Friday, August 13, 2010

Homophobia and Religious Fundamentalism

Marriage equality has been in the news lately, what with the overturning of California’s unconstitutional Prop 8. I wrote the following a while back, thought it worthwhile to re-post it… I think it’s quite simple: if you don’t believe in gay marriage, don’t marry one. Period. Your religion? You’re free to practice your religion, but you’re not free to impose it on others. There are countries where you can do that and if you don’t like it here, you can move.

* * *

The issue of gay marriage is always a hot button topic (which is really a civil rights issue!). Opposition, especially in the Bible Belt and among religious conservatives, has been fierce, religion being used as the weapon of choice against homosexuality. Of equal importance, in terms of the national polity, has been the issue of religious extremism, or religious fundamentalism. Unfortunately, we have our own homegrown extremism right here in the states, though you wouldn't be able to tell.

Nothing has been more effective in uncovering the dark side of homophobia than the work of researchers. One researcher, who interviewed over 400 men incarcerated for gay-bashing noted that the gay bashers generally saw nothing wrong in what they did, and more often than not, stated that their religious leaders and traditions condoned their behavior. One particular adolescent stated that the pastor of his church had said, “Homosexuals represent the devil, Satan,” and that the Rev. Jerry Falwell had echoed that charge.

More eye-opening was the research by psychologists suggesting that 80 percent of men who are homophobic have secret homosexual feelings. In studies conducted by Henry E. Adams of the University of Georgia, the results of which were published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, homophobic men who scored high on a questionnaire measure of aversion to gay males experienced arousal when exposed to gay porn. Here, homophobia was operationally defined as the degree of “dread” experienced when placed in close quarters with a homosexual -- basically, how comfortable or uncomfortable the person was in interacting with gay people. This group were shown gay sex videos. Four out of five became sexually aroused by the homoerotic imagery, as recorded by a penile circumference measuring device -- a plethysmograph.

Prof. Adams says his research shows that most homophobes “demonstrate significant sexual arousal to homosexual erotic stimuli,” suggesting that homophobia is a form of “latent homosexuality where persons are either unaware of or deny their homosexual urges.”

Fundamentalist Christians and others opposed to equality for the LGBT community almost always appeal to the moral imperatives of the Bible, claiming that Scripture is very clear on the matter, often citing verses that support their opinion. If others disagree, they accuse them of perverting and distorting texts contrary to their “clear” meaning. However, if one were to investigate further they are not so clear when it comes to economic conduct (the so-called “free market”), the responsibilities of wealth, and greed.

I have seen that there are basically nine biblical citations usually invoked as relating to homosexuality. Four (Deuteronomy 23:17, I Kings 14:24, I Kings 22:46, and II Kings 23:7) simply forbid prostitution, by men and women.

Two others (Leviticus 18:19-23 and Leviticus 20:10-16) are part of what some biblical scholars call the Holiness Code. The code explicitly bans homosexual acts. However, it also prohibits eating raw meat, planting two different kinds of seed in the same field and wearing garments with two different kinds of yarn. In addition, tattoos, adultery, and sexual intercourse during a woman’s menstrual period are also expressly prohibited -- outlawed, actually.

Now, get this: there is no mention of homosexuality in the four Gospels of the New Testament. The moral teachings of Jesus are not concerned with the subject. J.C. had nothing to say about gays…

Yes, three references from St. Paul are frequently cited (Romans 1:26-2:I, I Corinthians 6:9-11, and Timothy 1:10), but Paul was concerned with homosexuality only because in Greco-Roman culture it represented to him a sensuality that conflicted with his own Jewish/ Christian spiritual upbringing. He was actually against lust and sensuality in anyone, including heterosexuals. To say that homosexuality is bad because homosexuals are tempted to commit morally doubtful acts is to also say that heterosexuality is bad because heterosexuals are similarly tempted (I delve a little more into this in my second installment on the history of love).

For Paul, anyone who places his or her interest ahead of God’s is condemned, a verdict that falls equally on everyone, gay or straight.

Let’s take Sodom and Gomorrah and recall that the story is not about sexual perversion and homosexual practice. It is about inhospitability, according to Luke 10:10-13, and failure to care for the poor, according to Ezekiel 16:49-50: “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.”
The reason why fundamentalism is so dangerous is that, in the hands of religious conservatives nut jobs like the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, as well as the hundreds of lesser-known, but just as dangerous clerics, preachers, and pundits, is they use Scripture to incite otherwise good people to act from an attitude of fear rather than their virtues.

Fortunately, the religious right does not speak for all US Christians. In fact, in survey after survey, the vast majority of Americans actually disagree with many of the beliefs of the likes of Falwell and Robertson. I would suppose that a good many Christians are included in that group. I would also like to state right here and now that if I am judging any Christian for whatever reason, then I am no better than the very people I am exposing. Who am I to say who is a good, or “real,” Christian or not? Moreover, isn’t that very same fundamentalism we pretend to abhor -- just another form of self-righteousness?

In any case, the bible has been interpreted and perhaps perverted in many ways. Advocates of slavery, for example, used the very same bible (very convincingly, I might add) to protect their own demented economic self-interests, using Scripture to defend slavery. On the other hand, it was this very same Bible that inspired slaves to revolt and liberate themselves.

Get this: the same Bible that was used to keep churches segregated was the source of inspiration for the Rev. Martin Luther King, jr. and the civil liberties movements of the 1960s.

The same bible that anti-feminists use to keep women silent in churches, is the very same Bible that preaches liberation and says that in Christ there is neither male nor female, slave nor free.

Similarly, the same bible that on the basis of some archaic (and now useless) social code of ancient Israel and a tortured reading of Paul is used to condemn all homosexuals and homosexual behavior, also includes metaphors of redemption, renewal, inclusion, and love. These are the principles that invite all humans, regardless of sexual orientation, to accept themselves and take responsibility for their freedom and it is the same spiritual discipline that demands that their fellow Christians accept them as well.




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