Today I want to write about something that has bothered me for the better part of a decade. I’ve carved out no fewer than a dozen drafts of this post, all strangely unalike, all ultimately failing to accomplish the job I’ve set out to do. Truth is, I’ve been trying to write it off and on for more than a year now, and the right words have been seemingly impossible to come by.
In the end, and in order to post it, I guess I had to care more about the message than I do about potential backlash. I’m not being facetious when I say that I hope I can get this message across without offending… well… everybody.
What I really hope is that this post will spark and encourage poignant and worthwhile discussion that will lead to some poignant and worthwhile changes in the lives of at least a few people who are hurting.
That being said, I believe some strong words need to be said today.
“God hates fags.” We’ve all seen the signs being waved high in the air by members of the Westboro Baptist church. On TV. In real life. It’s hard not to take notice.
Over the years, I’ve watched seemingly never-ending disgustingness and hatred spill across the media airwaves from those who belong to the organization. For those who don’t know much about that “church,” they have made a seedy name for themselves by doing drastic things like picketing beneath atrocious signs and hosting flagrant anti-gay protests at military funerals.
Almost every person of nearly every religion has no problem loathing and condemning the Westboro Baptist Church and its members, and perhaps with reason. They take freedom of speech far beyond what our founding fathers intended when they fought to give us that right, and they laugh at the rest of the world while they do.
But today I don’t want to talk about those idiots. I want to talk about you. And me.
And my friend who I’ll call Jacob.
Jacob is 27 years old, and guess what… he’s gay.
Not a lot of people know. He lives in a community where being gay is still very “frowned upon.”
I was talking to him on the phone a few weeks ago, telling him about my failed attempts to write this post. He was trying to hold his emotions in, but he eventually became tearful as we deliberated the very problem that this post attempts to discuss.
Before I go on, I feel I must say something one time. Today’s post is not about homosexuality. It’s not about Christians. It’s not about religion. It’s not about politics. It’s about something else altogether. Something greater. Something simpler.
It’s about love.
It’s about kindness.
It’s about friendship
And love, kindness, and friendship are three things that Jacob hasn’t felt in a long time.
I’m thankful he gave me permission to share our conversation with you. It went something like this.
“Jacob, I honestly don’t know how to write it,” I said. “I know what I want to get across, but I can never find the right words.”
“Dan, you need to write it. Don’t give up. I’m telling you, it needs to be said.”
I paused. “You don’t understand. It’s too heated a subject. It’s something people are very emotional and touchy about. I’d be lynched.”
My friend hesitated. “Dan, you are the only friend I have that knows I’m gay. The only freaking one,” he said.
“What do you mean? I know you’ve told other friends.”
That’s when his voice cracked. He began crying.
“Every single person I’ve told has ditched me. They just disappear. They stop calling. They remove me on Facebook. They’re just gone,” he said. “They can’t handle knowing and being friends with a gay person.”
I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t say anything.
“You don’t know what it’s like, man. You don’t know what it’s like to live here and be gay. You don’t know what it’s like to have freaking nobody. You don’t know what it’s like to have your own parents hate you and try and cover up your existence. I didn’t choose this. I didn’t want this. And I’m so tired of people hating me for it. I can’t take it anymore. I just can’t.”
How do you respond to that?
I wanted to tell him it was all in his head. I knew it wasn’t. I wanted to tell him it would get better and easier. The words would have been hollow and without conviction, and I knew it.
You see, I live in this community too. And I’ve heard the hate. I’ve heard the disgust. I’ve heard the disdain. I’ve heard the gossip. I’ve heard the distrust. I’ve heard the anger. I’ve heard it all, and I’ve heard it tucked and disguised neatly beneath a wrapper of self-righteousness and a blanket of “caring” or “religious” words. I’ve heard it more times than I care to number.
About gay people.
About people who dress differently.
About people who act differently.
About fat people.
About people with drug addictions.
About people who smoke.
About people with addictions to alcohol.
About people with eating disorders.
About people who fall away from their faiths.
About people who aren’t members of the dominant local religion.
About people who have non-traditional piercings.
About people who just look at you or me the wrong way.
I’ve heard it, and I’ve heard it over, and over, and over again.
Hell, in the past (and to some degree in the present) I participated in it. I propagated it. I smugly took part in it. I’ll admit that.
And I did so under the blanketing term “Christian.” I did so believing that my actions were somehow justified because of my beliefs at the time. I did so, actually believing that such appointments were done out of… love.
This isn’t just a Utah phenomenon. I’ve lived outside of this place. I’ve worked outside of this place. It was just as bad in Denver. It was just as bad in California. I see it on blogs. I hear it on television shows and radio programs. I hear it around my own family’s dinner table from time to time. Usually said so passively, so sneakily, and so “righteously.”
“God hates fags.” “God hates addicts.” “God hates people who shop at Salvation Army.” “God hates people that aren’t just like me.”
People may not be holding up picket signs and marching around in front of television cameras but… come on. Why is it that so many incredible people who have certain struggles, problems, or their own beliefs of what is right and wrong feel so hated? Why do they feel so judged? Why do they feel so… loathed? What undeniable truth must we all eventually admit to ourselves when such is the case?
Now, I’m not religious. I’m also not gay. But I’ll tell you right now that I’ve sought out religion. I’ve looked for what I believe truth to be. For years I studied, trying to find “it”. Every major religion had good selling points. Every major religion, if I rewound far enough, had some pretty incredible base teachings from some pretty incredible individuals.
Check this out, and feel free to correct me if I get this wrong…
According to Christians, Jesus taught a couple of interesting things. First, “love one another.” Second, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (“Her” being a woman who cheated on her man.)
According to Buddhists, Buddha taught a couple of thought-provoking things. First, “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.” Second, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
According to Hindus, a couple of fascinating teachings come to mind. First, “Do not get angry or harm any living creature, but be compassionate and gentle; show good will to all.” (Krishna) Second, “Love means giving selflessly, excluding none and including all.” (Rama)
According to Muslims, Muhammad taught a couple interesting things as well. First, “A true Muslim is the one who does not defame or abuse others; but the truly righteous becomes a refuge for humankind, their lives and their properties.” Second, “Do you love your creator? Love your fellow-beings first.”
According to Judaism, their scriptures teach a couple remarkable things. First, “Love your neighbor like yourself.” Second, “Examine the contents, not the bottle.”
The greatest spiritual leaders in history have all preached love for others as the basis for all happiness, and never did they accompany such mandates with a list of unlovable actions or deeds. They never said, love everybody except for the gays. Love everybody except for the homeless. Love everybody except for the drug users. Love everybody except for the gang members, or those covered in ink, or the spouse abusers. They didn’t tell us it was okay to love everybody with the exception of the “trailer trash,” those living in poverty, or the illegal immigrants. They didn’t tell us it was okay to love everybody except for our ex-lovers, our lovers’ ex lovers, or our ex-lovers’ lovers. The mandate was pretty damn clear, wasn’t it?
So if this is the founding directive of all the major religions… why is it that sometimes the most “Christlike” people are they who have no religion at all?
Let me repeat that.
Why is it that sometimes the most Christlike people are they who have no religion at all?
I have known a lot of people in my life, and I can tell you this… Some of the ones who understood love better than anyone else were those who the rest of the world had long before measured as lost or gone. Some of the people who were able to look at the dirtiest, the poorest, the gays, the straights, the drug users, those in recovery, the basest of sinners, and those who were just… plain… different…
They were able to look at them all and only see strength. Beauty. Potential. Hope.
And if we boil it down, isn’t that what love actually is?
Don’t get me wrong. I know a lot of incredible Christians, too. I know some incredible Buddhists and Muslims and Hindus and Jews. I know a lot of amazing people, devout in their various religions, who truly love the people around them.
I also know some atheist, agnostic, or religionless people who are absolutely hateful of believers. They loathe their religious counterparts. They love only those who believe (or don’t believe) the same things they do.
In truth, having a religion doesn’t make a person love or not love others. It doesn’t make a person accept or not accept others. It doesn’t make a person befriend or not befriend others.
Being without a religion doesn’t make somebody do or be any of that either.
No, what makes somebody love, accept, and befriend their fellow man is letting go of a need to be better than others.