also, obviously, causes believers to kill innocent people.

    • Thanks for the comment and sharing the quote from Christopher Hitchens. I miss him!

      • Me too! I try to be respectful; many religious people have kind hearts and good intentions . . . but your article brings our attention to some important problems. Thank you for writing it!

  2. The answer, if there is one other than human meanness, may lie in the centrality of sexuality to our lives. There is a certain essentialism to heterosexuality, necessary for continuance of our species. Freud recognised this centrality and Murdock noted, in identifying the “nuclear family”, how relationships are structured around this heterosexual necessity. Even homosexual families have to work with these biological constraints in order to have kids. However, this point makes sexuality a key location of social control.

    Religion, as a structuring element in society becomes a key agent of control, with family and schools sharing the agency to different degrees. From here it seems obvious why there is a link between fundamentalist / conservative religion and sexuality in general, homosexuality in particular. Freedom of sexuality reduces the ability to control, whether directly by lessening fear, or less directly by not having to conceal sexuality (being more honest and open, for example).

    This structuring of sexuality also includes different meanings applied to the same behaviour. Being “hit on” may carry a different meaning in Cairo than in Chicago. Further, control may be done with good intentions and necessity, think parental discipline. Due to the essentialness aspect of heterosexuality, it becomes easy to label homosexuality as deviant behaviour and wrap it in all sorts of meaning and proscription. That said, “freedom of sexuality” is a good thing and protecting this freedom is as vital as protecting any other freedom.

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