As sometimes happens on social media, I recently ran into an enlightening little exchange of hostility and aggression disguised as thoughts and ideas. It happened on Facebook, where thoughts and ideas often wither and die.
This exchange concerned a post from The New York Times — or, more specifically, The Athletic, a sports media site that partners with the NYT. The post linked to an article on The Athletic written by a gay journalist who just spent a month in Qatar covering the World Cup.
I won’t go into much detail about the story. If you want to read it, here’s a link. Suffice it to say that the journalist, Adam Crafton of the UK, writes a first-person account of how he navigated a country that has outlawed homosexual behavior.
Qatar’s LGBTQ laws became a hot-button issue during the World Cup, which wrapped up in mid-December with Argentina’s epic win over France. Many visitors and critics (mostly from Western countries) lashed out at Qatar for what they consider an infringement on basic human rights. Many others (mostly from Arab countries) countered that Qatar has a right to its own laws and culture, and both should be respected.
There was a shitstorm over rainbow flags, the unofficial emblem of the global LGBTQ community. There was another shitstorm over OneLove armbands worn by teams from several European countries as a show of unity for diversity and inclusion.
It all seems like ancient news now, even though it only happened a couple weeks ago. Such is how the news cycle works. My interest here is not to replay the controversy, or even toss in my 10-cent opinion on it (the short version: I don’t have a problem with anyone’s sexuality, or even care). I’m mainly interested in sorting out how certain types of people react to these kinds of affairs, and the role religion plays.
Which leads us back to the Facebook post….
The comments seemed to be fairly evenly divided between those who said Qatar should respect individual rights and not imprison people for their sexuality, and those who said people should respect Qatar’s laws and culture.
It was that last part – “culture” – that interests me.
The central theme was that Westerners – mainly those from Europe and North America – do not respect the laws, culture, and religious beliefs of other parts of the world, especially the Arab world. According to this viewpoint, Westerners should mind their own houses and not dip their noses into the houses of others. Western criticism of Qatar’s laws governing homosexuality is just an extension of the same old imperialism and colonialism that has been going on for centuries.
But then a funny thing happened.
Some of those who defended Qatar extended their arguments to include diatribes against homosexuality in general. It’s a sin, these folks said, a rejection of God and scripture. Many who expressed these views had Arab/Muslim names. But many also had Western/Christian names.
This is when things turned into less of a “cultural” debate – at least in terms of how cultures are defined by regions or religions – and more of a moral debate pitting a certain kind of believer against everyone else. Suddenly, it wasn’t Islam/|Middle East vs. Christianity/West, but faith vs. secularism.
You had to remind yourself that Qatar is hardly alone in using religious edicts to influence laws governing sexual behavior – and everything else.
It wasn’t that long ago that certain sexual acts were illegal in the USA – backed by the full support of organized religion. A 1950 U.S. Senate report stated that “since homosexuality is a mental illness, homosexuals ‘constitute security risks’ to the nation because ‘those who engage in overt acts of perversion lack the emotional stability of normal persons.’”
The United States has evolved since then. But in private, you wonder how many churchgoers (and even non-churchgoers) still consider homosexuality a “mental illness” and “perversion.”
Many of the Muslims and Christians on this Facebook post sounded exactly alike in their views about God, sexuality, sin, and judgement. If you couldn’t identify their religions by their names or locations, you’d have a hard time telling them apart. And yet I imagine one side considers the other side blasphemous in worshiping the “wrong” God.
I lay no claim to being a religious person. If you were to ask, I’d call myself an agnostic. I have no particular faith in God, but neither do I claim there is no God. Honestly, I just don’t know.
Atheists – those who believe there is no God – like to accuse agnostics of copping out, of not being intellectually honest enough to deny the existence of God. That’s a ridiculous argument, in my opinion. The truth is, atheists have no more idea if there’s a God than anyone else. They’re just guessing. That’s why they call it belief instead of fact.
According to one estimate, there are more than 4,000 organized religions in the world. These range from the five major religions that cover most of the world’s population – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism – to small indigenous religions that might have only a couple hundred believers.
In most cases, those who adhere to a specific religion believe their God is the only true God, and the other 4,000-plus religions are misguided at best or heretical at worst. You can see how this has led to many millennia of divisiveness and bloodshed.
We raise our two daughters as Catholics. Rather, my wife does. She takes them to Mass every Sunday and organizes the various life events (baptism, first communion, other things I don’t know about). All credit goes to her. I stay home when they go to church – but I am glad they go to church, and encourage the experience.
It’s my belief that children should be exposed to spiritual faith. When they are adults, they can make their own decisions about it. That’s how it worked for my siblings and I when we were kids. I chose one path as an adult, and the others chose a different path.
I do believe most people of faith are guided by positive forces – even if many don’t always act like it.
I also believe every religion provides plenty of fodder for certain people to spread hate, abuse, bigotry, and violence. You wonder how things would play out if more of these people had control of the gears of power, and if nobody was around to challenge them. You wonder if God would approve.
Note: The artwork is a 16th century painting depicting persecution of non-believers.