A girl had a friend who was being abused. This little girl’s mother could have intervened, but her instinct for justice was tempered by some of the abuser’s justifications for the ill-treatment. As a member of a God-fearing community that didn’t want any trouble, she found it risky to question these explanations.
So, as did the priest and the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the mother looked the other way and relied on others’ judgement to justify her complacency with the status quo.
The daughter, however, could not divide herself into one part that judged the friend alongside society, and another that empathised. Not tainted by the “knowledge of good and evil” we use to categorise some as worthier of protection than others, she wholly and nakedly identified with her friend’s suffering.
By not taking the girl’s concern to heart, the mother resisted identifying with her daughter the way she, in turn, identified with her friend, wasting away in the shadows. As a result, the daughter grew unable to trust her mother with her own heart.
This parable is about gays (the abused friend), gay allies (the girl) and the church (the mother).
The Medical School Christian Fellowship at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine allegedly incited religious homophobia against gay medical students with nary a peep from the broader church. Yet Christianity is based on identifying – with the other, no matter how inconvenient the consequences.
If straight parishioners can’t trust the church to believe gay lives matter, they’ll soon realise that the white church, for example, doesn’t think black lives matter either: the whole institution will unravel.
Christianity’s core message is that Christ died to save humanity from its bondage to the self-righteousness that invokes religion as an excuse to not empathetically intervene when needed. By being “made into sin” and becoming a scapegoat, Jesus turned the religious sacrificial system on its head, unmasking the hideous violence beneath its veneer of piety.
The self-preservation impulse is powered by self-justification and self-righteousness. Biblically, to sin is to miss the mark of loving others; it’s using them instead to make more of ourselves.
Every problem religion purportedly exists to solve — lust, for example — derives its deadliest effects from self-righteousness, which retains its foothold in the human psyche through self-justification. Ask a sexual assaulter or an exploiter why he’s done what he’s done, and he will gaslight until he’s right and you’re wrong.
“The power of sin is law,” as the scripture says, because religious law is an exercise in self-righteousness so as to justify what we would otherwise reject as unconscionable.
That’s why white supremacy is in the same WhatsApp group as cultural Christianity. The black people who use the Bible to persecute gays will also, by religious countries, be persecuted. Prejudice against others seems to offer a chance at self-preservation, but it’s always suicide.
Disease arises from being “ill-at-ease” in one’s skin. I spent much of my childhood in hospitals. In hindsight, my body was working out the implications of the idea (absorbed by immersion in others’ dog-whistled homophobia) that I was “wired wrong”. Having no one else to put in the wrong so I could feel better about myself, having no other blood sacrifice to offer up as expatiation, my body turned on itself. I now believe that a future doctor who holds beliefs that underpin disease worsens it.
The Old Testament’s blood sacrifices were graphic pictures of what self-justification looks like: by sacrificing animals, humans vicariously surrendered the lives they’d held to when they self-preserved by self-justification. In the New Testament, we learn that one cannot trust in Jesus’s being the victim of human self-righteousness while still partaking of self-righteous systems that instigate crucifixions in the first place. The rationale behind that execution (“It is more expedient that one man should die than for the whole nation to perish”) is Christianity’s core lesson: a world too safe to question its own ideological consistency with the rules it uses to crucify “sinners” is too dangerous for even God’s Son.
In a heart-rending piece, Stephen Bradford Long bastardised one of Saint Augustine’s most infamous expressions:
“The church is a whore and I am her gay son.”
My experience with religion is it pimps everyone out on the slave-market of sin; it sacrifices everyone to the unholy trinity of false security, power and privilege.
“At first glance, it seems strange that the attitude of the anti-Semite can be equated with that of the negrophobe,” Frantz Fanon admitted.
“It was my philosophy teacher from the Antilles who reminded me one day: ‘When you hear someone insulting the Jews pay attention; he is talking about you’” because “the anti-Semite is inevitably a negrophobe.”
Until scapegoating is completely disarmed in principle, no one is safe. Homophobia is just racism in another skin.
The status quo always appears God-ordained. “Pretoria”, too, was an invisible, remote god with an inscrutable reason apartheid had to be maintained. Its beneficiaries remained complicit while denying complicity. Worse, they were certain that since “God” was behind the system (because it worked for them) any affront to it was an affront to “Christian” (read: white supremacist) values (i.e., interests).
How is a colonial religion whose core lesson is the danger of religious systems still used to shore up the religious self-righteousness of black people? DM