Monday, June 1, 2009

The Religion Question: 1. Religious Identity

The Right loves to invoke religion, and unfortunately we on the left have let them get away with it for too long. It's been a skillful move on their part, because it has led to a lot of general anti-religion bashing from our side, which makes THEM look like the victims. And their current favorite meme is "religious freedom".

The first point to make is that Religion is not of one mind. And the Roman Catholic and Mormon hierarchies do not speak for all religions. Indeed, they do not even speak for their entire communities; Roman Catholics in the pew support gay marriage at about the same rate as other Americans, despite their bishops. Moreover, there are lots of faith communities that are welcoming to various degrees to gay families and gay marriages, and either fully inclusive or getting close to it. These include UCC and the Episcopalians and the Reform Jews and many others. The Episcopalians, the tradition next to the Catholics with which I am most familiar, have a gay, partnered bishop, and many faithfully partnered gay clergy. So, the right wing fundamentalists do not own religion. (See This post for more on the clergy.)

A corollary to this is that there are substantial numbers of GLBT people of faith; many of the religious denominations have active GLBT groups working within the religious structure to change things. I mean, do they really think that there aren't gay people in the pews?

Thus, the opposition cannot speak for all religions, and must share the public sphere with other faiths, as well as with those of no faith. This is really fundamental. Prop8 allowed a single view of religion from an unholy alliance between the Mormon and Roman Catholic churches to dominate the discourse. More reasoned clergy views were ignored. And there are a lot of clergy who are pro gay rights. Some are part of the HRC Religion Council or the California Council of Churches or the coalition group California Faith for Equality.

So the first conclusion is that some religions actually SUPPORT gay marriage. Therefore there is no single "religious viewpoint" on this issue, and we must strongly, but respectfully, point out that the vocal opposition does not speak for all religions.

Myth one busted.

Now, an important part to this is that it does not serve our side to attack those of faith generally. There are lots of progressivee faithful folks who are on our side (some of them hang out at Street Prophets, which is part of the Daily Kos family). Beware the over broad brush. By letting the other side paint us as "anti-religious", we lose. Far more effective to recognize religion is really on our side. After all, Jesus didn't hang out with the Pharisees and the priests. He was with the ones they reviled.


Erp said...

To be more accurate "Far more effective to recognize that some religious people are really on our side" since some religious people most certainly aren't. However do not underplay the support (which tends to be much higher) of the non-religious community. Greta Christina has a blog post on this. I'm not sure of its accuracy since I'm not actually a member of the LGTBI community just a supporter.

IT said...

Erp, I'm not underplaying the support outside religion; but merely trying to provide points to prove that this is not a religious vs. non-religious topic. First, because the opposition to gay marriage is largely religious based, and therefore I tend to take the non-religious support for granted. The battle isn't over winning the non-religious, frankly. It's over turning the religious.

I read that post to which you linked, for which thanks, but I find a couple of things that rankle me in her blog. First of all, I don't consider myself a member of "the queer community" or "the atheist community" per se. And that is because both of these often behave as exclusively as those they decry which is a big part of why I don't engage in that sort of identity politics.

The first, because I don't think my sexuality is the most interesting thing about me; it's just a piece of me, like having curly hair. So I don't define myself as being part of the "queer" community. Too often I find that self-defined community has P/C tags about being gay enough (what I call "high gay"). For example, on the lesbian side, there's often a dislike of men, and that whole "womyn" spelling thing and the "Haircut"; on the guys side, a streak of misogyny and a body-obsessing sub-culture. Heck, I LIKE men, I just don't want to sleep with them. INSTANT fail on the "lesbian community" meter.

Most of my gay friends are also not really part of that professionally-gay community. We live in the straight community. Do we ally together with those who take a stronger view of identity politis? Of course, but just as the blogger complains that the "queer community" disses atheists, try seeing how they diss those of us who aren't living in the gayborhood. Andrew Sullivan did an interesting piece on the end of gay culture a while back that addresses this conflict.

The second, because too often the "atheist community" defines itself as anti-religion. I'm not anti-religion as you know, and while I don't share faith, I don't feel the need to insult it or set up my resolutely intellectual and empiricist approach as the only approach to these issues. And I find that people who define themselves as "the atheist community" are just as militant as some fundy Christianists. I'm not particularly welcome there, because of my strong interest in, and acceptance of, religion.

Besides, again, my lack of faith is not the most interesting thing about me.

I'm just a via media inclusivist, I guess, which means, I'm the type that any strident community criticizes.

Erp said...

My apologies. I think I get a better feel now. Myself I'm straight but it wouldn't surprise me if some of my casual acquaintances think I'm a lesbian (going to anti-prop8 protests and not having a significant male other might or might not lead people to jump to conclusions). I'm also a church going atheistic humanist (admittedly the church is an odd one, there aren't many whose three ministers are a rabbi, a UU minister, and an Episcopal priest). Like you I don't take communion though I've been known to bring goodies to after-service discussions of the sermon so at least I'm sharing food.

The Sullivan article is interesting and probably right. Society is changing and in fifty years time or less people may well look back and wonder why anyone was concerned that a couple was same-sex.

The 'atheist community' contains quite a few hurt by religion people which I suspect makes many of them hyper anti-religious (the 'new convert' enthusiasm). Some of the leaders I suspect de-emphasize where they get along with religious people (Dawkins has been known to enjoy hymns and has visited the Archbishop of Canterbury, etc). I tend to respect more people like the blogger Hemant Mehta who is open in his desire to get along with religious people.

IT said...

Hi Erp,
Thank you for your support.

Want Some Wood said...

Just wanted to say I got a good laugh out of "unholy alliance," by the way. --A supporter