Saturday, October 16, 2010

Atheism and Religion and allying ourselves with the right people

These past couple weeks/months have seen a lot of outspoken Atheists doing good work.

Dan Savage has started the It Gets Better project, an internet campaign for bullied GLBT youth. Foundation Beyond Belief, an ongoing source of good for the secular community, has released its most recent list of beneficiaries.

In the last few weeks, I've been keeping a vague eye (I'm in the middle of student teaching, so vague is probably the strongest term at this point) on the goings on between FBB and Soulforce as documented on Hemant's blog. There has been a lot of concern regarding Soulforce's religious affiliations. Particularly, that because they are religious, FBB shouldn't be giving them money, which is a valid point...I suppose.

Across the internet, we see the IGB project going strong and, in particular, we see a Texas City Councilman, Joel Burns telling the story of his childhood during a Council meeting, but on The Digital Cuttlefish, we see a topic comparing Joel Burns and Gene Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire for the Episcopalian Church. Again, what we see is a diminishing of the contributions of a religious person specifically because of their religious message...and this time we don't even have the facade of "Well...this is supposed to support an Atheist cause" to hide behind.

Over the last few years as the Catholic, Evangelical, and Mormon Churches have been making homophobic, racist, sexist, etc...statements carte blanche, our first question we ask is "Well, why do Queer people, black people, women, and a host of other groups actually stay in the church if it is subjugating them so?"

But now we see a number of religious organizations (I mean, the Bishop of New Hampshire is gay, for goodness sake) stepping forward and saying, "No. This is wrong, fellow religious people. We must stop this and we shall work toward it." and we have the audacity to say, "Well, you have a religious message, so I'm going to downplay what you have to say."

My mind was completely blown when I saw the message by Dale McGowan on Friendly Atheist.

First of all, let's not get any delusions about what they are there for.

Of course they are going to have a religious message. They're religious. They aren't out there for US. They're out there for one reason and one reason only, to preach a "gospel of tolerance" to their fellow Christians. They aren't going to get there without using the ethos of their creator. What was it that they were expecting Soulforce to be doing? Beating religious homophobes with Festivus poles?

Does it really diminish the message that homosexuality needs to stop being discriminated against and talked about in a hateful context by religion because they, themselves, are religious?

I don't think so. Indeed, I think an organization like this is going to end up being the only working entry point to take care of religious homophobia. But, we need to be careful to understand that, to get the rest of the religious groups on our side, we have to talk like them...and sometimes that means finding allies that ACTUALLY BELIEVE IN GOD. I mean, it's not like they're talking to us...they're talking to their fellow religious people. Just like how when Gene Robinson is talking and saying "God" 14 times and talking about how "God loves you beyond your wildest imagining" he isn't talking to Atheist GLBT kids.

As if we actually need to hear that.

Who do you think he's talking to? He's talking to the kids who go every Sunday to church and wonder why "God made them different." Why "God allows bullies to make fun of them if they were created in his image." Do you think that telling a little kid who's already distraught because he's bullied for who he is that "God doesn't exist" is going to be of any help at all?

Of course not.

I agree that, perhaps for us, saying how much God loves all of his gay creations too, to us, would feel like a watery broth compared to the sumptuous "Not mentioning god at all" speech that Joel gave...but we aren't the audience here...and we were never intended to be. The audience that Gene is looking to reach with his speech is one of people who are internally tormented every day by a creator they revere but think doesn't care about them because of who they are.

And if anyone has the ethos to put that message across to all the homosexual Christians out there, it's him.

So, I understand that Bishop Robinson talks about god etc...and that religion is bullshit etc...

But there are plenty of people who are gay that aren't atheists...and if we should presume that the only people that deserve to hear this message are secular people, then we are just as bad as the bullies and the parents indoctrinating their kids.

To a young religious gay kid, that speech by Bishop Robinson will be able to touch places in their hearts that Councilman Burns' never could.

So, let's get our heads on straight here, Atheists:

The fight against bullying by religious groups for the GLBT community is important because it directly mirrors our own struggle, but we can't shut down when suddenly we have to start working with the groups that share our message of tolerance in spite of the rest of what they think.

For Bishop Robinson, that meant letting his young Christians know that there will still be a place for them in God's eyes regardless of who they love.

For Soulforce, that means working with other religious groups to help them come to the realization that, just like for them, homosexuality doesn't have to be "an abomination in the eyes of the lord"

Is it the only thing that Foundation Beyond Belief could be spending their money on? I suppose not; but, at last glance, the Human Rights category has nothing in it now. So who is FBB helping by not sponsoring ANYBODY?

Edit: Hemant says, "FBB will be announcing a replacement for Soulforce in our Human Rights category in the next day or two. We just want to be *extra* sure we're not replacing one mistake with another :) I think people will be happy with our decision"

This is an excellent thing. Thanks for the update!