(Disclaimer: Yes, I know I said I wasn’t going to blog about politics for a while. Y’all should have known that wasn’t going to happen. Hell, I should have known that wasn’t going to happen. Mistakes were made. Let’s just move on, shall we? Besides, that was four days ago. Why do you keep bringing up old stuff?)
But first — and not tangentially, in fact very much related to it — a few words about Prop 8 and race.
A lot of people are talking about the African American community supporting Prop 8. A lot of people are talking about how the black churches were overwhelmingly against marriage equality. A lot of people are really angry about it. Not so temperately, and not so nicely.
I have a few thoughts about that. Mostly, Pam Spaulding of Pam’s House Blend said what I would have said — and in fact, shaped my thinking about this — so mostly I’m going to just link to what Pam said.
The point in Pam’s piece that jumped out at me most strongly: Yes, African Americans supported Prop 8, by a depressing margin. But African American voters made up only about 10% of the total vote in the California election. It’s disappointing, of course — it’s always disappointing when oppressed people don’t get it about other people’s oppression. But (a) the No on 8 campaign didn’t do nearly enough to reach out to the African American community, and (b) the African American community did not single- handedly lose this election for us.
After all, lots of other demographic groups voted heavily in favor of Prop 8. People over 65, for one. And I don’t see people scapegoating them, or writing vicious diatribes against them, or screaming bigoted epithets at them in the street.
If we’re not going to do that with old people — many of whom are queer, and many of whom are allies — we need to not do that with African Americans. Again, many of whom are queer, and many of whom are allies.
All of which is important. And now, I want to come to my main point.
A lot of people are talking about how the black churches were overwhelmingly against marriage equality, and what we should do about that.
Why is the focus on the “black” side of that sentence?
Why is it not on the “churches” side of that sentence?
Here are some numbers for you. CNN exit polls showed that those who attended church weekly voted against marriage equality, 84%-16%.
Those who attended church only occasionally voted for marriage equality, 54%-46%.
And those who do not attend church at all voted for marriage equality, 83%-17%.
Now. Again. A lot of demographic groups were against us. That, by itself, doesn’t automatically make religion an undeniably huge focal point of this election.
Here’s what makes religion an undeniably huge focal point of this election:
The campaign to ban same-sex marriage — not just in California, but around the country — is not just organized and funded by religious organizations. It is inspired by it. Religion is the driving passion behind this movement. It is the engine propelling the tank; it is the fire fueling the engine.
It seems clear to me that race is really not the issue here — except very tangentially, in that the African American community tends to be a church-going community.
The issue is religion.
There’s something Ingrid said about this, and I’m simultaneously intensely proud of her for thinking of it and kicking myself for not thinking of it myself.
The next time anyone asks, “Why do you atheists care so much about what other people believe?”
This, people, is why we care.
If all people did with their religious beliefs was sit around in the privacy of their homes believing them? I wouldn’t care what they believed. They could sit in their living rooms believing what they believe, and I could sit in my living room believing what I believe, and it would trouble me almost not at all. Certainly not enough to devote my writing career to opposing it.
But people act on their beliefs. And when inspired by religious fervor and a belief that a perfectly loving and good God wants them to act the way they’re acting and will reward them for it with perfect bliss forever after they die, people act with a single-minded energy and focus… and a singular lack of interest in the facts.
See, here’s the thing about religion that makes it such a frustrating player in the political arena. Religion is a belief system based entirely, and explicitly, on authority, tradition, and personal feeling and intuition. And therefore, it is a belief system that can provide an impressively- armored rationalization for just about any opinion and action you care to name. It is a belief system with little or no connection to evidence and reason, and that much of the time is singularly resistant to it.
And so, when religion pops up its head in the political arena, it makes discussion and debate on the actual issues difficult verging on impossible.
Example. When religious believers hear their priests and preachers and so on tell them — oh, say, just for instance — that legalizing same-sex marriage will mean that homosexuality will be taught in grade school, and that anti- same- sex marriage churches will lose their tax-exempt status? And then when they hear teachers’ associations and legal experts saying that that’s ridiculous and it will absolutely do no such thing? Who are they going to believe?
The Yes on 8 campaign lied like dogs in this election. And their lies were extremely difficult to combat. Partly that was because we didn’t have the funding to get our “They’re lying like dogs” message out into the world as much as we needed to. But it was also because the fervent religious believers behind the Yes on 8 campaign trusted their religious leaders — the leaders they trust, the leaders they see as the voice of God, the leaders who provide a cover of divine virtue and authority for the discomfort and bigotry they already feel — before they trusted those dumb old teachers’ associations and legal experts and people with actual evidence supporting their side.
How do you combat that? How do you make arguments to people who think tradition and authority and personal feeling are more valid than reason or critical thinking? How do you provide counter- evidence to people who aren’t all that interested in evidence?
Now. You can argue that this isn’t true for all religious believers. You can argue that not all religious believers supported Prop 8, and that in fact many religious organizations opposed it. And you’d be right.
But if you’re arguing that, then I have a question for you. It’s an actual, “I don’t know the answer” question, btw, not a ranty rhetorical question, and if someone knows the answer, I’d like to hear it.
Where were the progressive, pro-gay religious organizations in this fight?
I don’t mean the MCC and other religious groups specifically organized by and for the LGBT community. I’m sure they were out in full force. I mean non- specifically- gay- focused religious organizations that are still progressive and gay-friendly. The United Church of Christ. The Episcopalians. The Quakers. Reform synagogues. Etc. I know there was some support… but were they out for us in anything like the numbers, and with anything like the fervor and passion, and with anything like the devotion of time and resources, that the Mormon and Catholic and Evangelical churches had in opposing us?
I sure as hell didn’t see it.
Way too much of the time, when it comes to religion, it seems that
T.S. Eliot William Butler Yeats hit the nail on the head: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.” Sure, the progressive churches are more or less on our side. But they don’t seem to have anywhere near the energy and focus; the passionate intensity that raises money and mobilizes volunteers and gets the vote out.
I know, I know. There were a lot of issues in this election, and a lot of things were against us, and our organization almost certainly made some serious mistakes. But religion clearly played a massive role in the Yes on 8 campaign, and I think we’re burying our heads in the sand if we act as if that isn’t true.
So what do we do about it?
(To be continued tomorrow.)