Rev. Emily C. Heath

The Limits of Tolerance: Anti-faith Voices in Our Community

Filed By Rev. Emily C. Heath | July 26, 2011 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Living
Tags: kindness, LGBT, religion, religious faith, respect, tolerance

Sunday morning I tweeted that I was overjoyed for the New York couples being married that day. 2006-Indianapolis-Pride-Festival2.jpgSunday evening I received a tweet back telling me that I would be "fuel for the fire" in hell. Later that evening I received an email with anti-Islamic content in it from an email address with the user's Twitter name in it that, disturbingly, used my own name in the "from" field.

Monday morning my latest post was published on Bilerico. The piece which, while not an attempt to evangelize or impose my faith on anyone, dealt with religion. Just as every post dealing with religion that I've placed on this site, the comments were immediately not just negative, but filled with hatred and vulgarity directed towards my faith.

This is the reality of what it means to be a queer person of faith. You get slammed from all sides.

I don't really mind. If I lost sleep over every hateful comment I heard in my life I'd be walking around comatose. But what is always ironic to me is how much anti-gay Christians and the rabid anti-faith folks have in common. The narrowness of world views, the inability to tolerate beliefs different than their own, the stereotyping of all members of a given group, the quickness with which both groups resort to name calling all point to a simple truth: they are all fundamentalists.

I'm sure the rabidly anti-faith folks don't think that label applies to them, but it does. The reality is that most atheists do not typically berate people of faith, call them names, or dismiss them as brainless. Most that I know are live and let live types. My atheist friends and I make no attempts to convert one another and are able to discuss our different beliefs in calm, respectful ways.

They are not the people I'm talking about here. Who I am talking about are the LGBT people who engage in behavior that, if it were directed at any other group, would rightfully be identified as bigoted and bullying.

Now I will be the first to admit that horrific acts have been committed in the name of religion. Believe me, I'm a queer minister. Most of the painful experiences in my life have come at the hands of the religious people. But I also understand that not every person of faith is hate filled, and that not every LGBT person is a paragon of tolerance.

I know this is not the reality, but I still believe that a community is at its best when it respects the diversity of all of its members. I was taught both as a young gay activist and a young seminarian that this was the ideal. I'm not naive enough that it shocks me when we fail to live up to our ideals of acceptance, freedom, tolerance, and kindness in our LGBT community, but it always saddens me.

I had thought about cutting and pasting some of the comments I've received in the past in order to make my point, but I'm sure that it won't take very long for commenters to prove it below. I invite you to read their comments, substitute the name of any other group in the place of whichever faith group they choose to attack, and judge for yourself whether its indicative of the equality and respect for diversity our community strives to secure.

In the end, we will secure our own equality not by attempting to drag others down with our bigotry, but instead by rising above hatred and showing those different from us the respect we hope to find.

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This is the reality of what it means to be a queer person of faith. You get slammed from all sides.

Yes. This. Thank you.

Scott Rose | July 26, 2011 10:49 AM

The trouble is that the respect that religious people demand for their delusions is not reciprocated by them. I can not easily say "There was no virgin birth," for example, without being subject to all manner of irrational attack. In a similar fashion, religious people often whitewash the histories of their religion and despite all the documentation to the contrary of those whitewashing, they demand "respect" for the whitewashings and become infuriated if you point out the truth. In her previous Bilerico essay, Emily wrote that Christians of faith have "always" respected the example of the non-violent Jesus. That is balderdash. During the crusades, Christians often would take Jews they found along the way and nail them to crosses. I have a friend who when a little girl was skipping rope, and suddenly set upon by a gang of Catholic school boys who tied her jump rope around her neck, hanged her from a basketball hoop and told her she had to die because she was Jewish and the Jews killed Jesus. By the time an adult cut her down, her tongue had turned black. George W. Bush, an Evangelical Christian, attacked Iraq unprovoked and said that he answered to a "higher authority" than his biological father in deciding to attack a foreign country unprovoked, killing and maiming umpteen innocent human beings, destroying their property, wrecking their country's infrastructure and annihilating a good part of its cultural patrimony. There are some Americans of good conscience who would like to see Bush held accountable for his war crimes (which he personally describes as having been inspired by that "higher authority" and his "Christian world view' but, the brainwashed Christian masses just will not allow for the decent and responsible action to be taken. Bush had weekly telephone powwows with Evangelicals, who told him that the Bible authorizes so-called pre-emptive war. (One of them was Ted Haggard). Excuse me but nattering on about Jesus, and falsely alleging that Christians have "always" respected the example of the non-violent Jesus, does not make a society more responsible in the world. A few internet comments hostile towards religion are insignificant compared to the harm that religion causes, and the cover it gives to its follwers for abdicating their responsibilities in the contemporary world.

Charismatic Megafauna | July 26, 2011 3:25 PM

So, just to clarify: the gay community should or shouldn't tolerate religious diversity?

Scott Rose | July 27, 2011 12:51 PM

The real issue in this has nothing to do with "tolerance" for "people of faith." The real issue is that people of faith should not use their faith, ever, as a basis for political meddling. The very constitution of our country says that that is so. If Emily wants to stop receiving messages from LGBTErs angry over gay-bashing religious bigots'religio-political gay bashing, then she should tell religio-political gay bashers to knock it off. If the religious gay bashers never used their faith-based gay bashing in the political sphere, Emily would never likely receive angry e-mails from the victims of religio-political gay bashing. Emily is blaming the victims. She should stop. And she is not at all a victim, for receiving those messages of anger. She should consider them a prod, to demand uncompromisingly of the religio-political gay bashers that they stop their religio-political gay bashing. Every angry message she receives about faith is sent to her by a victim of religio-political gay bashing.

Chitown Kev | July 27, 2011 11:53 AM

Scott Rose, IMO, it's not respect that religious people are "demanding," it's privilege.

You make it sound like being anti-faith is a bad thing. It's a rational thing. If you're going to launch ad hominem attacks against atheists such as "fundamentalist" (whatever that means in that context), "narrow" in world view, and intolerant of faith merely because we reject it on intellectual grounds, you're not going to build many bridges with the nonbelievers you should be standing beside.

"Fundamentalist" is not an ad hominem attack. Fundamentalist, among other things, it someone who is not willing to tolerate disagreement, or discuss the disagreement in a civil manner.

Fundamentalist also means dogmatic -- and dogmatism is, in my book, the arrogant claim of speaking from authority when no actual authority exists; insisting that one's own position is correct and anyone who disagrees must be wrong.

"Fundamentalist" also means someone who reduces an argument to some set of core principles. An atheist who says "There is no reason to propose that God might exist if there is no scientific proof that God exists," is, to me, a fundamentalist atheist.

A fundamentalist is also a tribal-identified person. If you associate only with other atheists and resist socializing with non-atheists, then you are probably a tribal, fundamentalist atheist.

"Fundamentalist" is not an amorphous insult -- it is a term with a useful and reasonably specific meaning, and it is often merely descriptive and not always pejorative.

Your argument assumes that faith and nonbelief stand on equal, but opposing, intellectual ground. To assert that faith is unfounded is not an uncompromising standpoint in a "disagreement"; it's an argument that itself needs to be debated. But believers have no argument for faith except faith itself, so the argument is dismissed. "Fundamentalist" is a heavy word nowadays that connotes radicalism. By your definition, all atheists are automatically fundamentalists, which adds to their demonization in society.

Heya Zack :D

Your statement here presumes that the definition is *his* -- as in it is a definitionthat he uses, that isn't wholly representative of the concept as a whole.

And yet, in the study of such -- in practical terms, the literal philosophy that drives such -- his definition is accurate and widely used, and fundamentally influences the discourse from those of an atheistic stance as well as those of a deistic stance, regardless of the format involved (mono-, bi-, poly- whatever).

Discourse about faith (be it a conviction that there is some sort of deity[singular or plural], or a conviction there is no such thing, neither of which are empirically provable) because of the already heated rhetoric that surrounds it and the highly emotionally charged aspects that inform it on any side (and oh WOW are there a lot of sides to that one).

This, in part, informs much of the issues this particular article deals in -- and it exists as a "layer" or an aspect in addition to the stuff that involves the use of religious justification for personal bigotry.

Take for example the unique ways that you, I, and Rev. Emily all have experienced this particular issue she's talking about.

You try to make a case for reasoned thought based outside of the use of a metaphysical conceptualization. As a result, in the presence of those who have lives and worldviews that rely, at least in part, on the use of that metaphysical outlook, you find yourself cast out, often belittled, told you are wrong, and those are just the nice things.

In my case, I have a faith that is not only unheard of to any but those who already follow it, but is so far outside the range of familiarity to anyone that it is almost impossible for them to argue about it with me -- and as a result, I get to read things from pretty much everyone that utterly ignore the realities of my life. I don't pray, for example -- its literally a bad idea. I don't proselytize -- its not allowed, and the onus is so strong that I'm risking breaking the rules just discussing it here. Yet I'm constantly introduced to commentary that says I'm not sane, that my religious beliefs include ideas that are not only foreign to it but utterly in opposition to it, and more.

Then there is Emily's experiences.

That's three very different worldviews -- and yet, the initial response of most people is going to be to say that Emily and I share a great deal more in common, when we share the same things in common -- in a literal, objective, overarching sense -- with you.

The rhetoric and the dogma that surrounds all of our beliefs is going to lead us, as individuals, to each have to assert that no, we don't have anything in common.

And we are each going to have to argue that point to bitter ends, and as we argue, we are, in fact, going to have to rely on the fundamentals of our adherence to the particular metaphysical worldview we have (which still always revolves around the questions of is there something out there or not, and if there is, what is it).

And it is that reliance on the fundamentals of what separates us that is going to make, in a discussion on this topic, each of us a fundamentalist on this one area, because in order to defend our views, we *must be*.

UNless, of course, we are moderates, in which case we'll all have a cup of coffee, avoid loaded, judgmental terms like delusion, nuts, foolish, misguided, etc ad infinitum and acknowledge that underneath all of this horseshit we are arguing about is a simple difference in our particular philosophies and none of us can ever prove -- to anyone, let alone each other -- that we are in the right.

However, we aren't moderates when we use such language. We cannot be moderates when we have to stoop to saying that the basis for a philosophical basis is that the other individual is somehow bad, or evil, or cruel, or mentally ill, or whatever it is that we use to proclaim our individual superiority -- moral, ethical, or otherwise -- over them.

That, in and of itself, creates the basis for the fundamentalist approach that we see all around us.

And it is all around us -- none of us are immune to it, and all of us participate at some point or another because, well, hell, we are right after all ;)

"By your definition, all atheists are automatically fundamentalists ..."

Not at all -- some atheists believe there is no god, but do not go out of their way to insult or criticize others who believe differently. You believe what you want, I believe what I want, and that's the end of it. Generally, they discuss atheism only when the discussion is appropriate -- although I do concede that there are times when it is correct to inform someone that you are an atheist even if that person doesn't want to hear it.

Chitown Kev | July 27, 2011 12:01 PM

My only problem with this is the inference that reason and rationality is all that's necessary.

For example, there was (and is) a scientific basis for racism. And there are certainly scientists and extreme scientists that hold bigoted beliefs and utilize and twist reason to rationalize their conclusions.

So I cannot afford (as a black man) to be under the illusion that a society based on principles of reason will necessarily be a "just" society. In fact, such a society is equally (if not more likely) to be unjust.

Rev. Emily, I think there's a very good reason for the anti-faith attitude you see in our community as often as you do, which you touched on in your piece. The reality is that the most virulent anti-LGBT hate expressed both socially and politically in our country is perpetrated in the name of religion, most commonly Christianity.

I was raised Jewish and I see that it's usually the most religious Jews, the orthodox, who are among those spewing the most hateful anti-LGBT epithets towards our community. Similarly, it's those who claim to closely adhere to the teachings of Jesus and the Christian bible who feel that their faith gives them license to attack and vilify LGBT people and actively work to deny us the basic civil rights which they themselves enjoy. Ruben Diaz, Timothy Dolan, Harry Jackson, Rick Warren, the Pope...the list goes on and on.

I would submit to you that the anti-faith attitude you see reflected in our community is a direct, righteous, and necessary response to the attacks on our community and our equality as citizens perpetrated most commonly and most publicly by those who claim to speak for God.

The problem is not in our community. What you're seeing is simply self-defense. The problem is a religious hierarchy that promotes the self-aggrandizement of their parishoners and congregants by denigrating and vilifying those who do not share their own narrow views.

The way to properly attack this problem is by taking on the hatefulness and bigotry promoted as acceptable and even godly in houses of worship all over this country and all over the world, not by blaming the victims for defending themselves from it.

Rachel Bellum | July 26, 2011 8:19 PM


I hope it's not untolerably rude to respond to your comment since you named Emily at the beginning. Part of the reason I wanted to respond to you was because you submitted such a clear and thought-out comment.

I should probably start by saying that I am not a person of faith. While there are parts of several religions which I respect, I suscribe to none.

In fact for me it gets quite old watching college professors try to convince their students that there might be something to the idea of evolution, for example.

I think you made a really clear argument as to why anti-religious feelings may be common, understandable, or even likely. However, I don't believe the argument is strong enough to support direct or necessary (I'm finding it personally difficult not to leave some room for righteous).

The easy example of this is Christianity's role in Black American culture. People, in general, not necessarily you, seem quick to forget the role Christianity publicly played in racism up to very recently. In my childhood I heard more than one preacher supporting racism from the pulpit [and I'm not exactly aged :) ]. It's part of the reason I am not religious today. Yet other branches of many of these same churches are held by many to have played positive roles in Black American history. This would appear to argue against such attitudes being direct or necessary.

As someone who has been heavily involved in Bilerico, much less following the news in general, I'm sure you can cite examples of positive roles religious individuals or groups have played in LGBT culture (I grant that some of the arguments made below that these people/groups have not been progressive or supportive enough are at least interesting.).

I think this approaches what Emily was suggesting.

Sure there are plenty of bad religious people. There are plenty of people who are clearly perverting their own declared faith. But it's not all religious people. There are also clearly plenty of LGBT people for whom their religious life is quite important. There are also people, LGBT or not, who ascribe respectable works and results to personal changes brought about by their faith.

I don't think it's necessary to condemn all religious behavior, or people, all the time. And besides the fact that some LGBT people feel supported by religious groups, I think it's good for LGBT people to be able to point to religious people and groups who are actively supportive as evidence that being religious and being homo/trans phobic are not synonymous. It's one of the most effective arguments I've ever personally used against religiously-based discrimination, and often the first time the person was ever made aware that that was indeed a choice.

Liberal Christians don't directly validate or support the extremists, but they validate faith. And that's a danger for mankind in general. They support the idea that believing in things without evidence is a good thing and in many cases even a virtue. And that's what provides the crazies with ground to stand on.

Ms. Juro, I cannot tell just how completely I agree with you. As an openly Orthodox Jew (kippa, tzizit, etc.) who is also openly gay, I have experienced precisely the kind of ignorance from more secular people. And as someone who has lived primarily amongst gay Jews--I studied at Brandeis and I've now been in Israel for a year--my experiences are based primarily on Jews vs. Jews. How people respond to those Rabbis of vitriol and humble "piety" and other syndromes of the closet (most likely).
I'd like to add that this sort of self-defense is also expressed in a kind of denial of more observant, gay Jews, such as myself. I understand--oh, how I understand--why people would like to shield themselves from a well-established enemy--with no nuances or regard for the fact that everything is relative. I know that people have been hurt by their families who might be Jewish or of another faith, and of course the pain that is inevitably associated with a certain type of people. But please. Try not to project it onto little old me. People don't seem to want to accept that there are numbers of observant Jews who are _also_ being attacked by the myopic and hateful, because for someone who is secular to accept such a thing would complicate life further and that's never something people want to do.
Of course, it's all so utterly complicated. When I marched in Tel Aviv Pride I felt utterly disregarded, as if people were making an effort to look past me--and, honey, it's not because I'm only 5'2". :P And yet whenever I participate in some discussion in a gay group (one in Israel--I didn't find this to be the case in America) or simply am present in a gay center, with my kippa glued to my head and my tzitzit sashaying about my legs, I'm sort of received with slightly stunned faces and respectful--if not gobsmacked--questions and greetings.
Which is why I've come to accept it as a simple reality, because it's far more variegated than Orthodox v. secular (Orthodox friends of my generation (I'm nineteen) have been quite accepting, shockingly enough,yes, and have absolutely no issues with me because of my sexuality (but that's prob. another discussion)). So hopefully, as a sort of emissary for both ends, I can bridge this kind of animosity between secular Jews and religious Jews.
And while I accept it as a simple reality it does also give me a bit of a laugh to see just how tolerant can be the tolerant, how hypocrisy extends well beyond the right wing and infects the left wing as well. Yet I enjoy it, a little, this kind of absurd fatuousness. And sometimes, when it gets a bit difficult to bare, to be dismissed and denied an identity, I break out the Maya Angelou: "You can write me down in history/With your bitter, twisted lies".
Ms. Juro, thank you so much for sharing your opinion: it's nice to know that someone out there shares my sentiments. From now on, I will try to be even more understanding of those "victims," as you say, who are simply expressing a "righteous, and necessary response." Granted, I won't be a victim of their fear responding to them in kind. Again, thanks so much.

Thank you for this post. I've realized that in every area of life there are those who are closed minded, bigoted, racist, etc. Tolerance starts with me. Tolerance starts with my acceptance of everyone regardless of race, color, origin, sexuality, religion, etc. Tolerance does not mean that I need to "tolerate" discrimination. I must speak up against words of hate because that is how I show people that it is important to allow others to be who they are as a human being. I may not accept how someone lives their life but that's not my job. My job is to allow them to live that life without my interference.

Let me tell you why I'm an angry atheist.

I'm a scientist, an environmentalist, a feminist, a free speech advocate, and I'm gay.

I support birth control and family planning and abortion rights.
I believe that religion doesn't belong in the science classroom.
I support even "blasphemous" speech. Of course, I support gay
rights, including same-sex marriage. I live apart from my Mexican
partner of 18+ years and can't sponsor him for immigration as
my spouse.

In every case, the overwhelming majority of my opponents base their
opposition on their religious beliefs.

I do indeed consider myself a victim of fundamentalist religion and the
undeserved deference most people give to religious beliefs.

Furthermore, I don't believe I should be forced to subsidize my political opponents with tax exemptions just because they declare themselves churches.

Damn right I'm angry.

Except that my attitude toward religion is not quite so monolithic, I'm with you on every count.

For what it's worth, I have been welcomed and validated by many people of faith, not just as an individual but as a member of the queer community. I know I'm not the only one who has.

Rev. Heath is exactly right that those of us who are not religious need to learn tolerance as well.

While I agree that the politics of the US have lost sight of the fact that the US government is not supposed to be run by religion, there is a difference between disagreeing with, even fighting somebody's politics and disrespecting them. Ask yourself how often you say something similar to people of a political ideology opposing yours.

Kathy Padilla | July 26, 2011 11:30 AM

Yes - they are exactly the same. Except one says who you are is not valid & one disagrees with what you think. Except one wants to limit your civil rights and the other actually supports them while they disagree with you.

Of course - none of the atheists actually ever asked me to kiss their ring or call them Reverend when I'm not seeing them in that capacity.

More than a bit of overreach on this article.

It's similar to how religious people get called militant if they form militias and carry around weapons, while atheists are called militant for writing books or rude comments.

Like I always say, to me there are only three religions -- radical progressives, middle-of-the-roaders, and nasty fundamentalists -- regardless of creed. Thanks for your posts.

Excellent article by Kerry Eleveld about how this kind of legally sanctioned bigotry and discrimination plays out politically.

Scott Rose | July 26, 2011 12:42 PM

Emily wrote in the essay above: "But what is always ironic to me is how much anti-gay Christians and the rabid anti-faith folks have in common." 1) When did it ever happen that an "anti-faith" person violently attacked an "anti-gay Christian" previously unknown to them personally simply because the Christian was anti-gay? By contrast, how often do we hear about anti-gay hate crimes being carried out by Christian terrorists? 2) When did it ever happen, in Tennessee, for example, that the State Government passed a "Don't say Christian" law? 3) Senator Jim DeMint, a born again Christian, has said that gay people should not be permitted to teach school. When did it ever happen that a gay elected official fanned the flame of (alleged) "anti-faith intolerance" by saying that no person of faith should be allowed to teach in any American school? 4) When did it ever happen that huge percentages of the LGBT communities shrilly screamed that people of faith should be forbidden by law to marry each other? And on and on and on. Emily in her essay trivializes the nature of Christian terrorist tortures, including political terrorism that the Christian terrorists relentlessly direct against innocent gay people. Nothing that (alleged) "anti-faith" "intolerant" people do comes even remotely near to being like what the Christian terrorists inflict on LGBTers. Oh and I'll give you one additional example. Emily is complaining about dirty words in comments. Gay people thrown out of the US military for being gay were stripped of all benefits, thrown out on the streets with no food or housing or health care, though they had performed their job duties in the military at least satisfactorily. And in the military they had been so unfairly booted out of, there remained many vicious bigots, Christian chaplains, demanding persistently that DADT not be repealed. Even now that it has been repealed, the majority of the military Chaplains continue demonizing gay people and fighting tooth and nail against their marriages being recognized in the military. What have "anti-faith" LGBTer ever done to Christians, even remotely comparable?

I am an atheist.
I am not anti-religion. People are free to believe whatever they like.
My problem arises when people use their faith/religious affiliation (and these 2 things are arguably different) to try to deny the human and civil rights of LGBT people.
The anti-faith/atheist people rarely (if ever) argue against the human or civil rights of religious people.
Religious people routinely use their freely-chosen, voluntary belief systems as justification for the denial of human and civil rights to gay people.
Therein lies the difference.
It's no surprise that religion/faith is so poorly regarded by so many in our community.

I am not anti-religion by the way (I was raised catholic and my mother is still a practising catholic, but is very supportive of LGBT rights).
However the fundamentalist religious groups use their faith in God/Allah/Yahweh to undermine our secular state by imposing their chosen beliefs into our laws.

Meanwhile, the more moderate religious groups seem to do precious little to condemn this undermining of our democracy. Instead they simply seem to say 'Oh but we're not like that'. While moderate religion does so little to combat the homophobic extremism of the fundamentalist/evangelical groups, it's little wonder, they get lumped in with the more extremist religious groups.

And it's worth reiterating again and again. Anti-faith/atheist groups in our society rarely if ever try to deny the human and civil rights of religious people.

Beyond Emily's excellent point, my concern about the rhetoric used against people of faith is that it undermines our ability to achieve political goals. Because so many people inside the LGBT community lack the "cultural competency" to talk to people of faith and build alliances, we continue to lose political battles. Fundamentalist atheism may play well inside the community, but plays very poorly when trying to achieve political and social goals.

I posted this in Queerty as well, I find it relevant for people to understand where I come from as Queer Gay Cisgendered male of white catholic background undergraduate student at a university with a large Evangelical Union.

I am anti-religion sole because of my experience with them. I do not believe in a higher power and believe that religion causes harm to society with its very existence. It provides people with excuses and crutches for their behaviour and I will not take being preached to lying down. I will not start a conversation about faith and religion, but I will not brush aside or ignore the attempts to convert, save and condemn me. I am an ATHEIST and proud of it. I will not be ignored or be labeled a bigot as I attempt expose your religious texts for the fiction they are. I will not ignore violence, tragedy and oppression at the hands of your faith. I will expound upon the virtues of LOGIC and REASON, that we do not need an outside deity to determine our morals. It is my duty as an atheist that upon an individual or group starting the conversation about religion that I do my best to stop them from drinking the Kool-Aid.
With LGBTQ people this primarily done by explaining the historic and current oppression found within their faith. I do not hate those with faith, I pity them. Tolerance works both ways, your attempts to covert, save and condemn me are not tolerant. I will not take them lying down, I will only use words to change your ideas about religion, can you say the same. Or even better, lets just ignore the topic of religion all together.

It's also not fair to compare ant-faith people with anti-LGBT religious people, for the simple reason that there is an unbalanced access to the media. Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich use their positions and access, to dehumanise and demonise LGBT people. In a manner in which anti-faith people simply do not.

Emily, I too am not anti-faith per se. I am, however, very much against Christianists (as opposed to true Christians) who seek to inflict their legalistic hate and fear based beliefs on the rest of society in direct contradiction to the freedom of religion purportedly promised to all citizens under the U.S. Constitution. Add to that the reality that almost all anti-gay bigotry and violence traces back to self-proclaimed "people of faith" and it is easy to understand why so many in the LGBT community appear to be anti-faith.

Yes, there are good Christians like you who were in Albany for example supporting marriage equality. Sadly, by and large the good Christians are far too silent when it comes to calling out and condemning Christianists and what I call the "professional Christians" like Maggie Gallagher, Tony Perkins, Pat Robertson who use religion to fuel hate and enrich themselves in the process. I suspect that if more in the LGBT community saw good Christians speaking out forcefully and challenging the anti-gay Christianists more often, there'd be less LGBT hostility in general to people of true faith.

This essay is nearly on the same level of absurdity as those who claim "black people are racist too." You're making connections between two groups which have extremely different histories and, especially, hugely disparate levels of power over one another. If there were a strong history of queer or trans people persecuting people of faith then you might be rummaging in the right attic. But they don't and I find this suggestion of yours really offensive.

I will admit that I am anti-religion. I take this view because I believe religions are outdated tools for teaching morality and advocating social change. There's a wealth of historical evidence about the various atrocities committed in the name of religion, but I will also admit that the framework of an organized religion has also been a good tool for teaching morality. I just wish that society as a whole could agree to treat one another with respect and compassion without having to be coerced by the threat of eternal punishment.

That said, I am also an agnostic; therefore, I don't consider it my place one way or another to tell someone what to believe, because I'm not arrogant enough to assume I know one way or the other as far as the existence of deities is concerned. If you believe there's a God out there, I may disagree with you personally (as I lean towards atheism), but I'm not going to tell you you're wrong.

So, I struggle with myself not to attack a person's faith just because I disagree with all organized religions. Being berated by fundamentalist Christians doesn't make it any easier.

So many reasonable posts here so let me add my 2 cents. Rev. Heath if I am not mistaken you are Presbyterian USA. Has your faith ever declared that being gay is not a sin? I know of very few denominations even those who are progressive who have stated that. By assigning sin to the very act of being gay you have already set the LGBT community apart for solely who they are. It is the reason there is a lot of animosity to Christians in general. Those on here who are Christian what does your denomination say? The anti-gay stances is not the reason I am an atheist but it is the reason I had little patience. Even those who claim to be allies do very little to fight it. Sure they have a press conference here and there but do little to find those who they claim pervert their religion.

Hi Tim!

Just a quick correction: Rev. Heath is actually UCC (United Church of Christ). While she used to be Presbyterian USA, she has outlined in 2 or 3 prior pieces that she left the PCUSA in part because of some of the issues you've outlined above.

The UCC is arguably the most progressive denomination within Christianity. We have a strong record of not only supporting, but helping to lead on LGBT equality that dates back a ways on a national Church level.



But my question goes unanswered. Has the UCC stated that homosexuality is not a sin. Doing a Google search I can't find that statement anywhere. If they haven't they are still part of the problem.


I'm sorry if I wasn't clear in my post above (was typing on the fly). Yes, the UCC is well on record that homosexuality is not a sin.

I've included a link to the multitude of statements dating from the 1960's forward affirming LGBT people and their partnerships in a variety of forums and contexts. The UCC does not embrace the: "love the sinner, hate the sin" mentality that is unfortunately so common in many branches of Christianity.

I'd invite you to read these at your leisure.

Let me know if I can be of further help either online or off. Always happy to engage.



Regardless of a denomination's stance on the issue, I don't see how that stance prevents individuals from acting of their own accord and having their own beliefs.

It might have been helpful if you had included some examples of hateful speech that has been directed at you, so that readers would know specifically what you are objecting to, and might very likely feel supportive of you. The way you have written this piece , however, anyone who has ever felt angered, dismayed, or alienated by christianity, and said so - which is pretty much all queer people I've ever known- will feel called out or even antagonized. I am not going to engage in name-calling, threats , or harassment. But I disagree with christian teaching, I believe it is fundamentally deluded and unhelpful, and I reserve the right to say so.

Also I reject the implied equivalency between anti-LGBT prejudice and [ unspecifed] "anti-faith" attitudes - a rhetorical strategy you share with the christian far right. No one is taking away your freedom of religion. Freedom of religion, especially for christian protestants like yourself , has been vigorously upheld and defended in this county for hundreds of years. But life, liberty , and the pursuit of happiness for queers, thanks largely to christians, not so much.

Thank you for this exceptional post Emily. Much of what you have written is true. Here is my own attempt to try to rewrite some of what you have written that it may make sense to others who may read it a different way.

I too am an individual who became a Christian, not because I was raised as such, but because I chose the religion. I spent a lot of my life in right wing Christianity and a significant amount of time as an arch-conservative Catholic convert. In both situations, I held to their understandings about homosexuality and LGBT individuals, relationships etc that they did. All the while running from the fact that I too am gay.

Once I came out, I realized that my history with Christianity and being openly gay would conflict. Nevertheless, I remained a Christian.

In 2010, my partner and I chose to become part of the Episcopal Church because of their progress on LGBT issues. Though I am proud to be a member of the Episcopal Church, and am a more progressive Christian, I am still a Christian. That part has not changed.

There is more work for the Episcopal Church to do, towards full equality for LGBT people, women etc. There are days when I wish it were better. I can better influence their movement towards equality by including myself as much as possible.

As to the issue of people who are atheists or non-religion, etc and the anti-faith attitudes among LGBT people. They are not without reason. The radical right Christians and Catholics and others have made a bad name for religion among LGBT people through their obsession with gay sex and what our civil rights should or should not be, based on their belief systems. Every LGBT person of faith or not of any faith have every right and reason to be angry with religion for that reason. Even LGBT people of faith need to exercise the greatest understanding about that.

However, I have also heard some very nasty and viral remarks about "all" religion that does sound like stereotyping and quite frankly represents the same hate attitudes of right wing Christians towards LGBT people, only redirected from LGBT people. One individual I challenged made a top 10 list suggesting that all religious people are "irrational" or somehow "deranged" and that religion itself is responsible for it. When I challenged the individual to think carefully about what he wrote, he immediately pointed to me and my religious beliefs as an example of "irrational" religion.

While pro-LGBT people of faith need to exercise care and concern for those LGBT folks who are not religious, the opposite is also true.

Not every religious individual is an "irrational" individual, nor are we any less concerned about equality just because we are religious. Just as it is inappropriate for Christianists to generalize that all LGBT people are sick and should be denied basic common courtesy and our rights, it is also inappropriate that every religious person be marked up for a generalized mocking.

I would point to many pro-LGBT equality individuals who are Christian who are supporting our communities, even members of our communities. Rev. Irene Monroe. Bishop Gene Robinson. Rev. Susan Russell. Bishop Spong. I could name many more, and others could name others.

I think what is called for is some shared compassion as well as inclusion of each other's position. Religion especially Christianity has been given a very bad name because of Christianists. LGBT people in their reaction to the unfortunate rhetoric and violence by Christians, are correct to be some what hostile to religion. It is not our fault.

However, not every person who is a Christian is an enemy of the LGBT communities. It would be good if progressive and open minded Christians and others from other religions were not automatically presumed "guilty until proven innocent" in every circumstance.

Charismatic Megafauna | July 26, 2011 4:24 PM

Very well said. As hard as it is, we need to be modeling the rationality that we don't see in our historic oppressors (in other words, we don't need to generalize in the same faulty ways), and we need to be modeling compassion for one another. We are all very severely hurt by these institutions, we must not duplicate their atmosphere of fear and anger among ourselves.

This is quite a difficult issue for me, having been raised in an intensely radical Pentecostal household and having had many of those extreme views assailing me through my childhood and teens.

When I write about that now (which I sometimes have to, in order to exorcise the pain of it and the bitterness that remains), I try to qualify it to be clear that I'm not speaking about all people of faith -- largely because I've known some very positive and sincerely supportive people of faith, respect them deeply, and also value the role they play in countering what is still put forward as the "official" Christian standpoint. Doing that, there can still be accusations of being "anti-Christian," and attacks from atheists on the other side for being too generous.

I really don't know if it's possible to write about faith without people being triggered -- inevitably, readers will always project a certain amount of their experiences on the discussion, and there's plenty of negative history to taint that.

I'm sorry to hear that this continues to result in personal attacks on you. This is probably not helped by the fact that far-right pulpits have been shifting to equate any LGBT equality with religious persecution, thus polarizing the issue and further obscuring when intolerance actually happens. For example, we'll be seeing more of "conscience clauses" in Canada and the US in coming years, using this tactic.

I don't know where the hostility ends. Perhaps when affirming voices become as loud and recognizable as our opponents? In the meantime, I do hope that we can stop directing the anger at those who are trying to change it.

"Who I am talking about are the LGBT people who engage in behavior that, if it were directed at any other group, would rightfully be identified as bigoted and bullying. (...) I invite you to read their comments, substitute the name of any other group in the place of whichever faith group they choose to attack, and judge for yourself whether its indicative of the equality and respect for diversity our community strives to secure."

There's a difference between griping at the people in power, and kicking the people without it. It's the difference between resistance and bullying; it's a difference that means everything.

The USA is a country in which faith is privileged far beyond faithlessness. When there are laws in seven states still on the books banning theists from holding office, and when surveys start coming out showing that theists are the most mistrusted group in our country rather than atheists, then the anger and outspoken complaining of atheists will have ceased to be resistance, and will be rightly called bullying.

I don't have a problem with all religions, because they're just cultural systems and can individually be either good or bad (to me) depending on whether I like the impact they're having. Faith, though? Faith, definable as believing things without or even in spite of empirical evidence? That kind of thinking is why it's so hard to prove to some people that they're wrong about us. How do you reason someone out of bigotry they didn't reason themselves into?

The only way to prevent it is to fight for reason and have the mental toughness to discard ideas about the universe that are plainly insupportable and maybe even destructive. After all, isn't that what we're asking homophobes and transphobes to do? We're telling them that they're living in a fantasy land where unquestioned assumptions rule, and telling them that they need to look at reality and live in it. Say that to a religious person, though, and suddenly you're an intolerant bully.

Why? We're supposed to exempt the religious convictions of our friends and neighbors (and opponents) simply because they are deeply-held cornerstones of their worldview? Has that approach worked for LGBT activists in the past?

Since when have we been afraid of making people uncomfortable with their insupportable but deeply-held convictions?

Yes, privileged people always want those fighting for equality to be less angry, less disruptive, and more silent. That doesn't mean we give it to them.

Yes, privileged people always want those fighting for equality to be less angry, less disruptive, and more silent. That doesn't mean we give it to them.

Quoted for succinct wonderfulness.


Really? Because Greta Christina thinks it's the other way around. In her article, "Being an Atheist in the Queer Community" she writes about the extraordinary amount of privilege religion holds in the queer community. I witnessed it myself, recently, when a "Ceremony of Love and Remembrance" at Dublin Pride turned out to be a religious service, with hymns and talk of the afterlife. It apparently never occurred to the organisers that non-religious queer people exist, indeed that queer people who've been badly burned by religion, and could be triggered by this nonsense, exist.

I'll have harsh and scornful words for anyone who thinks I should lead my life according to the diktats of their religious text. And I'll have strong and sarcastic words for anyone who assumes that everyone else shares their religious beliefs. But I don't hate religion or religious people.


As for "atheist fundamentalists", please. Read a few atheist blogs, learn something about that which you criticise, and stop spouting nonsense. That phrase is fighting words. Either you knew that, and were looking to provoke an angry response, or you didn't know it and are in bad need of an education.


As I and others have tried to make clear, "fundamentalist" is a characterizing term, and I am tempted to say that it is a "technical" term in the sense that it denotes specific features of one's intellectual posturing that are descriptive.

Even though I, too, have emotional buttons surrounding this word, especially "fundamentalist Christian" or "fundamentalist Muslim", it is being used here mainly in the sense of "arrogant, dictatorial, inflexible and dogmatic". I am not, nor have others who have employed the word herein, using it to incite emotionality; however, if you find "fundamentalist" to be a "fighting word" then that says much about your emotional buttons.

Brad Bailey | July 26, 2011 4:37 PM

"I know this is not the reality, but I still believe that a community is at its best when it respects the diversity of all of its members."

This one simple statement cuts to the very heart of what this movement and what this website are all about. It pinpoints the problem suggests its solution in one beautiful sentence.

Does anybody on this thread NOT believe this?

Apparently quite a few people on this thread DON'T believe in respecting the diversity of the members of their community.

While Reverend Heath would like to believe that Christians (especially liberal Christians) are tolerant, this article alone proves that they are not. For her, she is a fundementalist on the tolerance issue. She, and many like her, believe that tolerance is the basic issue upon which we should all agree.

We can't because god/dess doesn't exist. She is asking us to tolerate a lie. Would she be okay if we decided that she should marry a man and be his slave. This was the majority of society's belief about women for thousands of years. It was a lie, based on the idea that women were somehow less-than a man. Since there are societies that still teach this about women, we have to tolerate this lie? I don't think so. I don't think she would.

Faith is a dangerous cancer upon the human race. It is a perversion of evolutionary tool that has helped our species to survive and create community. Faith, even for liberals, is a terrible disease upon which they feel the rest of us have to tolerate. While I believe in a person's right to kill themselves off with that cancer, I don't beleive in their right to either push that cancer on us, on society, or lie to the rest of us that it isn't a cancer.

It is a disease which robs people from rational thought. It is a disease that rots away open thought. Worse in its modern humanism dressed up in Christainity (liberal Christianity) is it most dangerous because it is like telling us that finally there is a safe cagarette to smoke.

I wish that the liberal Christians (who say that we deserve our rights because Jesus would never discriminate) and the conservative Christians (who say we don't deserve our rights because Yahweh/Jesus hates fags) would both shut up. My rights don't derive from any god/dess. They arise out of real human compassion and understanding about the equality of all of evolution's manifestations in the human community.

So no, I won't/don't tolerate people who are fundemenatalist toerance preachers. Your fundementalism is not different than mine.

Be happy in your movement of one, then. Because as long as you ridicule and reject everyone who isn't like you? That is all you will EVER be.

Katie, wasn't Jesus a movement of one who didn't tolerate people who were different. He called other religionists snakes and vipers and children of Satan. He went into the temple and beat his opponents with a whip. He said the ONLY way to the father was through him (i.e. my way or the highway.). Look at what he did. If I am only have as successful there will be a billion atheists like me in two thousand years.

"... wasn't Jesus a movement of one who didn't tolerate people who were different. He called other religionists snakes and vipers and children of Satan. He went into the temple and beat his opponents with a whip.

This is a very unfair distortion (and now someone is pushing my emotional buttons!). The "snakes and vipers and children of Satan" he spoke of were those who manipulated the Jewish religion of his day, often for social gain or to justify their own self-righteous pride.

The incident where he resorted to using a whip in the temple was after his repeated attempts to rid the central place of worship of scammers and rip-off artists who had no genuine interest in worship, but only to make a quick, dishonest buck off of innocent but gullible congregants. (Think of them as televangelists without the television.)

As for other religions, by his time Buddhism was five centuries old, but he did not once criticize it.

Finally, as to the words "no one cometh unto the Father but by me", those who reject Bible inerrancy (as I do) often question whether Jesus even actually ever spoke those words.

But AJ this is where I don't get Christians like yourself. You believe you are guided by The Bible yet you say well I don't believe this part or he said it. Then why should anyone believe any of it. If someone comes up to me on the street and starts spouting off a bunch of facts and I know a few of them are wrong I am going to discount everything they say. They aren't a reliable source.


Let's get this straight (no pun intended) then. If I believe that Christians, both liberal and conservative are manipulating the Christian religion of this day for social gain, and justify self-righteous pride, I am within my rights, under your interpretation, to call you all snakes, vipers, and children of Satan?

It is my experience, observation, and insight that Christians use a evolutionary development that has caused our species to be community oriented and cooperative. I believe that Christians (and all religions for that matter) are using our natural need for community and cooperation to be prideful that they, and not the rest of us from your statements above, have a better understanding of the divine. I think that would be a form of self-righteousness -- i.e. I am right and you are not. I have yet to meet a Christian preacher that hasn't used their position to lift themselves up in some way. I have yet to meet one that doesn't expect to make a buck off their work. So, by your argument it is okay for me to be intolerant of them and call them names.

About the incident at the temple. It is my belief that churches of today are doing the same. They all are making a dishonest buck based on a lie. God doesn't exist. They preach he does exist. They expect donations from their membership to keep the building up, pay the pastor(s), and aggrandize their ministries. So, it is okay for me, to use the example of Jesus to beat up on the Christians who are making a fast buck on a human weakness.

In other words there are times and places where it is okay to be intolerant, as long as those are the same reasons that you and your leader are intolerant?

You feel you get to question which of the words of Jesus are real and which are not. Wow, so I can question every word if I want? I can cherry-pick out those passages that support my position and demean those that don't? That is totally dishonest and evil. I am not misusing or mis-interpreting any of these passages. You just have a different understanding. You use these words for your purpose and I use them for mine. You don't get to pick and choose what words are real and what words work for you. Either the Bible is a reliable document or not. If it is, then Jesus said and did the things that are recorded, if it is not, then it is no better than the revelations of Saint Rowling in the revelations of the savior Harry Potter.

Jesus, Peter, Paul, and all the rest of that crew were intolerant and ignorant people. they failed in many ways, as human's are prone to do. To hold their words up as divine, inspired, or any more important than the words of any book is evil and destructive. The use of holy words to lead people around in lies and untruths is evil. Liberal Christians are intolerant of things they consider lies (i.e. Fred Phelphs crew), but don't extend to atheists the same courtesy. They are also intolerant of truth-telling when it is revealed that their myths are also lies that are killing people.

Where exactly do people get the idea that it's "rational" to treat all religious faiths, or even all organized religions, as collectively responsible for the actions of a single religious faith? Christianity is not the end-all, be-all of religious faiths.

Moreover, it is a total strawman argument to claim that all religious faiths are privileged. That's not true at all; Christianity is privileged in Western societies and Islam is privileged in most Middle Eastern and some Asian societies, and those are pretty much unique situations.

Brad Bailey | July 26, 2011 6:55 PM

You have every right to your opinions, Martin. And you are just as much a part of this community as anyone else.

Thanks Brad. Hope you have a good day.

There is no such thing as "general religious privilege" which all religions enjoy over non-religions. Or even that organized religions enjoy over disorganized religions and non-religions.

Christianity is massively privileged in Western societies in general and especially in the United States; pretty much all other religons (even including sufficiently non-orthodox interpretations of Christianity) are substantially discriminated against.

"Privileged" and "oppressed" are not mutually-exclusive categories for people or groups, though. Non-Christians are marginalized with respect to Christians, but still occupy a position of relative privilege when it comes to atheists.

I don't know if you saw the recent survey indicating that atheists are the least trusted minority in the USA right now. This is not intended to come off as playing Oppression Olympics, since other minorities undoubtedly experience far more frightening oppression, but it does illustrate a point. For all that Mormons and Jews and Muslims are looked down upon by evangelicals, at least they believe in something, right? At least, that seems to be the logic.

Hint: If you assume that "all religions" begin and end with those that began in the eastern Mediterranean circa 6000 years ago, you're on the wrong track already.

Hint: You should make fewer assumptions about people you don't know on the internet. It's not good for the spirit of solidarity you seem to value. For the record, I'm a practicing Wiccan who did overseas study in India. I'm well aware that Christianity is not the only religion in the world. Are you going to address the point I made now, or do you have more assumptions about me that we need to deal with before you'll deign to actually answer me properly?

dharmapupil | July 27, 2011 4:14 AM

When atheists are given the same tax-exempt status as churches I will believe there is no religious privilege in the US.
When avowed atheists are elected to offices in numbers proportionate to their demographic I will agree there is not religious coercion in the US.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 26, 2011 7:33 PM

Who really gives a damn one way or the other if some people believe unbelievable things. Believing unbelievable things can have embarrassing tragic consequences on a personal level as it did a few weeks ago when some gave away their life savings expecting the world to end - again. It didn't - again. And it can have tragic results as, for instance, it often has for those who dance with rattlesnakes.

As long as they're completely closeted about it and don't try to impose their practices and beliefs on the rest of us, or even expose them to us by proselytizing why should we worry about their problems.

Our real objection to cults and sects is that they're where bigotry is inculcated into the minds of millions by priests, ministers, imams and rabbis. And they're tax cheats. And their temples, churches, mosques and whatever are the main places where children and many women are raped and abused.

All of them should be taxed at the same level as other entities dealing in fantasies like Disney and Industrial Light and Magic. There is no reason at all why we should pay their taxes. And, as an elementary act of public safety and to prevent the widespread (and spreading) rape and abuse of children and women all schools, colleges and medical and 'charitable' venues associated with cults and sects should be secularized.

Those ideas are modern updates of the great tradition of the American Revolution:

"I have examined all the known superstitions of the Word, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the world ..." Thomas Jefferson

"The clergy converted the simple teachings of Jesus into an engine for enslaving mankind ... to filch wealth and power to themselves. [They], in fact, constitute the real Anti-Christ." Thomas Jefferson

"Lighthouses are more helpful than churches." Benjamin Franklin

"The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason." Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard's Almanac

" I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church." Thomas Paine

"The doctrine of the divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity." John Adams

"Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated." George Washington, letter to Edward Newenham, October 20, 1792

" ...I beg you be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution." George Washington, to United Baptist Churches of Virginia, May, 1789

"What influence in fact have Christian ecclesiastical establishments had on civil society? In many instances they have been upholding the thrones of political tyranny. In no instance have they been seen as the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty have found in the clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate liberty, does not need the clergy." James Madison

How about if I don't let the Christians tell me what to believe, and I don't let you tell me not to believe? It doesn't matter if it's ok or not, I'm just saying that's what is going to happen.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 27, 2011 1:13 AM

It's spelled christian, or christer or whatever, but there are no reasons to capitalize the name of these sects and cults and no reason at all to pretend they're due respect. They're just dime a dozen sects and cults.

Attempting to reverse reality won't work with GLBT folks. Did I tell you not to worship sky pixies or whatever it is you do. I don't think I did. (Maybe Jefferson did, and Tom Paine for sure.)

Actually I did something far more important and something far worse from the point of view of religionists, I said I was ignoring your 'beliefs'. I dismissed them as unimportant.

It's probably best if you don't pretend I'm trying to tell you what to believe or not what to believe. Many, most in all probability, GLBT folks don't care what you believe. Believe whatever you want. Go for it. It's no skin off our backs. As they say in the other fantasy business, break a leg.

But don't tell us about it. Don't proselytize. And don't ask for money, tolerance for your 'beliefs' or support of any kind. Not gonna happen.

And do be careful if you're one of those rattlesnake worshipers.

LGBT folks are not oppressing sky pixie worshippers or Earth mommy worshipers or neo-mithraists or desert wind demon worshippers. But the opposite is often as not true. Virtually all the leaders of sects and cults oppress LGBT folks. The create discrimination and directly cause harassment, beatings and murder by calling us 'sinners' and less than human.

Oops. I forgot. There is one way LGBT folks are going to 'oppress' the faithful. We're going to continue to fight to end this tax cheating business for covens, churches, mosques, temples or whatever. We're tired of paying your taxes.

Hi Reverend Emily,

I sympathize with what you are trying to say. It is impossible to live without a belief. Everyone believes in something. It takes humility to realize you can't know everything. I don't know how I could cope with reality without humilit

Don't confuse belief with faith. Of course everyone believes in certain things. But faith is belief without evidence and that's where it gets incredibly dangerous. Especially faith in intangible or even supernatural things, as opposed to real persons such as friends and family.

I think there are all kinds of priesthoods that have existed since Egyptian times. There are truths that exist independently of those political systems that those who apprehend them have to work within. You don't have to call a system a religion for it to be full of religious belief. There are all kinds of ways to distort a truth or to put certain truths into a context where they have no relevance. There definitely is too much, "you have to do it this way because that's the way MY father did it", that goes around. That doesn't mean there aren't truths to apprehend. Do we speak of a Jesus who was influenced by Hillel or do we speak of a Jesus who was conceptualized by Augustine four centuries later? Even then, isn't there something to learn by contrasting Augustine's concepts with that of someone like Pelagius? I think being a good atheist requires a certain amount of respect for various philosophical systems which inevitably involve religious systems. If you take something as basic as people's attitudes toward drugs or a work ethic, individualism or communitarianism, the cumulative effects of culture influenced by religious ideals plays an important role in the conclusions they come to. When you argue against religion, which religion are you arguing against, which faction of the Episcopal Church or are we talking about? conservative Catholics or those to adhere to a liberation theology? Hindus or Buddhists? Presbyterians or Unitarians? Jews or Zorastrians? How about "godbuilding" within Communist systems? Most atheists I come across are as dogmatic as Catholics and Baptists.

Also, atheists would love if people could just admit that we don't know certain things or that some things may even be unknowable. That would be huge progress. Instead humans have for all their history tried to fill the gaps in their knowledge with religion and deities.

Jay Kallio | July 27, 2011 3:21 AM

It's very interesting to me that no one here has chimed in representing those of us who are neither religious nor atheist, but who are spiritual, based on personal experience and an openminded view of the experiences of others.

I have always been a science based, logical, grounded person, relentless about reality testing my ideas, but have had quite a few personal experiences, totally unsolicited in any fashion, that I can only characterize as mystical, and extrasensory, which have forced me to grant that there are many things beyond our five senses and the ability to scientifically measure and test them.

I find it interesting that many people who consider themselves logical and evidence based seem to be unable to allow for the possibility that what remains unproven today may yet be proven true in the future, even though our history is replete with corrections and debunking of what was once considered proven fact. Um, the world turns out to not be flat, after all. Therefore I cannot say categorically that what is taught as "faith" is without merit.

I personally am not a member of a religion, but I cannot say they are wrong or "deluded", because to me it all remains a work in progress, and is very limited by our five senses. It is clear that many animals have senses that can perceive a vast range of colors and sounds that we humans cannot, and we know that only because we have developed ways to perceive that spectrum of experience we never otherwise could have perceived had we only our eyes and ears. What if others, through perceptions beyond the concrete, also perceive a reality beyond the basic concrete reality we all assume? I do not view that as "faith" or "belief", when it is based on perceptions beyond the usual consensual reality.

The personal experiences I have had all impressed me as far more "real" than everyday reality, and in each case, reflected understandings that so far have withstood the test of time, such as the complete unity of all in existence, and certainly of all life. As I have gotten older those experiences have become more personal and tailored in addressing my concerns about life and death, which defies all my logic about how there couldn't possibly be a personal "God" with an interest in an individual soul. Now I must ask myself, "what if there really is such a universal consciousness, and it cares about me?", because now someone seems to be responding to my little situation... not anything I expected, ever. Not in my plan. I cannot explain it all away, and cannot account for any of it. It's not serendipity. It is a communication I cannot otherwise explain. Then reality unfolds that confirms it.

I would never expect anyone to share my ideas - certainly not anyone who has never had that type of consciousness expanding experience. But I ask everyone who seems to say with such certainty that others are wrong or deluded, "How do you know for sure?" Anyone who seriously studies logic and science has to admit there are many undiscovered truths, the possibilities are without end...

I am by far most comfortable with others who respect and remain curious about the beliefs of others, and keep a questioning, and open mind. Maybe they know something I don't. I listen, because I might learn something.

Brad Bailey | July 27, 2011 7:29 PM

Beautiful post, Jay.

Science and spirituality are not diametrically opposed. Cosmology and quantum mechanics have shown that space and time, the tools with which we perceive reality, are inconstant and relative. There is a growing body of evidence supporting quantum non-locality, M-theory, and the existence of parallel universes. ESP has been all but proven, and a mountain of evidence has been compiled on paranormal phenomena.

The search for reality and meaning in this plane of existence is a deeply personal one. It is ultimately up to each individual to compile the evidence and merge it with his or her personal experiences to form a world construct. Or not. We are given that choice.

Empirical evidence only goes so far in defining reality. At some point, many if not most of us must inevitably make that leap of faith in attempting to make sense of it all.

Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences.

Jay Kallio | July 29, 2011 6:28 AM

Thanks Brad! I have studied physics with increasing awe and wonder over the years, and it has been incredible to discover science and spirit intersecting at the end of the disparate arc each takes. Open, vibrant consciousness seems to be the underlying matrix to all. It's all stunningly beautiful. :)

Jay, Check out the I think you will like it.

Wilberforce1 | July 27, 2011 3:31 AM

There are a number of reasons that radical atheists can't tell the difference between liberal christians and fundamentalists.
First, there's the self destructive crowd, which has sabotaged our movement for thirty years. They ignored hiv in the 80s, and still do nothing to stop the spread. Instead, they spend their days on queer blogs spitting venom at our allies in the liberal church.
They're the same group with emotional problems from having been abused by fundamentalism early one. That prevents them from thinking rationally about the issue.
Also, there has always been the simple minded crowd on the left who need to blame everything on one monster. They used to blame corporations for everything. Now they blame christianity for the kitchen sink, and they have to ignore mountains of info about liberal christians.
They also ignore the just and charitable works of liberal christians because many atheists have bought into the extreme selfishness of commercial culture, and they never lift a finger to help anyone else.
Finally, they have been duped by Sam Haris and others who've written books seeking to divide liberal christians and liberal atheists. It's the old divide and conquer strategy, and the dim bulbs in our community have fallen for it like a ton of bricks.
It's especcially ironic. Harris and the self proclaimed rationalists use endless rhetorical tricks to make their points: cherry picking the record, as fundamentalists cherry pick scripture; diversion and distraction; name calling; misplaced emphasis; false conclusions from irrelevant info; etc...
Again, it's laughable. These self proclaimed rationalists don't know the basic rules of logic.

No, I don't have to respect religion or beliefs. That's the whole problem here. Religious people think they deserve respect simply because they are religious. Because they think faith is a virtue. It isn't. They may deserve respect for what they do, yes. But that's in spite of what they believe.

As for the various sects and cults. It's all the same kind of nonsense when you get down to it. Just a matter of degrees. Yes, I certainly prefer a Buddhist, Taoist, Wiccan or nature worshiper over a Christian or Muslim. I generally prefer progressive Jews over the other Abrahamic religions as well. I prefer a Unitarian Universalist over any kind of Christian or a liberal Christian over an evangelical or fundamentalist. They are simply easier to live with. But on a very basic level it's all the same, even if their followers behave very differently.

This goes towards the idea that many LGTB Christians have, that we are only against religion because or if it's anti-gay. That's just one of the reasons why I'm against it. Ultimately I think they are ALL wrong. I think religion is a fundamentally flawed idea. Given that it was our first idea about how the world works, that should be no surprise. I think it did far more harm than good and that we would be better off without it. I disagree with any concept of a creator god, since that just complicates things. I can't believe that there is any being watching over us, caring about what we do. I can't believe in the supernatural like gods, angels, demons, invisible places or prophecies (though I can certainly be entertained by it in television and novels).
I think Christianity is fundamentally immoral, since ALL its sects have a human sacrifice as its core. I can't believe that the torture and death of a human being can absolve others of their crimes. I think Original Sin is one of the most screwed up ideas anyone can possibly come up with. And you can't have Christianity without the former and rarely without the latter.

But the biggest reason: there is simply no evidence whatsoever for ANY of them and any of their claims

ok, that should have been in reply to edith above

I'm not trying to prove anything, Steve. How can anyone prove that religion isn't nonsense? Original Sin, though? Where does that notion come from? That's a most interesting one, I think. The concept of a demiurge and imperfect creation goes way back, I think. It doesn't matter whether man created god or vice versa. In suppressing certain concepts of religion, I think people often prove their existence and sometimes are guilty of the same kind of zealous oppressiveness they rail against. I'm not a drug rep from a pharmaceutical company or any other kind of a salesperson, however.

Ted Hayes Ted Hayes | July 27, 2011 9:04 AM

According to my definition of "tolerance" -- a word that I am trying to delete completely from my vocabulary -- if I am "tolerant" of another's religion, race, etc., then I am really demonstrating bias of a sort.

Implicit in the words "tolerant" or "tolerance" is the idea that the one(s) doing the "tolerating" is somehow better than the one(s) being "tolerated." I can respect a person's right to freedom of religion and I hope that same person can respect my right of freedom from religion. When one of us, however, seeks to compel the other to believe as we do, or seeks to use power of influence to have laws made that conform with our beliefs only, then respect has gone out the window.

Tolerance: Contempt covered with a veneer of apathy, thus mitigating the necessity of active persecution. Commonly used to denote people or beliefs unprofitable to openly hate.

In my experience, when struck by a truncheon, I have little concern for its model or make. Therefore, when the primary function of faith, belief, or religion remains coercion and oppression; its delineation matters little.

That being said, the assertion that a lack of faith is inherently more rational is also problematic. Yes, I agree that providing a basis for faith bears the hallmarks of rational thought, but the reasons for disbelief can be just as fallacious. If, as others here have intimated, we can allow contemplate the mindsets of others without being intimidate or exploited; we stand to benefit.

As Thomas Carlyle said "Every man is my superior in that I may learn from him." Sometimes we learn more from a negative example than a positive one; and an openness to learning is too important to forgo, at least for me.

It depends on how one arrives at the state of disbelief.

One many western European countries it's quite common for people to simply be apathetic towards religion because it doesn't play a huge part in every day life. It's more a cultural background. So they often haven't given religion much thought or just went along with the flow. For people like that it's not unusual to not believe in gods, but to be open to other supernatural or pseudo scientific concepts such homeopathy, card reading or horoscopes.

People who grew up immersed in religion or are constantly surrounded by it (as it is typical in the United States) are far more likely to have to actively reason and work their way out of it. They think about it and consciously reject the idea. Skepticism, as opposed to merely atheism, is far more common in that group.

I think some believers seem to get the wrong idea why so many in the GLBT community are atheists. They think because we as a community have received so much hate from the religious community we choose not to believe. In most cases this couldn't be further from the truth. I think it is merely the catalyst for us to take a hard look.
Let's be brutally honest 99% of people have their religious beliefs because that is what they were taught to believe. Here in the US the majority are taught to believe in the Christian god. If we grew up in Saudi Arabia in all likelihood we will be taught to worship Allah. If you gave me a child from infant up I am sure I could teach them that they were brought forth by aliens and they would believe. Children learn from their parents and take on those beliefs. A few shed then in their adulthood but they are the exception rather than the rule.
My journey is a perfect example. I did not come from a strong religious home. In my early years we were the Christmas and Easter Catholics until about age 10 when we stopped going even then. Even though we weren't the church going types my parents still instilled us with a belief in God. I didn't start questioning that belief until college but as I hit my early 20s I started slipping back into the God belief. I even started looking for churches.
The last few years was when I really started to take a hard look. I thought why would an all powerful god only reveal himself to parts of the world. Why are there no records of God revealing himself to people in Polynesia or North America. It seemed like a crazy notion. Why the Christian god only revealed himself to certain desert dwellers. Same with Allah or Buddha or Vishnu. I realized religion was an indoctrination.
I laugh when I hear Christians(mainly the only ones I hear) talk about other religion like Scientology and say how crazy their beliefs are yet can't see that their beliefs are just as far out there.
My favorite quote and what I always say to theists when we are debating is this. "I'm am an atheist just like you I just believe in one less god than you do."

Tall Stacey | July 28, 2011 2:08 PM

It would seem that the point has been missed.

First let me compliment Rev. Emily on another poignant post and extend my thanks. Then let me qualify myself: non-theist,white, senior, transsexual woman with a Catholic & Salvation Army background and terribly underemployed backwoods country girl. And so that you know for the last 2 years of my Mom’s life I took her to Catholic Church Sunday mornings where she was warmly welcomed by the greeter and the door was literally closed on me and my also T sister.

Now it seems to me that Rev. Emily’s point was that that by lowering ourselves to the basest of the oppositions hate mongering we denigrate ourselves and offend our sympathetic allies.

As I recall there was recently a policy change here at Billerico to eliminate the hijacking and personal attacks being promulgated by certain persons intolerant of other’s opinions. I believe the policy being enforced now is that while it is allowable to protest a position, personal attacks will not be tolerated.

And I believe, as demonstrated by the comments referenced and here, that this is exactly the good Reverend’s point. Oppose the position if you wish, but do it with dignity, not with vitriol and personal insult. Extremism and intolerance are offensive to most everyone. (Does anyone support the Westboro Baptists?) We do not have to accept the persecution, and we must protest that. But when we stoop to the level of personal attacks and insults, make broad associations of stereotype that include our allies with our enemies we do ourselves more harm than we do our opposition.

We do not have to agree with the extremist’s position, but we do need to recognize their right to it. Our fight is not with the religious, our struggle is for equality. We don’t care about their theological position, we are concerned for our Constitutional rights. When we present an anti-religion position we are guilty of the very thing they accuse us of, threatening their religion! We need to rise above that all. We do not need the consent of the extremists, and we will never get it. We do need the demonstrated support of the majority of people of faith. We will never get that so long as we continue to offend them by berating their belief system. Remember that at this point the beliefs of the majority include support for TLBG equality, don’t tell them they are wrong!

Rev. Emily, thank you for your activism in both the secular and theological realms. On behalf of the majority of TLBG, please accept our apologies for the insults of the fringe elements of both sides. Please continue to work for equality and in rallying people of faith to voice their opposition to their own radical fringe elements..

TLBG extremists, please think before you speak. Supporting our allies is more important than taunting our enemies.

I find it ironic that the biggest of the similarities Rev. Emily noted between the 2 extreme factions is Love. Orientation is about who we love in spite of convention. Most religions espouse to a life of tolerance & love for their fellow man. Gay extremists want them to be supportive of our rights, to sanction our contra-societal norm lives regardless of their beliefs; in other words, to be recognized as conventional. But the extreme religionists cannot live their cause of love and tolerance exactly because it is in violation of their intolerant fundamental beliefs. It’s like gasoline and fire, not gonna mix, always gonna be explosive!

Rev. Emily, thank you so much for this essay. As a gay Christian living in fairly secular San Francisco, I have also encountered some people who do not understand Christianity. I think we need to just work to educate and to witness through our words and actions what our beliefs and values are. As some of the comments here indicate, there are at least some devout Atheists who are fundamentalist and intolerant about pushing their faith on Christians. About 72% of gay Americans are Christian (the same religious identity surveys indicate that 77% of heterosexuals are Christian), though, so I doubt these views are common. Certainly a higher percentage of my gay friends are Christian than my heterosexual friends. In general I have found harmony among both friends, family, and acquaintances and acceptance on both sides.

Rev. Emily, Amen. I cannot believe how quickly and vociferously the commenters here responded with anti-Christian bigotry as you predicted.

Christian denominations and congregations (not all of them, obviously) have had and supported Christian same-sex marriage since at least the 1970's. Non-religious and secular governments did not support same-sex marriage till the twenty-first century (and only in primarily Christian countries - not in Atheist countries like China and North Korea).

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 28, 2011 5:24 PM

On a political note this is clearly an exercise in promoting the idea that religionists have a significant role to play in our movement and even, thor forbid, in its leadership. They don't, so don't get your hopes up.

Cults did play a role in earlier fights for unions and for civil rights Blacks but among the GLBT communities they have no depth, no history and no progressive role to play. Instead they hobble our movement, wasting our time trying to reconcile the innate bigotry of the abrahamists with our struggle against religion, humankinds greatest tragedy.

And they seem never tire of complaining that LGBT folks don't like religious cults. Duh!

Of course we don't like religious cults. Vast numbers of us despise them. If LGBT cultists produced a figure like MalcolmX in the 1960s or AJ Muste in the mid 1930' trad union fights they might have some chance of influencing our views but how likely is that. Infinitely unlikely.

As for broad coalitions for LGBT rights I think we should emulate the unions and permit an occasional cult spokesperson to speak at rallies and etc. And we should be tolerant to the point of not booing if they mention yawey, jebuzzzz or alluh - but mentioning those fairy-tale figures once is way more than enough. I think it would be wise if we told them that the conditions of their support are that they refrain from praying at us, proselytizing, asking for money or in any way defending their tax exempt status or their 'beliefs'.

There are no political connections between the fight for GLBT equality and religion at all. We promote equality and they promote 'beliefs'. Where the relations between the two have been made crystal clear as I described above, we can accept their support.

Otherwise we should just ignore religious cults. They really, really hate that. Especially the ultra right cults, and that's the vast majority of them/ They're quickly losing ground as a political factor and will turn - are turning, as they did in Norway - towards terrorism in their desperation to have a political impact.

(Before someone gets splinters climbing up a cross MCC and UCC are small and while not as rightist as the big cults - catholic, mormon, lutheran, anglo-catholic, pentecostal - neither are they particularly influential.)

Brad Bailey | July 28, 2011 7:01 PM

The LGBT community ignores its friends in the religious community to its own peril.

76% of all Americans self-identify as Christian.

According to recent surveys, 83 percent of Americans claim to belong to a religious denomination, 40 percent claim to attend services nearly every week or more, and 58 percent claim to pray at least weekly.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 28, 2011 8:26 PM

I think we have to be very wary of claims that religious influence has any correlation with religious affiliation. According to a poll dated today by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life cult affiliation appears to decrease with maturity: "the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion... People not affiliated with any particular religion stand out for their relative youth compared with other religious traditions... The survey finds that constant movement characterizes the American religious marketplace... look at the biggest gainer in this religious competition - the unaffiliated group. People moving into the unaffiliated category outnumber those moving out of the unaffiliated group by more than a three-to-one margin. "

BTW 'religious marketplace' pretty well sums it up. Thank thor that fewer and fewer people buy into their pie in the sky solutions to real problems like massive unemployment, homelessness and poverty. Things are changing fast in this country under the impact of the widespread radicalization created by the economic collapse created imposed on us by Democrats and Republicans. As they always do these radicalizations produce whole generations of revolutionists who reject religion out of hand, recognizing it for what it is, a prop for the banksters, royalty, and the aristocracies of land, money and religious privilege.

• As for the claim that religious people can be our friends that does happen if and when they reject the anti-union, pro-war bigots who run most religious sects and cults. The way to promote even more people becoming our friends is to continue to call for:

• The arrest and prosecution of priests, rabbis, imams, ministers, pastors who rape children and women and to call for the arrest and prosecution of those, like der papenfuehrer, Ratzinger, who are their accomplices in the crime of the rape of children.

• The secularization or closure of all cult schools and colleges, medical and 'charitable' venues without compensation to prevent rape and abuse. (Especially those used to rape, abuse and torture GLBT children and youth and compel them to become 'ex-gay'.)

• The taxation of all cult incomes whose leaders endorse candidates and political parties at the rate of 99.99% .

• The confiscation of the assets of cults who promote interference with civil and medical matters like HIV/AIDS prevention, marriage equality and abortion - without compensation.

• And finally, for the criminalization of religious interference in civil affairs.

Yes, and 72% of gay Americans are Christian.

Radical inclusion and unconditional love are the defining characteristics of Christianity. The entire goal of Christ's life was to reach out for the oppressed and marginalized. After all, the Bible teaches 'there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no male or female, you are all one in Christ'. To God, men and women are the same and same-sex marriage is the same as different-sex marriage. This radical message is the good news of Christianity.

Incidentally, two of the grand marshals at San Francisco Gay Pride this year were Christian pastors. The lifetime achievement award went to Yvette Flunder, the head pastor of City of Refuge United Church of Christ (UCC) here in the City. She is from the same denomination (the United Church of Christ) as Rev. Emily Heath. One of the reasons that New England has been the leading region for marriage and gay civil rights is that the largest and oldest Protestant denomination in MA, NH, CT, and VT is the UCC. The Church was a leading advocate of civil marriage and helped to get marriage legalized in those four states.

Tall Stacey | July 28, 2011 7:47 PM

It is no coincidence that those same MA, NH, CT & VT were colonized by people seeking freedom from persecution by the Church of England and the theologically oppressive government of England. Unlike many “modern” sects, the UCC remember that denial of their religious and secular freedoms was what brought them here in the first place. For them to deny others that same freedom from persecution would be hypocritical. Again it was these same New Englanders who lead the Tea Party protests that led to the Revolution, fired the first volleys, and spearheaded the creation of a “new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”. To violate that truth would be equally hypocritical.

As a former Vermonter I would point out that contrary to popular belief real New Englanders are not liberal, but ultra conservative. They are so "mind your own business" conservative that they don't feel the need to tell others how to live. As one old neighbor once told me, "If I don't like what you are doing, I've probably got enough money to buy you out. If not I sure as hell have enough to sell mine and move!"

Tall Stacey, I agree and it is interesting to see how closely the abolition of slavery progressed chronologically in a similar manner to the legalization of marriage. For example, United Church of Christ MA (1788) and VT (1791) abolished slavery before Reformed/Episcopal NY (1827), which did so before Quaker/ Presbyterian/ Reformed PA (1850), which was of course before the South (1865). Although, as a Southerner, I have to defend our role as it was Southerners such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington who led the Revolution, wrote the Constitution, and created the separation of church and state. This was at a time when MA and the New England states did NOT have religious freedom (except for RI).

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 28, 2011 10:07 PM

DB, please tell us you're not trying to imply that Eurochristers are not and wholly and totally responsible for the invention of modern racism as an excuse for slavery? I hope not, that would be a vast distortion of the truth. There's no question about it, christians did invent racism, North and South, Puritan and Presbyterian.

English slavery in North America was initially based on the persecution of the Irish, Scots and Quakers as indentured servants. The problem is that they could run away with relative ease (a death penalty offense in most colonies) and many crossed the frontier to join native American nations, where they were taught the rudiments of cleanliness (these are Europeans we're talking about, people who took annual baths, but only if absolutely necessary) and hunting and farming.

Naturally, attempts to enslave native Americans failed for the same reasons so the importation of kidnapped Africans, with it's terrible toll in human suffering and death began in earnest. Christers led the effort to justify it. " George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards both kept slaves, and ‘The Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts’ owned many slaves in the Caribbean… Christians at the time of the transatlantic slave trade took this too far. As God’s chosen people they believed that they had the right to enslave ‘inferior’ nations… "

That was true North and South, true of Puritan and Presbyterian. ‘the pious ‘Puritan Fathers’ found it convenient to assume that they were God’s chosen Israel and the pagans about them were Amalek and Amorites. They hence deduced their righteous title to exterminate or enslave the Indians…. The Promptitude with which the ‘Puritan Fathers 'embarked in this business [the African slave trade] may be comprehended, when it is stated that the Desire [the first slave ship to Africa] sailed upon her voyage in June 1637 [only 17 years after the Pilgrim Fathers landed]....the commerce of New England was born of the slave trade." Robert Dabney (1820-1898) in his book ‘A Defense of Virginia and the South’

The founders of the state of Massachusetts also seem to have had similar attitudes. According to Douglas Harper (compiler of ‘Slavery in the North’ website), Massachusetts, like many American colonies, had roots in a scrupulous fundamentalist Protestantism. Christianity was no barrier to slave-ownership, however. The Puritans regarded themselves as God's Elect, and so they had no difficulty with slavery, which had the sanction of the Law of the God of Israel…A Massachusetts law of 1641 specifically linked slavery to Biblical authority, and established for slaves the set of rules "which the law of God, established in Israel concerning such people, doth morally require."

I do think that the fact that Southern culture was based on and dependent on slavery allowed us to tolerate legal inequality and big government that has ramifications to this day. Of course, I'm hoping that the expansion of gay civil rights expands faster than the civil rights of Protestants, women, and blacks.

Hurrah for christianity.

But please.

Keep your Cher-damned beliefs off our statute books.

Christianity is only for the home.

Tall Stacey | July 29, 2011 10:45 PM

Not 100% on subject, but I thought the thinking members might find this of interest. It is a humanist presentation on what might succeed religion.

Gaytorguy | July 30, 2011 3:29 PM

I have encountered the same situations. My friends and family know my orientation and beliefs. There is no problem there. It is from those who either never really read the Bible, Koran, et al and espouse what the pulpit venomously espouses. And then there are the GLBT community who have been hounded, ridiculed and chastised by some Christian factions and they are so done with it.
It is hard to have a collective dialogue when there is yelling. One needs to whisper to get attention. Hard to do via Twitter or blogs. Hang in there. Sometimes all it takes is one to change the tide.