Lately I’ve been really into learning traditional ways of preparing food to maximize the nutrient availability, and that’s led to me reading a lot of what I would term kind of “hippie mom” blogs to get methods for soaking grains and nuts. I say “hippie mom” with no disrespect whatsoever, as if I ever somehow decided to have a kid, I would end up falling into that category. Anyway, after reading a recipe on one such blog and absentmindedly straying into the comments, I started clicking into the “about” page and kind of fell down a hole. The blog was a Christian-centered blog; Biblical scripture was featured throughout the author’s description of herself and she described receiving her husband’s permission to start her blogging endeavors. I wasn’t really bothered by this, because although I am no longer practicing, I was raised in a Christian family, went to a Christian elementary school, and religion when used positively gets the high sign from me. I actually thought her story was kind of endearing, in a wholesome kinda way. No shade intended.
But then I clicked on a link to a blog post about a Christian singer coming out as gay, and I was sad. I was hoping she might be one of those free-love type Christians, but she is not. I got to thinking about how to communicate with people who hold beliefs that are so fundamental in an effective way.
The whole impetus for the blog post was that a Christian singer had said he was coming out to be honest with himself, or something to that effect, and that God would want him to live a live where he was his truest self. The author took issue with this attitude, and the trend towards tolerance in Christianity in general, as he (it was a guest post) mentioned that he was disappointed to see Christians applauding his decision to come out. He basically said that Christianity is about denying yourself, and since homosexuality is sinful behavior, the singer should have stayed in the closet and been grateful for his wife and children. He also said that after all the interview requests and fanfare over his coming out dried up, the singer would feel empty and alone because he had turned away from God. So, I’m guessing that means he believes any out queer person is actually deeply unhappy and just deluding themselves.
This is a really self-fulfilling belief system, and it’s difficult to think of a way to persuade someone to embrace supporting the human rights of queer people when they have this setup. I realize that one interpretation (hell, maybe even the right one) of Christian mythology is that humans have free will, but we are corrupted by sin and our moral compass is pathologically flawed. Therefore, we must surrender to the moral compass of God, because, you know, he’s perfect. Since God doesn’t really talk to us (except, arguably, in our heads), we have to go by what’s in the Bible. And the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, in this interpretation.
Now, I have wagered on science and my own intuition and the beautiful spirituality of the observable (and unobservable) natural world. So I don’t believe that the Bible is the word of an all-mighty God that is passing out tickets to a placid paradise only accessible upon my departure from this material realm. Therefore, I don’t believe that my own moral compass is irreparably damaged by an original sin. And I know that my own moral compass spins wildly when I watch the human rights of any group violated, when I see violence perpetrated against them by the state and society, and when I see them isolated and targeted as a group to vilify and demonize. I want for all people to experience love and light in their lives, to live the fullest, most authentic life they can in this world, and to know true equity in our society. I don’t care who you love, what gender or lack thereof you claim, what the color or size or age of your skin is, how much money you have or owe – you deserve that as a living organism on this planet. We are blessed to see this planet as it is today, not by a benevolent or arbitrary deity, but by odds. We shouldn’t squander this life, not because of the possibility that there might be a greater reward in the next life, but because of the probability that there isn’t, and this life is all we have together, here, on this planet, with all this beauty.
But if you’ve surrendered your own moral compass to a deity that may or may not be there, I can’t appeal to you with this argument. Even if you felt a twinge of wrongness when considering the struggles of queer people, you could chalk that up to a manifestation of sin. I imagine that for some, a beloved family member coming out as queer or trans can sway them. Familial ties are much stronger than the abstract tie you have to some random gay person you see on TV. But for so many, as evidenced by the high rate of teen homelessness in the queer and trans community, even familial ties don’t shake their faith in their own lack of moral compass (to be frank). How can these individuals be convinced to support social change that includes equal rights for queer folks and other oppressed minorities, when you can’t use empathy as a weapon?
“Weapon” is a little dramatic, but usually when you’re making a persuasive argument for the humanity of another, you can appeal to the heart of the person you’re making the argument to. In the case of those who have ceded their morality to a higher power, however, since empathy is emotion, empathy is to be distrusted. Our emotions are sinful, because we are sinful. So regardless of whether or not one personally feels bad about the oppression of another group, or even feels it’s wrong, if it’s God’s will for that group to suffer and be marginalized, it’s pointless and even detrimental to one’s own salvation to intervene. And, again, the Bible says, in this interpretation, that homosexuality is a sin. For this straw population I’ve constructed for the sake of this essay, no amount of empathy is going to change what the Bible says, or what they understand that to mean in terms of the social position of queer folks in the world.
I talked to my mom a bit about this subject, because she is a Christian, and my deceased grandfather, who I adored and deeply respected, was a pastor for his entire adult life. I wanted to know what she thought he would have said if I asked him about this stuff, because I grew up feeling that he embodied what Christianity could be at its best. Unfortunately, by the time I was mature enough to be willing to listen to his wisdom about Christianity without argument, he was at the end of his life and not in a mood to have the kind of conversations he so frequently had, and loved, when he was younger. It turns out my mom feels the same regrets about not having those kinds of conversations with him! Because she knew he tended towards the Republican end of politics, she avoided talking to him about how he reconciled his love for all humanity and his kind, redemptive nature with some of the policies of the GOP and some of the verses in the Bible. If we were unwilling to have that hard conversation with my grandfather, who was a relatively reasonable person to talk to about controversial topics, I can only imagine how many families go through their lives without ever challenging each other’s beliefs and trying to understand them. I’m not going to say it’s this kind of situation that led to the election of the current President of the United States, but it’s sure the kind of situation that led to people being shocked his election was even a possibility.
I digress. This has been a long, windy road to conclude: I’ve realized I can’t save them all. I am going to have to accept that there are going to be some folks who will only be brought into a more just and loving society by force. It sounds counterintuitive, but is nevertheless true. Some people are just going to fight us tooth and nail and never concede or give up.
Still, it’s hard to accept that it’s possible we could all agree that soaking our grains is good and making kombucha is amazing, but not agree that we’re all equally divine and worthy of each other’s love and acceptance.