On Sunday, New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof discussed religious and cultural extremism in Pakistan, where a new cabinet member, Israr Ullah Zardari, defended the torture-murder of five women and girls who were buried alive (three girls wanted to choose their own husbands, and two women wanted to protect them.) The Times had another article on Monday about an all-girl rock band in Saudi Arabia that is forbidden from playing live concerts because of their gender.
At home, former Arkansas governor and pastor, Mike Huckabee, appeared on ABC's "The View" and said that gay and lesbian equality was not the same as civil rights because homosexuals have not had their skulls cracked and were not hosed down by police. Apparently, he is unaware of the latest FBI hate crime statistics that show bias attacks based on sexual orientation making up 15.5 percent of all reported hate crimes.
In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI is being criticized this week for questioning the usefulness of Interfaith dialogue in a letter he wrote to Italian politician Marcello Pera. What the Pope fails to point out is that thanks to intransigent absolutists, like the pontiff, finding common ground is nearly impossible.
How can we expect interfaith dialogue when we can't even have Interstate dialogue between two Mormon universities 45 miles apart because they have literally turned religion into a political football? When the secular University of Utah played its religious school rival, Brigham Young University (BYU), last weekend, the teams treated the End Zone as if it were the Promised Land.
"It's like a lot of other rivalries, except for those at the extremes," Michael Anastasi, managing editor of the Salt Lake Tribune told the New York Times."For them, it's not only that your school is weak, you're going to Hell too."
Two years ago, the rivalry was further soured after BYU quarterback John Beck threw a touchdown pass to receiver Jonny Harline, who sank to his knees -- as if in prayer -- to make the winning catch. Describing the "miraculous" play, another B.Y.U. receiver, Austin Collie, concluded it occurred because students at the religious school lived cleaner lives.
"Obviously, if you do what's right on and off the field, I think the Lord steps in and plays a part in it," said Collie. (For the record, the holier-than-thou BYU was crushed 48-24 in this weekend's game. I'm guessing the Lord was upset at Mormon involvement in California's Prop. 8 banning same-sex marriages)
If religious groups become fratricidal based on football allegiance, it seems there is little hope for genuine reconciliation with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. We must still work to enlighten the flock where we can, but fundamentalist leaders will only transform their anti-gay views when popular opinion decidedly turns against them -- as it did with race relations in the 1960's and 1970's.
The strategy for the GLBT movement has been to circumvent the ideologues and create change within mainline denominations. I wholeheartedly support such efforts and have contributed to them. Unfortunately, there is scant evidence to suggest that these religious institutions will thrive and form a substantial bulwark against fundamentalism.
In "America Theocracy," author Kevin Phillips documents the steep decline of reasonable religion in favor of the rabble-rousing variety.
"Between 1940 and 1985 mainline Protestantism's share of all U.S. religious adherents was steadily plummeting...Between 1960 and 1997 -- the Presbyterian Church, The Episcopal Church, The United Church of Christ and the Methodists lost between 500,000 and 2 million members each. In the meantime, the Southern Baptist Convention added 6 million, the Mormons 3.3 million, the Pentecostal Assemblies of God 2 million and the Church of God (Tennessee) some 600,000."
The implications are that the GLBT movement may be placing its eggs in a basket that is rapidly fraying. It seems that people are either gravitating towards religious extremism or secular humanism, with little appetite for mainline faith. The Internet also offers easy access to eclectic spiritual beliefs that one can follow without organized religion. So, the hope that mainstream religion, as we know it, will supplant anti-gay denominations seems far-fetched.
The trends of urbanization and the discrediting of corporate Republican-style religion will lead, in my view, to more people losing their faith. However, fundamentalist sects will continue to consolidate market share for those who feel estranged or displaced by modernity. In other words, America will look much like Europe in the coming decades -- with a secular majority and a small, but still vocal, fundamentalist minority. (Mostly Islamic in Europe)
I can hear objections from those who rightfully point out that America is more religious than Europe. But, Kevin Phillips reminds us that Europe was once was hyper-religious too -- but circumstances change over time.
"As the 21st Century began," writes Phillips. "None of the western countries in which Reformation Protestantism bred its radical or anarchic sects nearly five hundred years earlier -- England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands -- still had congregations of any great magnitude adhering to that theology."
I absolutely agree with your prediction, that we will move to resemble Europe.
Based on what I know of their model, there are some obstacles that need to be addressed:
1.As people move away from religion, they get less organized, and more complacent. We need to support secular organizations and universal human values to keep people working together. Religious doctrine may be nothing more than stone age superstition, but its power to organize (as well as pit those organized groups against each other) should not be underestimated.
2.Religious bigots are very good at hijacking the victim mentality of oppressed minorities, even nobody is forcing anything on them, and in fact they are the ones who are imposing their beliefs on others. We all need to get better at spotting injustice whether it comes from a majority or minority group.
I say this because in Europe, the fundamentalist Islamic minority is shoving everyone else around. I even heard of courts in the UK agreeing to honor Islamic law - even though it is blatantly patriarchal and homophobic, and in direct conflict with modern secular values of freedom and individuality. This is insane. It's happening because people are so committed to respecting diversity (and so afraid of criticizing other cultures) that they think they have to respect ANY culture or viewpoint, no matter how offensive or absurd. Plurality can't survive in a climate that is so open-minded it allows any one group, no matter its size, to impose its values on others (or as someone once said, we should be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains fall out).
3.We need to keep working on our education standards, particularly science and critical thinking. From what I've read, a lot of people in Europe are leaving traditional organized religions, but getting suckered right away into newer and less organized (but just as batshit crazy) spiritual movements. Astrology and crap like that.
There's this big "alternative medicine" movement over there, they say the less - I repeat the LESS - of a substance you dilute in water, the more effective it is. Which is a genius marketing strategy since you just sell everyone water, and you can even DARE them to detect any active ingredient in it! Bwa ha ha! Apparently some very important people are investing in this nonsense too.
It might seem harmless, but this is still ignorance, which is the primary ingredient for all forms of social injustice.
In short, it's not enough to move away from religion, we need to actively encourage critical thinking and community organizing. Otherwise some other ridiculous and/or oppressive ideology or trend will swoop in and fill the vacuum, and keep us all just as ignorant and divided.
But we're in luck already, because I definitely think Obama's humanist values and his ability to articulate them effectively to the religious and non-religious alike will serve as a great example for us in the modern age.
posted by Eshto, at
11/25/2008 2:27 PM
I have news for these "diversity" idiots--count me out where religion is concerned. I am not Moslem, I am not subject to sharia. I am not Jewish, I am not subject to their system of religious law...etc. I am Pagan and live by one rule: "An it harm none, do as ye will." I just believe there is a Force in the Universe, but that it is likely NOT the God believed in by the hateful religions on this planet.
Unfortunately, the monotheistic religions tend to instill ignorance as opposed to learning and insight. They also LOVE to play the victim card whenever they are called on something (witness: Prop H8).
We NEED to do what we can to keep the monotheists and other bigots in line. It's not that difficult--Canada legalised same-sex marriage and basically made hate speech illegal. Oh how the fundies over there are freaking about that.
I don't think one needs to be Pagan to see the value in that.
Of course, the fundamentalists will call you a bigot for criticizing/not adhering to their religious beliefs.
It comes down to knowing the difference between practicing one's own beliefs, and forcing them on others, or even claiming undue weight for your opinions.
DO: practice your religion
DON'T: expect other people to conform to your religion
DO: believe whatever you want about the cosmos and the origin of life
DON'T: make outlandish claims in public about the origin of the universe or life and seriously not expect scientists who know way more about these things to pick apart your evidence (or lack thereof) and tell you why you're wrong
DO: have a traditional marriage if you want DON'T: expect everyone to lead their lives the way you live yours
I'm tempted to think this is pretty simple, but it still seems like so many people can't tell the difference.
posted by Eshto, at
11/25/2008 6:47 PM
Eshto, you have to be careful when you say the UK honors sharia law. The UK will NEVER allow sharia law to become intertwined with the British legal system which is secular and that will remain as such. The UK recognizes sharia law in regard to the religious dictates of islam such as property and divorce, nothing more. Honor killings are not recognized under the secular system and everyone is subject to prosecution to the fullest extent of the law, meaning life in prison. Hate speech is illegal in the UK towards any group including LGBT people and there is current legislation pending to bar undesirable immigrants including islamic immigrants from entering the country who intend to incite hatred based on religious beliefs or to foment anti-western sentiment in their mosques, something that the U.S. would never conceive of doing.
posted by Robert, NYC., at
11/26/2008 8:18 AM
Robert, this makes the UK look better and better. My spouse and I are considering emigrating as soon as he is finished with school. Any country that wants to send these hate-mongers back where they belong is fine by me.
As for banning hate speech, I'm all for that, too. As far as I am concerned, hate speech is inflammatory and can lead to murder. Your free speech ends where my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness begins.
We are already considering Canada since they have same-sex marriage and at least TRY to keep a lid on the hate speech. Not sure how well that is going, but you seem to hear less of the fundie b.s. coming out of Canada than you do the U.S. Certainly I would think that someone like Phelps wouldn't do that well up north of the border.
Fundamentalism thrives on ignorance and lack of critical thinking skills--creationism is only the tip of the iceberg as far as manifesting ignorance and lack of critical thinking goes. It's a free country and a person can believe whatever one wishes--just don't teach it in the public school system.
Unless we find a way to keep this religious b.s. out of our schools and the hate that monotheistic, patriarchal religion seems to engender in its followers in check, we will always have Fred Phelps wannabes running around, polluting the public discourse with their hate and filth.
posted by Merlyn, at
11/26/2008 9:33 AM
Merlyn, it is quite extraordinary when you consider that in most western European countries there is state religion, yet....none of their major parties running for elective office ever produce the amount of right wing fundamentalists as ours do in the GOP of hate using religion to conquer and divide public opinion and influencing the outcome of legislation or elections. It would never be tolerated, in fact would be considered laughable and not taken seriously. Its astonishing.
posted by Robert, NYC., at
11/26/2008 12:04 PM
Yes, it truly is quite extraordinary that Europeans don't seem to have as many fundamentalists proportionate to population that we do.
This is one of the things that make me want to emigrate to either Canada, England, or Scotland. People can think what they wish, but they are not allowed to vote their prejudices into law.
Instead of keeping American fundamentalists on a short leash, the Repugs and to a lesser extent Democrats go out of the way to pander to their bullshit.
I have been disgusted with this country for a very long time now and will be glad to leave it behind.
posted by Merlyn, at
11/26/2008 5:51 PM
The next time I hear Obama and any other politician say America is the greatest country on earth, then its up to us to remind them that there are probably 20 million or more LGBT citizens who still do not have full equality while several other countries do....and growing. I'm sick and tired of that repetitious, arrogant "straight" mantra and the people who chant it.
posted by Robert, NYC., at
11/28/2008 8:25 AM
I am finding this ongoing dialogue stimulating, in light of the fact that I met lgbtqia people of faith last summer at the Metropolitain Community Church's General Conference in Scottsdale, AZ, some of whom were wiccans and pagans, and frequently more inclusive than mainstream christians and fundamentalists, including the son of PTL's Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and the former televangelist Carlton Pearson.I already live in the least religious sector of the US (the NW),and see appeals to civic religious memory surpassing personal christian practice in state and community decision-making. Ron
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