Religious Justification for Bigotry

I've only recently begun to fully realize the oddity of the obsession that certain religions have with homosexuality. Since I was raised as an observant Catholic and grew up in a relatively traditional society, I used to unreflectively consider homosexuality abnormal and homosexual acts morally wrong. As a heterosexual, I didn't really give the topic much thought during my religious years, but I assented to the teaching that to engage in homosexual behavior was gravely sinful and I opposed efforts to grant all persons the legal right to marry whomever they choose. To be fair, I in fact believed that every sexual act except that within a sacramental marriage and without contraception was gravely immoral, so homosexuality wasn't particularly singled out and was never an issue of much personal concern, but I still certainly thought it was immoral. All of that changed when I rejected the authority of religious leaders to dictate to me what was and wasn't acceptable. This change of opinion regarding homosexuality upon deconversion seems to be almost universal; I can't recall ever encountering any unbeliever who objected to homosexuality or to granting everyone the same legal rights with regard to marriage. And it's not that secular arguments against homosexuality are fallacious; I haven't even ever seen one. The only objections to homosexuality are religious and authoritarian and they exemplify the problems caused directly by religion.

It seems that the primary reason that many believers still consider homosexuality so morally abhorrent is that they personally find it disgusting, unlike other sins that also once received strong public disapproval. Fornication, i.e., sex between two unmarried persons, is equally condemned in the scriptures, has traditionally been regarded as taboo, and is still considered gravely sinful by the Catholic Church and certain other Christian sects, but there are no political efforts to prevent unmarried heterosexual couples from living together or to deny them certain legal benefits, at least after a certain number of years. What was once forbidden has become perfectly normal. Today it's not at all uncommon for even church-going Christians to live with their boyfriends or girlfriends while dating. Society has shed some of its former moral restrictions and most people today seem happy with the change as it grants them more personal freedom to indulge their natural sexual desires. The change happened quietly without becoming a political issue. Unlike with the situation with homosexuality, the majority of the population is composed of heterosexuals who by definition find straight sex appealing, so there was no issue of disgust or otherness to impede this repeal of the former moral code.

Where exactly does this feeling of disgust originate? It seems to me that the initial negative feelings were the result of simple xenophobia, i.e., antipathy toward anyone who is different from oneself or one's group, and that these feelings have been sustained by culture, especially by religious dogma. For my own part, I can't remember what I thought the first time I saw a homosexual couple together, but I definitely can't remember a time when I was aware of homosexuality when I wasn't also aware that it was considered strange and objectionable by most people. I know that I learned it from others, some of whom must have given an explicitly religious justification for their intolerance toward people who are different from themselves, for there are no other reasons to object to what sex of person mature adults choose to associate with. Since the time I cast off the heavy chains of religious devotion, however, my reason and my compassion for fellow humans have overridden any prior feelings of uneasiness about homosexuality. It seems high time that American society as a whole discard its religious obsessions, overcome any involuntary distaste it still experiences, and fully acknowledge the rights of all people. We do seem to be moving in that direction, but as is often the case, it's primarily religion that's hindering social progress. Whether religion actually creates bigotry or simply provides hypocritical justification for it, irrational belief is the enemy of human advancement.


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