Sunday, October 25, 2009

No fool like an old fool.

Earlier today I was sitting with a couple of business associates and we were discussing a bit of everything, including the role of religion in bigotry. I asked if there were any specific group of people who had not been subjected to hatred in the name of God. It occurred to me that “God hates everyone” if those who purport to speak on behalf of this being, are correct.

There are large numbers of Muslims who say God hates Christians. Fundamentalist Christians think God is pissed off at Catholics, Jew, Mormons, gays, secularists, liberals, and an almost endless list of people. The Religious Left, which does exist, is convinced God hates capitalists, businessmen, landlords, SUV owners and countless other groups. Since there is no evidence that anyone actually speaks for this being, or that such a being even exists, this is the cheapest, easiest, most convenient way for any bigot to assert his hatred and give it respectability.

The comments earlier today started off in jest but as we discussed the matter it became clear that it would be difficult to find any identifiable collective of people that isn’t identified as deserving of God’s wrath by at least some believer, somewhere; usually large groups of believers, not just a few.

I return home this evening to read the London Telegraph and the story of a sweet-looking, tea-sipping, bigoted old fart named Pauline Howe. No doubt Howe will be portrayed by the Christianists as a victim, though I’m sure they will misreport the events completely.
Howe wrote the Norwich city council filing a complaint about “its decision to allow a gay rally in city centre.” Was the complaint something justifiable; like litter left around, noise, congestion, etc? Of course not. Howe complained before there was anything to complain about and her complaint was basically a “God-hates-fags” letter to the council. Remember she was demanding that a public rally be forbidden. She wanted to censor speech she didn’t like and wished to use state power to do so.

Her complaint was it was “shameful that this small, but vociferous lobby should be allowed such a display unwarranted by the minimal number of homosexuals.” Get that. She was upset that gays were free to have a rally. Apparently in her world minorities don’t have rights because these rights are “unwarranted” by the “minimal number.” As a libertarian, I would say a minority of one has rights and that if one person wanted to hold a “rally” that they should be allowed to do so. So, please, don’t forget that Howe was the one who first demanded the suppression of free speech.

Howe felt that gay people didn’t deserve free speech rights because of “their perverted sexual practice” which spread sexually transmitted diseases. Okay, but what sexual practice can’t spread a sexually transmitted disease? And, to whom would such diseases be spread, but to other homosexuals? Even if this were something for to worry about, how was she endangered, unless she had a tendency to fornicate with gay men?

And, according to the sweet-looking hate merchant, gays are responsible for “the downfall of every Empire.” What a sweeping, silly claim. I know some unread and ignorant Christians have tried to attribute the fall of Rome to gays, but truth be told, Rome fell after it converted to Christianity and became suppressing homosexuals. While Gibbon is often claimed to have said this, he did not do so, but he did place a considerable amount of blame on the conversion to Christianity. (See chapters 15 and 16 of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.) Rome was tolerant of gays during its height of power but became intolerant, slipped into totalitarianism and eventually collapsed, after it converted and started trying to repress homosexuality.

And now we get back to the beginning of my comments. According to the Telegraph, Howe “argues that she is not homophobic, but was expressing her deeply held religious beliefs.” There it is, the trump card that religionists think they ought to be allowed to play to exempt themselves from any and all criticism, scrutiny or ration investigation. The truth is that many religious people believe that they can assert any claim, no matter how cruel, offensive, or vicious, and be allowed to get away with it by claiming that it comes from God.

I once sat in a church that preached the “Identity” gospel. According to the Identity movement the white race is the true nation of Israel, Jews are the sons of Satan, and blacks are the biblical “beasts of the field,” without any rights except to be slaves. Identity teachings are widespread in the Nazi, Klan and other white supremacist movements. It is a combination of the absurd “British Israelism” mixed with Nazism and racism. They claim that God hates Jews and blacks, that a race war is coming, that “white Christians” have to destroy the Jews and enslave the blacks. They do so in the name of God.

There is no exemption to scrutiny because a belief is based on a religious fantasy. The burden of proof for Miss Howe is the same as for everyone. Religion doesn’t give her a free pass to pretend that the facts are on her side. She is still required to present real evidence, not just doctrines imagined by some divine, mystic, witchdoctor or theologian. A religious assertion has no more right to a presumption of truth than any other assertion. No one gets a free pass.

Unfortunately some silly bureaucrat who read the letter reported it to the police. The police visited Howe and decided no crime had been committed. That is important to remember. Now, in my opinion, she should not have been reported or visited. Even the chief executive of a local gay organization said the report to the police was “disproportionate” and said he was “glad Norfolk police didn’t take it any further.” I have little doubt that if I Google this story in a few days some US Christian sites will be using this as an example of how gay people repress freedom of speech —although no gay person filed a complaint and the only gays involved said the police shouldn’t have done what they did. And, along the way, they will conveniently forget that Ms Howe was the one demanding state action to suppress the freedom of speech of gay people.

I personally think Howe is an old fool who lacks decency and common sense. She has not justified her positions, nor tried to do so. She attempted to initiate the suppression of freedom of speech against others and they whined loudly when it backfired and she found her own freedom of speech under potential threat. I sympathize with anyone who faces government action to prevent them from expressing an opinion but I find it hard to have very much sympathy, perhaps just a smidgen, when the person is question was openly demanding the suppression of others. Why, exactly, should Howe whine that State power threatened her freedom of speech when she clearly wants to the State to use its powers for just that purpose? If you lobby for taxes then you have no right to complain when you pay them.

To me, the lesson of Howe is not just that every hateful belief in human history has been justified by some imaginary friend in the sky. While that does seem true, there is a second lesson. Suppression of the freedom of speech of anyone can backfire and lead to the suppression of your own freedom of speech as well. Like every would-be censor Howe was demanding the censorship of others and free speech for herself.

And, if you want some humor about bigotry, try this hilarious clip. It is one of the funniest skits I've seen in a long time.

Labels: ,