The Best Scholarly Essay

Nicole Luisi's "Hate 3.16: The Ambiguous Nature of Religion and Its Influence over Hate"

“We owned you once, and we’ll own you again!” Although it may be considerably disturbing to learn that comments such as this are still made regarding African Americans in the twentieth century, its context is even more unsettling. One afternoon in conversation, a neighbor brought to my attention a conflict being discussed on the news of late, one about which he had strong feelings. It seems as though an African American Baptist Reverend, while speaking at a local September 11th memorial service, linked God’s disapproval of same-sex marriages to the events of September 11th.1 With the aid of scriptures, the Reverend explained that God allowed those events to occur, as a method of punishment to a country in which such sinners exist. When put in this context, the true problematic nature of my neighbor’s comment is revealed, as it is a lucid example of fighting hatred with hatred. He was infuriated by the reverend’s comments with regards to homosexuals, but responded with a comment of his own that is the embodiment of racial hate in America.

For each entity that exists in the world, there are people to oppose it. As a result of this, there are countless numbers of hate organizations in America, several for every race, gender, religion, culture, and sexual orientation. Groups such as the Christian Identity feel as though they can form their own militias to fight for their beliefs, and include member Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber.2 The Promise Keepers are a “Men’s Christian Organization” infamous for their persecution of women.3 The Ku Klux Klan is a Christian faction that organizes hate marches against non-Aryan races and homosexuals.4 The Phineas Priesthood takes their name from Christians that wish to murder couples of mixed race marriages.5 The Institute for Historic Review is a Christian group notorious for denying the holocaust ever occurred.6 And, the Westboro Baptist Church is a congregation with an extremely anti-homosexual focus known for picketing churches and funerals connected to homosexuals.7 It seems to me that the ethical dilemma surfaces when hate is endorsed as a form of religion that is protected by our First Amendment rights, while being taught to children and adults, perpetuating endless cycles of hate.

Hateful groups habitually use the freedom of speech policy in our country to defend their practices. Regardless of our right to freedom of speech, our government may intervene if the speech in question has the potential to cause violence, as it sometimes does. Private organizations such as colleges can have their own intolerance laws on speech, comprising punishments for those who make racial slurs or discriminatory remarks, but in the mainstream world, we cannot legally have such guidelines. Just as those in the anti-pornography movement link pornography to violent crimes such as rape and abuse, people fighting for hate crimes legislation link hate speech and hate-based religions to violent hate crimes such as assault and murder.8 Both causes believe that stronger legislation on these issues will prevent related crimes. As sympathetic human beings, many people might agree with hate-speech laws, or anti-discriminatory actions, but where is the line drawn before it is argued that the government has censored the people and seized their autonomy?

Many religious hate groups label homosexuals and others as sinners; people who have done something morally wrong. Ironically, those who burn churches, torture, and murder individuals with different beliefs and biblical interpretations from theirs, do not feel that they are doing anything morally wrong. Based on a compilation of actions by such groups, it could be said that it is not morally wrong to force women to give birth at gunpoint. It is not morally wrong to murder couples of mixed race marriages. It is not morally wrong to remove women from the work force and keep them submissive to men. It is not morally wrong to picket and rejoice at homosexual funerals, and it is not morally wrong to teach children that certain races are a result of copulation with animals. All of the groups whose practices I am referring to designate themselves as “Christian” groups, an extremely general term. There are copious numbers of Christian religions in this country, and each Christian group considers themselves the most sincere and truthful Christians. There are “Christian” groups that have an anti-gay focus, and “Christian” groups that support gay members. Christians are supposed to be those who follow Christ, but for some groups, it seems that an obsession against a particular group of people such as homosexuals is the focus of the religion. There are groups that form “Christian” religions based on anti-homosexual, anti-abortion, anti-women, anti-African American and anti-Jewish sentiments, along with many others.

The most prevalent way people select their religion today is through tradition. Children are impressionable products of their environments, and more than likely, those raised in these hate-based religious homes, will grow up with the same hateful views, as will their children, and their childrens’ children. In 1968 a renowned sociological study emerged, entitled Eye of the Storm.9 Jane Elliot, an elementary school teacher, performed this study in response to her concerns of racism in America following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Over the course of a few days, the children in the selected classroom were separated by eye color, and filmed while performing standard scholastic activities. On one day the blue-eyed children were told that they were the smartest, and the brown-eyed children had to wear collars marking their deficiency, as they were told that they were not as smart. The next day, they eye colors were reversed, and the brown-eyed children were told that they were the smartest. Each day, the teacher gave special praise to the students with the “smart” eye color, and provided little or no encouragement for the students with the collars. As a result, several observations were made. The children that thought they were more intelligent by virtue of their eye color did considerably better work on the classroom activities. The children that thought they were less intelligent did considerably worse on the classroom activities. And, in addition to the effect their self-esteem had on their academic performances, the brown-eyed students and the blue-eyed students hated one another, and weren’t quite sure why.

Eye of the Storm makes an excellent parallel to the way religion is learned today. A parent raised with hateful beliefs will most likely pass those hateful beliefs on to his/her children. The children then go to school with those ideas, and make them known. Children can form their own opinions about life and groups of people when they are mature enough to do so, but it is probably devastating for them to discover that they were given false information while growing up. For instance, without knowing any Asian people, it may take a friendship with an Asian person to ascertain that the stereotypes his/her parents have been uttering for years about Asians are not necessarily true. The idea of children being raised within a religion their family has always been a part of is not commonly thought of as an outlandish custom. However, when it is a religion that voices strong, offensive, and hateful opinions about other individuals or groups, it can become a predicament for society in terms of laws and public safety.

It is not the policy of our government to choose a standard religion for its people, nor to intervene in people’s choice of faith, but what about when certain religions harm or threaten to harm others? How can it be decided which religions are acceptable and which are not, without taking away people’s basic freedom of religion and blurring the separation between church and state? Today there is pending legislation attempting to add crimes motivated by gender, disability, or sexual orientation to an existing hate crimes prevention act.10 It is difficult to get support for this cause because according to the statistics reported to the US Department of Justice, the largest percentage of hate crimes does not involve these subgroups.11 Many people are nervous about making “sexual orientation” a protected class because they feel it will lead to too much religious controversy. They see the line separating church and state wearing thinner, as there would be strict guidelines to what a leader can preach to his/her parishioners. Several people feel that protecting sexual orientation as a class will prompt support for the legalization of gay marriage and adoption. This could lead to adding a sexual orientation question to things like college and job applications. How would one prove that he or she is gay, and why wouldn’t one lie to receive some type of affirmative action advantage? It is argued that sexual orientation should not be in it’s own category such as race because it is not an indisputable characteristic. In other words, black people are black because they were born that way, but gay people are gay because they choose to live a life in which they will inevitably face discrimination and adversity.

Many people feel that certain controversial life-styles are a choice, and because of that there will always be religious conflict in America. In an ideal world, people would be able to abstain from violence and a blatant disregard for other’s feelings regardless of their own convictions, but this is unrealistic. Anti-gay groups controlled by leaders like Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) have gone into communities holding signs that say “God Hates Fags,” “AIDS Cures Fags,” and displaying scripture quotations twisted to represent homosexuality as a sin. Phelps is well known for picketing many funerals, including the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young homosexual male who died victim to a hate crime unrelated to the WBC.12 Phelps and his group bring their signs, and shout abhorrent remarks at those in mourning, in an effort to “warn” gay supporters of their own fate. Phelps also protested at a high school graduation ceremony in Ferndale, Washington last year, because the students elected a lesbian prom king.13 Ironically, the election was not even about being gay or lesbian, but a girl wanting to transcend stereotypical gender roles. The fact that she happened to be the school’s only openly gay student was all that Phelps needed to hear.

In the past, gay organizations and supporters fought the protests of anti-gay groups such as the WBC by shouting back and physically lashing out. They have thrown eggs and screamed profanities to express their disgust. The WBC for one welcomes this type of response, in an attempt to instigate rioting and lawsuits, essentially acquiring money and media exposure for their organization.

Some gay organizations have changed their tactic however, and no longer confront the protestors. Instead, communities take donations from individuals and organizations alike, for a set amount of money for each minute the anti-gay protestors picket. The community of the Washington school with the lesbian prom king raised several thousand dollars during the picket of their graduation ceremony.14 In addition to Cedar Crest College and Lehigh University, the churches that invited a predominantly gay church to the recent September 11th memorial service in my own area are also on the WBC’s calendar of scheduled pickets for December sixth, seventh, and eighth of this year.15 Fortunately, the letters of regret from the other churches at the service that day indicate that they too will receive several thousands of dollars as a result of the picket. This has been done in towns all over the United States, and these churches and communities make as much as two dollars for each second that hateful words are preached at their expense. This is a fabulous way to fight back, but based on reactions such as my neighbors, I don’t think this result will satisfy everyone.

Reverend Marshall Griffith is the man who outraged my neighbor and community when he recently held same-sex marriages and the removal of prayer from schools responsible for the September 11th attack.16 Fred Phelps doesn’t feel that there was enough hate in Griffith’s speech, hence his motivation for the scheduled picket. Same-sex marriages are not the only factor that some religious groups believe led to events like September 11th. During a memorial service just a few days after the events, a televised sermon by Reverend Jerry Falwell blamed homosexuals, but also alcoholics, addicts, and the Civil Liberties Union for the same attack.17 Falwell was required to make a public apology, but Griffith has yet to do so. These religious leaders also link other terrible events to gays, such as the forest fires this summer, and child abuse. Imagine the assertions that could be made based on logic such as this. We could say for example that God allows every child that is raped, tortured, or killed in America to be treated so, because somewhere in the United States of America two men live together as a married couple. I suppose in some way you could argue that any two things in this world are somehow connected.

Every day in America, churches, individuals, and organizations receive hate mail and/or death threats. There are thousands of hate-based web sites on the Internet, containing appalling views on individuals and America itself. Some of them even go as far as to have counters displaying how many days the “beasts” Matthew Shepard and Diane Whipple have been burning in hell. There is also a plethora of hateful literature, music, and entertainment capable of offending several groups and individuals. What is astonishing is that the people that circulate the majority of this hateful paraphernalia are groups that allege that they are religious people- people of God.

Every religion may have a different interpretation of God’s word. The Bible has been translated again and again, and picked apart by theologian after theologian, and still there is no way to confirm what the intended meaning of each scripture was at the time it was written. Many religious hate groups use their interpretation of the scriptures in the Bible to defend their hateful views, stating that they are not only theirs, but God’s views. There is a devastating dissimilarity however, between the groups that peacefully take different meaning from the same scripture with the understanding that others may see it another way, and those that aggressively condemn people who do not share their interpretation, resulting in defamation and/or violence.

Although everyone is entitled to his/her own interpretation of the scriptures, it is somehow more disconcerting when groups use their interpretations of the Bible to rationalize their hate. The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas can list many places in the Bible that they believe express homosexuality as a sin. Though seemingly convincing, each passage they quote can be argued differently by people such as Reverend Samuel Kader and Daniel Helminiak, who have written entire books exploring alternative interpretations of those same scriptures quoted by the WBC. The WBC and many others contest that Leviticus passages such as “Thou shall not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination” is clearly referring to homosexuals. In his book, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, Helminiak devotes an entire chapter to Leviticus, explaining other possible ideologies of the same passage. He bases his studies on context clues, language translations, and the actual definitions of the words in the period of time in which the Bible was written. He argues that phrases such as “lie with mankind” and “it is an abomination” do not have the same meaning as the words have for us today.18 It is his opinion that the whole passage describes a religious taboo dealing with un-cleanliness.19 He also mentions that the punishment for homosexual activity in the Bible was death, as was the punishment for cursing one’s parents; I suppose Fred Phelps has never cursed his parents.20 Women also play a part in Helminiak’s argument, as there is no mention of lying with womankind as with mankind. Those that agree that the Bible is against homosexuality would respond by saying that women were not important enough to mention, but Helminiak believes that this is not true, as women are mentioned in many other places in the Bible. He feels women are not mentioned because the act of abomination, the unclean act, is penetration, something women cannot do to one another, and is not at all relating to sex or relationships.21 If used in the most literal sense without any insight into the time and place that it was written, the Bible would find us all to be sinners for a number of reasons. Whose version of the intended meaning of these scriptures can we believe? Is it ethical for people to use ambiguous writings that still, hundreds of years later cannot be defined or proven to mean one thing or another as the basis for their hateful actions?

Another interesting bit of irony exists concerning the individuals involved in these groups. There are people of all different races and cultures heading these religions, but I find it inconceivable that an African American man in the United States today, Reverend Marshall Griffith for example, could base his faith on such ignorant stereotypes about other groups of people. It was not all that long ago that the majority of this country thought of black people as biologically inferior to white people. Many people believed black people were unintelligent, uncivilized, and sub-human. I cannot fathom that someone who had to face, and probably still has to face, oppression in this country would force the same consequence on another minority group. Not only minority individuals lead these groups, but sometimes-gay people themselves. A lot can be said for the sociological pressure to be “normal” that exists today. Sociologists label the second stage of the gay identity as dissociation, in which homosexuals go through a period of denial marked by making jokes and discriminatory remarks towards other gay people.22 Some people do this in an attempt to hide their homosexuality; others just to make sure they are not thought of as gay, even if they are not. Some leaders of these religious hate groups take this concept too far by acting out their hate. There have been leaders such as Dr. Reverend Mel White, who after years of anti-gay rhetoric “came out” as gay, and admits it was his own fear and homophobia that pushed him to behave the way he did.23

It is hard for some people to find problems with religions that preach this way because of their own biases, biases they may not even know they have. I would ask those people to imagine an extreme they hadn’t considered. I would have them imagine a religion based on the deliberate condemnation of people with, for example, high-pitched voices. A person of any gender, age, religion, race, or nationality can have a high-pitched voice, and although it is sometimes argued, there is nothing they can do about it, it is just how they were born. People can try to lower their tone as they speak, making an effort to conceal their true voice, in case there is someone who hates those with high-pitched voices present. There would be conversion centers that maintain that voice is not genetic, and attempt to lower these people’s tone of voice. They would have to hang out in special establishments to meet other people that have high-pitched voices, and to be able to be themselves; they would get stared at in regular bars and restaurants for giving “normal” people headaches. They would find or form their own churches that accept people like them, and have support groups to help them deal with being different from everyone else, even though you wouldn’t always know a high-pitched from a “normal” person if you were sitting next to them. They would see web sites and books bashing high-pitched peoples, and experience difficulty getting certain jobs or adopting children. After all, high-pitched parents would only abuse or confuse a child with such a voice. In addition to the challenge of every day life, on occasion a hateful religious organization may picket in front of their church and hold up signs stating “God Hates Squealers” and “You Hurt God’s Ears.” The hate groups may go on television and blame them for terrorist attacks and natural disasters, stating that God allowed the events in order to punish the high-pitched. They will quote scriptures to justify their views. Isa 40.4, ‘Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low’ can be used to express God’s wishes to make lower the voices of all the sinners that speak in such high tones.24 Isa 37.23, ‘Against whom have you raised your voice and haughtily lifted your eyes?’ can be used to remind people that each time they use their high-pitched voice it is like arrogantly lifting their eyes in disrespect to God.25 What is it that makes this idea more ridiculous than the ideas of the groups I’ve been discussing?

Just as people abuse the meaning of “freedom of speech” to defend the hateful words they preach, people use “religion” to defend and explain the rationale of their hate groups. This is not at all an unanticipated result, as our country cannot find a way to standardize how much hate is too much, without taking away people’s fundamental First Amendment rights. Almost anything can be done “religiously.” In a sense this just means something that is done habitually, consistently or in a devoted manner. In Funk & Wagnalls Dictionary, religion is defined as an organized system of beliefs, rites, and celebrations centered on a supernatural being power.26 I find astounding the manner in which people can demoralize the meaning of the word, and turn religion into an organized system of hateful beliefs and actions centered on a perverted interpretation of the opinions of a supernatural being, personally unknown to the creators of these religions.


Notes

  1. Nicole Radzievich, “Metropolitan’s Lesbian Pastor Preaches Tolerance,” The Morning Call, 6 October 2002, sec. A.
  2. Andrew Phillips, “The City of God Mystery,” Maclean’s 14, no. 110 (1997): 34.
  3. Stefanie Richards, “Now Acts,” National NOW Times 1 no. 34 (2002): 14.
  4. Thomas J. Young, “Violent Hate Groups in Rural America,” International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 34 (1990): 15-21.
  5. “News,” Christian Century 24, no. 116 (1999): 842.
  6. Brian Siano, “Watching on the Rhine,” review of Denying the Holocaust,
    by Deborah Lipstadt, Skeptic 2, no. 4 (1994): 72-75.
  7. “Far Right,” Advocate 867 (2002): 17.
  8. Randy D. Fisher, and Ida J. Cook, “Correlates of Support for Censorship of Sexual, Sexually Violent, and Violent Media,” Journal of Sex Research 3, no. 31 (1994): 229.
  9. Tracey Gonzalez, and Phyllis L. Mandell, School Library Journal 4, no. 47 (2001): 83.
  10. “HRC Expresses Deep Concern Over West Hollywood Charges,” 4 October 2002, <http://www.hrc.org/newsreleases/2002/0210041ahatecrimes.asp> (4 October, 2002).
  11. “Hate and Bias Crimes,” June 2001 <http://www.ojp.gov/ovc/assist/nvaa2001/ chapter22_1.html> (10 October 2002).
  12. “Far Right,” 17.
  13. Eli Sanders, “Anti-gay Protest Inspires Pledge Drive,” The Seattle Times, 8 June 2001.
  14. Sanders.
  15. <http://godhatesfags.com/fliers/Picket_Information.html>
  16. Radzievich, sec. A.
  17. Cal Thomas, “Was God Behind the Terrorist Attacks?” Human Events 35, no. 57 (2001): 14.
  18. Daniel A. Helminiak, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality
    (New Mexico: Alamo Square Press, 2000), 29-30.
  19. Helminiak, 61-62.
  20. Helminiak, 52.
  21. Helminiak, 59.
  22. Alex Thio, Deviant Behavior (Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon, 2001), 243.
  23. “The Gay Ghost,” Newsweek 4, no. 122 (1993): 4.
  24. Isaiah. 40.4 Revised Standard Version.
  25. Isaiah 37.23 Revised Standard Version.
  26. Funk & Waganalls Standard Desk Dictionary, 1986 ed., s.v. “religion.”
 

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English Prize
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