Educating atheists on religious aces

This is being cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda.

Recently, I wrote an article for A Trivial Knot about how aces are affected by Evangelical Christian beliefs about pre-marital sex. This is an important topic, but also an iffy one for me to talk about. While I’m ex-Christian, I’m not ex-Evangelical, and the experiences described are not so similar to my own. Basically, I’m repeating and condensing stories I’ve heard from primary sources, such as the Aces in the Church zine and various bloggers. I worry that maybe I shouldn’t be talking about it at all, except to boost other voices.

But the fact of the matter is that a lot of atheists, especially politically active atheists, already have their own prejudices and presumptions about the experiences of religious aces. I have this platform that reaches a moderate number of progressive atheists, so I feel at least a bit responsible to get them on the right track. Also, atheist activists are not such a friendly group that I want to just send them to primary sources.

This was fresh on my mind at the 2017 SF Ace Unconference, so I attended a session for religious aces. The personal stories shared in that space were confidential and I will keep them that way. I did, however, ask them if they wanted me to share any particular message with my atheist readers.

One thing they felt important to emphasize is that there’s a distinction between asexuality and celibacy. While many Christian communities (all attendees were Christian) may value abstinence or celibacy, they tend to notice that asexuality is different, and be very suspicious of that difference. When other Christians fail to see the difference, that too can be uncomfortable as it is clear they do not really understand.

Also mentioned, religious orders that require celibacy are a deep commitments involving many factors–it is not something to be lightly suggested just because a person is asexual. It just doesn’t work that way.

Many atheists assume that aces get along with Christianity just fine, and it is important to counter that assumption. But I observed that there is also an opposite tendency, to sift through the stories of queer aces to find the one element that just proves that religion poisons everything. In other words, they use our stories as tools. For example, whenever religious queer people are mentioned, it’s common for atheists to say, “Why would they ever stay with their oppressors?” Well, gee, if you were actually listening to people’s stories rather than using them as tools, you would already have some answers to that question.

So why are religious aces staying with their “oppressors”?

The first answer is that they can find communities that aren’t oppressive. Everyone in the session was involved in a relatively LGBT-positive Christian community (which tends to come hand-in-hand with ace-positivity). Some of them had come from more conservative communities, but had left them. Atheist activists focus most of their efforts on what they see as the most harmful religious traditions–justifiably enough. But however justified, religious aces (and religious queer people in general) may not find this very relevant to their experiences. And obviously, if one of your major arguments against religion is based it being a big source of homophobia, that’s inapplicable to churches that aren’t.

Another attendee said that their Christianity was about their relationship with God. It wasn’t about having a community. If the community is bad, then that’s a problem they face in their life, but not a reason to stop being a Christian. (I note that some people do leave Christianity because they have issues with their communities, but that was not the experience of this attendee.)

I could ask an analogous question for atheists–why would any woman want to be an atheist? The atheist community is terribly sexist, and it’s like these women are siding with their oppressors. But as it turns out, people don’t become atheists just for the community. And women who want atheist communities can try to find progressive ones. So it isn’t any real mystery.

So what’s the general lesson for atheists? The relationship between Christianity and asexuality is neither as negative, nor as positive as you might think. It’s okay if you don’t entirely understand the complexities of the relationship, but please admit that you don’t understand them, instead of prejudging what they should be.

For the religious aces out there, please help by keeping me accountable, and grounded in real experiences.


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