Religio Ad Verbum: How Literal Interpretations of Holy Books are Destroying Our World, Pt. 2

Churches and religions pride themselves in having compiled in volumes all the rules by which humanity is supposed to live by and what our roles in society should be. However, what little morality can be found in the Quran can also be found in the cheapest crime novel you can find at your local gas station. The rest of it can be derived simply from common sense and from the connection people form with their fellow human beings. Unless a serious mental illness is preventing someone from acting rationally, there is no way to miss simple moral acts that enrich human experience, i.e. being kind to others, helping those in need, minding others’ fears and feelings, etc. Why? Because we can relate to all these things solely by our own experience of being alive.

Unfortunately, there are those who don’t see it this way and for them, their own interpretation of things is the only interpretation. Belief, based on these interpretations, becomes a dangerous tool to wield. Ideas can be molded into anything, and detrimentally to everyone, in the minds of those whom religion already provides a preemptive answer to everything, interpretation is not born out of logic of differentiating patterns, but rather it is the mental equivalent of muscle memory, a learned behavior with only one intended consequence- hegemony.

In religion, mainly the monotheistic Abrahamic religions, when a bad idea is sanctioned by the text from which it comes from, it is standard procedure not to question it or its origin, but rather accept it and love it as having providence in the mysteriousness of a deity almost as obscure and unknown as the people who claim to have been the messengers of it. When does it become inconvenient for us to question it or outright reject it? How far must things go before we realize that the things we are made to believe really cause pain to people? Certainly not far enough if people truly believe in this day and age that the actions of Abraham were appropriate and warranted simply because it was god’s word. How far can we go if people will be made to believe that subservience is the way to heaven? After all, not more than half a century ago people still believed that the separation between races was divinely mandated. This is an example of how diluted our common sense can become when we are made to believe things that many generations before us could not concretely explain. Must we destroy the entire world before we start to question things?

Christianity has “evolved” over thousands of years from a small insignificant rebellion to the leading form of organized “consciousness” (for lack of a better word in this context) that humanity has ever participated in. It is essentially the most deadly self-imposed psychological experiment that in one way or another has changed the world, sometimes for the worse. In its infancy Christianity was harmless, just another cult, but as its numbers inflated violently for the very first centuries, Christians were known as terrorists, rebels, and racially inferior beings (sound familiar?). They were despised, persecuted, tortured and executed. It should be funny to note that during those first centuries, the desperation of pagans seeing their gods being replaced by a foreign one must have been quite a culture shock.

Following the Constantine decree that Christianity was to become the official religion of the Roman Empire, the cult then sought to infect nations and radicalize them either by “the word” or by the sword. Early Christians experienced a sort of either-you’re-with-us-or-against-us attitude and committed atrocities in the name of unreason. Of course I can’t say this is exclusive to Christians, for earlier religions much did the same, imposing their own mythologies onto other groups of people. This new mythical thing of incredible proportions became faith. Faith then turned out to be the invisible lighthouse in the shores of reason, a place where all sailors wanted to be drawn to but that clad in obscurity it took an enormous amount of effort to find. Not surprisingly, over the centuries many ships have capsized in this place.

Star and crescent icon

Much in the same way that Christianity spread its message by blood, and occasionally by peace, Islam and radicalized Muslims do the same today. Historically speaking, the spread of Islamism was much quicker and much more brutal than Christianity ever was, at least in the first centuries of its creation. Compared within the same time period, no doubt Islam would have been far more effective at indoctrinating the masses. But that is only possible admitting that Islam was born out of the sword of an illiterate warlord who sought to conquer over his oppressors come what may.

The thought that Islam under the caliphates was at one point the better of all evils, and that it advanced mathematical and scientific advancement, is one of the most recycled untruths (not lies) that we tell ourselves during our time. It is no more true than saying that we now have a deep knowledge of the universe because of Christianity. People of science and logic can be found anywhere and everywhere, it only takes the right incentive to provoke them to share their curiosity with the world. However, I cannot overlook the fact that indeed thinkers under ancient Islam were not as restricted under the banner as Christians were under Christianity. Sadly, I can’t say that about “modern” Islam. The brutality with which purely Muslim governments enforce Shari’a Law is the same with which Inquisitors enforced the canon of the Catholic church, and as a result what we have is a new inquisition period, the new Dark Ages. What’s so surprising is that heads are still rolling for imaginary crimes in an age when we can peer into the darkest spots of the known universe. Seeing the events unfold, we have the responsibility to ask ourselves and each other, “How can this possibly still be going on?”

Under the current modus operandi of Islamic nations it seems that the Quran is not taken out of context, as some might believe, but something much worse, it is understood by the most literal interpretation it can be given. If at some point we thought it was a hypocritical thing to cherry-pick the Bible to find passages that conveniently suited our moral needs, then I suggest we go back to that and try to convince our Muslim brethren to do the same. At our demise, the phrase “Beware what you wish for” comes to mind. Then again wishing that it wasn’t so is basically the secular equivalent to praying it wasn’t so.

Islam it seems has inherited the proverbial scepter of unreason. But let me clarify before I start receiving hate-mail. It is not Islam that I have a problem with, but rather literal Islam that I hate. Before we begin to convince ourselves of the fairy-tale illusion that there are many moral passages in the Quran to constitute a moral rule-book to follow, let me tell you that often in the same passages of the hadith where a moral passage can be found, an equally immoral one can also be found. The greatest problem we come across it seems is recognizing what is moral?

As if it wasn’t enough to see women clad in black and knowing that they have been genitally mutilated as children (prominent practice in some Muslim countries and also in some Christian ones), it has become the job of some cynics to declare that the people doing this sort of thing are just radicals and misunderstand and twist the word of the Quran and the Bible. What they continually fail to realize is that these “radicals” are not a band of illiterate sheepherders as they sued to be, or warriors as Mohammad himself was, but rather people of broad-reaching influence such as heads of state and religious leaders. It is not the ignorant who dictate policy, it is the learned. The radicals that we mention command armies and lead nations, these are not gangs, these are people who truly believe every word they read down to the last punctuation mark and they use it to maintain a strict control upon their populations. Whether or not this oppression exists solely for the purpose of near-total hegemonic social control, such as in the case of societies like Saudi Arabia, is something that changes from country to country, from tribe to tribe, and even within the same religion (i.e. Shia Muslims vs. Sunni Muslims, Catholics vs. Protestants, etc.) The fear that we have is not with moderate Muslims, although we should be cautious of their beliefs much in the same way that we are cautious of the beliefs of others such as Christians, Jews, and indeed my fellow atheists- our fear should be grounded in the radicalizing of these moderates as ISIL and other warring factions have effectively managed to do by spreading propaganda with the message that to wage holy war against infidels (everyone who is not a Muslim) is glorious. And what’s more, that to die is immensely better than to live. This is a highly dangerous position to take and defend. As philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris has said, “These people love death more than we love life.”

 

And if none of this convinces you of the severity of the problem then perhaps you will be more sympathetic when you realize that ISIS tortures and kills children, and all we can do is impotently watch in our computer and television screens as it happens. Does any reasonable person dare say that this is not the work of Muslims but rather the work of psychopaths misled to think this is the path to heaven?

This oppression that exists, not only of the body but mainly of the mind then becomes like a poison that kills the fertile ground of thought, and lets nothing grow. The most passive verses of the Quran are continually ignored while those which spell out in detail how to punish and control people are followed to the letter, and they work very effectively. If you thought Communism was bad, theocracy is much worse. Children are brought up thinking that this sort of behavior should be tolerated, celebrated, and repeated. In consequence we have generations upon generations and waves upon waves of faith-fighters willing to die as martyrs in defense of their twisted ideals. Teaching kids that infidels are only good for killing, or that the opinion of a woman is only half of that of a man, does not make children moral, it makes them immoral, or if anything it makes them amoral. To push the envelope a little bit further (perhaps not exaggerating), whole generations are being indoctrinated and groomed as reserves for some future holy war that some are praying, and praying hard, that will one day come. How can we hope to win a war against those who willingly walk to their deaths to defend nothing more than the right to die gloriously as we fight to defend life? It seems almost impossible. Within those circles, the interpretation that is given for men to follow has perpetuated an endless war with the perfect breed of warriors willing to die happily.

Much like the Roman Catholic Church in the Dark Ages, these Muslim theocracies appear to be highly organized even in the face of auto-radicalism. Is there a shred of doubt that they would all wish to see Israel, or the U.S., or the E.U. in ashes rather than form a peaceful world? Of course not. And it seems that money is basically the only thing keeping some of these societies at bay from erupting into war. But how long will this strategy of showering these countries with gold last? When the oil dries up and there is nothing more to sell, what will happen then? If greed fails, what other cards do we have to play?

Even within our nations it seems that the squalling within misinformed liberal groups is giving the enemy the advantage of ideological warfare. While we question what constitutes criticism of religion and indeed freedom of speech, radical Muslims have no problem using social platforms created by Western countries such as Facebook and Twitter to shamelessly (and cowardly) recruit among our own populations. For now it seems their strength lies solely in pushing propaganda, not in their numbers or even in the hope to fight established nation. But for how long? Can we allow this to change? These are questions that must be asked now.

Morality is a tricky thing sometimes. Occasionally it’s difficult to assert correctly what is moral, after all not all moral decisions are good and not all good decisions are moral. But in order to enjoy the benefits of living in a society where its citizens are happy, the freedom to speak one’s mind is paramount to the contribution of that happiness and the cornerstone in building that type of nation. Although I believe that morality is rooted in what we find pleasurable and good without the need to affect others, I also believe that it is corruptible. Some moral things that were considered good and moral before are not any longer and so we have to be able to make that distinction correctly. In that sense, morality has to derive at least in part to the freedom to let your mind be known, for only then can people be aware of other people’s true intentions. And when that right is infringed upon, it creates a domino effect that is very hard to get away from unscathed.

Before the European Enlightenment brought reason back into the minds of people, awakening them from a long slumber, nations had to fight each other for ideological supremacy but also for freedom from oppression which they themselves created. History became a vicious cycle hard to break away from, and men perpetuated this cycle by fueling it with ideas that did not benefit the group en masse, but that only satisfied their own desires. It would be unfair to say that collective reason was completely absent during these times, for even during the Dark Ages there were people who dared to think. If that sounds surprising to read it’s because it is. Yet, from the heap of garbage that myth and unreason originate, sometimes we can find something of great value there.

But while we waste our time looking for these scattered moral passages, ISIL (or ISIS or IS) will have already executed several thousand people, most of them innocent, most of them Muslim, and some of them foreign nationals. ISIS will have also brutally  killed thousands of children and tortured many more people for crimes that should only be judged in an Inquisition court. All of it done in the name of Islam and to defend the honor of a “prophet” long gone. We can go on and on how Islam is a religion of peace, but until we get our hands dirty and dig into these passages ourselves will we know just what exactly is being taken out, or read into, context. And if you are religious, I urge that you do not make comparisons between your religion and Islam, for if taken literally, the Bible is just as violent and damaging as the Quran, and perhaps even more.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali speaking at a conference.  photo credit: RA_Sun_286 via photopin (license)

Ayaan Hirsi Ali speaking at a conference.
photo credit: RA_Sun_286 via photopin (license)

It is true enough that we must not blame the wrong people for these atrocities, and it is equally true that only those who commit these crimes must be held accountable. I believe we can all understand that no person wants to be blamed for the crimes of another- even if they subscribe to remotely the same beliefs. But what is imperative for us to realize is that these crimes are not perpetuated in defense of reasons that are beyond their control (race, nationality), instead they are the deliberate result of manufactured beliefs that unfortunately are also shared by those whom are affected most by them, innocent people who also read the Quran or the Bible whose innate morality leads them to reject the obvious immoral passages of these books. The most effective way for moderate Muslims to distance themselves from those who use their religion as a scaffold to greater crimes is simply to weed them out. I admit, it is only simple in theory. The responsibility falls on the moderates to reform Islam, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali has declared, or to edit the Koran itself to reflect 21st century views. Muslims should not fear for that portion of history to be lost, like the Magna Carta- another very important ancient text, and one of the many documents from which the Constitution is based on- the original Quran will never be lost, but it can be updated.

And it is the job of reasonable people to collectively denounce injustice wherever we see it. We should speak out the truth in defense of reason and common sense and be fearless in our resolute goal of condemning censorship of any kind. Admittedly, there will be times when there is little we can do in the adversity, but when we prove to them and ourselves that we are united in this goal, we can surely make some kind of change, even if it’s in our own communities.

Like Christianity, Islam will eventually be reformed. One should hope that it happens by “the word” and not by “the sword,” as religions have done to spread their message. But that, it seems, for now at least, that is our of our control.

Personal interpretation based on our own understanding of the contents of whatever it is we’re reading sometimes is not much more dangerous than blindly following someone else’s interpretation of it. But it is a good place to start. It’s possible we will never rid the world of unreason, of violence and fear, of injustice. But if we shake the foundations of everything we know- or rather everything we think we know- perhaps we can make this one world we have a better place. To question everything should be a mantra to follow.

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In Memory of the victims of Charlie Hebdo and the victims of radicalism.

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For more information please check out the following interesting links:

http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/01/02/islam-will-not-have-its-own-reformation/

http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/fgm_reinfibulation_central_Sudan/en/

http://nation.com.pk/blogs/28-Dec-2014/jack-in-a-box

http://www.pewglobal.org/2010/12/02/muslims-around-the-world-divided-on-hamas-and-hezbollah/

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Religio Ad Verbum: How Literal Interpretations of Holy Books are Destroying Our World, Pt. 1

It’s very possible I might be murdered over this post, after all, freedom of expression- as we have seen in the case of Charlie Hebdo- is not a bullet-proof blanket that can protect everyone from the injustice and evilness of others. It’s a fragile intangible thing that under severe pressure can have the potential to become as dispersed as ash or as hard as diamond. It is the intangible nature of ideas, and to some degree also of afforded freedoms, that they are at the mercy of the wielder to shape them at his pleasure.

Interpretation, or rather misinterpretation, is perhaps one of the most effective killers in human history. From an evolutionary and behavioral point of view, the way we interpret things can have huge advantages, but interpreted wrong it can also have dire consequences for ourselves, for the people close to us and indeed for the world as a whole, and consequence is not something the universe seems to be lacking, in fact just quite the opposite, it thrives on consequence and it moves forward because of it. How we interpret things can either save our lives or drive us to our own dooms. From a psychological standpoint, interpretation is the recognition of patterns to suit a certain framework in our minds; it is the meaning we give things. And of course, emotional need is one of the driving forces behind how we come to interpret something and what context best to use for it.

But due to the fact that interpretation is a personal thing, not bound by anything other than our own understanding of the input we are receiving, it mostly always lacks a solid base and it is for its lack of rigidity and concreteness that ideas prone to a myriad of meanings are certainly doom to fail one way or another.

To better illustrate how interpretation can have a great impact in our world I will use two different historical documents in comparison to one another and then use different comparisons for the same document.

United States Documents

The Constitution of the United States was written nearly 240 years ago. It is one of the best composed communal documents in the history of mankind put together by philosophers, scientists, politicians, businessmen, religious men, rebels. It is nearly flawless in its dictation of the law that covers not just the rights and freedoms of Americans but comprehensible laws that should be extended to every human. It is the first of its kind to make a clear separation between the church and the government, and in its account of the law is fairly straightforward with little room for interpretation. Yet, being a lawyer in the United States and elsewhere, and perhaps especially a Constitutional lawyer, is one of the most lucrative and competitive careers to graduate from today. It is simply so because even though the laws were written in a manner that is concise and easy to understand, they still depend on the best judgment of those who read them. And sometimes even that is not enough.

In the United States there is still pending litigation over what most people would consider trivial matters simply because there wasn’t a broad enough definition of some specific law. Thousands of lawsuits will arise because different interpretations of the law- at times even by lawmakers- were used in different contexts. Perhaps the most famous example would be the interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which dictates that: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The law seems to be straightforward in this regard, and yet an interpretation of the language used has caused more than a fair amount of controversy regarding what exactly the framers had in mind. As explicit and direct as the law is, there is simply no way to know for sure what exactly the different parts of the amendment mean as it applies to today’s society (i.e. “being necessary,” “Security of a free state,” “shall not be infringed”).

Laws such as this last one are substantial throughout the Constitution and the way these laws are interpreted can sometimes lead to what it may seem as different versions of one single document.

Now imagine documents that precede the Constitution that contain language that is no longer used today or historical details that we may find impossible to corroborate. Imagine trying to make sense of documents written by obscure characters from which we know absolutely nothing about and thus have no basis on how to judge them based on their prejudices, unreliable documents such as the Quran or the Bible before it. These books- or rather a collection of books- that have amassed great power and influence over the centuries have, for so long, been given carte blanche over a great many human elements such as how to live, how to behave, what to eat, what to think, how to act towards others, and certainly over the morality that we are supposed to uphold and pass on to future generations, a morality that has been instilled in us and forced upon us from birth. These documents owe their mysticism to fantastical stories retold over several generations from original versions that were doubtless not as fantastical or as mystical- or indeed as interesting- as the versions we know today. It has been the job of of the ghostwriters of history (some of them illiterate as in the case of Mohammad) to add colorful elements to chapters of known history and compile them into volumes, again, long after the culmination of the actual events- if they happened at all. But the documents that we so venerate nowadays seem to have been inscribed metaphorically, or have been given a varied interpretation that is difficult to discern today; or at least one hopes they are, otherwise only a psychopath could believe half of the things that have been written on them.

A good example of this is in the case of the Biblical story of the virgin Mary. As the writer and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins mentions in his book “The God Delusion”, and from discussions with historical scholars before Dawkins’ time, the word used in the Greek translation of the Bible “almah” literally means “young woman,” not “virgin” as it is usually believed. Provided that this was indeed a clerical mistake, then it seems the “young woman” that gave birth to Jesus was indeed not a virgin but simply a young woman. I don’t need to point out that over thousands of years, people have been mistaken to believe that Jesus was born out of a virgin when in fact it is not so for obvious reasons, not to mention that first-century Christians probably did not even believe that themselves.

Now, that is not such a grave mistake. It is indeed stupid of anyone to think that parthenogenesis could actually happen with human beings, stupid but not of grave consequence. From believing such a thing, it appears the only thing people have sacrificed here is their common sense- or at least one would hope. However, there are passages of much graver importance in the Bible and in the Quran that through a mistranslation, misunderstanding or misinterpretation (from the many they have received) have incited conflict among individuals, groups and countries that at one point of another have had severe consequences for the human race sometimes thrusting whole nations into endless wars.

There is an arrogance here to recognize. This arrogance from blind believers to think they perfectly understand the supposed creator of the universe when most of the time they have a difficult time understanding half of the things their politicians tell them, is not only part of the problem, it is the problem. Blind belief it seems is anything but innocuous, in fact it is more like a grenade without a pin, burning in our hands while we happily go about our lives believing its a water balloon, harmless and even beneficial. At no other point in our lives would we trust blind belief to carry us through any process, why then would we trust it to hold the reigns of the most important part of our lives, morality. One wonders why it was that this obviously bipolar, and apparently misanthropic, creator chose such confusing language to dictate his/her laws to humanity? Why do we hold on this arrogance that we know better than the god we have created?

The question begs, if people still have difficulty avoiding the pitfalls of a near-perfect document such as the Constitution of the United States, then what hope could we have of interpreting books that were conceived centuries ago by men whom we know very little about, and what little we know of them cannot be confirmed by anything other than each other’s account of the “events”?

The comparison between these two documents reflects the gap between understanding and interpretation. It is there that we arrive at the logical conclusion that we cannot, and should not, trust with certainty any interpretation. Does it mean that we should disregard them? No, we shouldn’t. But we should look at them with a skeptical eye, indeed a much much more skeptical eye. We should reject illogical arguments, illogical statements, and illogical ideals and embrace what we know in our science to be true, simply because we haven’t seen any different.

Let’s do a small thought-experiment. Imagine you are playing the telephone game with just one rule to follow, and that is that whatever the person before you says, you have to act out. For example if the game begins with “I like to eat a grilled cheese sandwich with pickles” then that’s what you should do. That’s it, you and the people playing the game simply have to act out what they hear. Now, let the experiment run over thousands of years, over several generations, with dozens of languages, and all across the world. You don’t necessarily have to have psychopaths in the game- or be one yourself- for it to go horribly wrong, the law of probability dictates that it just will.

I admit, it’s a bit hard to believe that an instruction as simple as “Eat grilled cheese sandwich with a pickle” can go wrong, even over thousands of years, but if you factor in people’s prejudices, people’s histories, people’s educations, interpretations, fears, and understandings of what a grilled cheese sandwich is, while they add their own personal twist to the story, it wouldn’t be surprising to see people eating other people, if they are in fact still eating.

This is the same game that we have been playing for centuries only the instructions are a bit more sinister and have perpetuated some of the most heinous crimes humanity has unleashed upon itself (slavery, infanticide, genital mutilation, torture, war, racial extermination, etc.); and what’s more, the texts from which these instructions come from have allowed us to look at ourselves in the mirror remorseless.

Members of the Nazi Party and Vatican Officials doing the traditional Nazi salute. photo credit: tortuga767 via photopin cc

Members of the Nazi Party and Vatican Officials doing the traditional Nazi salute.
photo credit: tortuga767 via photopin cc

From the text alone we can infer as to the frame of mind of these ancient peoples or to their way of life. Written instructions on how to maintain, train, and trade your slave- or your daughter for that matter; how to subjugate your wife while claiming that she’s your equal and getting her to believe it; how to become submissive yourself to another human or to a invisible deity- all these instructions were written to guide these ancient societies and to offer some sort of explanation to the way the world was at the time and to offer a theory (although not written as such) of how the world worked. We could very well say that these people were simply speaking in a metaphorical context reflecting on the views of their times, and perhaps that actually is the way it is. But two problems swiftly arise. First, the alternative is much scarier to contemplate. What if- as history strongly suggests- these were actual instructions on how to live a first-century life, much in the way that modern magazines (loosely) portray the our way of living today. I’m sure that one or two centuries from now our magazines will become absolutely irrelevant to the way future Earthlings live their lives. The second problem we come across is that people in religious nations (principally the United States and those in the Middle East) are happily running to the mouth of the mouth of the lion, trying to follow first century rules, 22 centuries later. I cannot much call that progress. The question is simple, why are people so eager to accommodate their modern lives to the way people lived 2000 years ago?

I could see the case that some people might make by saying that these ancient texts provide some very good moral advice, and they’re right, they do. But the moral advice they provide is no more assertive than what humanity has come up with over time. We should strive to create the best moral framework there is, in part by getting rid of old moral rules that are no longer necessary. It is like writing computer code, in order to have an optimal program that always works as it should the code needs to be updated and bad lines of code have to be deleted.  Unfortunately, books like the Bible or the Quran also offer some terrible advise that is still being taken into account today. It is a good thing then that common sense is not entirely lost and that the majority of people can see the obvious distinction between “Thou shalt not kill” and “Five easy steps on how to train your slave”, but there are always those that don’t, or wish not to. Even worse, there are some who not just blur that distinction but that make dangerous conjectures of their own based on these somewhat-direct-somewhat-abstract rules. Of course killing is bad. I’m sure that early homo-sapiens and even Neanderthals (just a couple among many species of bipedals) realized that going around killing one another was a bad thing to do. Let’s remember that these ancient tribes were nomads and started no bigger than your average small family. Imagine if all they did was kill and rape one another because it was simply a fun activity to engage in. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that they would’ve perished very quickly under their own irresponsibility. We should find it insulting to believe that humanity knew nothing of morality before first century sheep-herders decided to concoct fantastical tales from divine providence to say that killing is wrong and stealing is bad. Has it never occurred to us to think that perhaps early humans understood that killing each other was bad for the tribe, as the number of hunter/gatherers or providers would decrease leaving the tribe to fend for itself? Has it never crossed our minds to think that they too understood emotional and physical pain, or that perhaps they were capable of abstract thought and that they understood morality at least at a basic level? Like Christopher Hitchens once remarked, “…I don’t think humanity would’ve made it that far if they hadn’t known that.” We give ourselves much more undeserved credit by unabashedly believing that because we invented written language that nothing existed before us. This type of Orwellian thinking insults our species and spreads misinformation about our origins, indeed there is more to us than that.

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Credit: Tumblr (origin unknown)

Credit: Tumblr (origin unknown)

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In part two I will delve briefly and broadly into the “evolution” of Christianity and the threat that radical Islamism poses our world today, as well as our fears of what the future might hold for humanity and for reason.

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For more information please check out the following interesting links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_Nazi_Germany

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/07/08/there-are-states-where-you-technically-cant-hold-public-office-if-youre-an-atheist/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/08/19/an-incredible-interactive-chart-of-biblical-contradictions/

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/01/16/in-graphic-videos-and-on-twitter-isis-members-record-and-tout-executions-of-gay-men.html?via=desktop&source=facebook

 

The Gays, the Atheists, and the Government

Gay Marriage Concept with Rainbow Rings.

 

As the fight for marriage equality among same-sex couples rages on in the battle-ground of America, and more states join the 35 that already made marriage for the LGBT community legal, there are still those that hold on to old stigmas and refuse to join the progressive consensus that yes, after much deliberation, gay people are still humans and as such they also have the right to marry whomever they please.

As of now, six Southern states are waiting for a “pro” ruling on continuing litigation, while another four await the decision from appellate courts for an “against” ruling. While this is going on, five other states have a strict marriage ban that is expected to be challenged in court soon as more lawsuits pour in. [1] But while these numbers seem optimistic for the LGBT community as the long fight for marriage-equality begins to wind down, the real fight that few talk about is being waged against our own family and our own friends in schoolrooms and in the living rooms of America, and one can’t help but wonder, why is there so much hatred towards homosexuals?

 

LGBT

 

Have you ever heard of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot? No? Well the Russians have, and Putin never did like punk music.

The band, a group of seven raging feminists, came under severe government scrutiny after they staged a series of unauthorized concerts with strong anti-government, anti-religion, anti-anti-sexism, and anti-establishment messages that, no doubt, infuriated Putin and his government. Two of the members were arrested and following several protests and other arrests, high profile human rights organizations became involved claiming that the government had crossed a line by imposing anti-gay laws.

On  December 29, 2014, Dmitry Medvedev, the Prime Minister of Russia (Pretty much Putin’s puppet), signed into law a proposal that bans homosexuals in the country from driving on the grounds that they are “sexual deviants” with “mental problems”. Now, that of course sounds absolutely ridiculous and, if it could even be possible, makes our bigots sound like liberals, but it’s true. [2]

photo credit: Rasande Tyskar via photopin cc Feminist protestors demanding the release of incarcerated Pussy Riot members

photo credit: Rasande Tyskar via photopin cc
Feminist protestors demanding the release of incarcerated Pussy Riot members

That kind of stuff is not so rare in Russia as it is in Europe. But Russia is also not the worst place to be if you’re a homosexual. For example in most countries in Africa and the Middle-East, being gay is not only illegal, it is life-threatening. Most (or should I say all?) theocratic Muslim countries make it punishable by death to be a homosexual, and most people netted under these laws are not only killed, but many are tortured and imprisoned for several years beforehand. This Wikipedia page has a very good graphic on the legality of homosexuality around the world- don’t get your hopes up, humanity is still pretty fucked up.

Here in the United States though, with marches and demonstrations and letters to policy-makers and celebrities coming out of the closet, there’s plenty of attention being focused on this issue of sex-equality and same-sex marriage. The movement is beginning to see light at the end of a very long tunnel that for many will remain dark and stretch on indefinitely simply because it is a fight they do not want to be a part of and would rather remain silent.

Right now, there is still a large number of people that do not and will never identify themselves as LGBT, whether it is to conserve “family values”, because of societal pressure, fear from recrimination from their parents and friends, due to the current state of the law, religious affiliation, etc- for any of these reasons and many more there are people who are not willing to speak up for their own rights, or those of others and wish to remain anonymous; and truly who could blame them? The horrible torture that is having to live with that type of discrimination is something that should be considered psychological abuse, and something which not a lot of us can relate to.

Last month transgender teen Leelah Alcorn killed herself after feeling like there was absolutely no way out of her struggle. I will not elaborate further on that story which you can find here. But I will say that if brave people like Leelah are still discriminated to the point of suicide in such a “progressive” society as many claim the United States to be, then there is something inherently wrong with us as a country that we have to mend immediately.

The struggle for marriage equality and gay rights goes beyond politics, it is at its core a debilitating struggle in the search of human dignity and compassion between those who are right and those who are wrong. When the question begins to explore human suffering/well-being in this particular subject, there is hardly ever an in-between gray area where conformists and opportunists go to hide, there is just a plain black-or-white field between those who wish to subjugate humans and those who fight for equality.

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But when the last gavel eventually allows same-sex marriage in all fifty states, not only will it be a huge victory for the LGBT community, but it will be a victory for everyone.

It is hardly a secret that the fight for and against gay marriage is built on two platforms that basically wind down to secularism versus religious ideology. After all, there is not a significant portion of the secular majority who are against marriage-equality; all fingers seem to point then to a Christian-based bunch who see gay marriage, and gay rights in general, as an abomination dead-set on defying god’s law and the word of the Bible. And while a large portion of the gay community is also religious, the type of religion that they interpret and the kind that the other half practices is very different. But this religious defiance goes beyond the shortened-reach of organized religion in an increasingly secular America, it affects politics to the core.

 

The Atheists

 

As more and more regions of America wage a war of ideologies to put the final dot in the last chapter of the separation of church and state, it seems that that religious defiance will boost yet another platform that is gaining ground all over the world and especially here in the United States. That is the new-atheist movement.

The differences between homosexuals and atheists are wide, but there are also many similarities that tie both groups together. For example, gays are born gay and the only thing they can choose to do is to either come out or stay closeted. Atheists have a similar problem, however their ideas are based entirely on logical conclusions and they can choose to either voice their disconetent or not. Although as an atheist I could make the case that we, too, are born atheist and are only indoctrinated by force.

Just like homosexuals, atheists are also fighting a battle for their rights, and it is hard to know which group is more hated in the U.S. right now, homosexuals or atheists. Although I think it’s safe to say that both are undesirable here and abroad. To this day, atheists in some states are not allowed to hold public office. And in many countries atheists run an equal risk of being detained, tortured, and murdered for their beliefs, or rather lack thereof as homosexuals.

All of this does not mean that the atheist movement is hijacking the noble purpose that the LGBT community is fighting for- the recognition of human rights for all humans- but it also doesn’t mean that the atheist movement is devoid of content, it just means that without adding too much emphasis on one or the other, both issues are civil rights issues and in many ways also human rights issues.

In the political world however, the way these things unfold will determine just how much power the government has at its disposal to interfere in the lives of ordinary citizens, and where it sees itself in the future as more people seem to juggle between the need for the government to protect their individual rights and liberties, and the claim to want a smaller government.

Republican elephant over bright background

In the United States, the bloc that wants to keep marriage “pure and traditional (one man one woman)”, is represented by none other than the Republican party, which is religiously composed of mainstream Protestant Christians who see no shame in denouncing homosexuality as “an abomination” to defend the views of their constituents in public forum. These are also the same people who claim to be the defenders of small government and who ideologically despise government intrusion while at the same time they seek better ways to expand government watch over citizens and expand influence quite callously. This hypocrisy is exacerbated by the PR arm of the Republican Party which is of course- and you guessed it right- Fox “news”. We all know this. What we don’t communally realize is that every time there is an attack on this establishment, we move forward towards a state of prosperity that has nothing to do with religious rule (which is to say religious bigotry) that shouldn’t be there in the first place. This opens the door to discuss other issues of great importance and impact: the right for women to control their bodies, drug legalization, the environment, etc.

 

The Government 

 

But the question remains burning in our minds: how is it that in this day and age, we are still fighting for civil rights when not fighting for them only benefits a minority- to the detriment of the rest of us? What does the government gain in all this?

At first, the question seems a bit offensive. Indeed it’s a disappointing question to ask for two reasons. First, what we are implying is that not everyone’s wishes or opinions count in a democratic society, merely the majority’s. And second, we are admitting that that there is something fundamentally flawed in our society that the national conversation has to remain fixated on a fight that should have been settled long ago, and that is only still alive by means of societal discrimination. As for the government gaining anything, well anyone that poses the question of “What does the government want?” is sure to lose that fight, even with himself.

photo credit: theslowlane via photopin cc LGBT Rights around the world in protest

photo credit: theslowlane via photopin cc
LGBT Rights around the world in protest

In most non-Muslim countries, the institution of marriage goes beyond that of a religious ritual. Legally speaking, it’s a way for a two people to be represented equally as an entity. It gives people the legal right to represent each other or to conduct each other’s affairs should one of the parties ever becomes incapacitated. It’s a way to recognize your legal right to choose your life partner based on your own decision as an adult. And it is a way to designate a legal guardian of all your assets and possessions. And of course, one of the most important reasons, to have the ability to adopt and raise children with the full backing and knowledge of the government. Whether you choose to get married by the church or not, in the eyes of the law those who marry by civil court only, are afforded these privileges. However, in America and many other Western countries, where the separation of church and state is not a complete process, or doesn’t appear to be fully implemented, it seems that religious bigotry affects the legal status of millions and the right for those law-abiding citizens to exercise the same rights everyone else is not afforded to them.

It is an insult that there is an uproar when two consenting and conscious adults of any sex want to marry because they violated the rules of “traditional marriage” when Utah’s libidinous Mormon pastors can fool congregations of men and women into thinking that they are entitled by divine ordainment to have more than one wife or to sleep with the wives of their congregations. It is a disgrace that soldiers coming back from whatever duty their country required them to perform are met with hostility and have to fight for their rights when they already fought for ours. It is a applauded that the military (a very conservative organization) has openly welcomed homosexuals into their ranks and we still can’t stand to see two men or two women get married.

And for the government to have any role whatsoever in how these consenting adults conduct their private business is the epitome of big government.

My question is, what seems to motivate politicians to take the uncomfortable position of “defenders of morality” and stand in front of the proverbial entrance of equality to block the way for homosexuals to claim their full rights under the law? If we think about it, holding this type of bold position would seem to be political suicide, so why aren’t they all rushing to join the ranks of the other type of politicians who support marriage equality even if they don’t agree with it themselves? Could they hope to sway public opinion of their own constituents, even if the majority of constituents calls for change, merely to satisfy their religious leanings; or are the church’s political contributions just way too juicy to pass up?

According to this Pew Research (which I will invoke again in other blog posts), 151 members of the House of Representatives in Congress (87 Democrats and 164 Republicans) identify as Protestants, 138(68 Democrats and 70 Republicans) denominate themselves as Catholic, while the remaining 41 memebers of the House claim other denominations of Christianity and other religions. In the Senate 55 are Protestant (17 Democrats and 38 Republicans) and 26 members are Catholic (15 Democrats and 11 Republicans), while the rest identify themselves as Mormon (7), Jewish (9), and Buddhist (1). By showing you these facts, I am not in any way indicating that religious affiliation has anything to do bigotry, but I’m merely pointing out that those who are heavily influenced by their religions tend to make irrational decisions that otherwise would be logical conclussions to very simple issues: homosexuals are human beings and they deserve to have the same rights as everyone else. Period.

 

Reformation

 

I am not oblivious to the fact that all over America there are still pockets of discrimination towards certain groups of people (i.e. homophobia, xenophobia, classism, anti-semitism, all-out racism, etc.), and I understand that bad habits die hard, but I would imagine that as a fairly young nation- both in terms of the age of people and historically- we would be fairly more progressive and open-minded. But it seems that we are falling behind Europe in this issue. I would imagine it’s because the religions that migrated from Europe took a strong foothold here in America, while the Europeans started to see what a sham they all were and progressed faster towards equality, but that’s just my opinion.

But let’s also not take away the successes of homosexuals in bringing about change in policy all by themselves. They have fought hard battles in and outside of the political arena to get people to identify themselves (not that they should) so that we can truly know their numbers and where they stand as a slice of the population. Harvey Milk himself was hailed as a hero in this fight, and to be completely honest, had it not been for the movie, a lot of people including myself wouldn’t have known about him and his work.

But the fact is that now a younger and increasingly left-leaning population is taking account of the situation and wanting to do something about it. These are the progressive youth that spearhead a movement of equality and change in all arenas of national conversation. More and more we are seeing change happen all over the United States and in many other parts of the world as the fights for equality rage on. Even the Catholic Church under Pope Francis (a rather amiable Pope if I may) has brought about a sudden reformation in its ranks that it hasn’t seen for many years; whether it is to appear amiable and reformed in light of all the recent church scandals (child-abusing priests, money laundering, etc), or to counteract dwindling church attendance, it is clear that they are being forced to adapt to a world less and less dependent on organized religion. Will we see the same type of reformation in other denominations of Christianity here in the U.S.?

But even though I am against marriage as a whole, let’s look at the arguments posed forth against same-sex marriage:

1. The traditional family is threatened with same-sex parents

First of all, that’s a stupid positon to take since there is no evidence that a “traditional family” model even exists. The traditional American family is an illusion created by the media in the 1950s and 60s. But if the people taking this position mean a traditional family where you find a mother, a father and kids, then it is still a vacuous place to start.

There is extensive evidence to show that homosexual marriages are just as effective at raising competent, law-abiding citizens as heterosexual marriages (which half of them end in divorce), perhaps even more so due to the fact that they voluntarily decided to be parents. Although there are studies out there that contradict these findings, most of the science is correct in this issue.

Oh and then there’s this…

If it’s good enough for god to weigh in on, then it’s good enough for me!

2. Gay marriage will hurt children and turn them homosexual

This is perhaps the most backwards argument that people have against gay marriage. Even if homosexuality was something you could choose, what business is it of people to decide what they do with their own bodies provided they are not hurting anyone else?

But besides this stupidly-held position, there is absolutely no evidence to show that the children of gay couples will grow up to be gay (provided that it isn’t in their genes to begin with). Besides, children are already extensively bullied by other children, why would they voluntarily give bullies just one more reason to get picked on, and no it’s not a learned behavior.

According to Dr. Michael Bailey, professor of the Psychology Department in Northwestern University in Chicago, and his study on the genetics associated with homosexuals, have confirmed, or at least re-confirmed, that “Genetic factors account for between 30% and 40% of what decides whether a man is gay or straight…” while other factors such as chemicals in the womb and prenatal care can affect the sexual orientation of a person. Choice, it seems, is not a part of any process of a man or a woman’s sexual orientation.

3. The Bible clearly….

I stopped right there simply because anything that points to anything religious is bound to fail. I can, and will, provide several rules also observed in the bible and in the Koran that point to crimes much more severe perpetuated in the name of religion that null the entire argument altogether.

I find it interesting how people usually rush to quote the bible but many don’t even know the ten commandments, let alone any other rules.

Just for fun, let’s go over some of these. Oh and if you truly observe the Bible as the unerring word of god then the women reading this can never teach or have authority over a man (Timothy 2:11), and you as a man cannot go into church if you have a wounded penis, no testicles, or erectile dysfunction for that matter (Deuteronomy 23:1)). Just saying. Okay here we go:

“Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” (Luke 16:18)

Better not get divorced or you’re sure to land in hell after death.

“A bitched shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 23:2)

A bitched in this context refers to someone born outside of wedlock, what they used to call bastards in the good ol’ days. So if you or anyone within ten generations was born out of wedlock, you’re fucked. Oh and if your kids were born outside of marriage, your family will be doomed until your great great great great great great great great-grandson or grand-daughter are born. Unless they get divorced or have malfunctioning genitals or have a vagina.

“If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, 28 then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. 29 You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters.”(Leviticus 26:27-30)

This one I actually agree with and plan to exercise as soon as I have kids. Basically if your kids are unruly… eat them.

And with that I rest my case.

4. It is unnatural

What exactly is unnatural? Because if we are talking about homosexuality, then simply by being something that we do as humans and creatures that are part of the natural world, then it is natural. Same sex unions are found in every species throughout the animal kingdom. And I know what a defender is going to say next, “But we should know better!” Why exactly? Aside from the religious bullshit that they are going to diarrhea out of their mouths then I have no intention on listening. I am more interested in the scientific reasons of why it happens. This is a completely normal behavior to engage in and in no way does it affect or degrade the human body.

This is a very common position to take when the minority does not act the way the majority does. Yes it has happened throughout the ages with people that are not part of the majority, with people of dark complexion, homosexuals, women, even left-handed people- they all suffer from the discrimination of the masses around them. Left handed people are even fewer in numbers than homosexuals, would you say that’s unnatural? “No because they can’t help it.” Good thing you admit that. Neither can homosexuals.

5. They will turn everyone gay

How exactly? Again there’s no evidence to show that people who aren’t born already gay will magically turn gay. Obviously gays aren’t allowed to multiply so that’s ruled out. However, if you start feeling a little gay, go on and act on it, just to make sure. But please, for the sake of being a human, leave people alone.

Next time you encounter a homosexual please be decent to them, just like they have no idea about the struggles you have been through, you also don’t know about theirs. If you disagree with the ugly parts of your religion, then please adhere to the good messages of the Bible or the Koran or whatever holy book you choose to follow. We all have opinions of people, but unless you are asked or harmed, keep those opinions to yourself, after all we are all human and we all want the same things for ourselves and for ours: respect, love, opportunity. It doesn’t mean that you have to be friends with them, or even like them, just stay out of their way.

Decency to others is nothing less than our highest most admirable trait, the very thing that makes us human, it is the essence of it expressed through peace.

And now I leave you with one of my favorite bits by the great philosopher-comic Louis C.K. Enjoy!

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Bibliography

[1] http://www.freedomtomarry.org/states/

[2] http://auto.ndtv.com/news/transgenders-and-homosexuals-can-t-drive-in-russia-725614

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For more info check out these links:

https://gaycenter.org/

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

http://news.yahoo.com/idaho-governor-appeals-gay-marriage-case-us-supreme-202150225.html;_ylt=A0SO80r8m6lUnKgAmDJXNyoA?_sm_au_=iVV65bRF4QrkknHH

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2014/10/06/legal-argument-over-gay-marriage-is-all-but-over/

1 (800) 273-8255- NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE