Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Terrible Destructive Power of Religion

One local Baptist church regularly runs ads on the radio station I listen to in the morning for traffic report updates.  To listen to these ads, if one just merely accepts Jesus all of life's problems will go away and one will be showered with certainty in life.  Never mind that this ultra conservative church has strong anti-gay attitudes with a strong dose of racism if one actually knows more about the church and its agenda.  Likewise, never mind that a lobotomy would give one a similar blank minded existence.  The ads make me want to scream because for gays, it is the form of religion peddled by such churches is the source of much of our mental and emotional torment and third class status as citizens.  Indeed, for many gays religion isn't the solution but the very heart of the problem.  Especially when virulently anti-gay Christofascists seek to infuse their hate and fear based form of religion into public policy.  Personally, it took years of therapy for me to get over the psychological damage done to me being raised as a Roman Catholic.  An op-ed in The Advocate looks at how one gay man - who tried to be "cured" much as I had done - found peace and self-acceptance by leaving religion and embracing  those who loved him.  Here are some excerpts:

Sometimes a person can descend so low into his or her own misery that returning to the world is impossible without the help of another person. Sinking deeper and deeper into self-loathing as an adolescent, I thought that person would be Jesus.

I was a gregarious child, but I lost my self-confidence around the age of 11. Shortly after joining a fundamentalist, nondenominational Christian church at the encouragement of friends, I realized I was gay. The evangelical community I converted into made it clear that embracing my same-sex attractions was not an option, but they presented a way out: I could pray the gay away.

I launched a private campaign to cure myself of my sexual orientation. I prayed and fasted obsessively, spending my middle school lunch periods in an empty classroom with an empty stomach, a teen study Bible plastered with bumper stickers, a Discman to play Christian worship music, and a journal for reflecting on my efforts.

This self-imposed isolation went on for years, but my attractions remained. Growing more and more frustrated that I was perpetually hiding this struggle and not seeing any hope of change, I became despondent. I kept praying and fasting, waiting to wake up straight, but I was at the end of my rope.

In a moment of deep despair, I toyed with ending my life. Late one night, I took a knife into the bathroom, turned on the fan, and bolted the door shut. I walked into the shower and sat down, sliding the glass door shut behind me. The house was silent, except for the drip of the faucet and the sound of air rapidly entering and exiting my nostrils.

I couldn’t work up the nerve to end my own life, yet I wasn’t really living. I stumbled through life like a zombie, totally disconnected from what was going on around me, fixated on changing something I could not, seeking solace in the Bible, in prayer, in worshipping a God I was sure was disgusted by me. I could find no relief. Surrounding myself with people who saw me as the perfect Christian, I felt trapped within my own lie of a life — one I could not bring myself to end, but one I could not go on living.

[My mother] was something of a stickler when it came to how we kept our rooms, and she knew I was hiding my clutter in the back of my closet as I always did. While digging out my mess, she found the notebook in which I’d been detailing my agony and read some of its contents.

Soon after, she picked me up from an event. I got into the car, and she said, “We need to talk.” Those words could only mean one thing: I was in big trouble. My heart leapt into the back of my throat. I was sure that it was the moment I’d feared more than anything. I started to mentally catalogue everything I had loved about my family. This is it, I thought to myself, you’re on your own now.

I felt the light touch of my mother’s hand on my back.  “I love you, and nothing will ever change that,” she said, and I couldn’t stop shaking.

The next day, she took me to meet with a Christian minister who told me that God loves all people, queer and straight, and that I didn’t need to change. This moment changed my life forever, and set me on the course toward the work that I do now as an atheist-interfaith activist. My experiences of feeling isolated and misunderstood inform my conviction that it is imperative to work for a world where people of all sexual orientations, and all different faiths and beliefs, understand one another better — a society where all people can live openly and be who they are without fear.

[M]y mother had saved me, loving me when I did not love myself. Her love was a gift, given at the moment I needed it most — and I intend to pass it on.

The author's struggle against deeply instilled religious based self hate is not unique and countless LGBT individuals continue this struggle even as I type this post.  And for what purpose?  So that pompous, self-centered, self congratulatory preachers and clergy can shake down the masses for money and so that their weak minded followers can feel superior to others?  It is a travesty, yet given the undeserved deference given to religion this poisonous and deadly phenomenon continues to destroy lives. 

Like the author, I was lucky and both of my late parents accepted me unconditionally when I came out (it's why I established a scholarship to help financially needy LGBT teens in their honor), but far too many LGBT individuals are not so lucky.  Hence the disproportionate number of LGBT yoth among the homeless in our cities.

Unlike the author, I did try to end my own life.  Twice.  First through a massive dose of Xanax - I lost consciousness as my former partner got me to the ER - and later via a fifth of vodka and a running vehicle in a closed garage.  In the later attempt, the police, alerted by the boyfriend, showed up before I completed the act.  Other LGBT individuals succeed where I failed all to often.  What drove me to it in both instances was the hate and viciousness against gays fanned by the "godly Christian" folk that pervades many members of the judiciary and far too many members of society who seemingly can only feel good about themselves when making life for others a living Hell.  Science tells us that being gay is normal and unchangeable for a certain percentage of us.  Yet the self-designated godly folk prefer to cling to the writings of ignorant Bronze Age herders so that they can look down on others.  Religion in this form is a pervasive evil and it needs to die.

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