I wonder how to alleviate intolerance and antagonism such as this. If you haven’t already seen it, take a look at Russesl Brand’s interview of Steve Drain and Timothy Phelps from Westboro Baptist Church.
Remember, I totally acknowledge that Mr. Drain and Mr. Phelps are no more responsible for their beliefs and actions than I am. With so many people in the world, we’re bound to see bigotry and moral certitude expressed by some folks, simply based on probability. These people haven’t invented something new. Human beings have been carrying out inquisitions and witch-hunts since time immemorial. (See Cullen Murhpy’s book, “God’s Jury; the Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World,”)
Admittedly, the threat of a make-believe punishment (Hell) is far sweeter than the real tortures carried out by the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition. In other words, it’s not horribly difficult to withstand the vitriol of an angry pastor when compared to the interrogations of the Inquisition. Instead of burning people at the stake, now they appear as guests on a liberal talk show and spout Bible passages. That’s progress.
Nevertheless, I have to ask: What’s the antidote to their homophobic, absolutist approach, an approach that vilifies human beings for the circumstances of their lives and minds? I’m not looking to vilify Mr. Drain and Mr. Phelps. I simply wonder if there’s a way to make sense of and mitigate their destructive influence.
For a while, I didn’t make the connection.
Then, lying in bed this morning, I realized the antidote to ridiculous religious behavior and thinking is – of course – atheism.
CC: “[I’m] openly gay. And [I’m] a Christian.”
Timothy: “You’re a filthy pervert.”
CC: “I’m an openly gay man, and I’m a Christian. Because God is love and his love is for everybody.”
Steve: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind. It is abomination. That’s in the Bible that you say you believe.”
Russell: “I don’t think it’s one of the most important bits.”
Steve: “Hey listen. There’s not going to be any creation going on when two men get together. I can tell you that right now.”
Russel: “What worries me, Steve, to follow the ‘you musn’t lay with men’ bit, you’ve got to ignore the tolerance and love bit. And that’s got to be more important. That’s like a subclause, that’s like small print.”
Steve: “No it’s not. No it’s not.”
Russel: “I don’t think they even meant that part.”
Cher: “You guys have to be civil. We’re going to respect you, so you should respect us, okay?”
Timothy: “You’re a sodomiser.”
Steve: “We love you enough to tell you what God’s standard is.”
Both sides justify their arguments by citing God. The absurdity of this exchange becomes more apparent when you do a little thought experiment: imagine that they’re talking about what Zeus or Thor or any other supernatural being wants people to do. The only antidote, laudible as Mr. Brand’s efforts are to pick and choose the more agreeable bits of mythology, is to reject theism altogether.
When we ditch those inherited cultural practices responsible for justification of such things as the Inquisition and the Holocaust and witch hunts and lynchings and protests at soldiers’ funerals, we find ourselves on a clean slate where we can measure human flourishing. Sam Harris, author of the best book I read in 2012, “Free Will,” suggests that we take a more scientific approach to find humankind’s optimal modes of existence.
However, it doesn’t take a study to see that religious certitude and fundamentalist intolerance are fighting a losing battle. Catholicism’s official Inquisition is gone. Gay marriage is becoming more commonplace. Atheist ranks are swelling. According to an article in The Week, “This group, sometimes collectively labeled the ‘Nones,’ is growing faster than any religious faith in the U.S.” Of course, that article also explains that many believe atheists have no moral compass. Anecdotally, I see evidence of the opposite. Nobody seems more compassionate to me than a person who believes in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
So I ask all those young people who aren’t comfortable believing in myths that claim their best Jewish friends are going to Hell or a favorite homosexual uncle is doomed to eternal torment, I ask them to abandon those fantasies and find a heart, a true heart, in atheism. This is a place where moral directions don’t come from a crazy desert nomad or a power hungry tribal leader or the bureaucracy of an institution aimed only at self-perpetuation. I invite you to embrace instead the collective knowledge of generations and the innate sentiments of kind human beings.
Yes, there’s a statement of faith here. I have faith in the basic goodness of an average human mind fulfilled by reason and unsullied by hate. It’s the only potent antidote to those inherited backward modes of thinking