Archive for October, 2012

Humanists and Gay and Black Liberation

October 28th, 2012 Comments off

Humanists often use the term ‘coming out’, a term appropriated  from the Gay Liberation movement of the late 1960’s and 70’s.  We like to think ourselves in the same tradition of taking a public stance in our moral position, in defiance of the common wisdom and tradition.  Here’s  a second look at the validity of taking that stance. And here is also a suggestion to take a cue from an unlikely source: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

I came out as a gay man in the early 1960’s and was present at the Stone Wall action (only the newspapers called it a ‘riot’ at the time), and was at the front of the first Gay Pride Parade, up Fifth Avenue in New York City. For us, it was a critical moment, a spontaneous release of  many years of self-repression, a throwing off of doubt, a surging of real pride.

We thought of ourselves as, and were, a  part of the mid-20th century era of liberation; we came right after the pinnacle of the Civil Rights movement, and presumed to be in that great tradition of civil disobedience, rebellion, and self assersion.

I had friends who had traveled on the Freedom Bus, marched in Selma, protested in Birmingham.  And they said to me, “You have some nerve, equating yourselves to our struggle.”

And they were right. Gays were never enslaved; never beaten, tortured, even killed, at the whim of a ‘master’.  We weren’t lynched, made to ride at the back of the bus, denied access to public places, given the lousiest education, the worst jobs. Black were, and still face hardships.

The gay person can easily hide.  We can vote, swim in the pool, watch the show, ride the bus, even get married, and no one will know, so long as she hides herself, doesn’t reveal her emotions, pretends to be the same as the others.  Black Liberation and Gay Liberation are NOT equivalent, nor can they be.

Today, atheists want recognition for our own unique perspective.  We need to stand up and shout out our pride in our beliefs.  Our families, our friends, need to know that good is not the sole property of the religious.  Equal treatment, equal respect, is a human right.

But our cause is not equivilant to the Gay Liberation cause.  When gays used to congregate in bars, the police felt free to storm in with force, break up the meeting, and arrest everyone present; our meetings are not broken up by those jack-booted thugs.  We haven’t been called nasty names for all our lives (pansy, queer, faggot, dyke…etc., etc.).  We haven’t known the fear of roving gangs of youths out for a fun night of fag-bashing.  No one has recently tied us to a fencepost, beat us bloody, and left us to freeze to death.

But not being ‘equivalent to’ does not mean being nothing like.  We share many of the same goals as the gay and black communities.

[DDET more…]

In his dissenting opinion to Lawrence v Texas (2003), which ruled unconstitutional so-called sodomy laws (the justification for legal harrassment of gays), Justice Antonin Scalia refers to “…the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.”

He was right. Elimination of moral opprobrium was precisely one of the goals of the gay liberation movement.  And it’s also the atheist’s goal.  Because there is a moral opprobrium attached to atheism, agnosticism, and dissent from the approved orthodoxy.  It’s not equal to that attached to homosexuality, but it’s there just the same.  It’s stifling, spreading ignorance and working against equality for all the people, and we need stand up and demonstrate against it.

“Opprobrium” means ‘disapproval of shameful behavior.’  We can’t do so much about the disapproval itself–except to demonstrate the the behavior is not really ‘shameful’.  But we can and must object to the actions society takes to express its ‘disapproval.’

Employment practices that discriminate against the non-believer.  You shouldn’t have to hide your disbelief from your employer, or feel you could be fired, or passed over for promotion, if you did.

Exclusionary activities, such as public prayer, that make anyone who doesn’t participate  a pariah.  There’s nothing to prevent Tim Tebow from making a fool of himself on the football field; but when there’s a prayer on the PA system, that’s excluding anyone who doesn’t agree with the expressed religious belief.

Requirements in government, tests both legal and non-legal.  Who can run for public office without expressing belief in god?

Intrusion of religious belief into the life of civil society: e.g. banning contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage; these are all based upon religious belief, not upon any objective criteria.

Humanists– atheists– have never had a ‘stonewall moment’.  Maybe we need to rebel at some football games.  Perhaps we should ask Pussy Riot to join us for an action at St Patricks Cathedral.  Can we bare our souls at a Humanist Pride March, as some gays bare bottoms at Gay Pride marches?

Barring the above, we can at least reveal ourselves, to our neighbors, to our families and friends.  That’s a bare, minimum first step.



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