Sunday, February 25, 2024

Religion, Homophobia and Ignorance

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By E Dhar

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
– George Orwell

The world evolves over the course of time; it’s an undeniable fact. Our society witnessed this change in just a span of decades; from having a written language, to driving automobiles, change in religious beliefs and so on. However, what is still persistent is the adamant belief of many communities that their knowledge and ways are the “best” but an alternate belief is, in a way, inferior. It’s alright to be proud to belong to a certain group as long as respect is given towards others. And it took millennia of senseless violence and bloodshed for us to realize the basic truth of equality, liberty and fraternity. Whether it is America, Europe, Asia or Africa, similar events have taken place. It is with this knowledge in mind that great revolutionaries and freedom fighters (including our own) decided to put humanity above ethnic and religious divisions when writing the constitution.
One of the weaknesses of our society is its hasty judgment on individuals whose personal lifestyle conflicts with its beliefs. This judgment is all the more evident when it comes especially to matters of faith. The first judgment is that a person who lives contrary to a prevailing religion is under the influence of sin. The second judgment is seeing whether the ‘misguided’ person will convert to the ‘right’ way. The third judgment is that if the person refuses to comply, he should be kept at an arm’s length from the main group until and unless he ‘mends’ his ways. Now, I agree that we as a people have managed (to an extent) to set our ideological differences aside for peace. Yet, we haven’t progressed to the point of seeing the good in others without making assumptions about them first.
This brings me to the issue of homosexuality. Often, if the majority learns that a certain individual is gay, the reaction is outright suspicion and alienation. Why? Because it goes against their beliefs. For instance, many Christians denounce homosexuality because the Bible (Leviticus, 20: 13) speaks against it. This is used as a justification for the discrimination against gays. But I wonder if they are also aware that the Bible also speaks of other rules that we deem heinous today.
One good example is slavery. In Exodus 21:20-21, “When a slave-owner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives for a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.” Evidently, the Bible dictates that if the slave dies an immediate death, the master shall be punished. But if it’s a slow death, that master is free. Perfect logic, isn’t it? Why don’t we continue treating people like property when the Scriptures approve it? And if God doesn’t agree with slavery, at least a commandment or an advice could’ve been given to us. It would’ve shortened the time it took to make slavery illegal.
Regarding war and rape:
(Numbers 31:15-18) – Moses was angry with the officers of the army-the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds-who returned from the battle. “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them, “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
And then there’s violent intolerance:
(Deuteronomy 13:6-9) – If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people.
I do not mean to offend Christians since every religion in the past has had similar problems. But this is to inform the people what ignorance and intolerance can do to humanity. These days, we don’t condone slavery or war or kill unbelieving family members. We live our lives in peace and do not interfere on personal matters (most of the time).Recently, Pope Francis said that the Church’s obsession with gays, abortion and birth control without finding a proper balance meant its moral beliefs risked falling like a house of cards. This is a good step by the Pope in trying to mend bonds with the world and I sincerely hope that the Church will continue to try and keep up with the modern era.
There are a number of gross errors many people have about gays. The first is that gays are sexual maniacs and therefore choose to sleep with the same gender. What is the basis of this judgment? Whose studies did they read to come to that conclusion? Modern psychology has shown that homosexuals are no different from heterosexuals in personality. In 1990, based on extensive research, the World Health Organization recognized that homos-exuality and same-sex romance is a natural and positive variation of human sexual orientation. Second, to those who say that homosexuality is ‘unnatural’, zoologists have discovered that even animals do shown same-sex attractions. Dolphins, penguins, bonobos, giraffes, lions, etc., show that this behaviour is quite common in the animal kingdom. The third error is that homosexuals are sexual predators. This is preposterous considering the fact that a vast majority of rape and molestation have been perpetrated by heterosexual men. If heterosexuals are judged by the same standard that gays are subjected to, then it should be forbidden for any man to be near a woman even if they are related. Scientific research has found no evidence showing that homosexuals are more likely to become sexual predators than hetero-sexuals. This stereotyping of gays is no different from the white supremacists’ past assumption that African-Americans were deviants who raped white women (a belief dealt in the book ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ by Harper Lee). Lastly, gays do not become gays because they choose to. If that were the case, why would anyone willfully choose to be gay knowing that they could be ostracized and treated like a criminal?
And neither are gays handicapped because of their orientation. How many people know that Leonardo Da Vinci was gay? Michelangelo, another equally important artist showed signs of being gay and devoted a sonnet to a man, Tommaso dei Cavalieri. Jane Addams, the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for her dedication to the poor, the children and world peace, was a lesbian. Alan Turing, a mathematical genius and a pioneer of computer science was condemned by the court for ‘indecency’ and pardoned only this year, 60 years after committing suicide. It is no surprise that a large number of homosexuals experience depression and anxiety because of social stigma. Research has shown that homosexual youths have one of the highest rates of suicide attempts. Efforts to change them through gay ‘conversion therapies’ (described as fraudulent by many psychologists) have not only failed but made depression worse.
How should society respond to this? Should you add insult to their wounds with derogatory words like ‘sodomite’, ‘faggot’ or ‘butch’? This world can’t be fixed by dogma and condemnation. It is during times like this that a person can demonstrate himself to be either compassionate or fault-finding. When Pope Francis was enquired about gays, the reply was many: “Who am I to Judge?”; “Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.”; “`Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being.”
Let religion express its views, but let it also respect every individual decision without showing discrimination, arrogance or hostility. Then God will have faith in religion too.

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