I’ve been busy the last couple weeks unpacking books and arranging the house, and so am backlogged with links and comments, including this past week’s news and many commentaries about the ‘religious freedom’ laws in Indiana and elsewhere. For the moment I’ll try to gather my reactions to these.
After reading online and newspaper articles about Indiana’s and Arkansas’ “religious freedom” laws for several days, and squinting to see exactly what the purpose of these laws were *if not* to refuse service to gays and lesbians — and not finding any examples — I finally found one yesterday in a New York Times op-ed column by Gail Collins. Apparently Indiana governor Mike Pence, in a Wall Street Journal piece, referring to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, felt that the principle needed to be established at the state level. That is, Pence felt that Indiana businesses need to be able to refuse birth control to their female employees. Oh, well then. That’s not so bad?
Pence repeatedly rejected the idea that the Indiana law was intended to discriminate against gays and lesbians. The evidence is otherwise: the viral Facebook photo of Pence signing the original bill, with identifiable anti-gay activists standing behind him; and the reaction this past week to the Indiana pizza shop who proudly announced their intent to deny service to guys — while, dimly, simultaneously stating this was not discrimination — which brought about $50K from supporters to their anti-gay policy. So don’t believe Mike Pence’s insistance that his law is not about gays. See his interview with George Stephanopoulos for his inability to answer a direct question. Six times.
I sympathize slightly with folks who suggest that in practice, why would any gays insist that a bakery who disapproved of them make a cake for them? David Horsey has a cartoon on this point today, which suggests that such a baker might well poison any cake he would be forced to provide for a gay marriage. (Can’t find a link at the moment.)
To all of this, I will repeat my general reaction: why are Christians so thin-skinned, why do they insist on identifying themselves in the wider world as people who cannot get along, civilly, with people who are unlike themselves?
Finally for now, I think this essay at Slate today by Nathaniel Frank tries to find a deeper meaning in all this: Christian Discriminators May Not Know They’re Anti-Gay.
This pivots off the statement from that pizza shop that while they would not cater to a gay marriage, they don’t see this as discrimination, because religion. It’s tempting to raise eyebrows, see this person as obviously dumb, and illiterate. But the Slate article suggests it’s deeper than that. (I’ve added some bold emphasis.)
Now, just because it may be sincere does not make it right; it’s still discrimination. Indeed, it’s abundantly clear to anyone who thinks about it that citing religion in asserting anti-gay beliefs is prejudice pure and simple—just ask them for evidence of giving divorced people the same litmus test as gay people, and you’ll have proof of cherry-picking religious texts to suit a bias. Where, for instance, is the outcry to let adherents of the Old Testament stone adulterers to death?
Prejudice is universal, but particular prejudices are learned in particular contexts. This is what too many anti-gay Christians seem not to realize — there is no religious reason why the Bible’s anti-gay passages should have come to dominate the hearts and minds of Christian conservatives more than its passages condemning divorce or environmental degradation. Christianity doesn’t require actually withholding services for same-sex weddings any more than it requires stoning adulterers.
There is no doubt that many Christians truly think that by refusing to cater to same-sex marriages, they are simply being faithful to their religious tradition. They’re wrong. But they’re wrong because they lack self-knowledge, not because they are expressing socially unpopular views. And as fun as it may be to publicly sneer at their ignorance and to attribute it to malice, it may be more effective to nudge them toward self-examination, to offer a kind of amnesty for their sins of omission.
I see this as one example of how most people live their lives and acquire values and prejudices from their communities (tribes), without every thinking through the rational bases for these values and prejudices. Perhaps one in a thousand might, and grow up, and the other 999 are how religions survive.