Is it because religion has let us down? Is it because so much traditional religion is so grotesquely homophobic? Is it because priests molest children and the Catholic Church blames it on gays; because the Mormon Church spent millions to block same-sex marriage in California; because the evangelical Christian Right has used revulsion and fear of homosexuality to advance their political agenda?
Or is there, perhaps, another reason?
There was a recent article in The Advocate from out lesbian deacon Lisa Larges, arguing that LGBT people should not leave their religion and treat it as an enemy, but should instead stay in the churches and other religious organizations and fight for gay rights within them.
Much of what she writes I agree with (I certainly don’t object to the idea of fighting against homophobia in organized religion). And some of it I take issue with, but am willing to let slide for the purposes of this post.
But this has really stuck in my craw:
Letâs also say, while we’re still here in the first paragraph, that whatever the church or its representatives did to you — whatever abuse, whatever violation of trust, whatever was said to make you believe that you were not a child of God in your whole beautiful queer self, whatever the silence in which you did not hear how infinitely and immeasurably God loves you — whatever drove you out of the church is simply inexcusable.
Okay. Deep breath. Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean.
Here is the problem.
I am sick unto death of non-believers being treated like sad lost sheep or wounded birds. I am sick unto death of my atheism being treated like an illness to be cured. I am sick unto death of my atheism being treated like a tragedy.
You want to know why I don’t believe that I am a child of God? You want to know why I don’t believe that God infinitely and immeasurably loves me? It’s not because I was abused or my trust was violated. It’s not because I was wounded or stunted by my religious upbringing (I didn’t have one). It’s not because so much traditional religion is so hateful and damaging to queers.
It’s because I don’t believe in God.
And you know what? My atheism is not a source of weakness or sadness. In fact, it is a source of great strength and joy. I was able to leave religious belief when I became strong enough to stop hanging onto ideas simply because I found them comforting, even though they weren’t supported by any good evidence. I was able to leave religious belief when I was able to say that the joy of this life is enough, and that I don’t need to believe in an eternal after-life to find more than enough meaning and happiness in this ephemeral one. And being part of the growing atheist community has become one of the great joys of my life: a source of education, insight, friendship, mind- expansion, and just flat- out giggles.
Besides — it’s just not that hard to find queer- positive churches. A quick Google search on the phrase “gay churches” turns up over seven million hits, with two separate directories of gay- friendly churches coming up in the top three, and the MCC coming right behind that. Any LGBT believer with a computer who’s mad at their conservative church has access to these resources. It’s harder if they’re in Rural Nowhere, to be sure; but it’s just not that hard to figure out that you don’t have to hate queers to be Christian. If somebody really wants those options, they’ll find them… or at the very least, they’ll find that they exist.
The idea that people become atheists because they’re angry at God or religion is one of the most insidious myths that are held about us. (In fact, it’s Number 7 on my Eleven Myths About Atheists.) It’s the kind of thing that people like Rick Warren say about us. And it’s flatly untrue. Atheists — queer, straight, whatever — aren’t angry with God, any more than we’re angry with Zeus, unicorns, or the Tooth Fairy. We don’t believe in God. That’s the whole point of being an atheist. You can’t be angry with something that you don’t believe exists.
It’s true that anger is sometimes a starting point for a journey out of religion. Like I said in my Eleven Myths piece: The realization that religious leaders were lying to them; the growing awareness that religion doesn’t deliver on what it promises; the sense that if an all- powerful God really existed he’d be a sadistic bastard… any or all of this can be the first crack in the foundation of religious belief. And it’s certainly true that LGBT people have more reasons than most to be royally pissed about religion. If anger about religion’s cruelties and hypocrisies is sometimes the first step to the understanding that the emperor has no clothes, it shouldn’t be surprising to find disproportionate numbers of queers in the Naked Emperor Brigade. (If indeed we are… which I’m not at all sure of.)
But people who leave religious belief don’t generally leave it because they’re angry. People who are angry with religion, but who still believe? They tend to look for a different religion. Anger may be the starting point for rejecting religion… but from my observation and experience, it is rarely the final straw. People don’t leave religion because they’re angry. They leave because they’ve become convinced that religion isn’t supported by any solid evidence, and doesn’t really make any sense. They leave because they no longer believe.
You want to know how the churches have failed us? They’ve failed to provide convincing evidence for God’s existence.
You want to know what the churches can do to bring us back? Come up with some better evidence, or some better arguments.
And in the meantime, please stop treating us like sad, wounded victims, who don’t understand that God loves us.