It’s become an easy punchline that any given politician or religious figure will eventually be “caught in the act” of engaging in gay sex. Obviously, there’s no problem with two adults engaging in private acts under informed consent of all involved, but we can take great joy in exposing their hypocrisy. I don’t know about anyone else, but I am looking forward to the day that one of the David Mannings and the Steven Andersons of the world get their gay sex tapes leaked across the internet.
This leads to the question, why is this occurrence somewhat commonplace? As one study found last year, the more passionate homophobes actually have a high likelihood of actually being gay. The concept of repressed and internalized homophobia is not a new concept to us, but why would actual queers be the most vocal on these issues? I propose that the simplest answer is that it comes back to the conservative and authoritarian religious “morality”, the one that places arbitrary rules on silly “sins”. This ideology leads to a lot of harm down the road, which is one of the biggest reasons it would be best for religious morality to be eradicated altogether.
I will demonstrate this by comparison. First, look at the foundational principles of secular morality. We know that if an action that we take causes harm to someone else, it is immoral. We can demonstrate things that cause harm, because we can see that people are generally better off when they are wealthier, healthier, and less dead. Compare this to religious morality. Something is wrong when it’s a “sin”. What is is a sin in Christianity? A sin is whatever the god of the Bible says.
This is not new information at all, but it’s important to keep these in mind when discussing our motivations for discouraging immoral behavior. For secular humanists, we want to discourage immoral behavior because by our definition it causes harm to people. If someone has been murdering people, we want that to stop immediately. We want them to stop not because someone said so, and not because we found it in some ancient text written by disparate authors who thought making goats look at sticks while they fuck gave the offspring stripes. We want them to stop because as secular humanists we recognize that as far as we know we have one life and we value the precious time we have to experience it, and thus we want to prevent anything that will cause innocents to have that life taken away. We arrest the perpetrator not to merely give punishment to that person, but to isolate them from the general public, and hopefully rehabilitate them such that they will change their behavior in the future. Since religious morality doesn’t have this motivation, non-seculars are left with merely acting “moral” for the fuck of it.
Up to this point, I don’t think I’ve said anything particularly novel, but I propose that we need to put ourselves in the perspective of the fundamentalist religious person. From birth they are taught not to physically harm people, not to steal, and not to be gay. All of these are wrong merely because they fall under the category of sin. For the first two sins listed here, practically everyone has had the urge to do these. Right or wrong, it’s a somewhat common instinctual response to lash out physically at someone who has said something inflammatory or made a threat. And it makes sense that we would want to take something that we didn’t earn. Both of these have perfectly coherent natural instincts behind them that explain the impulse, even though we can also recognize that they are harmful. But if you asked the religious person why someone might want to do those things, a common response would be “temptation”. The person would want to sin because “demons” or “the devil” are tempting them.
If this is how the religious model works, then consider a hypothetical evangelical who also happens to be gay and closeted. From an enlightened modern understanding of sexuality we know that this person doesn’t really choose their orientation. Even if they cite the Bible or their traditions as reasons to decry gay sexual behavior they will still have urges they can’t control. This person might, at some point, also have a compulsion kill someone, this person might have an urge to take from a store without paying, and this person will have a temptation to act upon their sexual urges with someone of the same sex. To a conservative evangelical, these are all sins. And the reason that we want to do all these things is apparently because we are broken beings tainted with original sin, it’s simply in our nature. In this religious model, it absolutely makes sense that “being gay” is a choice. From the closeted gay evangelical’s perspective, everyone could be having the same urges to act upon their sexuality, just as everyone occasionally has an impulse to act in other ways that harm other humans. From his perspective, parents in a traditional nuclear family have the same gay urges that he does, but they are vindicated by not acting on their assumed same-sex urges and putting up with each other.
For this reason, the motivations behind legally banning gay marriage and banning murder are the same. They are both affronts to the creator of the cosmos, who conveniently just so happens to have all the say on what is moral or not. It doesn’t matter that gay consensual sex gives pleasure and happiness to the two participants and murder takes away everything for someone. To the gay homophobe, the person who has gay sex is simply someone who has given into the evil despite scriptural teachings. This is no different from murder, which under fundagelicalism is bad because someone gave into the temptation to murder. The murder may have taken someone’s life, but under an authoritarian religious worldview the part of that which is wrong is the mere disobedience of scripture. The gay person and the murderer have committed the same slight against the creator of the cosmos, which is not harm against a fellow human, but mere disobedience.
This creates a problem for a closeted gay evangelical. They are epistemologically blocked from explaining why being gay is wrong. In a world where people are increasingly becoming more and more accepting of queer folks, religious leaders need to become better at defending themselves. Perhaps they are baffled that they can’t call something merely “immoral” without being questioned. If a pastor talks about some current event like a shooting or an assault in the news, it’s pretty safe to say that he won’t get any pushback if he calls it “immoral”. But with the changing cultural tide, he now requires justification for saying so. In a church, he’s allowed to point to the Bible. He’s allowed to point to certain verses to justify why murder is immoral, and he’s able to point to certain verses why homosexuality is immoral. This works fine in a church, but it holds much less water in the real world.
This perspective may seem nutty, but it falls within the realm of their apologetics. After all, one of the supposed arguments against atheism are, “If there is no god, then what’s stopping you from killing and raping everyone you can?” This has been discussed on national outlets. It’s prominent enough that perpetual homeless GI Joe lookalike Phil Robertson used a similar argument last year in a speech detailing the gruesome murder of an atheist family, or that Penn Jillette felt a need to respond to it on his Sunday School. To an evangelical, the only thing stopping people from murdering is the rules laid down from on high. Apparently the existence of suffering that everyone experiences, any screams that a victim may give out, pale in comparison to a set of arbitrary rules form a creator. And to the closeted gay evangelical, the only thing that is stopping him from putting his dick into another dude’s butthole is the Good Book and the grace of the Good Lord Jesus Christ.
It doesn’t help that there are multiple bible verses that can support the case that all sins are equal:
James 2:10 – For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one, he is guilty of all.
1 John 3:15 – Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.
Matthew 12:31 – Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men
It’s true that there are verses that say the opposite (Jesus explicitly refers to a “greater sin” in John 19:11), but that has other problems not relevant to this post. The point is that all sin is apparently wrong because it has been ordained to be wrong. If almost any sin has the same price of eternal damnation unless you repent, then it makes sense to think they’re equally important. If murder and buttsex are perceived on the same moral level and a surge of people come out saying that the latter is ok, then it only makes sense that people would speak out about this. Of course, this only serves to detail how warped the authoritarian morality system is.
It’s important that if we want to stop harmful ideas, we understand the perspective from the disagreeing party, no matter how deplorable. If we can get to the source, it will help us cut off the problem. I don’t advocate pretending that we can read minds, so I will never be able to say what pastors are truly thinking. But this model makes sense to me in a world of vocal anti-gay religious leaders and politicians who end up having secret gay underpinnings. I would love to probe one of these David Mannings of the world, ask him about his attractions, why he’s so outspoken about this particular sin, etc. But that doesn’t seem likely to happen, so for now I’m content to watch them scream and cry as society catches up with true morality.