Religion is no excuse for bigotry
If you haven’t heard this sort of apology much in the past, get used to it now, because you’re going to hear it a lot in the next few years. With same-sex marriage on the final stretch towards full legal approval in the UK, there are plenty of people who will be making excuses for their refusal to accept this fact, and particularly their contortions to avoid using the word “marriage” to describe any relationship they don’t approve of.
I’ve been in a similar position myself, and tried to apologise for my views while continuing to promote them and marginalise people as a result. I understand the explanation, and it’s superficially appealing, but it doesn’t really stand up.
When you hold a religious belief, that’s your choice. No one holds a gun to your head and orders you to believe or else, and if they did you’d have bigger problems than the love lives of people whose preferences differ from yours. So appealing to the dictates of your religion as a reason for holding unpleasant views only moves the problem a step back.
Let’s say you start to follow a religion because you consider its central claims to be true or profound or helpful, and unfortunately you find that some unpleasant views seem to be bundled in as part of the package. They can be as unpleasant as your imagination allows – maybe membership of this religion would oblige you to strangle kittens every Sunday morning, or worse, take up morris dancing. Would you really tolerate such a thing? Of course not.
But never fear – religion is not only flexible, but awash with different interpretations of the same basic beliefs. Sacred texts are constantly being reconsidered in the light of secular values, and there’s no shortage of groups who are prepared to combine a religion’s core beliefs with a more cautious understanding of their real-world implications. If you’d really like to be nice to gay people, but your church says no, just join a different church that’s more in tune with your thoughts.
Of course, it’s never that easy. Maybe you think that the liberals are wrong, and however you look at it, the unpleasantness isn’t negotiable, but an essential part of your beliefs. In that case – if you believe that your god absolutely insists on something you consider objectionable – it opens up a whole can of worms.
Maybe the god you believe in commands something even though it’s unpleasant and immoral. That raises awkward Euthyphro-related issues, and prompts the obvious question of why you worship such a monster. Alternatively, maybe your conception of god is right, and homosexuality really is an Abomination Unto Him. In that case, why be apologetic about your beliefs? They’re a moral position in line with divine law and holy writ. Either way, you’re faced with the same issue of choice.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what explanations you make for your beliefs – if you stick to them despite your excuses, you either think they’re right or you’re content to obey them even though you believe they’re wrong. Neither of those is an excuse, neither makes any difference to the people on the receiving end of your prayerful consideration, and both of them ultimately come back to your decision.
We have brains and we can use them. Pleading innocence because you chose to turn yours off and take your orders from someone else is admitting to moral negligence on a grand scale. I’d be much more sympathetic if you were prepared to own your bigotry, instead of hiding behind your god, the ultimate big brother.