Religion is no excuse for bigotry

Bible“I’m really sorry, I don’t hate you and I’m not a bigot, but I can’t deny what the Bible says.”

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.

House of GodOf 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.

Images courtesy of Nafrea and doclecter, used with permission

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

12 responses to “Religion is no excuse for bigotry”

  1. Karin says :

    Where Christianity is concerned it’s not so much a matter of reconsidering texts such as the Bible in the light of secular values, but realising that to some extent people read into them things that aren’t really there, or are only hinted at such as the doctrine of hell.

    Of course there do appear to be examples of homophobia in both the Old and New Testament, but same sex sex is bareley mentioned and people at the time didn’t know about homosexuality. What tended to happen was that men married as they were expected to do and in some cultures it was seen as fairly normal if they also cavorted with, usually younger, men. There was little or no concept of men who didn’t fancy women or women who didn’t fancy men.

    There is no record of Jesus saying anything at all about same sex sex let alone loving same sex relationships. Some people think the centurion’s servant could have been his (the centurion’s) lover, but that is only conjecture. However, there is therefore no reason for followers of Jesus to think he would disapprove of same sex relationships and he clearly sought out those marginalised and shunned by society.

    The other reason understanding of Christian texts changes is due to modern techniques in Bible scholarship which help us to understand that the first people to call Jesus Son of God, such as Paul and Mark, might not have meant anyone to take them literally. The Messiah, like King David was deemed to be a son of God, i.e. someone after God’s own heart. Each Caesar was also deemed to be a son of God and the Pharoahs were also deemed to be divine. Calling Jesus the Son of God, might have been a way of insisting he claimed our first allegiance, not the Emperor or the government.

    Believing that Jesus called people to follow God’s Way of peaceful, just and compassionate living, is quite different from believing what Evangelicals or Fundamentalists believe. It’s Christianity, just as a banana, a crab apple and deadly nightshade berry are all fruits. We don’t tell people they can’t eat fruit because deadly nightshade berries are poisonous.

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      For sure, there are issues of interpretation involved, but at the same time, it’s amazing how closely religious doctrine tends to track secular values. If it was simply a matter of finding the best interpretation of timeless texts, you wouldn’t expect to see that.

      • Karin says :

        Most people, in or outside of the Church are sheep, if you like, who go with the general flow of the culture and society around them. So, there may be messages in the Bible which are ignored by most people even though a small minority acknowledge them. Then something happens to make that idea more popular.

        Sometimes Christians have led the way, such as in the case of anti-slavery movement, although being part of the Establishment the Leadership of the Church of England is unlikely to lead the way.

        Now we live in a secular society minority groups of Christians are still working for greater equality and justice in society alongside a minority non-Christians.

        The Majority and the Establishment are always less interested in changing the status quo in favour of the poor and the marginalised etc.

  2. Neil Rickert says :

    Here’s the really important thing that the Bible says on this issue:

    “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

    • mgm75 says :

      That is contradicted by believers being asked to make “righteous judgement”. That’s the excuse I always get when I hear Christians justifying their bigotries.

  3. Sabio Lantz says :

    I agree.
    Bigotry is ugly, but protecting your bigotry with “because God said” is the ugliest

  4. Tbeebee says :

    Although we may be small in number there is no doubt a Quaker meeting near you, we have been campaigning for many years for same sex marriages to be legalised and so we can carry out marriages for all, regardless of gender.
    I am not here to recruit anyone I promise, but if you believe god loves all of us, Jesus loves all of us or there is just a spirit in the universe or something greater keep us in mind, you are all loved for who you are. Think for yourself. Thank you reading 🙂

    • Karin says :

      I wish there were a like button on the comments. I would have clicked it for the last 3.

      If I had more time I would go to my local Quaker meeting from time to time. I love the sense of peace when sitting in silence and I the accepting attitude of many Quakers and their emphasis on Justice and Peace.

      However, I also like the parish set-up of CoE, which enables church to help local people and have found an Inclusive church within walking distance. I sometimes like to sing, too.

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      The Quakers are definitely on the right side of most issues, and if I were starting from scratch and looking for a church (neither is actually the case) they’d be very high on my list.

      I think I’m way past the point of thinking of myself in terms of how I relate to this or that church, but I’m always glad when people of any background are on the side of the angels.

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