I used to teach a university course on diversity in education. The main point of the course was to expose students to people, ideas, cultures, and religions that they knew very little about, while at the same time problematizing our own culture through a Socratic form of questioning. The idea was to “Make the familiar strange and the strange familiar.”
I often invited speakers who were outside of our normal students’ comfort zones in order to put a human face on cultures that they may only have read about it books. At the same time, I would invite speakers who were within what they thought were there comfort zone to surprise them with things they didn’t know about things that they thought were familiar.
One of these was an Episcopal priest. She would start by asking the class what they knew about Christianity. I always had a few students who were devoutly Christian, but most were agnostic or otherwise noncommittal. Either way, the first things out of their mouths would always be answers like:
“No gay people”
About 2/3 through the exercise, they would start to say things like:
“Knocking on doors”
Rarely did they mention the most important Christian themes of forgiveness, love, sacrifice, redemption, and eternal life. Every semester, I learned that young people have an incredibly skewed understanding of Christianity that focuses on forcing morality rather than on the love the Jesus showed in the Gospels. And since they grew up in this culture, these views pretty much extended out to all religion. In their minds, to be “religious” was to be anti-gay, anti-abortion, conservatives who forced their own moral views on everyone else with the threat of eternal damnation.
I don’t believe any of these things, and I don’t believe most Christians do either. I have enough of an understanding of the Bible to know that Jesus struggled greatly against the Pharisees, fellow Jews who were more interested in laws and rules than in God. He taught that the most important commandments were to love God and love your neighbor. Love was his message, yet much of modern society sees him as a poster boy for hatred.
Enter Arizona State State Bill 1062. This bill would specifically codify the rights of business owners to discriminate against gay people based on their religious beliefs. Restaurants, photographers, and presumably even Home Depot outlets could refuse to serve gay people because their religious beliefs do not agree with homosexuality.
In the midst of the controversy surrounding the bill, CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Episcopal Reverend Tony Mendez, who bravely went on television to champion the Christian ideal of love, emphatically stating that hatred of anyone, no matter how much you disagree with them, is not a Christian value. Cooper asked him if, as the bill’s supporters say, religion is under attack in America. Rev. Mendez answers “No.” He states that the first amendment gives us the right to practice any religion we choose, any Americans are doing so freely.
I love this guy – except I disagree with him on one point: Religion IS under attack in America.
It is under attack by people like the legislators who voted for this bill and the Center for Arizona Policy, who supported it. It is under attack by the Conservative Political Action Committee, who just disallowed atheists a booth at their upcoming convention. It us under attack by people like lobbyist Jack Burkman, who plans to introduce legislation that will ban gay football players from the NFL. It is under attack by the very public, yet minority viewpoint that says that Christians – and they get the brunt of it as the majority religion – are supposed to hate and hurt other people.
It’s exactly the opposite of what Christ taught, but these people are teaching and preaching this awfulness in His name. Christ ate with and healed the worst sinners of his day, but these people want to deny them a restaurant table – at their own financial cost – in His name.
In short, this minority group of one faith makes all religious people look like assholes.
As evidenced by the repeated results of the exercise in my class, this small but loud portion of the Christian community has poisoned religion across the country. Christianity, and all religion by extension, has been nailed to the cross of hatred, intolerance, and bigotry. The growing majority doesn’t believe in that, so they’re leaving. More and more people are choosing to define themselves as “Spiritual but not Religious.”
Thankfully, Governor Jan Brewer just vetoed the bill.
Religion IS under attack, but it’s not by gay people who just want to secure the rights to visit their sick partners in the hospital. It is under attack by the subset of Christians who are so obsessed with what people do in their bedrooms that they can’t see straight enough to love their neighbors.