Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Unrequited? Why the atheists love the gay more than vice-versa...

I've been thinking about this question ever since I read Greta Christina's post on being an atheist in the queer community. I don't mean this to be a question of blame -- quite the opposite. I'd kind of like to understand the situation better, in order to avoid unfair expectations.

Reason #1: taking back one's faith

I suspect that there's a higher proportion of atheism in the queer population than in the general population -- that is, gay people are more likely to be atheist than straight people. You're more likely to question (and then follow those questions all the way to atheism) if God-belief isn't working for you. And being repeatedly told that God thinks you're an abomination would be a pretty strong motivation to ask yourself, "Wait a minute -- Who is this God dude anyway?"

But, really, that's the only link with atheism for the gay folks, and not everyone who questions God's existence winds up disbelieving. Some gay people take great comfort in their faith and in their traditions, and would rather question the assumption that God doesn't love them the way they are. For such people, to embrace the atheists would be like granting that the homophobes are the true people of faith, and are the ones who are qualified to pronounce on what God likes and doesn't like (in particular, homosexuality). It's too much like saying, "OK, if God were to exist, then you're right, He would hate me," which a lot of gay people aren't ready to grant.

Reason #2: goal alignment

Even if the gay people's needs don't line up exactly with the atheists, the common goals in the opposite direction couldn't be more obvious. Here's a case of harmful (discriminatory) laws getting passed -- based solely on religious justification, with no objective reasoning to back them up. That is exactly the sort of thing that is of most concern to atheists as a group.

Reason #3: visibility

The GLBT community got out there and said "We're here! We're queer! Get used to it." So now the atheists (like everybody else) are used it. With a little more visibility, people will start to get used to the atheists as well. (Though we don't have a good rhyme... Any ideas?)

Reason #3: the popularity ladder

Gay people are currently more accepted by the general population. Sure, they're almost as despised as the atheists, but that little difference counts for quite a lot when you're near the bottom of the popularity ladder.

This isn't an atheist/gay thing -- it's human nature in general. You don't improve your popularity by hanging out with the folks who are even more nerdy than yourself, you improve your popularity by telling those above you on the social ladder that you're like them, and join them in looking down on someone else. I touched on the personal-life version of this in the novella Young Women's, but it's also standard fare within and among disadvantaged groups...

Other ideas?

20 comments:

Holly said...

With a little more visibility, people will start to get used to the atheists as well. (Though we don't have a good rhyme... Any ideas?)

We're here
we're atheists
We're bloody sick
of being dissed

We're here
We're atheists
you better not
get us pissed

We're here
We're atheists
you better let us
coexist

We're here
We're atheists
We're a bunch
of altruists

We're here
We're atheists
We're sick of
all you dogmatists

Maybe?

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Holly!!!

Not bad. I was kind of hoping for something a little more friendly, but then again, that's probably why I'm not good at political activism... ;^)

Mr. Fob said...

I was going to suggest "We're here! God's not! Get used to it!" but Holly's suggestions actually rhyme, so she wins.

Holly said...

The "we're a bunch of altruists" could be warm and fuzzy....

I like Mr. Fob's suggestion a lot, personally. But if you want it to rhyme, how about

We're here
God's not
other people
are all we've got

Get used to it
make the best of it
'Cause we unbelievers
ain't gonna quit

or some such thing.

C. L. Hanson said...

Wow, this is really coming together! :D

I like Mr. FOB's because it's pithy and funny, but you're rhymed riff on it really sums up the point well!

B. Spinoza said...

I recently met a gay person who came from an Orthodox Jewish family (which is similar to a Mormon social structure, I think), who is no longer a believer. He is open about his sexuality to his parents, but he hides the fact that he no longer keeps the sabbath. I thought this was interesting. He explained that people are more willing to accept a person's sexuality because people have realized that it's a part of their genetic makeup and not a choice. However, religious observance is a choice people make. I would argue, though, that belief is not a choice. I don't think people can decide one day to switch sides. They can do research and think about it, but in the end it's not a willful decision to believe or not.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey B. Spinoza!!!

The story of your Orthodox Jewish friend doesn't surprise me that much. I've had some conversations with various atheist-jewish bloggers about how (in both the Mormon and Jewish community) sometimes breaking commandments is more shocking or upsetting to family members than simple unbelief.

That said, denouncing homosexuality is such a central issue in Mormonism that I can't imagine an out gay non-believer pretending to believe in Mormonism for the sake of family. I think that for Mormons, being a practicing homosexual is considered worse than being a straight non-believer. To go through the motions of Mormonism, you'd have to remain celibate. You'd also have to sit through lessons about how evil and wrong it would be for you to act on your sexuality in any context.

I think for many religions, though, it's true that homosexuality is becoming more accepted for exactly the reason you cite: people now realize that homosexuality is not a choice, but they still think unbelief is a choice. I agree with you, though, that it's not. There's nothing I could do to make myself believe that the God of the Bible exists or believe the character is good.

Mr. Fob said...

Holly's rhymed version of mine is the way to go. Now do we submit it to the International Atheists' Council to make it official? :)

I actually found it much more difficult to tell my family I no longer believed in Mormonism than to tell them that I'm gay, but my case is different because I'm not a "practicing" homosexual. Mormonism seems to be getting to the point of accepting that homosexual attraction is not a choice, but that's accepted only with the caveat that good Mormon homosexuals will choose to continue believing and therefore not to act on their homosexual attraction.

Holly said...

re: belief as choice--did you see this clip on "gay scientists isolate Christian gene"? It's pretty funny.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCzbNkyXO50

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Mr. FOB!!!

You're right that the Mormons are specifically against people acting on homosexual desires and that the LDS church is now starting to recognize that homosexual attraction is not a choice. But once you recognize that homosexual attraction is innate and involuntary, it becomes crystal clear how cruel it is to tell people to forego that type of love and companionship for no apparent reason.

Hey Holly!!!

Yeah, that one is fantastic!!! :D

B. Spinoza said...

>it becomes crystal clear how cruel it is to tell people to forego that type of love and companionship for no apparent reason.

unless you're a believer and then eternal life comes into the mix. Be celibate in this crummy life and you'll be rewarded for all eternity. Sounds like a sweet deal if it were true

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

I agree that in most Mormon circles, being an atheist heterosexual is far better than being a gay, even a theistic or deistic one. That's certainly the case in my family, where we have many cousins and a few uncles/aunts who are non-religious/atheists, and who get treated just fine by the family, but my being gay was somehow suddenly a deal-breaker for them.

Being in Utah as a gay atheist had certainly been interesting. It's inevitable that at every gay rights rally/protest I attend, god/Jesus will be invoked in a way that is saying "We're the ones who REALLY understand what god wants and that he approves of being gay. The anti-gay religious people are the ones who are wrong." Which just seems so incredibly pointless and counter-productive.

It's also very off-putting to those of us who are non-religious & atheists. They use religion as a way to build excitement, support or argue for equality in a way that has made me simply leave more than one event because the religious nonsense was so over the top. They don't get that I (and many others) are just as creeped out by anti-gay religious hysteria as I am by pro-gay religious hysteria.

It would seem to be better argue from a civil rights, humanistic, scientific standpoint, and therefore not alienate anyone in the LGBT community, and not be trying to battle out whose god-concept is more "right" with the right-wing theists.

John Hamer said...

On the original question of the post, I think your Reason #3 hits on the real answer.

This has essentially nothing to do with gay people and everything to do with atheism, and where it's at in the culture. In the U.S. still, atheists have only just begun their visibility movement. Regular people are not as familiar with atheism as they are with homosexuality. And despite the fact that they're gay, most gay people are pretty regular and wouldn't necessarily be more educated on this topic than the regular population.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey B. Spinoza!!!

The promise of an afterlife works a lot of the time, but it's most successful when what religion asks you to do isn't very far from what you would have done otherwise. When the way to make the here-and-now so much better is just so simple and obvious, then afterlife promises start to pale in comparison.

Hey Craig!!!

I agree that trying to fight the Religious Right over who has the right God-belief is pointless and counter-productive. Anyone can say "God is on our side," but not everyone can claim to have justice and human rights on their side.

Hey John!!!

Yeah, that's probably it...

The Sinister Porpoise said...

Caring that someone doesn't believe in God seems to be an absolutely stupid idea. And remember, according to our current moronic president I'm one of those bitter Pennsylvanians clinging to god and my guns.

(Obama, would you mind issuing a real apology for this statement instead of insulting me and everyone I know personally and care about?)

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

Actually I think Obama's comment was quite insightful and relevant. And he's very, very far from being a moron.

The Sinister Porpoise said...

How was it insightful? Is this another big city person looking on small town people as ignorant hicks?

Why does no one get that was his attitude?

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

Well, I don't think that was what he was doing, and I'm from the country myself.

I think this was a statement that showed that he isn't nearly as religious as he's been portrayed. He was recognising the inherent problems in society that ideological beliefs which aren't amenable to logic or correction are causing. Clinging to religion and guns aren't a positive way to deal with hardship, and cause a lot of problems. I think that was his point, and as I said, it's a valid one.

Ender said...

"We're here! God's not! Get used to it!"

Even as a Christian this one makes me laugh, so it gets my vote. Some religious people would not be so welcoming :(

"We're here
We're atheists
We're a bunch
of altruists"

This one though is not a good claim and one destined to become silly as more and more people become atheists; people are not by and large all altruists.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Ender!!!

Good points, and thanks for your input. :D