But now we got weapons,
Of the chemical dust.
If fire them we’re forced to,
Then fire them we must.
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide,
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side.
-Bob Dylan, “With God on Our Side”
I gave a presentation on the topic of homophobia at a university in New York City. I talked about my own experiences as the target of harassment and abuse growing up gay, and I addressed my book, Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price. In the book I argue that everyone, regardless of their actual sexual identity is hurt by homophobia and, therefore, it is in everyone’s self-interest to work to reduce and ultimately eliminate this very real and insidious form of oppression.
Following my presentation, two students came up to me — one young woman and one young man — to continue the discussion. The woman began by telling me:
“I’m really sad to hear about the abuse that you and others have received because you are gay or lesbian. I am here to tell you that I have a way to prevent that from ever happening to you again. I believe that Jesus Christ can help you. If you ask Jesus and pray hard, Jesus will save you from your homosexual feelings and help you to achieve the life that is meant for you, in his service, as a happy and healthy heterosexual. This will save you from the abuse you have suffered.”
My response: “So, let me see if I understand you: If I accept Jesus in my life and ask him to help me become heterosexual, then I won’t suffer from homophobia any longer? So, to be supported in society, I must change who I am and conform to the dominant standards of society? So, for people like yourself to truly support me, I must become like you? While I understand that you are offering me, in your mind, a gift, do you not see how this in itself is a form of homophobia, a form of oppression? Do you not see how this perpetuates oppression?”
She responded with surprise and claimed that she knew the “truth,” and that if accepted, could grant me salvation and happiness, but if rejected, would result in continued earthly and eventual eternal torment.
We continued our dialogue for more than one hour, and we ended cordially. All the while, the young man had been closely looking on and listening to the young woman and my discussion. Then the young man spoke to me.
He asked: “Professor Blumenfeld, you stated that you are a writer, that you had published a number of articles and books. Is this correct?”
“Yes,” I responded.
“Okay, then,” he continued. “You know that in the writing process, the first draft is never really complete and isn’t very good.”
“Yes, that’s often the case,” I agreed.
“Okay, then after you have had some time for reflection and you write your second draft, this is an improvement over the first draft, but still, it can be improved. So after further reflection and writing, your third version is great. Now you can send it to your publisher.”
I said to him, “Oh no, please don’t tell me that this is a metaphor for religious texts.”
“Yes, indeed,” he uttered. “The first draft is the Hebrew Bible — not so good. The second draft is the Christian scriptures — somewhat better, but not much. But the best version, the third, is the Quran: the real truth, the ultimate truth, the only truth.”
My response to this young man: “As we speak, we are standing a few short blocks from the former World Trade Center towers. Utterances and understandings like yours and like the young woman I just spoke with, and by people of any faith, that there is one and only one ultimate religious truth results in people taking it upon themselves, for example, to crash airplanes into buildings. Utterances like yours of people of any faith give people justification to kill in the name of their interpretation of ‘God.’”
“Why,” I argued, “cannot the young woman I just spoke with realize that her understanding of God, while valid and reliable for her, may simply not be valid and reliable for me or for you, too? And why cannot you realize that your understanding may be great for you, but not necessarily for me and for the Christian woman. How many deaths must occur before we realize that there are many ways toward the truth, not one way for everyone when it comes to religion and spirituality?”
That was then. Though it occurred some years ago, this discussion comes back to my memory giving me an insight I previously had not known: That “truth” is what the dominant group declares to be “true.”
“Knowledge” is anything the dominant group defines as “knowledge,” though “knowledge” itself is socially constructed and produced.
How many wars are we going to justify in the name of “God,” our “God” versus their so-called “false gods”?
Someone said to me once that throughout the ages more people have been killed in the name of religion than all the people who have ever died of all diseases combined.
I don’t know whether this is actually the case, but I do think it highlights a vital point, that we continually kill others and are killed by others over concepts that can never be proven.
Throughout history, the Jews and Muslims have killed each other, the Christians and Muslims have killed each other, the Christians and Jews have killed each other, the Hindus and Muslims have killed each other, the Catholics and Protestants have killed each other, the Sunni Muslims and the Shiite Muslims have killed each other, many faith communities have killed Atheists and Agnostics, and on and on and on.
In psychology, there is the notion that insanity is doing something over and over again while expecting different results. The insanity of the world continues because human beings do not know their history, do not understand that we are doing something over and over again while expecting different results, namely, we are expecting peace to break out.
Individuals and entire nations continue to believe that their reality fits all, and that it is proper and right to force their beliefs onto others “with God on our side.”
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