Friday, December 5, 2008
I Ridicule Your Faith, I Ridicule You
This blog entry has been painful to ponder, painful to write. But it's important that I discuss my feelings about the latest two salvos pitting gays and lesbians against African-Americans and Mormons in the wake of the passage of Proposition 8 in California. On Dec. 4, NPR's All Things Considered carried an interview with a Black lesbian in which she expressed as much bitterness toward the LGBT community as toward the 76 percent of Black women who voted for Proposition 8. She said that gays not only failed to make a concerted effort to reach out to the Black community, but they had a habit of simply dismissing faith-based Blacks in the aftermath of the vote, because of the role Black churches played in encouraging their congregations to vote against gay marriage. Left unsaid in the NPR analysis was the notion that this may not have been an issue of race, but an issue of finding Black evangelical churches strange. Conservatives in the U.S. down on Rev. Wright know this problem - it isn't just cultural differences, it's that evangelical churches of all stripes believe in 12 impossible things before breakfast.
On Dec. 5, the New York Times carried a full-page ad on "No Mob Veto" (no online reference, sorry!) that lambastes the gay community for disrupting Mormon services. I agree with this ad, as far as the issue of freedom of religion plays out. We need mutual respect in our lives. And Mormons have the right to mobilize their base to be involved politically. Nevertheless, I don't have to respect their faith. Faith necessarily involves a suspension of logic and a belief in supernatural events. At least with mainstream Christianity, we have physical evidence for the existence of Christ and many of the things that took place in the New Testament. (Hey, Catholics, we don't have evidence for most of the miraculous events attributed to saints! Take your relics and shove 'em.) The nature of resurrection is where faith comes in. But the Mormon Church has several elements in its doctrine that we know to be false - Jesus visiting North America, etc. Put bluntly, the Mormon faith is a collection of foolish fables.
A similar issue outraged me a couple years ago with the protests in Europe over the Danish cartoonists who made fun of Muhammad. Muslims do not believe that freedom of speech includes the right to blaspheme. I absolutely disagree with them, though the intersection of freedom of speech and religion gives rise to circumstances where blasphemy easily can be defined as hate speech. Nevertheless, because of imposed conversions and the notion of jihad (jihad as war, not as quest), I consider virtually all types of Islam outside Sufism to be foolish.
How to get beyond these feelings and into an area of mutual respect? We may be standing on the precipice of an outright war between African-Americans and Mormons on the one hand, and LGBT individuals and their supporters on the other. I do think there are analogies between Black and gay struggles. We are at a position today where gays have won general acceptance, but the rejection of gay marriage still has a long way to go. And the biggest obstacle to that acceptance are faith-based beliefs that are outmoded and strange.
Here's how I handle this in my personal life: I tell people that I choose what I wish from the Bible, Quran, and other books of wisdom, and I rip out the passages that offend me. That is not selective value-free faith. If the Christian faith was big enough from Christ's death through the Council of Nicea to embrace Nestorianism, Arianism, and the like, then I can make up my faith as I go along, rejecting silly disprovable theories. Remember, as Jorge Luis Borges said, our present Bible was based on political editing decisions made in 325 A.D. The alternative Gnostic and Nestorian interpretations only sound strange to us because "Rome won." Your belief doctines are based on political choices. And I choose to flaunt my heretic pride. And I choose to ridicule your faith if it flies in the face of scientific evidence or modern cultural mores.
Oh, and in the battle for public space between atheists and holiday well-wishers, let me wish you all Merry Christmas! Just don't be dopes or dupes for God.