And so there was a lot of fear and terrible desperation

One of the things religion does is create artificial misery. One of the ways religion does this is by making people feel agonizing terror about eternal torture for themselves or people they love or both, or by making them feel agonizing despair and grief at angering or alienating God. This is especially vile when the putative eternal torture or alienation from God is caused by actions or thoughts that are in no way bad. The misery is doubly artificial (and thus gratuitous and cruel) in these situations: there is no eternal punishment, and the putative Sin is not bad or wicked.

The entrenched belief that not being straight is Sin is a classic and still very active example. Consider Peterson Toscano for instance, a survivor of “ex-gay” therapy.

Mr Toscano, now 47, grew up in an average Italian American Catholic home in Upstate New York.

But as a devout Christian, and member of the Evangelical Church, he found it difficult to resolve what he saw as a conflict between his sexual orientation and his faith.

“I was doing something spiritually and morally wrong that I would be punished for in the afterlife. And so there was a lot of fear and terrible desperation,” he told BBC Religion.

That’s horrible. It happens all the time, and it’s horrible.

Humans have more than enough natural misery to deal with. It’s horrible to make up new kinds.


  1. says

    I spent a good deal of my childhood in fear because I did not know whether or not I had done what I had been told was the unforgivable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit. This was drilled into me at my school, and it was not simply a casual thought of whether I may have done it, but genuine terror that I may have done so, and could not escape the hell of fire that was so vividly described for us.

    By imagining other worlds religions create all sorts of abominations: the belief, for example, expressed, I believe, by both Augustine and Aquinas, that one of the pleasures of the redeemed will be to see the punishments of the damned, and not to be moved by it.

    But just think of all those hundreds of years, still ongoing, during which gay men (especially — gay women had no choice in the matter, their choices didn’t count anyway) believed themselves damned by what they were! Lesbians were no doubt redeemed by being forced to be other than they were! Marital rape was, of course, unknown for most of that time. But of course, this is not a new kind misery. It’s almost as old as humankind itself.

  2. says

    I know, and I consider it one of the saddest things about humans.

    And I don’t see how it could be a casual thought for anyone who takes it seriously – and how can children not take it seriously if their trusted adults treat it as serious?

    It’s tragic.

  3. Aratina Cage says

    And these beliefs that people can be forced into straightness or pray away the gay would be made much less powerful if it were not for the parents and other family members believing them, too. The artificial misery such beliefs create will eventually tear apart families that hold them if the LGBT person in the family decides to be out. The whole family is made to be artificially miserable, and there is no predetermined limit to how cruel this will make them toward the LGBT family member.

    I look at things like that, which I have seen happen to people I have loved, and think about how much better it really would be to live in an age where people were not religious. Sure, you would still have fraud and conmen and haters and abusers of all sorts (as the slimepitters have amply demonstrated), but beliefs that take a blind ideological following and lots of brainwashing to hold and affect people you love will not be easy to keep. Religious beliefs are the foundation for much of the inhumane behavior of people we see in the world; without religion, building up a ladder of justifications for this sort of artificial misery would be much more difficult to accomplish.

    Of course some other kind of thing could pop up and have the same effect as religions do currently to sustain such artificial misery (example: McCarthyism), but that is like saying we shouldn’t fight diseases because new diseases could pop up and do the same amount of damage as ones we have been able to prevent. Right now, one of the biggest diseases of humanity is religion, and we have the cure for it: education.

    Then there is this from the BBC article:

    Mr Toscano’s journey eventually showed him a way to reconcile his faith and his sexuality. He now uses his experiences in theatrical performances to raise awareness of the harm therapies trying to change or suppress sexual orientation can cause.

    I feel really badly for gay women and men in particular who get stuck on reconciling religion with their sexuality. Until you have dropped all that nonsense and become a gaytheist (a gay atheist), you have not experienced real liberation.

    As a gaytheist, you can even keep all your values for what it means to be a good person! You don’t have to give them up. But you will find an immense amount of stress lifted from your shoulders when you put down the “Good” Book (or whatever holy text you use) and understand it as the fiction it is and know that there isn’t anyone out there who you as a gay woman or man are beholden to with your sexuality–you are truly free.

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