(Warning: This isn't meant to be an overly religious post. I'm not debating the merits of religion, but rather the extent that people will go to use religion for their own means. I'm far from a theologian and I consider myself more of a person of faith than a person of religion.)
A few weeks ago, I got into a "debate" with an unnamed relative over the merits of her online comments. She posted something along the lines of Obama being an evil man for celebrating June as LGBT Pride Month. And I quote:
"U.S. President Barack Obama declared JUNE 2009 "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month for the United States... The people of America (and the same goes for any other nation) will surely rue the day they "call evil good, and good evil" Isaiah 5:20 (Source: White House presidential proclamation, June 1, 2009"
Yep, that's what my relative posted. The same relative who just a few months earlier vowed to protect any family member should he/she ever come out of the closet. Naturally, this relative and I came to a somewhat civilized but still disconcerting back-and-forth exchange, both citing different examples of the Bible as well as modern topics as debate ammunition. It came down to me citing Leviticus as condoning slavery, since Leviticus is the same book that "forbids" homosexuality. I thought I had my ace in a hole.
Then the second of three horrifying things happened: This relative said slavery was justified since the oppressed wouldn't believe in God. Nevermind that Jews were slaves (what happened to sharing the same text?), just the sheer thought of slavery being justified seemed to be wholly against any form of truly good-hearted organized religion. Suddenly any positive lessons were subject to be perverted in order to pass a belief.
The third of three horrifying things eventually came: soon after our debate, another unnamed relative chimed in and added the following:
"what a shame and America wonders about all these bad things hapenning :("
Suddenly all of America's problems weren't the compounding fault of decades of politicians, a weakening financial system, stretched resources and crumbling educational and social reform systems. No, it was all because of those LGBT folks. Just their mere existance was forcing America down this horrible path that will eventually take down the country.
Going back to point #2, Jews and others were slaves and somehow that was okay. But the second relative's point was extremely damning and very reminiscient. I bit my virtual tongue (and lips) and resisted the urge to counter that post for fear of erupting a familial civil war. Now I regret that I did. Apparently, it never occurred to this second relative that Nazi Germany used that exact kind of logic to start the Holocaust (missed joke: "'Scuze me while I sneeze... ah AH AHH AUSCHWITZ!" I'm a genius), or that Pol Pot used it to "cleanse" Cambodia with the Khmer Rouge. No sense of perspective or history. Why, everytime any leader blamed one minority for the faults of the entire country, the entire country went down in flames from the leader's own actions. Often the minority is blamed in the name of God, and I can believe that He is tired of it.
During the debate with the first relative, I brought up the point that there were many, many LGBTers who serve humanity honorably and with distinction. Firefighters, soldiers, teachers, medical professionals, politicians, and yes, even clergy. Naturally the relative disagreed with me. Today, I talked with an acquaintance of mine, who is a Reverend but who also happens to be gay and has a long-term partner.
The Reverend greeted me with such bouncy enthusiasm. I asked him what's right and he replied that a series of happy coincidences seemed to make his congregation happier and more gung-ho about participating with the Church. He mentioned that three members volunteered to talk about what their personal definitions of grace and faith were. And while he was explaining what was said at his service with big bright eyes and a sense that everything was going his way, I just stood there and thought to myself, "This can't possibly be a bad thing, can it? How can something so uplifting and positive and hopeful ever be called evil? How can tolerance, equality, and goodwill damn this nation?"
To that, I've no answer. People are free to believe what they want, if they don't twist original intentions or take texts too literally without consideration of elasticity.
I'll always remember the lessons of my 7th grade Catholic School teacher, Miss Szczepanik. Though strict and short-tempered, she did help forge my current hopes and dreams for myself. Part of that included one crucial lesson: when reading the Bible, remember to put things into context and to use critical analysis to see how it could help your life. This coming from a former nun, who one would think would be a near-fundamentalist with the Bible. I don't read the Bible anymore, as now I'm thinking that many who do aren't much different than my relatives who will bend it to their will. But one thing is very much needed: the ability to put things into perspective so that you can think for yourself. And that is a God-given ability.