A lot of thoughts have been swirling around in my head for some time about this country we live in, what it means to be a minority in the "land of the free," the hate that seems to permeate sizable portions of our society, the fear mongers that pass for political leaders, and so-called "Christians" who would be the first to crucify Jesus all over again.*
These thoughts congealed into something yesterday when I read an anecdote about an incident that had happened in Tuesday's oral arguments at the Supreme Court. Despite all the coverage, I hadn't heard about it until I read a short essay in The New Yorker penned by Jeffrey Toobin. Here's the relevant passage:
There was a shocking, ugly moment during the argument of Obergefell v. Hodges, the same-sex marriage case, in the Supreme Court on Tuesday. Right after Mary Bonauto, the lawyer challenging marriage bans in several states, completed her argument, a spectator rose from a back row and started screaming, “If you support gay marriage, you will burn in Hell!” As the man yelled, “It’s an abomination!,” guards carried him from the courtroom. That wasn’t the ugly part, though. In the quiet moment after the man was removed, as his shouts vanished into the hallway, Justice Antonin Scalia filled the silence with a quip. “It was rather refreshing, actually,” he said.
How is it possible that the senior associate justice on the United States Supreme Court, even considering the outrageousness of many of his comments in the past, could make such a statement in such a place at such a time? How indeed.
There was a time when I considered myself a part of America's majority. I am white. I am male. I grew up in a solid middle-class home. I was raised in one of America's dominant Christian denominations (Roman Catholicism). My ancestors had lived in what is now the United States since the earliest days of colonial America. I became well-educated. I never had to worry about being discriminated against because of my race, my religion or my national origin. I never had to worry about police brutality or poverty or being intimidated at the ballot box or being sent to the back of the bus.
I knew what "America" meant. I viewed it through the eyes of the majority, because I was part of the majority. Though I could try to empathize with those who were women or black or Asian or poor or ignorant or Jewish or Muslim, I didn't and couldn't have expected to understand what it meant to be part of a minority in America.
I understand now. At least to some extent.
Though I was always a part of one of America's most maligned and persecuted minorities, I was safe as along as I stayed in the closet. A few years ago, however, I decided I could no longer do that; and so I became a minority. And things changed. For the first time in my life, I viewed America differently.
America was not necessarily the land of the free that I had perceived it to be. America was not necessarily the land of equal rights that I had perceived it to be. All the myths in which I had once been so strongly invested were now the precinct of "them" - the people with all the rights, all the power, all the sense of entitlement; the people who defined "right" because they were in the majority and thus is was their prerogative. America looked different because I was different.
Many of the people in the majority project their sense of "right" onto God. It has always been thus throughout the history of the American Republic and indeed in the histories of those nations who peopled America. God was who the majority said he is, at least as far as it relates to America's civil religion; and our laws have historically been based in large part on what this majority said was their God's will. The Majority god ruled. And the majority was happy, content and too often smug as long as things remained this way.
All of the hoo-haa about religious freedom in the country today is, in my view, a reaction to the majority's projected image of God being challenged in ways they do not at all like. But the only thing threatened in America today respecting religious freedom is this image, a projection that has been used far too long by the majority to impose its will upon others. It is also a projection that has channeled hate, disgust and violence from people to their god and back onto American society.
God doesn't hate gay people. People hate gay people, and they use their god to justify their hatred.
This is the sentiment that was spewed by the "protestor" inside the Supreme Court. And it is also the sentiment that lay behind Justice Scalia's "joke." It is well known what Scalia's attitude toward "gay rights" has long been and that he is a "devout Catholic." (So is Pope Francis, but I daresay that he and Scalia are miles apart on this issue and their approach to it.) As Toobin wrote in his piece, "[T]here’s every reason to believe that Scalia more or less shared the protester’s view of the immorality of homosexuality, and that he regards the Court’s toleration of gay people as one of the great disasters of his nearly three decades as a Justice."
Scalia's remark jolted me. It reminded me that I am part of a minority that is despised in certain quarters (some of which are very powerful) of this nation. And it all, sooner or later, comes back to religion and the great God of the majority.
But the truth remains: God doesn't hate gay people; people do.
* If the religious right's reaction to a number of Pope Francis' statements and initiatives is any indicator, it's a pretty good bet that Jesus would not be welcome in many places of worship in this country, and he certainly wouldn't we welcome in the what the religious-freedom advocates like to refer to as "the public square," where his views and level of discourse would be, I fear, not at all welcome.