Saturday, March 28, 2015

Hoosier Hospitality Indeed

So, have you seen the photo of the Indiana Governor signing into law a new bill that legalizes anti-gay discrimination on the grounds of “religious freedom”?   Here’s the photo in all its glory:

As a religious person myself, I can’t tell you how distressing that vision is.   On the one hand, it looks like a symbol of the interfaith movement.  On the other hand, what it symbolizes is that people of various faiths can get together in support of bigotry against an abused minority group.   As the Church Lady would like to say, “Isn’t that special?”

Must I remind you all of all the ways that members of the LGBT community have struggled just to be accepted as normal?   Traditionally, gay people have needed to closet themselves and their feelings, lest they be exposed as the “freaks” and “losers” they were widely viewed to be.   Now, just as it seemed safe to come out of the cave and into the sunlight, here comes the pen of Governor Pence to put them back in their place.  In the great state of Indiana, anyone who is thought to be gay, bisexual, or transsexual and who dares to walk into a restaurant or other business can now legally be tossed out onto the street.   And all of this is happening in the name of religious freedom.    This, my friends, is the true meaning of blasphemy.

Several thoughts come to mind.  First, the old saw:  “Friends don’t let friends vote Republican.”   Truth be told, it remains my goal to pull the lever on behalf of a GOP candidate before I die, but at the age of 54, it hasn’t happened yet.  The more I age, the further and further that Party moves away from me – and it’s not me who’s moving to the left, they’re the ones who are moving to the right.  That having been said, I can’t always bring myself to vote Democratic either.  Personally, though, I prefer “wasting my vote” by writing in a friend to voting for a Party that stands for bigotry, economic inequality, and giving religion a bad name.  

Those of you who view yourselves as “moderate” Republicans and who disavow responsibility for bills like this one – wake up and smell the roses.  You are responsible for supporting the Party of Governor Pence, Rush Limbaugh, and all the other politicians who call themselves “conservative” but are truly just reactionaries.     Remember this law when it comes time to vote in 2016 and beyond.

Second, I cannot understand why so many people of faith feel threatened by the very existence of the LGBT community.   When a gay person walks into a restaurant, he’s not asking the proprietor to have sex with him, he’s only asking to be served food.  Where’s the trauma in that?  Ultimately, this comes down to whether the teachings of religion support the idea of universal dignity, or place more importance in following all the social mores of antiquity.   For me, religion inspires me to honor the Divine and all of the expressions of God, especially other people.  The last thing this impels me to do is to “play God” by placing law-abiding, peaceful citizens into groups and then deciding which groups to treat respectfully and which ones to treat like pariahs.   Frankly, that sounds more like “irreligion” than “religion.”

Third, I must confess to be especially disappointed that this prehistoric signing ceremony happened in Indiana, the state where I got married and where so many members of my family live.  Hoosiers are some of the nicest people I have met – and that applies as much to the folks who vote for the GOP as to the ones who vote for the Democrats.   I don’t believe that this bill was motivated by hatred or ill-will toward anyone.  Rather, it was grounded in a devotion to such principles as the respect for private property, an appreciation for the right of property owners to exercise domain over that property, and sensitivity to the moral absolutism that is inherent in virtually all religions. 
I can respect all of those principles, at least in the abstract.  But the problem here is that they ignore numerous other principles that are far more central.  And that leads me back to the photo.

As an author and as an activist, I have often touted the Interfaith Movement as perhaps our greatest untapped vehicle for advancing the causes of social unity and universal compassion.  Unfortunately, we now have a photo that presents a vision of the Interfaith Movement as a symbol of repression, division, and narrow-mindedness.  This bill was supposedly being signed onto law to protect freedom –specifically, the liberty of those who religious views prohibit them from advancing the so-called “homosexual agenda.”   But in fact, when I think about freedom, I think primarily about the rights of the underprivileged.  And when I reflect back on my youth and the way that gay adolescents were treated, few groups seem to me to be more abused and more deserving of liberty and honor.    

In short, I have a plea for Governor Pence and those who voted for him.  It’s your right to screw up Indiana; you live there, I don’t.  But please, do me this favor:  don’t screw any more with the Interfaith Movement.  Leave that to those of us who think of God and faith in terms of hope, not of fear.

[Note – The Empathic Rationalist will return in mid-April after I return from my trip to Israel.  Happy Passover to one and all.]

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