By Carolyn Baker PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 03 October 2010
His face is everywhere-on the internet, on TV, and throughout print media-that gentle, timid, barely-smiling young man with red hair, glasses, and a prodigious talent for playing the classical violin. I’m talking about Tyler Clementi, the freshman student at Rutgers who suicided last week after his roommate video taped him having sex with another man then uploaded the video to You Tube for all the world to see. Four other young people killed themselves in the last three weeks because of wrenching internal conflicts regarding their sexual orientation. Their faces were not as widely seen as Tyler’s, but they remain casualties of a culture in which meanness-whether related to homophobia, bullying, or demented religiosity is epidemic.

The subject comes close to home for me. Four decades ago, I could have been Tyler or any of these sweet kids who decided that life was not worth living if they must choose between death and an existence in which they would be forced to murder their souls and be someone they were not. Fortunately, I survived and at a time when there was virtually no sanity, support, or substantial research on the topic-and during a time when many more suicides were committed over sexual orientation than today and with the real reasons undisclosed.

Yes I know, in some countries, such as Iran and Uganda, gay and lesbian people are routinely imprisoned, put to death, or assassinated. Bullying, rather than happening randomly among the citizenry, has been institutionalized in the legal systems of those nations. And in some ways, that might be easier to deal with, would it not? One realizes one lives in a culture that maintains a barbaric attitude toward sexual orientation where in order to be who one really is, one must leave the country. The opposition to homosexuality is ubiquitous and daunting, rather than irregular, unpredictable, and in Tyler’s case, uber hypocritical. It was not Fred Phelps of “God Hates Fags” who videotaped him and You Tubed his sexual activity, but rather a roommate who proclaimed tolerance and neutrality on the topic of sexual orientation.

Mainstream media myopically attempts to analyze this carnage in the limited context of bullying without connecting dots to the larger picture of a planet that appears to be increasingly marinated in anger. Last year, author and spiritual teacher, Caroline Myss, wrote in a Huffington Post article entitled “An Epidemic of Global Anger“:

We are a community of nations on fire with anger. And we are getting angrier by the day. Whether we look at the increase in uprisings occurring around the world or at the escalating tension brewing in America, what is becoming more apparent is that we are witnessing a rapidly increasing rate of global anger, so much so that it qualifies as an epidemic

For nearly a decade I have been writing and speaking incessantly about the convergence of the Three E’s: energy, economy, and environment and the unprecedented suffering the earth community is experiencing as a result of the deepening crises created by this convergence. The human race is angry, and perhaps the planet itself, but it is within the belly of industrial civilization that young men and women are killing themselves because of who they love.

This is also the civilization that has distorted the core teachings of Christianity beyond recognition, particularly in the area of love and sexuality. To a large extent, this is one of the tragic legacies of early Colonial Puritanism in the United States. More recently in the nineteenth century, one school of mainstream Protestantism dramatically diverged in a more conservative direction and gave birth to what we now know as fundamentalist Christianity. Irish minister, John Nelson Darby, began preaching a strain of apocalyptic theology that emphasized the imminent return of Christ and proclaimed that when evil is seen in a society, Christians should rejoice because it is evidence of the second coming. Since then, the growth of fundamentalist Christianity in the United States has exploded, but it was not until the George W. Bush administration of this decade that this historically new strain of the Christian faith in America blatantly sought to eliminate the separation of church and state and establish theocratic governance based on the principles of Christian fundamentalism.

Intellectually immersed in a literal interpretation of the bible and, in my opinion, emotionally terrified of the notion of same gender attraction, American fundamentalist Christianity has pronounced it as an abomination in the eyes of God. Yet the research I gathered for my 2007 book, Coming Out of Fundamentalist Christianity, suggests that significant numbers of individuals who identify as homosexual in the United States have been influenced by fundamentalist Christianity at some point in their lives. In the 1980s a number of fundamentalist movements claiming to “cure” individuals of homosexual attraction began to proliferate in this country and are still drawing in men and women from fundamentalist backgrounds who hope to be liberated from same-gender attraction. In countless cases, the “cure” has been psychologically devastating to individuals who have chosen it, and in fact, author Wayne Besen who has researched the “Ex-Gay” movement extensively writes that Ex-Gay therapy is nothing less than scandalous.

Nevertheless, the extent to which fundamentalist Christianity has influenced the American political system is painfully obvious. Without exception, Tea Party candidates are vehemently opposed to homosexual orientation and gay marriage. And although Tea Party candidates vary slightly in their opposition to abortion, illegal immigration, Social Security, unemployment benefits, and Medicare, their intellectually impaired agenda is conspicuously informed by a fundamentalist Christian perspective based on a literal interpretation of the bible and a predominantly Anglo-American perspective of privilege and xenophobia.

Moreover, as we learned last week, atheists and agnostics know more about religion than people who profess to be religious. One finding in the Pew Religious Survey revealed that many of the religious are devoted readers of the bible but, “More than a third (37%) say they read the Bible or other Holy Scriptures at least once a week, not counting worship services. But Americans as a whole are much less inclined to read other books about religion. Nearly half of Americans who are affiliated with a religion (48%) say they “seldom” or “never” read books (other than Scripture) or visit websites about their own religion, and 70% say they seldom or never read books or visit websites about other religions.”

Intellectual integrity demands that anyone who embraces any belief system investigates its origin and history. All religions and belief systems have their light and dark sides, but fundamentalist Christians overall tend either to be unaware of the dark side of Christianity or to minimize it. In her stunning 1995 book The Dark Side of Christian History, Helen Ellerbe notes the principal danger in doing so:

Ignoring the dark side of Christian history allows the beliefs which have motivated cruelty to go unexamined. The belief in a singular face of God who reigns at the pinnacle of a hierarchy sustained by fear has devastating consequences. People must constantly determine who is superior to whom. Every aspect which differentiates people whether it be gender, race, belief, sexual preference, or soci-economic status, becomes a criterion by which to rank an individual as either better than or less than another. And it is the ranking and subordination of a person’s humanity and value that comprises sexism, racism, and the intolerance of difference. (186-187)

The key word in Ellerbe’s assessment is, I believe, cruelty. Any altruism provided to the suffering masses by any belief system is unequivocally mitigated by theological underpinnings which promote racism, sexism, homophobia-and I would add, disregard for the ecosystems. Don’t tell me how much good you’re doing in the world when you justify your profligate lifestyle by distorting the Old Testament declaration that humans have “dominion” over the earth, when you pathologize people for who they love, when you attempt to rid your country of the “scourge” of illegal immigrants, and when you demand the end of abortion for any reason, including rape and incest, because those are “part of God’s plan.”

When empires collapse, there are rarely enough scapegoats to go around, and the collapse of industrial civilization is no an exception. The global anger epidemic is real, and rage on the political right in the United States is palpable. Fundamentalist Christians, some of whom are Tea Party candidates, insist that the empire is not collapsing, but instead point to world events and behavior that defies their dogma as proof that the second coming of Christ is imminent and will rescue them from an apocalypse. Thus, their objective is to save as many souls as possible and acquire as much political power as quickly as possible in order to restrain and punish the evildoers. During the process of collapse, previous empires in human history have frequently been replete with acrimonious religious and political sects, escalating violence, scapegoating, and myriad schemes for rescuing a society in tatters from the “bad guys.”

So they welcome an apocalypse, but sadly, fundamentalist Christians do not understand that the original meaning of “apocalypse” was “unveiling.” Let’s see, what exactly is being unveiled? A way of life based on power and control sanctioned by abusive religious dogma; the scapegoating of all who live on the fringes of the despicable paradigm on which industrial civilization is based; the delusional assumption that economic growth is endless or even desirable; the infantile loathing of placing limits on humans in relation to climate chaos, the ecosystems, and all other species that occupy this planet; the implacable determination to rape, plunder, and pillage every centimeter of earth in search of resources and profit? Yes, the bankruptcy of civilization’s paradigm is being revealed in its demise, portending the possibility that as humanity stands on the threshold of annihilation, it will forsake the old paradigm and embrace not only a new paradigm but become a new human species.

At the same time that I call out fundamentalist Christianity in order to expose it for what it is, I call out my LGBT sisters and brothers who have been myopically focused on gay marriage and the right to bear or adopt children legally within marriage to question the kind of future your children will have as crises converge. As we champion our rights, we must ask what our responsibilities are. In response to fundamentalism’s literal interpretation of the biblical assertion that humans have “dominion” over the earth, we must illumine and counter this distortion of an Old Testament directive to be conscientious stewards of the earth by living accordingly.

As the severity of the convergence of crises exacerbates, we can expect to see more fundamentalist Christians in power and their voices becoming ever more cacophonous and cruel.

So what can be done?

  • We can research and prepare for the escalating consequences of the Three E’s. A number of resources may be found at my website.
  • We can disengage from global and national politics and direct our energy toward local solutions which the Three E’s will increasingly force us to address in our neighborhoods and communities.
  • We can expose the politics of fundamentalism in all religions, and in the United States, the ghastly misinterpretation of American history by Christian fundamentalists and their doctrine of scapegoating all who do not imbibe the Kool Aid with them.
  • As economic collapse intensifies and services and educational programs evaporate, we can reach out as individuals and in our neighborhoods and communities to those targeted by scapegoating-our LGBT brothers and sisters, immigrants, at-risk youth, the unemployed, the homeless, and all who are different from us in every way.

Indeed homophobia and oppressive belief systems are not new, but at this historical juncture, they are escalating in the context of the disintegration of industrial civilization and the paradigm that has fostered it for nearly 5,000 years. This means that their influence is almost guaranteed to intensify and therefore, so too must our response.

Carolyn Baker, Ph.D., is the author of Coming Out of Fundamentalist Christianity: An Autobiography Affirming Sensuality, Social Justice and The Sacred (2007) and Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse (2009). She manages the Speaking Truth to Power website at http://www.carolynbaker.net/.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 03 October 2010 )

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  1. October 4, 2010 at 3:48 am

    It sounds like you’ve had some bad experiences with “Christians” – we’re sorry to hear that. We would like to point out that all Christians are people too, equally as prone to fault. Christianity (as a religion) has fallen quite a ways away from the original intent (as a relationship with Jesus Christ) , and resulted in quite a big mess. To clarify, Jesus Christ died as a sacrifice for us, to redeem us and restore us into a right relationship with God, should we so choose. He accepts all who come to Him equally, regardless of their background and lifestyle, and molds us into his image from there. Those who follow Christ should be displaying this love (although like Christ, saying “go and sin no more”) to the world. We pray that you will experience the love of Christ in your life, as it is an incredible thing.

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