Facing the Backlash from Religious Addicts

We’re now in the throes of a backlash against equal rights for LGBT people that’s in full swing while many think the fight is over. Its ferocity and meanness has been predicted not only in this column but elsewhere, with numerous warnings for us to prepare for this moment.

    Anticipated in April is: It’s Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, a new book by Michelangelo Signorile. In it he warns that it’s a dangerous illusion to believe now that victory is inevitable. He writes of the bigotry of the current religious conservative backlash against LGBT rights while challenging the complacency and hypocrisy of supposed allies in Washington, the media, and Hollywood.

    I ‘m looking forward to his insights as one of the strongest and most well-informed analysts in the LGBT community. But before his book appears, let’s make sure we’re equipped with an understanding of how to deal with the right-wing backlash we’re seeing now all around us that’s not waiting until April.

    We’re experiencing it in statehouses around the country, among reactionaries in the U.S. House and Senate, and among regressive judges throughout state judicial systems. We’re seeing it in backlash referenda, bills trying to redefine marriage and adoption, states overriding local protection ordinances, the rollback of state executive orders for employment protection, and religious leaders calling even for executions of LGBT people.

    As discussed in this column in the last months, the current backlash is nationally orchestrated by sectarian religious organizations that have used anti-LGBT fear-mongering to fund themselves ever since the fall of Communism took away that boogeyman. Until their movement is able to establish anti-Muslim bigotry as their scare tactic, LGBT people will continue as a well-worn evil threat on the horizon.

    As a reactionary movement based on religious symbols, fears, institutions, and icons, we need to be crystal clear about how we deal with this backlash sanctified by religion and led by religious leaders. We frankly cannot reach everyone, just as less than 50% of those in any recovery program remain clean and sober, but we can solidify the moveable middle that’s looking for conviction, sincerity, clarity, and the bold presence of the progressive alternative.

    To be blunt, the radical right-wing appeals to the 20% of America that is religiously addicted in the manner discussed in When Religion Is an Addiction. And now, more than ever, we must stop enabling them in this process addiction because we need to show people how nice and loving we are.

    The leaders - the Pat Robertsons, Rick Warrens, Tony Perkins - who appeal to the addicted are suppliers who deal in the addiction. They might or might not be addicted as well, or they might be pushers for financial gain, to fulfill their attention-getting needs, boost their egos, convince themselves that they’re right, gain political allies, or, who knows.

    But people listen to them not because they make sense in any way we’d think was sensible but because they supply the high the addicted need – the high of feeling righteous that counters the fact that the addicted users are afraid that they themselves are wrong as well as horrible, worthless sinners who inherently deserve eternal punishment from the Judge of the universe.

    Addiction arises out of unbelief, not settled faith, even though the addicted will swear over and over otherwise. And that makes the exposure of their addiction even more difficult and painful for them  – it lays bare their faithlessness.

    Just as the coming out of LGBT people to family and friends does people a favor – it exposes them to their homophobia and genderphobias and requires family and friends to deal with it. It forces them to grow, and that is often painful, involving anger, fear, and denial.

    If we’re able not to think and act out of our own hurts around religious abuse, we can see one important lesson - what we are dealing with when religious people are bigoted is not their religion.

    Religion is the excuse, the ruse, the cover-up for what in their lives has caused them to fall back on religious arguments. It protects them from facing head-on the dark depths in their psyches that maintain their bigotry and that they’d prefer to keep hidden.

    Therefore, we need to use religious and anti-religious arguments with care. If we are religious people who object to their bigoted use of religion, then we need to be examples to the world of how we use our religious beliefs, institutions, and actions for freedom, equality, and a common humanity.

    But, whether we’re religious or not, arguing about religion with the religiously addicted only enforces their addiction and proves them right in their own minds. Religion, the Bible, tradition, and God’s will, are the arguments they want to be in rather than any that calls upon them to examine themselves and the causes of their own bigotry.

    As an addict, the religiously addicted will do anything so as not to make the argument, disagreement, or discussion personal. And if it gets too personal, they’ll turn the argument on you, accusing you of being the offender, the problem – all addicts know how to make everyone else feel guilty.

    And addicts seek their high at the expense of everyone around them. To feel righteous, they don’t care who they hurt or offend, no matter  how badly. Addicts, after all, can ruin their own families, reject their own children, and even destroy their own lives all to feel that high (of religious addiction – being righteous).

    What is most needed now is not meanness in return, but an intervention. Bigotry must be called that. Anti-gay brainwashing must be called that. Cruelty in the name of religion must be called that. And our own stories about where we – not God or the Bible or tradition – stand must be repeated loudly and clearly.

    Compassion for the addicted is different than being liberal-nice. It’s being there, healthy, sincere, and open as models not only for the addicted but for the moveable middle that’s watching us to see what “healthy” humanity stands for.

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Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight; and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org.

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