By Chez Pazienza:
Some of the most entertaining columns written for this site, I think, come from the times when Bob Cesca and I decide to get into a back-and-forth over subjects we're passionate about. While we both write here and host a podcast together, we obviously don't agree on everything nor should we; what the hell fun would that be? A couple of weeks back, Bob posted a piece that suggested that progressives need to stop demonizing people of faith and criticizing religion in general as being, essentially, a crutch for those not as evolved as, I guess, the liberal intelligentsia (who are generally insufferable anyway). From a purely PR perspective, he's absolutely right. I'm always one for acknowledging political reality, and it clearly dictates that contemptuously mocking someone's beliefs from on-high is the wrong way to win that person over to your cause. Bob's right on the money about this.
Then today he wrote a really nice little piece about everyone's favorite smug-prick-of-God Rick Warren -- pastor of California's Saddleback Mega-Church and cultivator, along with Chuck Todd, of the majestically sentient ginger goatee -- and his ongoing crusade to become America's most seemingly unthreatening homophobe and bigot. Basically, Warren went on Piers Morgan a couple of nights ago -- which speaks volumes about his judgment right there -- and claimed that being gay is just one of those natural impulses in some people that simply needs to be denied. His point is that you can have gay urges, but to act on them is dangerous and destructive. Examples of destructive urges that he, Rick Warren, personally experiences and denies include the desire to punch someone in the face and to cheat on his wife (thankfully, not the other way around, although it would've made for a much more revealing interview). Arsenic is found in nature, Warren says, but you wouldn't swallow it, silly.
So far, so predictably awful.
It's a waste to argue with Warren's logic because there isn't any there, which is kind of the point of what I'm about to say.
In his piece, Bob asks what exactly the "danger" is in being gay and where in the Bible it's justified that being gay is wrong and an affront to God. Here's the salient quote:
"If the Bible believes homosexuality is a criminally immoral act, where’s the victim? God? Why? How? No one can answer this question even though it’s the centerpiece of homophobic religious dogma."
This is a completely fair statement to make, but it betrays the problem with faith-based religion and, as a question, basically answers itself. The reality is that Rick Warren believes that being gay is wrong, dangerous and a sin against God because the Bible says so, in Leviticus 20:13. And here's the thing: that's good enough for Warren and many, many Christians. An outsider, one who believes in such quaint notions as asking for proof or demanding rational explanations for things, will come up against bulletproof obstinacy: the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it. There's no reasoning to be found there and no need to debate it any further, since the Bible is a holy book, the word of God, and we know this because it tells us it is. See how you can't get around that?
Bob, since he's sane, is attempting to apply things like logic, the burden of proof, etc. to a belief system based on none of these things. And that's the problem, the reason why people like myself are staunchly against not simply those who pervert faith but the concept of faith itself: because if something can't be subjected to the parameters that govern every other thing on the planet, every other discussion and debate, every part of our accepted reality, then that notion can be almost entirely dismissed as potentially fraudulent. The truth -- supported by empirical evidence -- is the yardstick by which we measure reality. If you don't have an at least functionally common yardstick as a society, everything descends into chaos. Anyone can make up any story he or she wants and call it the truth. And that's basically what faith-based religion is.
What's more, taking issue with someone's beliefs isn't necessarily off limits because it's our beliefs that inspire our actions. Being absolutely sure that you'll go on to another life will certainly influence your behavior in this one. Being 100% certain that the path you've chosen to God is the right one and that your savior demands that you educate as many people as you can while warning others about the impending doom they're facing should they continue on their own path will influence you as well. A specific set of beliefs is what makes you you. If these beliefs can stand up to the burden of proof we demand in all other areas of our lives, no problem. If they can't, there's a word for that, and it isn't faith -- it's delusion.
While I know a great many people who are religious whom I love dearly -- they're wonderful, good people -- I can respect them personally without respecting the belief they've chosen to embrace. I also think they'd be the same good people they are now irrespective of their faith in a deity. Faith doesn't make a bad person good or an inherently immoral person moral. I have no doubt that faith can play a positive role in people's lives, but ask yourself this: Is it really, say, God who gives the faithful comfort -- or is it the faith itself? The unshakable belief that someone is there watching out for them? The self-assurance that no matter what goes wrong, it's all part of a grand and magnificent plan to which you're not privy nor should you be?
There's an argument to be made that, hey, whatever gets you through the day. But that argument isn't, in and of itself, proof of that thing that gets you through the day. Santa Claus keeps kids excited and maybe even on their best behavior year-round, under penalty of getting a big lump of coal; it doesn't make him real.
Rick Warren believes homosexuality is dangerous and that God hates it because he believes it. Simple as that. No point at all in arguing with him. He's immune to contradictory theories or evidence because in his mind you can't theorize against God and there's no evidence that could possibly tear a belief system that's as flawlessly self-reinforcing as his asunder. If it's not based on proof anyway, how can it be disproven with contrary proof?
Again, I agree with Bob that beating up on people of faith is a terrible idea for those who espouse progressive politics -- although it should be mentioned that when I talk about religion, despite its insidious insinuation into our political discourse, I'm generally not approaching it from the perspective of a liberal or a conservative -- but that doesn't mean anyone should turn a blind eye to the problems too much religious adherence has created in our global society.
Because Rick Warren isn't a disease -- he's merely the symptom of one.