Sun, Aug
21
2005

The Religions' Right to be Wrong (in our opinion)

Sun, Aug 21, 2005

My best friend, Dan and the Catholic church don’t get along. He has strong opinions and they’re at odds with Catholic docterine. He’s a staunch Liberal and a strong supporter of same sex marriage. And he’s been sickened by all of the hateful things a small subset of SSM-opponents have said.

His heart is in the right place, but sometimes he can go too far; no offense, Dan.

Did it ever occur to the Catholic Church (or most other religions) that teaching that homosexual activities are a “sin” qualifies as rampant, institutionalized homophobia??? After all, this is the same group that took a thousand years to remove institutionalized hatred against Jews as official policy!!

It is true that a number (a small number) of Christians go way too far in their disapproval of the “sin” of homosexuality. They liken it to “an abomination”. They erect monuments in public parks commemorating the entry of gays into Hell. They say that “God hates Gays”, and they assume that granting gays the legal right to marry will somehow spell the end of Canada as we know it.

As sin’s go, homosexuality is tellingly not included in the ten commandments, or in Christ’s two, and the extra sins described in Leviticus do not equate to the lives that homosexuals lead day to day. If homosexuality is a sin, it is a sin of mutual consent, akin to adultery not pedophilia. Critics who liken homosexuality to the rape of children are expressing such blind rage that they are themselves committing sins so serious, they risk sending themselves to hell.

But regardless of that, todays religions list a number of acts as sins: adultery, jealousy, hatred, eating pork, to name but a few. Jesus says that if you hate someone enough to wish them dead, then you have committed a sin as serious as if you actually committed murder. The religions list a number of things as sins that I myself am guilty of — vanity, avarice, sloth and envy — and they’re probably right. If religions were forced to delist sins simply because “everybody was doing them,” then they wouldn’t be doing their job.

It is surprisingly easy to sin. Too many people, if left to their own devices, will choose to be selfish and conceited. If everybody was good and kind and cared as much about their neighbours as themselves, we would have no need for churches. So it’s more than likely that the church will come out with a statement that something we do is a sin. When that happens, our options are either to (a) respectfully disagree and face the consequences or (b) change ourselves so as to sin no more.

I do not believe that homosexuality is a sin, and this is a reality I think a number of churches are coming to realize. Homosexuals are as likely as the rest of us to live their lives in balance and to respect their neighbours as they’d like to be respected. But though I might disagree with the Catholic Church’s assessment of homosexuality, I am not a Catholic. My right to impose my viewpoint on Catholic docterine is limited to the conflict that exists between my viewpoint and Catholic docterine as it plays out in civil society. Nowhere else.

Indeed, the moment that any government goes beyond the conflict of values within the legal framework of society, and attempts to change the Catholic church’s viewpoint within the church itself, is the moment I turn against that government and accuse it of anti-religious persecution.

Dan and I both love bacon, and we probably consider the kosher views of orthodox Jews to be an outdated oddity, but we will never begrudge orthodox Jews their right to hold the view that consuming pork is sinful. The only grounds for conflict come if orthodox Jews try to change the laws of Canada to ban the consumption of pork. Dan’s suggestion that simply saying that homosexuality is sinful constitutes hate, goes too far. Various churches say that sex before marriage is also sinful, but nobody sane is campaigning for anti-fornication laws. If the churches try to criminalize extra-marital sex, we will have a fight on our hands; but if the churches simply express their definitions of sin as they see it — and as they have the authority to see it — we have the right to change our behaviour or roll our eyes, nothing more. And most church-going individuals, though they may privately disapprove of some elements of our behaviour, are still able to love the individuals in question; are still able to conduct day to day business with them, and be friends with them.

The definition of sin is a matter internal to the religions, and it is up to the religions to change the docterines within themselves, if they see a need to. I wish the Catholic liberals seeking the ordaination of women all the best, but those Catholics who can’t abide by the direction the Papacy has taken and feel as though they’re banging their heads against a wall might be better off leaving the church and starting their own brand of Catholicism (hey, it worked for Martin Luther), or joining a church that agrees with their values. Like the Uniteds or the Anglicans. The moment we give the state the permission to come after churches for the way they think is the moment we give the state permission to come after us for the way we think.


Now, Religion: Keep a Light Touch on Politics

Greg at Sinister Thoughts reports on the growing tendency for Catholic priests in Canada to exercise pressure on Catholic MPs by denying them communion if they vote contrary to Catholic docterine.

I should note that Greg’s post is old, by about a month, and since then no other reports have surfaced during the lazy, hazy days of summer. But it remains a disturbing echo of the influences exerted from the pulpit in the American election, including the excommunication of Democrats from a North Carolina church, so I believe the matter is still relevant.

I’ve just said that the issue of Catholic doctrine is an internal matter to be decided amongst Catholics. I have no right to comment on what Catholics decide to be good doctrine. However, I believe I can comment on how I would hope Catholic MPs choose to conduct themselves within parliament, because Catholic MPs aren’t elected to represent Catholic values to the exclusion of all else. They are elected, like other MPs, to represent their constituents — including and especially those who aren’t Catholic.

Dan Heap, an Anglican minister and a former NDP MP, talked about the conflict between his religious beliefs and his political responsibilities when such contentious issues as, say, abortion came up. At the time, his religious beliefs called for him to oppose abortion, but his political beliefs called for him not to impose his religious beliefs in law.

My mother-in-law, responding to edicts from local Catholic bishops that a vote for John Kerry was an act of sin, said that if Catholics were prevented from voting for anybody other than pro-life candidates, Catholic voters were essentially disenfranchised. Because voting for George Bush meant voting for a politician that supported the death penalty, that supported policies that arguably increased poverty, and who had instigated what may have been an unjust war.

Pro-life issues represent a small subset of the political issues that affect us every day, so focusing on such a narrow set of criteria when electing our politicians really hampers how we can be governed. The decision to vote is so complicated that it was unfair and simplistic to call the thought processes that went into picking Kerry over Bush, or Bush over Kerry, sinful. Attempting to influence the vote of Catholics using such simplistic edicts was an attempt by the Catholic hierarchy (and the hierarchy of other religions) to impose their world view on the rest of society.

As a member of the rest of society, I of course have a problem with that.

I hope that the Catholic Church of Canada, if it follows the route of its American counterpart in flexing its political muscles, does not follow its American counterparts’ hypocrisy. If voting NDP, Liberal or Bloc becomes a mortal sin amongst Catholics because of those parties’ stance on abortion, then will it also be similarly sinful to vote Conservative because of their MPs’ support of the death penalty. Thus the only solution is to not vote — or set the abortion issue aside, and campaign on it when it comes up for debate, and look at the other issues the candidates are likely to face in the coming months and find agreement there.

Christ commanded us to love everyone, even sinners. And just because everyone is a sinner, doesn’t mean that they can’t give us good government 90% of the time.


Further Reading


Lord, Protect Me From Stupid Religious People

It’s quotes like this from Focus on the Family that occasionally make me forget my Christian values of loving my neighbour.

Evidences of gender confusion or doubt in boys ages 5 to 11 may include:

  1. A strong feeling that they are “different” from other boys.

  2. A tendency to cry easily, be less athletic, and dislike the roughhousing that other boys enjoy.

  3. A persistent preference to play female roles in make-believe play.

  4. A strong preference to spend time in the company of girls and participate in their games and other pastimes.

  5. A susceptibility to be bullied by other boys, who may tease them unmercifully and call them “queer,” “fag” and “gay.”

  6. A tendency to walk, talk, dress and even “think” effeminately.

  7. A repeatedly stated desire to be — or insistence that he is — a girl.

Gee. I fall under category two, three (once), four and five. All through high school, I was in danger of becoming gay and I didn’t know it. My friends just thought I was a nerd.

Hold on: what’s the shortest passage in the Bible? You got it: “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) Was Jesus gay?

Grrl Meets World treats this missive with the scorn it deserves:

The title of the page (Helping Boys become Men, and Girls become Women) is misleading. The overwhelming concern and emphasis of the site is how to raise boys. Even the emphasis of the crazy page I linked to above is all about preventing your boy from being (gasp) gay! Not that I validate these efforts, but the consistent theme of the entire website is how to raise great godly boys, and if-you-have-time — raise some godly girls, too. (grrr.)

There’s lots of good stuff at Grrl meets world. Be sure to go read it!


That Was Some Storm

As bad as Hurricane Hazel, as some people said, and while the body count does not approach that of the 1954 storm (0 versues 88), Friday’s weather has produced a comparable amount of damage for southern Ontario. In one case, the major arterial road Finch Avenue West was washed out completely, leaving a six metre deep canyon and a $1 million repair that may take months to complete. That’ll throw a wrench in a few people’s commutes. And a few people had some close calls, getting caught in their flooding basements. The Star has more details here. Scary.


On This Day

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