I watched a documentary last night (Reggie Yates’ Extreme UK) which looked into how minorities in Britain thought about homosexuality. In many instances, a person’s nationality in the documentary correlated with a religious belief, for example, Jamaicans and, in general, Afro-Caribbeans were seen to be Christian by the people in the documentary. Their views, at least for people who weren’t of asian descent, seemed to be far more based on religion than nationality, and it made me realise that, as an atheist, I really have no excuse for holding prejudices and being ignorant.
I don’t particularly care what beliefs people have and most atheists that I’ve met hold a fairly similar view. In fact, most people I’ve met hold a fairly similar view, but it seemed particularly important for atheists to understand someone’s religion than for someone who is, for example, Christian to understand Islam. I put this down to how atheists can make up their own mind on topics whereas religious people all have a basis with which to work from and by which they are expected to adhere by.
Using the example of homosexuality from the documentary, everyone who was interviewed by Reggie was asked about their thoughts on homosexuality and everyone, whether they tried to word it nicely or not, came to the same conclusion. To religious people, homosexuality is a sin and is not natural. Infuriatingly they believed it was a choice.
Imagine if an atheist thought like that. They use science and the power of their own intellect to discredit the idea of religion and yet clearly ignore science with regards to things like homosexuality. You’d be ridiculed for your hypocrisy.
In an age where religion is having to adapt in order to incorporate the vast amounts of scientific knowledge that has been researched in the past 200 years, I don’t see why or how ignorance in religion, particularly in the UK, can still be so prevalent. For example, Creationists are ridiculed for ignoring simple and well known scientific theory like Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, so why are homophobes in different religions not ridiculed for ignoring science?
The main argument against homosexuality, of the religious people in the documentary, was that homosexuality was a choice and that, “by choosing to be gay,” these people were offending god and we sinning. Scientifically, which, I reassert, means that factually, being gay is not a choice. There’s an awful lot of evidence to support this, though the root “cause” of being gay is still yet to be definitely determined. Researched have found promising data about sexuality being determined by genes (other article, other, other article) There is also the suggestion that, if a person chose to be gay, what do they gain out of it besides feeling the brunt of other people’s prejudices, thus, if it were a choice, no one would choose to be gay. Then there is, of course, the (in my opinion) damning evidence of the existence of homosexuality in 500-1500 species of animals, which range from birds to sea-life to mammals.
However, moving away from this tangent and getting back to religion, I feel certain that, if a religion wants to remain relevant, it will have to adapt. The Roman Catholic Church and Christians, in Europe at least, seem to be moving in the right direction by incorporating not just science into their ideology, but a general sensitivity and inquiry into how other people are. Again going back to the documentary, they followed a young transgender woman and asked her about her experiences with realising her true gender and with how people reacted. This woman’s experience was particularly interesting to me as one of my friends, a while ago, came out as transgender and I spent a long time trying, and failing, to understand how and why transgender people were the way they were.
It was after a long time, after I’d left my home town to go to university and we’d lost contact, that I realize that it didn’t matter if I understand the why or how, as long as I could and would accept it. It doesn’t affect me and, frankly, it doesn’t interest me, so I just accepted it and moved on, which is something that seems lacking in people who strictly adhere to a religious scripture.
They all seem to lack independent thought. That is not to say that they lack the capacity for independent thought but, because they follow a religion, they take the easy route of not having to think about how and why they feel and think the way they do. In many ways, the only decision these people are making is to not make any more decisions.
There are ways for religion to work with science. In fact, despite the fact that I’m an atheist, without proof that there is no god I think that being an agnostic is the most logical path. However, I can’t bring myself to accept the existence of one god or many because they only gods I have been exposed to are those of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism (which I know is the same god as Christianity, but it’s a much different interpretation) This idea that, in order to accept god you have to make sacrifices, seems to infect religions like a plague, and I’m not just talking about not eating certain things or not working on certain days. I am talking about giving up on other people. This idea that a person can’t be a Muslim if they are gay, or that I can’t be Jewish unless I go through an incredibly lengthy conversion process seems nonsense and exclusionary and, in my view, ignorant.
People are creatures of habit and their environment, it is a true, and, as a result, we must all work together to try and understand one another better, but it seems that some are more willing to do that than others. Atheists, however, have nothing to hide behind if they are ignorant. When I use that word I also don’t mean a “lack of knowledge.” There’s so little taught about sexuality and gender identity in schools that you can’t call a person ignorant if they don’t know that transgender people exist.
I think I should end with the point that humility is useful in learning about other people’s views. If you are in an argument with someone about anything and they make a good enough argument that you want to change your views, it’s perfectly okay to do so. Of course, they might be dicks about it and tease you a bit but, overall, they’ll be happy that you changed your mind rather than because they won the argument.
This article’s made me feel like a preacher. I’ll talk about Dota or something in my next post, at least then I can make jokes without offending anyone.