Gays Forgiving Christians for Past Treatment?

Pope Francis
Courtesy, http://www.theguardian.com, photograph: Tiziana Fabi/AP

Unprecedented. Whether you are Roman Catholic or Protestant, Christian, Jewish or Muslim, no head of one of the largest churches in the world has spoken out for the LGBTQ community as has Pope Francis. Extraordinary. Because of his compassion to all human beings, no matter what their religious or non-religious leanings, I keep my eye on his proclamations.

Apparently, il Papa holds press conferences on the papal plane. On June 26, 2016, up in the air between Armenia and Rome, Reuters reporter Phillip Pullella (published in an article, entitled Pope says Church should ask forgiveness from gays for past treatment) began chronicling Pope Francis’ lists of those harmed by Christians, including asking, “forgiveness for the way it has treated women, for turning a blind eye to child labor and for ‘blessing so many weapons’ in the past.”

But, for me personally, a huge leap in human rights from the Pope was “that Christians and the Roman Catholic Church should seek forgiveness from gay people for the way they had treated them,” according to Pullella.

What prompted this moment of reflection and act of contrition? Interestingly, it was the remarks of a German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the Archbishop of Munich and Freising. Last week the Catholic church held a conference at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. According to Patsy McGarry, writing for The Irish Times, Cardinal Marx proclaimed, “The history of homosexuals in our societies is very bad because we’ve done a lot to marginalise [them].” He went on to comment, “that until “very recently,” the church and society at large had been “very negative about gay people . . . It was the whole society. It was a scandal and terrible.” McGarry’s article, entitled Church must apologise to gay people, pope’s adviser declares, noted that Cardinal Marx was “addressing a conference organised by Trinity’s Loyola Institute on The Role of Church in a Pluralist Society: Good Riddance or Good Influence?”

Who is Cardinal Marx and how is he authorized to say these things for the gay community? According to Crux: Taking the Catholic Pulse, Vatican correspondent Inés San Martín notes “German Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, a member of the pope’s “C-9” council of cardinal advisors and a major force in his recent Synods of Bishops on the family….”

Photographer Paul Haring caught this grieved expression from the Pope after Cindy Wooden, the Rome Bureau Chief for Catholic New Services asked about the church’s response to the deaths of 49 persons at the gay club Pulse in Orlando. It was Wooden’s question, referencing Cardinal Marx’s remarks, that prompted Pope Francis to request that Christians and the church offer forgiveness for its treatment of the LGBTQ community in the past.

I offer the entire transcript of the Pope’s press conference onboard the chartered papal plane: TRANSCRIPT: WHAT DID POPE FRANCIS SAY ABOUT THE CHURCH AND APOLOGIZING?

I have been unable to find any responses by other Christian groups about the pope’s comments. However, some Catholic groups have sounded out.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, turned the tables on Pope Francis by remarking to Chris Cuomo on CNN, that “I Want an Apology From Gays!’ Donohue told Cuomo that, “I’ve been assaulted by gays.” Donohue went on to state that he went on to blame a group of people at a protest parade “who watched me be assaulted by lesbians.” Donohue went on to state, “The idea of a blanket apology because you are a member of some demographic group–I mean, I don’t know. What church teaching is it that you have a problem with that maybe the church should apologize for?” The entire Cuomo/Donohue conversation can be found at: ‘I Want an Apology From Gays!’ Catholic League’s Donohue, Cuomo Spar Over Pope’s Comments

On the other hand, Barbie Latza Nadeau of The Daily Beast in her article, Pope Francis Says Church Should Apologize To Gays And Others It Has Hurt And Ask Their Forgiveness reports that New Ways Ministry Francis DeBernardo also agreed with the Pope:

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which is a 40-year-old Catholic ministry working towards justice and reconciliation for LGBT Catholics, essentially accepted the pope’s apology. “This step by Pope Francis shows that Church leaders can and should admit when they have been wrong, especially when their wrongs cause people tremendous and unnecessary harm. His message signals a major change in attitude for an institution which has a terrible history of ever admitting that it has done something wrong,” De Barnardo said in a statement. “For some LGBT people who have been so wounded and bruised by Catholic leaders’ negative messages, the pope’s statement may seem like too little, too late. While indeed we have waited a long time for an opening like this, I think it is important to rejoice at this step forward. We must work and pray to make sure that the next steps take place much quicker. Among those next steps are more dialogue between Church leaders and LGBT people.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, the Executive Director of DignityUSA, the organization of LGBTQ Catholics, remarked on the organization’s website, “This could be a very important step in healing the relationship between the Catholic Church and LGBTQ people,” she stated.  “The frank acknowledgment by the Pope that Church teachings and practices have done immense harm to LGBTQ people over the centuries—leading to such evils as violence, oppression, self-hatred, the division of families, youth homelessness, and suicide—is essential.”

Yet Duddy-Burke, along with other liberal Catholic organizations, have spoken out that the pope’s message does not go far enough to healing the riffs against the LGBTQ community. Reporter Jim Yardley writes in his New York Times article, Gay Catholic Groups Want Pope Francis to Do More Than Apologize, Duddy-Burke remarked, “But a statement of remorse is only as good as the change in behavior that follows.”

Another response to the pope’s words also came from co-executive director of Call to Action, Ryan Hoffman, who “praised Francis’ remarks but also called on Catholic officials to ‘reform teachings and practices that refer to gay people as ‘objectively disordered’ and ‘intrinsically evil,’” writes Yardley.

Interestingly to me is that, for some reason, now the leader of one of the oldest Christian sect is speaking against the constant undeclared war on the LGBTQ community which has been part of the Western culture for centuries. Did the bloodbath in Orlando at the gay night club, Pulse, instigating a tipping point? Will members of the LGBTQ community eventually be treated as just members of the community at large?

I do think that when a respected leader of a very large community makes statements against centuries of abhorrent treatment of a certain group of human beings, many people will begin to wake up and reassess their own personal issues against such communities.

What about Bob Donohoe and his statement that gays should apologize to him for assaulting him? I can understand his response if he was indeed physically assaulted. But I could not find anywhere where Donohoe reported this so-called assault. Not a word. Then when the pope asks for the Christian world to completely reassess its attitudes against the LGBTQ community, and Donohoe has a personal melt-down over being “assaulted” by “lesbians.” This sounds to me like a person whose ego got bruised. Sounds pretty narcissistic. Sounds like someone who really values himself over many people he views as not equal to him. Sounds like his comments are from a place of rage and not a place of empathy or love.

Again, I have great respect for a pope who genuinely appears to be reaching out to many people in the margins of society. But as more and more people stop blindly following hard-line religious dogma, often those people decide to become more human and react to marginalized people with more humanity than those in so many religious communities.

Shortly after the assault on the Pulse night club in Orlando, Reuters published an article from its staff, entitled, U.S. religious leaders reexamine words after Orlando gay club massacre. The Reverend Dr. Joel C. Hunter, the senior pastor at the non-denominational Christian church, Northland, made a completely clueless  statement, “I have been searching my heart: is there anything I did that was complicit in that loss?” More realistic, Robert Lynch, the bishop of the Catholic diocese in St. Petersburg, Florida, noted, “Sadly, it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people.”

It seems that Pope Francis is becoming even more and more human even though his dogma justifies persecution of members of the LGBTQ community. Good for him. But I’ve decided no longer follow the dogmas of religious sects. I have decided be human, to live my life under an archetypal Golden Rule. I would continue to hope that more religious persons would stop justifying their hate towards marginalized people–a hatred that was one of the biggest reasons why I have chosen to be an non-believer. I believe only in humanity and equality for all. That is reality. That is love.

GoldenRule-2
Courtesy,  Universality of the Golden Rule Graphic, http://tokresourse.org/tok_classes/areas/golden_graphic/index.htm

 

What is Your Spirit Gender?

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Osh-Tisch, left, a Crow warrior and spiritual leader and a Boté, a transgendered Native American, with his wife. Courtesy, photographer John H. Fouch, printed in the journal, Montana: The Magazine of Western History

I ran across a most fascinating story about the Native Americans. It seems that Native American tribes in the New World recognized the transgender being.

Pearson McKinney published a timely and thought-provoking article in the Bipartisan Report, entitled, Before European Christians Forced Gender Roles, Native Americans Acknowledged 5 Genders. Certainly we can all agree that the three Abrahamic religions are adamantly opposed to a female being anything but a female and a male being anything but a male. But I will look at the backlash from the Christian point of view, since only it was address by McKinney.

In fundamental and evangelical Christianity, sexual identity is firmly defined. CBN, or the Christian Broadcasting Network, has published an unattributed article, entitled God’s Truth About Gender, which highlights the writings of Dr. David E. James IV, in his book, God’s Truth About Gender: Unraveling the Lies of Modern Human Sexuality, Behavior and Identity. Drawing on the bible verse, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…male and female, he created them” (Genesis 1:26,27 KJV), the unnamed writer notes, “When God created people, gender was a basis for which we were to bear his likeness. Apart from the obvious differences in the physical nature of gender (man and woman), he also gave the concepts of spiritual gender—the way we feel and behave in response to stimuli—to correspond to the man and the woman he created. When we speak of the terms ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity,’ we are referring to these feelings and behaviors. Men are expected to be masculine and women are expected to be feminine, though it is also possible for men and women to possess qualities characteristic of the opposite gender. However, their primary spiritual makeup will be in line with their physical gender.” James goes on to state that, “Heterosexuality and homosexuality are personal choices each person makes with his or her sexual capabilities [my emphasis]. Contrary to what is frequently and erroneously stated in the media, there is no scientific or psychological proof that homosexuality is anything other than a behavior pattern that manifests itself in certain individuals for a variety of reasons, including psychological, social, environmental, behavioral, and genetic predispositions working together to produce the homosexual persona.” James’ descriptions put males and females in their corresponding boxes without any grey areas and appears to vilify anyone who does not identify with the gender to which they were born.

However, in a scientific vein, Mark A. Yarhouse wrote the article Understanding the Transgender Phenomenon for Christianity Today, or CT. Rather than just writing a book based on his own experiences and opinions, as did David E. James IV, Yarhouse and Trista L. Carrs published their study on 32 transgendered Christians in 2012 in the peer-reviewed Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, entitled, “MTF (Male-to-female) Transgender Christians’ Experiences.” In the study, Yarhouse and Carrs looked at “the experiences of 32 biological males who identified as Christian and transgender.” One of the participants described herself as such: “I am walking wounded, dry bones, defeated, tired of the struggle for normalcy or acceptance.” In order to maintain their faith, many of the participants felt they could not show their faith community who they really were. Yarhouse and Carrs wrote, “Participants tended to either report a past conflict or the decision they made to stay closeted to keep their gender-identity conflicts to themselves so as to avoid interpersonal conflict.” Most experienced rejection by their faith-based communities.  A minority of participants found acceptance in their communities. One person noted, ““I go to a very evangelical church … where I transitioned. I am accepted by the people, and indeed was baptized by immersion there several years ago as my new self.” However, this was not the dominant outcome. One of the conclusions that Yarhouse and Carrs found was that “Participants shared a strong personal faith, and they often reported a strong and meaningful connection to God (with some notable exceptions), but where they struggled was with the local religious community. They struggled most with the people who represent that religious faith in local communities.”

True to form in the fundamentalists and evangelical Christian communities in the United States, generally, those who think for feel differently that the standard, heterosexual, patriarchal gender roles are vilified, with the Christian community rarely seeking to accept them.

The Native Americans seem to have had a much more open and accepting society before the Western, patriarchal society overtook the New World. Author Will Roscoe, in 1990, published, ‘”That Is My Road”: The Life and Times of a Crow Berdache,’ in the peer-reviewed, Montana: The Magazine of Western History. Roscoe introduces us to a member of the Crow Nation, Osh-Tisch, whose name means “Finds Them and Kills Them.” He was also known among the westerners as “Woman Jim.”

Although known in the Crow Nation as a boté , the French called him a Berdache. According to Roscoe, “Berdache (derived from the Arabic bardaj, or male concubine) was the term used by French explorers and traders to describe Indian men (and sometimes women) who pursued activities of the other sex. Berdaches were once common throughout North America; their presence has been documented in over 130 tribes. Often they combined the roles of men and women rather than simply switching genders. This is implied, for example, in the translation of boté as “half-man, half- woman.” Recent investigators have characterized berdache status as a third gender.”

Where the transgendered person in the present religious organizations in the United States is feared and vilified, the boté  in the Crow Nation was treated with respect. Roscoe notes, “Third-gender status enabled Crow berdaches to assume special roles in religion as well. In the Sun Dance ceremony, for example, a special lodge was constructed around a tall central pole. This pole, a symbolic conduit between the dancers and the Sun Father, had to be secured by individuals who were themselves intermediary between the community and the supernatural-‘threshold figures,’ in anthropologist Victor Turner’s terms.” But when the western figures entered the native’s lives, hatred towards the revered transgendered person was introduced. According to Roscoe, “In 1889, when A. B. Holder reported his observations of berdaches made during his assignment as a government doctor at the Crow agency, he concluded: “Of all the many varieties of sexual perversion this, it seems to me, is the most debased that could be conceived of.”10 In the twentieth century, anthropologist Robert H. Lowie described Crowberdaches as ‘pathological,’ ‘psychiatric cases,’ ‘abnormal,’ ‘anomalies,’ ‘perverts,’ and ‘inverts.'”

Unlike other westerners, Major General Hugh L. Scott, according to Roscoe, was fascinated and curious about “Woman Jim.” Roscoe presents conversations with the Crow boté, written by General Scott . One of the conversations went like this:

Scott…asked Jim why he wore women’s clothes. “That is my road,” the berdache replied. How long had “she” acted as a woman? Since birth; he “inclined to be a woman, never a man.”Had anyone, a medicine person, perhaps, told him to become a berdache? “No.” Did he ever dream about it? “No.” Did any spirit ever tell him to do it? “No! Didn’t I tell you-that is my road? I have done it ever since I can remember because I wanted to do it. My Father and Mother did not like it. They used to whip me, take away my girl’s clothes and put boy’s clothes on me but I threw them away-and got girl’s clothes and dolls to play with.” When Scott asked if there were any other berdaches in the tribe, Woman Jim replied that he was the last. ‘There were three others recently but they are dead.” In his lifetime, he had know of eight, adding, ‘They have always been far back in history.” Again Scott asked if a spirit or vision directed individuals to become berdaches. “No, it was just natural, they were born that way.” What sort of work did he do? “All woman’s work.”

Interestingly, the fear seemed to resonate from Woman Jim’s family, not her society, though other boté were accepted and revered by their own family members.

Will Roscoe compiled his findings into a book published in 1998, called Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America. 

Changing Ones
Courtesy, Amazon.com

His book was reviewed by Gilda Frantz article, entitled, “Carrying the Opposites within Oneself,” published in 1999 in the peer-reviewed, The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal. Frantz, writing after the gay hate crime death of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, noted, “It would seem that being homosexual is still punishable by death in many parts of our country, and that despite much cultural interest in the possibilities of diversity, being different is frequently perceived as an insult to the rest of society.”

Frantz’ words still ring true eighteen years later, since Omar Mateen gunned down 49 men and women at Pride night club in Orlando June 12, 2016. Mateen’s victims, members of the LGBTQ community, as well as the straight community, were all targeted by Mateen, a Muslim. In this direction, Frantz notes that as she read in Roscoe’s book about the acceptance of what we would term as Native American members of the LGBTQ community, “…the more rage surfaced in me, not just at the injustice directed toward gay people, but regarding what we have historically done to our Native American brothers and sisters who were able to go way beyond the Europeanʼs limited understanding of human ways. Alongside their loving attention to native animals and plants, Native Americans learned also to observe men and women, and they understood people on many levels, better than we do today.”

Almost two decades later, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters continue to fight for their right to live and continue to battle patriarchal, homophobic themes imbedded in our most fundamentalists and evangelical religious institutions. Why would the Native American cultures not be threatened by the LGBTQ members in their midst centuries ago, but the evangelical and fundamentalist in the three main Abrahamic religions are so fearful that just the mention of the LGBTQ community sends them into a tailspin, quoting Leviticus 18-22?

As an atheist, I am more inclined to gravitate to the spiritual world of the Native American, rather than listen to the hateful drivel that fundamentalists and evangelical Christians, Muslims and Jews spew at our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. It is precisely these homophobic, paternalist attitudes that caused me to question to the very core, the religion that I was brought up to believe was complete truth.

How many additional Orlandos will the homophobic rage embrace in the name of religion?

In “This is My Road…,” Roscoe writes, “Finds Them and Kills Them died on January 2, 1929, at the age of seventy-five. Having outlasted and outwitted efforts over the course of three decades to change his ‘road,’ his story can be counted as one of the personal triumphs of American Indian history.”

Maybe so many Americans who call themselves religious need to look at their own road–and ask themselves why their religion teaches to them to love one another, but fear and vilify LGBTQ members.

Answering Orlando: Conservative Christians are Right; The LGBTQ Person Does have a Choice.

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The victims of the Pulse Orlando shooting at the hands of Omar Mateen, courtesy, Human Rights Campaign, #WeAreOrlando: HRC Turns Building into Memorial to Orlando Victims

It’s the same argument–the LGBTQ person says they were born LGBTQ and the conservative religions communities say that they were not born LGBTQ; they choose to be LGBTQ.

I agree that the person who lives a different sexual lifestyle does have a choice, just as conservative Christians say. However, the conservative Christian community gets the choice fundamentally wrong.

Orlando may be the beginning of the turning point that will probably take many  more years to fully mature from “hate the sin, love the sinner,” to complete acceptance. Let’s assess the situation.

First of all, the shooter, Omar Mateen was certainly a person who, by all accounts, was a ticking time bomb. Reporting for the Daily Beast, Shane Harris, Brandy Zadrozny and Katie Zavadski wrote in their article, The Unhinged Home That Raised Orlando Killer Omar Mateen, that Mateen grew up in an abusive home. When a person is brought up to question their own self-worth, the fear generated by that abuse often shows up as anger. Julie Vitkovskaya of The Washington Post compiled the transcripts of the 911 calls from Mateen to the Orlando Police Department in an article entitled, ‘You already know what I did’: Read excerpts of the Orlando shooter’s 911 calls. In the early morning hours of June 12 at the Orlando gay bar Pulse, he claimed to be guided by, “allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State.” But that claim really does not wash with Mateen’s actions leading up to the shootings and appears to be a red herring. Although he, according to Vitkovskaya, “told the negotiator to tell America to stop bombing Syria and Iraq,” his rants included lies, such as,

“There is some vehicle outside that has some bombs, just to let you know. You people are gonna get it, and I’m gonna ignite it if they try to do anything stupid.” Later in the call with the crisis negotiator, the shooter stated that he had a vest, and further described it as the kind they “used in France.” The shooter later stated, “In the next few days, you’re going to see more of this type of action going on.” (Vitkovskaya)

Within these lies might be the answers as to why Mateen chose to destroy unsuspecting lives at Pulse. Mateen could have shot up a mall, as did a group of Islamic extremist group al-Shabaab did at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya in September of 2013, killing 63 and wounding 175. Or he could have shot up a movie theater, as James Holmes did in Aurora, CO in July, 2012, killing twelve and wounding 70 and as John Russell Howard did in Lafayette, LA in July 2015, killing two and injuring nine, then taking his own life. Instead, Mateen decided to wreak havoc on a gay nightclub–the one place where, no matter how badly the LGBTQ community member is treated and bullied during the day, that person could go to Pulse and dance and be the person that he/she or whatever in between can be. Safely, without judgement or acrimony. Omar Mateen took that away from the LGBTQ community in Orlando, including those who chose to vacation in Orlando and visit Pulse on that fateful night.

Heidi Grover of The Stranger, a Seattle publication, wrote about Pulse being such a safe place for the LGBTQ community in Orlando in her piece, Memories of Pulse Orlando. Tracey Cataldo observes that “Florida is already a really hard space to be out and to be gay and to be yourself…It was the first moment I had being out in Orlando where I was like, oh, I’m OK here—not just safe, but these people get me. Everywhere else I felt like I had to walk around defensive…” Erin Resso remarks, “I was going to Pulse when I was just coming out and just sort of exploring what that even meant and who I was. Just being around people who are like you is so fucking important. You don’t have to hide. You can actually be yourself.”

The shootings in Orlando seemed to touch a particular nerve nationwide, especially with those who have traditionally condemned those in the LGBTQ community–religious organizations in the United States.  Errin Haines Whack and Rachel Zoll of the Washington Post note conservative religious organizations response to the shootings in their article, Religious conservatives attempt balance in Orlando response, “The Rabbinical Council of America, the major association for Orthodox rabbis, decried ‘murderous attacks in the name of religion’ and said ‘no individual or group should be singled out’ the way the victims were. The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, offered prayers and called for ‘ever greater resolve in protecting the life and dignity of every person.’ The Southern Baptist Convention, at its annual meeting this week, passed a resolution extending ‘love and compassion’ to all affected by the shooting and saying they consider the victims ‘fellow image-bearers of God and our neighbors.'”

Yet, no matter how much conservative religious leaders try to make nice with the LGBTQ community, many religious communities still has the LGBTQ community in their gun sights, so to speak.

The Human Rights Commission publishes online its Faith Positions. For Mateen’s family religion, Islam, the commission notes that inclusion for the LGBTQ community runs the gamut, because, “Islam has no central governing body, it is not possible to state clear policies regarding issues of interest to LGBTQ people.” Yet even without this central authority, “It is rare that an openly LGBTQ Muslim feels fully welcome at a mainstream mosque in the United States. Cultural norms and traditional readings of sacred texts often uphold a heteronormative binary of gender identification and sexual orientation that don’t allow for the range of identities present in today’s society.” Interestingly, “Transgender men and women are recognized and accepted in many Islamic cultures around the world. In fact, the idea of a man or woman identifying as a member of the opposite gender is more likely to be accepted than that of a man or woman expressing sexual desire for someone of their own gender.”

Judaism in the United States also runs the gamut of beliefs for and agains the LGBTQ community. Both the Reformed and Conservative movements are inclusive of the LGBTQ community. The Reform movement as early as 1977, through its “…Central Conference of American Rabbis passed a resolution that called for ‘legislation which decriminalizes homosexual acts between consenting adults, and prohibits discrimination against them as persons.’” However, the Orthodox Jewish community is much less inclusive, though, just as the Islamic religion, they also have no central governing body. Still, it is believed, “Orthodox policies related to LGBT inclusion are grounded in the Torah and subsequent rabbinic teachings, which prohibit sexual relationships between individuals of same gender, and base gender roles on birth biology. Sex between men and particularly anal intercourse is deemed a violation of biblical weight. Lesbian relations are not mentioned in the Bible and are prohibited explicitly only by later rabbinic authorities.”

For the dominate religious group in the United States, Christianity is all over the board in its relationship with the LGBTQ community. Possibly the most inclusive sect is the Unitarian Universalists Church, which believes in “the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” making the Unitarians an inclusive denomination to the LGBTQ community. In fact, the Unitarians have “conducted ‘services of union’ for same-sex couples since 1984.” in contrast, the Southern Baptist Convention published its “Resolution on a Christian Response to Homosexuality” in 1996, declaring that, “even a desire to engage in a homosexual relationship is always sinful, impure, degrading, shameful, unnatural, indecent and perverted.” The SBC tells its members, “Christians can, and should, minister to homosexuals in a kind, yet firm manner,” encouraging its members to show the member of the LGBTQ community that “Christ can work through our lives to touch those lost in a world of confusion and darkness.” The largest Christian denomination, the Roman Catholic Church, declared in a Letter in 1989, that, “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” In the Catechism, the “Homosexual persons are called to chastity.” 

No wonder those in the LGBTQ community feel they are treated as sub-human and abominations. When their own churches, families and country have called them sick, begging them and praying for them and with them to stop being themselves and start being just like “everyone” around them–no wonder the LGBTQ person feels there are few safe places for them to live their lives. The overpowering, public display of shame and hatred toward the LGBTQ person has been the prevailing narrative in this country for so very long.

What changes this narrative now as a result of Orlando? “‘This is a time to grieve, to mourn and to consider what it means to stigmatize people,’ said the Rev. Raphael Warnock of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, who supports gay marriage as a civil right. ‘Religious communities have played a particular role in … marginalizing gay and lesbian and transgender people,’” quoted Whack and Zoll. That is a powerful condemnation on religion in our communities from a religious leader. That is brave. But not a brave as an LGBTQ person.

Our religious community do not want to align itself with the vilified religion of the shooter, Omar Mateen. The presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump even says of Islam, “I think Islam hates us,” reports Theodore Schliefer of CNN, fanning the anti-Muslim dialogue that is engulfing our country.

In reality, it is still the religious community–all but the very socially progressive sects–who are trying to act as if they care for our LGBTQ community members after Orlando, while still vilifying them in their worship services and in their conferences where they set anti-LGBTQ policy in black and white.

Those religious sects, denominations and organizations who preach anti-LGBTQ rights have more in common with the Islamic faith than with human rights for all in the United States.

Orlando, is a wake-up call. Omar Mateen, was either secretly gay, bi-sexual or outwardly homophobic. He destroyed lives of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and those who loved them, not the lives of random people in movie theaters, or malls or in an elementary school. We still do not know the true motives of Omar Mateen, but his attempt to steer his motives away from homophobia and onto Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and ISIS frankly makes no logical sense.

Yes, the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer people have a choice. They can choose to live their own truth, or they can choose to ignore who they really are and let conservative, religious fanatics shame the LGBTQ person into becoming the person they are not. Trying to change the LGBTQ person is an invitation to a train wreck of a life. It happens over and over and over again in this country.

Perhaps one day the power of shame, based on religious dogma, will be overcome by the power of reality. All of our religious communities also have a choice–to stop fearing the members of the LGBTQ community. Being gay is not a disease and it is not contagious. An LGBTQ person knows they are sexually different before they even know the definition of LGBTQ.

Is it suddenly permissible to start loving members of the community you preached hate against 24 hours before a massacre? You might believe your own crap, but people with half a brain see through that ruse.

I personally have solved my problem about gay rights and religion. The intolerance of the gay community in the religious community is so abhorrent to me that it is one of the reasons why I have chosen–and it is my choice–to be an atheist. I am not fearful of anyone in the LGBTQ community. My sister is a lesbian. Her wife is my sister-in-law. I love them completely and the homophobia of so much religion cannot compete with my love for my LGBTQ family and friends. It appears that much of the United States feels this same way in the wake of a madman’s murderous rampage in Orlando.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atheists Do Not HATE God

godsnotdead
Courtesy, YouTube

I often watch religious-based movies just to see what the arguments are for being religious.

I recently watched–well, mostly watched–the movie, God’s Not Dead. I say that I watched most of the movie because the movie is one of the worse movies with one of the most implausible plots I’ve ever seen. The acting itself was sub-par; I’ve seen much better acting in community theater. I just could not get through the last 10-15 minutes of the movie because it was becoming so incredibly stupid. When I read the conclusion of the movie on Wikipedia, I am glad that I did not waste the last 15 minutes on my life; it was perhaps an evangelical Christian’s dream that the so-called atheist gives his life to Jesus right before he dies, but if the final scenes were as bad as the rest of the movie, I might have lost my popcorn. Rotten Tomatoes gave it 15% and I would say that is generous. Critics almost en masse panned it. Susan Granger of SSG Syndicate wrote, “Immediately, the proselytizing concept loses credibility – because no teacher at a legitimate academic institution would make that demand, augmenting it with the threat of failure in the course.” Granger nailed my criticism. If you want to attempt to change people’s minds, especially when arguing Christianity versus Philosophy or Science, you’d better start with a plausible scenario. God’s Not Dead’s basic premise is so bad that it only confirms why I am an atheist. Variety film critic Scott Foundas sums my sentiments perfectly when he writes, “The Almighty deserves better advocacy than he gets in this typically ham-fisted Christian campus melodrama.”

One of the major problems with this film is that the atheist professor tells the protagonist that he is an atheist because he is mad at God. Don Batten with Creation Ministries International writes an editorial entitled, “Why do atheists hate God?” Batten writes, “Recently, I have had a lot of conversations with atheists. Many express a strong hatred of God. I have been at a loss to explain this. How can you hate someone you don’t believe in? Why the hostility? If God does not exist, shouldn’t atheists just relax and seek a good time before they become plant food?” This is where Christians and so-called atheists get it wrong. If you are angry at God, then you are not an atheist. You are an angry deist. You STILL believe in God. When you don’t believe in God, there is nothing to be angry about. End of story. So if you are angry at God and call yourself an atheist, you are mislabeling yourself. You need to educate yourself and do some deep psycological and spiritual work to figure out the origin and depth of your anger.

Michael Lipka with the Pew Research Center recently published an update to a year-old article called, “10 Facts About Atheists. Lipka notes that, “Although the literal definition of “atheist” is “a person who believes that God does not exist,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary8% of those who call themselves atheists also say they believe in God or a universal spirit. Indeed, 2% say they are “absolutely certain” about the existence of God or a universal spirit. Alternatively, there are many people who fit the dictionary definition of “atheist” but do not call themselves atheists. About three times as many Americans say they do not believe in God or a universal spirit (9%) as say they are atheists (3%).” If you are certain of a universal spirit or a God or god of some sort, then you are NOT an atheist.

Religious people are not tolerant of atheists. We can’t put atheists to death in the United States, so religious people must take other routes. Clay Routledge, Ph.D., wrote in Psychology Today, “Five Reasons People Don’t Like Atheists.” Routledge writes, “Atheists represent one of the least trusted and most despised groups in America. This seems odd. Why is it so threatening for someone to opt out of religious belief? People believe and don’t believe in all sorts of things. And yet, atheists seem to really drive people nuts. Polls identify atheists as untrustworthy, unelectable for public office, and unworthy of marrying into one’s family.” So why are religious people so angry about those who do not believe? According to Routledge, “Atheists are sometimes not very nice about their beliefs. This is a tricky one because most atheists just go about their business and are even very supportive of those who believe. In fact, many atheists are afraid to expose themselves as nonbelievers out of fear of prejudice. However, some atheists have taken the strong stance that religion is a social ill and thus use more combative tactics, which can include treating religious individuals like they are unintelligent and mentally weak. This approach obviously upsets religious people and can make them falsely believe that all atheists think this way.” I do understand this. Some outspoken atheists such as Richard Dawkins are militant atheists. But I think that those who are religious must also understand that in the past, atheists have been killed for their non-beliefs. Atheism in America is no longer a death sentence, but in other parts of the world, it is a death sentence. Siobhan Fenton writes in The Independent, an article called, “The 13 countries where being an atheist is punishable by death.” Most of these countries are Islamic and are located in the Middle East. Yet in India, Fenton notes, “at least three atheist bloggers have been hacked to death in Bangladesh, after penning posts advocating that scientific proof should inform public opinion above religious beliefs.” I think the vestiges of past state-sponsored religion, giving a country carte blanche to remove from earth those who do not believe, still resonate with the religious population. It is these vestiges of militant religion that cause the militant atheist backlash against religion. The United States was one of the first countries in the world to end state-sponsored religion, yet, ironically, we are one of the most religious first world nations on earth.

Who are atheists? Lipka and the Pew Research Center note,”Atheists, in general, are more likely to be male and younger than the overall population68% are men, and the median age of atheist adults in the U.S. is 34 (compared with 46 for all U.S. adults). Atheists also are more likely to be white (78% are Caucasian vs. 66% for the general public) and highly educated: About four-in-ten atheists (43%) have a college degree, compared with 27% of the general public.” Although I am not male and in my 30s, I am highly educated with three college degrees, one of which is an engineering degree. My brain does not process religion and dogma. I am MUCH happier not having to deal with the religious dogma that gives so much joy to those who are religious. For me, it is torture.

Religious nones
Courtesy, The Pew Research Center

One thing that I want to make crystal clear is that I do not feel comfortable publicly announcing that I am an atheist. In my blog, I do not identify myself directly. I feel my lack of beliefs would jeopardize my life, just as the LGBTQ community often feels now and how black Americans might have felt living in the Jim Crow South. Anyone living in a minority situation often feels threatened. Michael Lipka sums up my feelings, writing, “In the 2014 Religious Landscape Study, self-identified atheists were asked how often they share their views on God and religion with religious people. Only about one-in-ten atheists (9%) say they do at least weekly, while roughly two-thirds (65%) say they seldom or never discuss their views on religion with religious people. By comparison, 26% of those who have a religious affiliation share their views at least once a week with those who have other beliefs; 43% say they seldom or never do.” In the United States, sharing your religious testimony is like breathing. I have heard these testimonies over and over and over again, ad nauseam.  Routledge sums this up by writing, “… people should recognize that many atheists feel marginalized in American society because most people are believers.  Believers should not feel threatened by atheists. People believe different things and someone not believing in God does not jeopardize your own beliefs.”

I am not spiritually-based; I am evidence-based. We are seeing more evidence about countries that are majority atheist and the evidence is promising for their populations. Routledge reports, “…there is a common belief that rejecting God is the same as rejecting morality. However, countries that have high rates of atheism (Scandinavian nations) tend to have much lower violent crime and teen pregnancy rates than countries high in religiosity such as the United States.  In addition, in the United States, the least religious states have the lowest violent crime rates. Like it or not, there is no compelling evidence that atheists are less moral than believers. Morality can be found with and without religion. In fact, research indicates that atheist parents spend a lot of time teaching their children to be moral, compassionate, and fair.”

Understand, I am not mad at God or Jesus or Muhammad or Thor or Shiva or Satan or any of the saints or any other god. I don’t believe in god. I can’t be mad a something I don’t believe in. Period. Rather, I feel uncomfortable when telling Americans that I am an atheist. Until an atheist is elected to public office and people realize that atheists are not satan, but merely non-believers, I will not openly give my opinion on my beliefs until I feel safe. If you want to believe, knock yourself out. If you want to read my blog, have at it. I am not forcing anyone to read this blog; I write to help me solidify my understanding of life and how I now view life and death. Yes, I think that your beliefs in gods are stupid, but if you’re so threatened by what I think, maybe you need to rethink your own worth and your own beliefs. Just because I may think your beliefs are unintelligent and superstitious, but I will still love you if you are my relative or my friend. I will not try to purge religion from you, although I have had countless Southern Baptist try to convert me from being a Methodist to becoming a Baptist–and those are just different sects of the SAME religion. If you wish to ask me about being an atheist, I will tell you, but I will not start the conversation, nor will I continue the conversation if I feel threatened by you.

Besides, I might decide to move to a Scandinavian country where the population is tolerant. It’s seems to me that most atheists are not the angry ones–it’s the religious community members who are so angry.

For Those Who Absolutely HATE Church

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Courtesy, http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/9-things-you-should-know-about-church-architecture

I do not like going to church. I do not like preachers. I hate church music. I am so glad that I can choose to not go to church as an adult.

These statements are sacrilegious to so many Christians. Why would you not enjoy going to church? In fact, is not liking church an actual option in life? How could someone admit this hatred of their christian upbringing?

Growing up, I would not ever consider making this statement. Not only was it not expected to come out of anyone’s mouth, it was not expected that you would even consider the possibility. But from the time that I was in junior high school, I realized that this institution in which I was expected to attend multiple times a week and in which I was to take an active role was one of the main problems in my life, not one of the main solutions.

I’ll break each of my statements down and explain myself.

I do not like going to church. It’s true. I do not like the physical act of getting ready for church by dressing up (which we used to do until the 1970s). The “going” took hours–one hour to get ready; 15 minutes to drive from the house to the appointed house of worship; one hour of Sunday school in which I sat around with the same kids every week, then completely ignored or was completely ignored by the rest of the time (well, not in all cases, but in most); then, one hour sitting in hard pews, quietly sitting, then standing, then praying, then singing, then listening to a crap choir, then listening to some guy tell us that we were sinners, that we needed to give more money to the church, that Jesus loves us, that God loves us, that God will tell us what he wants us to do, then get all emotional and go down to the altar and give our life to Jesus while the audience drones on with, “Just as I am without one plea….” Repeat at least one other time during the week and, often, multiple times. For me, there was nothing intellectually stimulating about this continued exercise that I had to repeat over and over and over again. By my calculations, from the time that I was two years old, when we moved to this dusty west Texas town, until I was 17 when we stopped the insanity, allowing for two weeks of vacation, at an average of three times per week, I showed up at this church 2,250 times and wasted AT LEAST 12,937.5 hours of my life going to this building and listening to all of this crap that I felt was less and less relevant to me the older I got.

I do not like preachers. That’s right; I don’t like preachers. And we have numerous ones in the family. There is a very particular way that MOST preachers preach. Each denomination has its own preacher-type. They can be almost a caricature at the podium, with a speaking rhythm all their own. This has, of course, changed over time. I grew up in the era of the fancy-haired, slick talker. You’ve seen them–full head of coiffed hair, rather like Donald Trump.

Clockwise from top right: Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Jimmy Swaggart, Robert Tilton, Pat Robertson

Most do not preach prophesy, as do the televangelists. but their sermons are designed to scare you, keep you in fear, and make sure that Jeeeeeezus comes into your life so that you can begin to experience MIRACLES all around you–all the time–every day, prayers answered. Or, maybe your prayers are not answered because we don’t know the Lord’s ways. He (always HE) remains mysterious to us, but you MUST believe that you are being blessed, even when your prayers are being answered, OR when your prayers are NOT being answered. Wait, WHAT? That makes no sense. It is not up to us to understand HIS will, so we are just going to accept the consequences and agree to this rather bizarre arrangement? Why do bad things happen to good people? Because it’s God’s will. Wait, WHAT? No. That’s frankly stupid. Oh, and by the way, we need 10% of your money to do the continued work of the church. I don’t want to be here in the first place, so why do you want me to give you MY money to perpetuate something I loathe?

I hate church music. When my sister asked me which music I liked the most, I told her–rock. She said that I really needed to like church music the most. Then everything could follow from that. But I don’t like church music. It is bleak and sad and is like a child asking an adult if the adult would just please love them and tell them what to do. The music we sang was usually written by Charles Wesley, the brother of John Wesley. Charlie was prolific in his hymn writing. Charles Wesley was the Bob Dylan of his time. Who among us cannot wait to belt out A Charge to Keep I Have or Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus. So we sang the greatest hits of the 18th century church over and over and over again, always standing up at attention, facing the pulpit–sing, sit down. Over and over and over again. Then there was Fanny J. Crosby, the most prolific songwriter of all time. Fanny J., though blinded an an early age, cranked out over 8,000 hymns in the 19th century, which, to me, spoke of whining, childish calls to give your life to Jesus, over and over and over again. Nothing can give me an earworm like Blessed Assurance and Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior. Over and over and over again. Then there was that Sunday evening church favorite, The Church in the Wildwood. For the evening service, the preacher could take music requests and the teenage boys would suddenly become crazy-animated. “We want The Church in the Wildwood!!! The preacher would be so pleased to get that tune rolling. The chorus has a riff that all the bass sing, that goes, “Oh, come, come, come, come, ad nauseam. Yea, those guys couldn’t stop singing about “come.” Well, you get the picture. Then the older kids would tell us to take the title of any hymnal, and put, “between the sheets” after the title. So, you see what was going on. It was bad enough to be a teenager listening to something that I did not believe in, then playing stupid hymnal games to pass the time so I could get the hell out of there as soon as humanly possible.

I am so glad that I can choose to not go to church as an adult. That’s right. As an adult, I can look at my life and understand what and where I derive joy and pleasure. I LOVE learning and being at an institute of higher learning. It is stimulating. It is thrilling and it is not church. Well, not unless you are at a religiously-oriented “university” where school is basically an extended version of vacation bible school and/or Sunday school. When the bible is taught as fact and reality, the environment simply becomes a larger cluster of church buildings, filled with preachers masquerading as professors. I LOVE traveling and meeting people from all over the world. I also enjoy learning about the native religions of a country. The way religion and spirituality develop in a country can help to understand the culture of the country. It is fascinating and insightful. I enjoy the academic study of religion–why it developed, how all types of religion have evolved over time to attempt to stay relevant. I also enjoy exploring the archetypes of individual cultures and how they are similar in so many cultures that may or may not have ever had contact with each other. This is much more interesting to me that spending hours listening to the standard droning-on of preachers trying to justify the superheroes that they worship and the miracles that such superheroes are said to have performed. Finally, I find the arguments of why we must believe, in the form of the apologists for each religion, fascinating and delusional. Feel free to believe that your god, your superhero, your deity defies gravity, physics and death itself, but don’t expect me to buy your impossible story.

And just like so many people who decide that they are atheists, I realized that I felt…nothing. Nothing from all of this weird expression of emotion, this mystical hour where we were suppose to get all emotionally and spiritually worked up, then pray and pray until the answers magically came to us; when Jesus would reveal how much he loved us. No magical answers ever came to me. And the original premise was simply too unrealistic. Maybe you need that mysticism in your life; I don’t. It does absolutely nothing for me.

I hear it all the time: you have to have faith in God. No I don’t. I don’t have to believe a word of this, because it is unreal, unrealistic and, frankly, just too bizarre for me–not just bizarre, but highly, highly disturbing.

So this is one of the many reasons why I just stopped believing. Who wants to be somewhere that makes you miserable? I don’t. So…I won’t.

 

The Tao of the Japanese

Traveling is the greatest way to understand people and cultures. Connecting with foreigners in their own country gives you the ability to understand how the local religion affects people differently than the religion of your own hometown, state or country.

I recently visited Japan for the first time. It is a land of ancient beliefs. According to ReligionFacts in Japan, 71% of Japanese are Buddhists while 84% are Shinto. Now, in the western world, that adds up to 155% of the population, which is impossible. What it tells us is that much of the population identifies with both Buddhism and Shintoism.

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The Sanjusangendo Buddhist Temple in Kyoto, Japan

That seems so counterintuitive to westerners who grew up in one religion, believing that those who practice another religion are infidels or heretics and will be damned for eternity.

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The Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shinto Shrine, also in Kyoto, Japan

The Japanese, on the other hand, embraced their native Shinto heritage, an animistic religion, and Zen Buddhism, which entered Japan from China in the 12th century.

Also, a large number of Japanese consider themselves to be atheist. In 2013, The Washington Post published an article, outlining where the world’s atheists lived. Japan is second only to China–31% to 47%.

atheist
Courtesy, The Washington Post, WIN/Gallop International Poll, 2013

On my trip to Japan, we were told that the Japanese people enjoy ceremony, pomp and circumstance. As the saying goes, the Japanese want to be born Shinto, married Christian and buried Buddhist. This is because the Japanese don’t believe in a personal god who rules over their lives and dictates whether they are each good enough to enter a heavenly kingdom after death. Much of this worship has to do with the Imperial family through Shinto and the Zen Buddhism of the samurai. It’s very complicated, but encompasses the oldest form of worship–giving spiritual significance to everything that is around you, then meditating, clearing your mind of the insignificant, everyday drama that permeates all societies. So who needs a god to tell you what to do? The Japanese don’t. Besides, the god is going to tell you different things based on from whom you take guidance. The Pope and his saints will certainly give you a different direction than the head of the Southern Baptist Convention. True to form, the Baptists think the Catholics are going to hell anyway, because they aren’t playing by the Baptist’s rules–rules which continue to change over time, based on society and norms.

The Japanese don’t need this extraneous dogma in their lives. Neither do I. Get out there and discover how the rest of humanity views spirituality. Leave your safe church and venture out into someone else’s world. You will find that we have the same hopes and dreams. Our judgement of who they wish to worship or not worship is just that–judgement.