In recent times, it seems like religion, including Islam, the Catholic Church, the Republican Party and the Religious Right keep getting hit by sex scandals – gay sex scandals – every other week. What is going on? Are these institutions loosing their grip on their members? Or are the members no longer believing or following the institutional moral compass? Or is there a double standard?
“Hypocrisy is the homage which vice pays to virtue”
– François de la Rochefoucauld
Once again, the Catholic Church is rocked to its foundations by a gay sex scandal. A Papal Gentleman-in-Waiting is alleged to have enlisted the services of a chorister to procure the services of male prostitutes. In other news, a California State Senator – a 55-year-old husband and father of four – who consistently voted against gay rights measures during his 14 years in office has announced he is gay, following a DUI (driving under the influence) arrest.
What is worrying is the fact that these people whose deeds were brought to light felt they had to lead double lives – one lived for appearance’s sake and the other (their true selves) in a deep, dark closet for fear of being found out.
It is sad that these people had to live a life of shame, living in the shadow of the fear of our condemnation and piercing looks and poisonous tongues. It is sad that people like them have to live a false life because we – their peers – cannot accept their intrinsic way of being.
It is evident that conservative institutions have set standards of morality that many of its members cannot aspire to reaching in reality, and not because they do not want to – indeed, they’d love to – but because they cannot. With the advancement of science and the availability of new knowledge, we now know that heterosexuality for some members of the population is impossibility.
Religion and the taboo subject
The world’s major faith groups are generally based on four main foundations: revelation in the form of a holy text; religious tradition; logic and reason; and personal experience. The more conservative movements tend to stress revelation and tradition. Their beliefs are anchored to the past and their beliefs are much less amenable to change. They generally regard homosexuality as a deviant and disordered behaviour, which is immoral, changeable, chosen, abnormal and unnatural.
Orthodox Judaism considers all homosexual behaviour as inherently sinful, even when it occurs within a loving, committed relationship.
Among Islamic scholars, there is a consensus that all humans are naturally heterosexual. Homosexuality is therefore seen by scholars to be a sinful and perverted deviation from the norm. All Islamic schools of thought and jurisprudence consider gay acts to be unlawful.
While Catholicism does not condemn homosexuality outright, its teaching is that homosexual acts “are intrinsically disordered”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states unequivocally: “Under no circumstances can they be approved.”
But what they all fail to consider is that for homosexual people, it is the heterosexual acts that are “intrinsically disordered” and “unnatural”.
In God’s wisdom and perfection, He made a certain proportion of the population homosexual. And this is found not only in human beings, but also in the greater animal and plant kingdoms as well. Just as some people are born left-handed or ambidextrous, others are born homosexual or bisexual. And no-one teaches people how to be left-handed or ambidextrous.
With such jaundiced, heavy-hitting morality and asceticism being instilled in children at a very young age, it is no surprise, then, that they grow up feeling obligated to get married and have two and a half kids and dog and a white picket fence to show that they are a part of the ‘upright’ community and not ‘one of them’. So these kids do just that and live the rest of their lives miserable and making other people miserable along with them.
Just the other day, a video emerged showing the pastor of a Connecticut church performing a ‘gay exorcism’ on a bewildered teenager, trying to frighten and shock the ‘gay devil’ out of the poor boy. That would cause any good, Christian boy to pretend to be ‘regular’ and without a ‘gay devil’. But like Gary Gray in the book “God Says No”, getting married ‘like you should’ does not stop such people from anonymous trysts in public bathrooms, parks and other secret locations, followed by a prayer on bended knee. That is one heck of an awful guilty trip!
In recent times, there have been lots of public figures with strong religious backgrounds who have been caught – sometimes, literally ‘pants down’ – in some gay scandal: evangelical pastor Ted Haggard, New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig, now California Republican Senator Roy Ashburn and the dozens of Catholic clergy, to name a few.
Morality of double standards
But with all the lip service paid to morality, religions seem to have a double standard when it comes to homosexuality. The Catholic Church has long had an unwritten, unspoken, unacknowledged, but well-known ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. And of course, we’ll deny it vehemently. After Pope Benedict XVI was elected pope, in an attempt to clamp down on gays in the priesthood, the Congregation for Catholic Education issued an “instruction” prohibiting any individual who “present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture'”, or any individual having had such “tendencies” within the past three years, from entry to seminary, and thus from joining the priesthood.
Studies into homosexuality in the Catholic priesthood suggest that there are higher than average numbers of homosexually-oriented men (active and non-active) within the Catholic priesthood and higher orders. Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist and former priest, has studied celibacy, chastity, and sexuality in the priesthood for four decades. He has authored three books on the topic. He once estimated that 30% of the priesthood is homosexually oriented. Elsewhere, he is quoted as estimating that between 25% and 45% of American priests are homosexual in orientation. He told the Boston Globe: “If they were to eliminate all those who were homosexually oriented, the number would be so staggering that it would be like an atomic bomb; it would do the same damage to the church’s operation…It would mean the resignation of at least a third of the bishops of the world. And it’s very much against the tradition of the church; many saints had a gay orientation, and many popes had gay orientations. Discriminating against orientation is not going to solve the problem.”
Muslims, on the other hand have a more … let’s just say … ‘in-your-face’ …policy. A Muslim cleric was recently asked if it was permissible for an interrogator to rape a prisoner in order to obtain a confession. Mesbah-Yazdi answered: “The necessary precaution is for the interrogator to perform a ritual washing first and say prayers while raping the prisoner. If the prisoner is female, it is permissible to rape through the vagina or anus. It is better not to have a witness present. If it is a male prisoner, then it’s acceptable for someone else to watch while the rape is committed.”
So this begs the question: “Is the rape of men and young boys considered sodomy?” Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi: “No, because it is not consensual. Of course, if the prisoner is aroused and enjoys the rape, then caution must be taken not to repeat the rape.” So, my reading of this suggests that it is OK for the rapist to be aroused! (And I can’t imagine how a male rapist could rape anyone without an erection – aka being aroused….???) Now with that in mind, the rapist would have to have some homosexual orientation in order to be aroused enough to perform the rape, wouldn’t he? Not only that, it is “acceptable for someone to watch” – turning gay sex into a shared sport with voyeurs and exhibitionists. Hmmmm…..
It is almost as though religious leaders and people in power are saying to the members of its elite group: “Go ahead, we won’t look, but if you get caught, you’re on your own!”
Towards a religion of humanity
Now the idea here is not to criticize an entire faith or institution for the actions of a few people in its community, but to examine what there is in these institutions that engenders intolerance, discrimination, and even cruelty where the driving force should be love, tolerance and inclusion; to evaluate what causes some of its members to feel like they are caught between a rock and a hard place.
The institutional consciousness of conservative religions creates and environment of ‘us’, the righteous and ‘them’, the unrighteous. This creates hypocrisy, because human beings, by the very way we are wired, need to feel included in a group and people will do what they have to, so that they can be considered legitimate members of a group – the ‘elite’ group. This is the moment when morality begets hypocrisy.
According to theologian and philosopher Jonathan Edwards, “There are two sorts of hypocrites: [those] that are deceived with their outward morality and external religion; …., in the doctrine of justification: and the other, are those that are deceived with false discoveries and elevations; who often cry down works, and men’s own righteousness, and talk much of free grace; but at the same time make a righteousness of their discoveries and of their humiliation, and exalt themselves to heaven with them.”
Speaking out two years after being embroiled in a gay sex scandal, former evangelical pastor Ted Haggard – who once berated homosexuals and homosexuality – said his sexual identity is “complex” and can’t be put into “stereotypical boxes”….Would he have come to that conclusion without his big fall from ‘grace’, or, as he put it, his public foray into “the wilderness”? (He even creates a euphemism for his sexual trysts!) But his arrogance and hypocrisy is further demonstrated during a guest sermon at a church in Illinois, where he said a co-worker of his father molested him when he was 7, an experience that “started to produce fruit” later. The devil is always to blame. Such balderdash.
Religious fundamentalism – no matter the religion – breeds intolerance and hatred. It is the fire that ignited the Inquisition, the Muslim Conquests, the Crusades, and, surprise, surprise, the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
In some twisted and perverted way, it is the very essence of religion, the absolute claims and dogmas of religion that breed intolerance. It is the hierarchy of world religions – I call it ‘the religion of hierarchy’ – that creates a double standard; one for the powerful and one for the lowly followers. After all, why have a single standard when you can have two? Religion creates exactly what it sets out to destroy in the first place. How sad is that.
Instead of spending billions on disingenuously denigrating same-gender loving people and spreading intolerance and hate with double standards – all in the name of a deity who probably doesn’t even care – I would like to see religious groups spending that money to feed the poor, helping kids develop a healthy sexuality and outlook on the world, helping the sick and those in crises and, really – no, REALLY – spread love. Because, at the end of the day, there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’; there is no saint or sinner. None of our highfalutin, man-made morality will make us more loved by God. It is very arrogant us humans to think that we can make ourselves lovable to God. The truth is, He loved us first. It is He who stoops to us because we cannot reach up to him. Indeed, He has been so kind as to give us a part of Him in each of us! Every one of us is a piece of God – The Creator, The One, The Spirit, Allah, Yaweh – how cool is that! Is one part of God better than the other? I didn’t think so. So why do we insist on superciliously discriminating by race, color, creed or sexual orientation when it was the same God that made us all; when we are all part of that one God – no matter what name you call Him by? Aren’t we calling the Creator’s perfection into question when we declare a part of His creation as ‘not good enough’, or ‘flawed’ or ‘intrinsically disordered’?
This writer is not against religion – any religion. We should all strive for a spirit of humanity and for tolerance. We should all stand against abstemious morality and self-righteous posturing. We should all be against hypocrisy and moral arrogance.
“To know a person’s religion we need not listen to his profession of faith but must find his brand of intolerance.”
– Eric Hoffer