This American Life had a segment this week about a charismatic 18-year-old African-American young man from South Carolina who had been adopted at the age of 8 into a loving, evangelical family. He considers himself a conservative and a faithful Christian, but he’s gay. It’s no surprise that his parents were bitterly disappointed when he came out. His mother went on record as saying she knew this was not God’s plan for him and she prays every day that he will realize it’s all a mistake.
And there we have the problem that’s destroying the world.
Let’s hope a minister somewhere says to her, “Who among us can ever know God’s plan?” Maybe she could be convinced to open her mind a crack or two, but it’s more likely that her fundamentalist community is supporting her views and putting pressure on her son to return to that exclusively hetero world they believe God created in the Garden of Eden. The atheist would of course say, “Why do you think there even is a God to have a plan?” But that gets us nowhere fast. Belief and reason are uneasy companions at best.
That troubled South Carolina family is coexisting pretty well despite the deep chasm that has opened up in their household. The reason? They really care about each other. A lot. That’s encouraging, but their conflict is a microcosm of the more disturbing, intractable religious differences that threaten the entire world. Too many people are convinced they know God’s plan, and if you ain’t livin’ it, somebody’s gonna come in there and straighten you out–with a Bible a Quran or even a bullet if it comes to that.
If we could only focus on the things we have in common by virtue of our humanity we could begin to build a more peaceful planet. Let’s just accept that we are never going to convert those who are staunch believers in their particular God or gods, so let’s leave our deities out of it. In the Iliad the gods take sides and are at the center of much of the fighting in the Trojan War. It’s like that now, with the Faithful unfurling their banners and invoking their various deities to justify whatever position, controversy, or war they’re pushing. Like the family in South Carolina, let’s get beyond the fighting by caring about those around us, and by seeking justice for everyone, not just our tribe or clan or compatriots.
It all starts with what we teach our children. It’s extremely depressing to find out that in a school in the holy city of Qom in Iran, they have painted the flag of Israel and the United States on the floor, so that any child entering has to walk over them—a sign of disrespect and hatred (see link). This is the same country where they’re chanting “Death to America!” every day. They apparently can’t wait to destroy us. Churches in America are preaching a similar prophesy of doom as they tell their congregations “Homosexuals will burn in hell.” Children may not be chanting that frightening message, but they are absorbing it, and the world is a sadder, more tragic place as a result.