My issues with queer-positive Christianity

In the recent discussion of antitheism, Alex Gabriel brought up his personal experience as a queer atheist:

I keep hearing from believers who take great pains to convince me they don’t hate gay people. Jesus never said anything about it, they tell me, and scripture has been misinterpreted, and the real sinners are homophobes, so for heaven’s sake let that be the end of it. I find that conversation hard, mainly because it never feels like it’s meant to be a conversation. I get the sense I’m expected to nod and sympathise, that my role in the discussion is to validate their feelings, not say what I actually think. It’s as if only part of me gets invited to speak: I’m allowed to oppose religious homophobia as a queer person, but not to critique religion in other forms as a queer atheist. I’m not being asked to participate in a dialogue—just to tell Christians what they want to hear.

As a queer atheist, this is an experience I share. And this is worth ranting about.

A Catholic story

In high school, one of my best friends was gay. I didn’t have the slightest clue about it. I didn’t find out until several years later. He knew it himself, but he didn’t tell people, because my high school was Catholic. Instead, he only told his Catholic parents, and apparently they did not take it well.
[Read more…]

The nice antitheist strategy

Alex Gabriel has an important essay, “My atheism will not be politically correct“, which discusses antitheism, and discusses the discussion surrounding antitheism. It’s common for many atheists to say that they are no longer antitheists, saying they now realize religion is not the most important problem in the world, and religion sometimes even helps people in times of tragedy. Furthermore, a lot of atheists are jerks and they find more allies among religious people.

Alex’s critique is that all these points, while they may have some merit, are unrelated to the issue of antitheism.  The only question is, would the world be a better place without religion in it?

At the surface, this might just seem to be a disagreement over how we define “antitheism”. But it’s more than that, it’s about how we choose that definition in the first place, and for what purpose. Many atheists choose to define “antitheism” as an extremist position, one that they contrast with their own position. This rhetorical strategy renders oneself more palatable to religious people, basically by throwing other atheists under the bus. Alex prefers a different strategy, where he doesn’t hold his tongue just to make religious people comfortable.

I also unhesitatingly identify as an antitheist, although for not quite the same reasons. I strive for a particular image: a radical queer atheist who is nonetheless very nice. In other words, I aim to break stereotypes. I do not think that this is something everyone needs to do; rather, I myself am well-positioned to do it, so why shouldn’t I do it? And an important part of breaking atheist stereotypes is making it clear that I am in fact an atheist, and why yes I even oppose the “nice” religions and do not think they are very nice at all.

[Read more…]

Why isn’t homosexuality (or religion) a mental disorder?

In a comment discussion last month, we touched on the question of whether religion could ever be considered a mental disorder. This is a common idea among atheists, sometimes expressed as a joke, or sometimes claimed seriously. I am not mentally ill, so I would defer to other people to explain why it is wrong to compare religion and mental illness even as a joke. Here I will ignore the jokes and consider only the serious question: Why isn’t religion a mental disorder?

According to the DSM-5,

A mental disorder is a syndrome characterized by clinically significant disturbance in an individual’ s cognition, emotion regulation, or behavior that reflects a dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning. Mental disorders are usually associated with significant distress or disability in social, occupational or other important activities. An expectable or culturally approved response to a common stressor or loss, such as the death of a loved one, is not a mental disorder. Socially deviant behavior (e.g., political, religious, or sexual) and conflicts that are primarily between the individual and society are not mental disorders unless the deviance or conflict results from a dysfunction in the individual, as described above. [emphasis mine]

There you go. Religious behavior isn’t a mental disorder because the DSM-5, an authoritative document, says so. However, you could be forgiven for not taking the DSM’s word for it. Let’s dig deeper.

Look at what else has been excluded from mental disorders: socially deviant sexual behavior. This exclusion arises from a famous controversy, which led to the declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder in the DSM in 1973. And until 1987, homosexuality remained as a mental disorder (“Sexual Orientation Disturbance” and later “Ego-dystonic Homosexuality”) as long as the patient was distressed about their orientation. The architect of these decisions was psychiatrist Robert Spitzer. I believe that Spitzer himself offers the best insight into the definition of mental disorders.

[Read more…]

Inheritance of sin

In my Catholic education, we learned that Adam and Eve committed original sin, which released evil upon the world. I don’t recall to what extent Adam and Eve were literally real people, but that was beside the point. The point was that original sin causes temptation, temptation leads to sin, and sin leads to evil.

I have heard many critiques of the content of Christian morality (e.g. homosexuality is a condition like alcoholism, no sex before marriage) and its methodology (e.g. it is right/wrong because God said so), but relatively few critiques of the most common frameworks. Temptation, whatever pedagogical value it might have for kids, can be quite damaging when it’s your primary moral framework. Temptation produces a strong association between sin and anything mildly hedonistic. People sin because it feels good, so if you feel good you must be doing something wrong.

The concept of sin itself also has many problems. It refers to wrongdoing, but it is also the source of all evil. Therefore, any evil arising from natural causes must also come from wrongdoing. How does bad behavior produce bad weather? Apparently sin kinda floats around and sticks to people. Or maybe sinning sets in motion an invisible Rube Goldberg machine–a Rube Goldberg machine of evil. The mechanism has never been very clear.
[Read more…]

Five awful things about “God’s not Dead”

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2014.  I thought it might be relevant, given that God’s Not Dead now has a sequel.

I saw God’s Not Dead, a Christian film that appears to be based on that absurd chain e-mail about the brave Christian student who faces down an atheist professor.  This movie got a 16/100 on metacritic, but still ended up a big box office success.  If you want to know what happens in it without watching it, I recommend this synopsis.

In the world of God’s Not Dead, atheists are horrible people who mock their girlfriends in public, abandon people close to them when they’re dying, and secretly hate god.  The movie joyously depicts atheists dying by cancer or car accidents, and gloats over their last minute conversions.  Also, all atheist arguments are arguments from authority or assertion (oddly, so are the Christian arguments).

But a lot of that has already been said.  So here I present five things that were awful or bizarre about God’s Not Dead that had nothing to do with atheism.

[Read more…]

Specialness personified

One difference I’ve noted between me and my robot boyfriend is that he wants to celebrate holidays on the designated day. I, on the other hand, don’t particularly care if our celebrations are off by a week or more. In fact, I just don’t get holidays in general. I never would have thought to invent them myself.

Holidays are all about declaring a particular day special. And then we go on to do something special, or maybe we just talk about something special. Sometimes it’s nice to have some variety in the things we do and what we talk about, but it’s only nice. It’s not special to me at all.

Another thing I don’t get are graduations. While variety is nice, dressing in a gown and receiving a piece of paper is not really the sort of variety I ever would have thought to ask for. I find it bizarre, and thoroughly unpleasant. And yet I’m still expected to participate and express enthusiasm about it. People seem to operate under the belief that everyone finds graduation special, and if I admit I don’t find it special, then I’m being ungrateful.

This is also a metaphor for religion.
[Read more…]