“These people bring it on themselves.”
“Their hijinks should be held up as an example.”
“We can’t be soft on these people.”
These are some of the reactions I got when I posted a piece of news on my Facebook page and wrote my commentary about it. The piece of news: someone got stuck in a consensual but dangerous situation involving an unconventional sexual activity, called 9-1-1 for help, and then saw the story spread all over the Internet, including lurid details, their name, and the recording of the emergency call.
The reactions to my post came, as far as I can tell, from atheists. Given the context, they were almost certainly atheists. But their anger and contempt wasn’t directed at the people who had exposed the 9-1-1 caller’s identity. It wasn’t directed at all the people ridiculing him online. It didn’t come from a humanist embrace of consensual human sexuality, and it wasn’t directed at those who were dragging this person’s private sex life all over the Internet and taking gleeful pleasure in mocking it.
It was directed at the person who had placed the 9-1-1 call. Why? Because the person who made the call was a Catholic priest.
That’s right, he was a priest. And therefore, according to these atheists on my Facebook page, he had abdicated any right to call 9-1-1 for help when he was in danger without having his sex life go viral. He was a hypocrite. Actually, we don’t know that for sure—we don’t know much about this priest other than what he said in the emergency call, and we don’t know whether he was in a conservative church that practiced a lot of sexual shaming, or a more inclusive one that cherry-picked out the nasty pits of Catholic sexual shame. But he had perpetuated an institution—the Catholic Church—that’s created pointless sexual guilt for exactly the kinds of activities he was engaging in. So, on at least some level, he was a hypocrite. And the punishment for religious hypocrisy—according to these people on my Facebook page—should be the public shaming of his private sexuality and his call for help, even if the result is that other people with unconventional sexual tendencies are now more afraid to call 9-1-1 for fear that they’ll be exposed and humiliated. That’s a price these folks are willing to pay, if it means we can expose yet another religious sexual hypocrite.
If you think I’m exaggerating, here are some other comments from the same discussion: “I am glad he was humiliated”; “You deserve whatever embarrassment is heaped upon you when your hypocrisy is revealed… I am glad that I live in a world where that dbag was forced to own up to his hypocrisy”; “Priests are terrorists and con men”; and “It’s his and his fellow clergy’s fault that ‘unconventional’ sex is taboo. Fuck him.”
I find this profoundly upsetting.
Thus begins my latest “Fierce Humanism” column for The Humanist magazine, Compassion for the Religious. To read more about why I think anger at religion needs to be tempered with compassion for the religious, and why anger at religion needs to be distinguished from hatred, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!