I’m about to launch on a fairly brainy rant, but I’m an academic so give me a little leeway. I have to say (to your credit, dear readers) that when it comes to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, most people are fairly self-aware, self-exploring, seeking answers and incredibly articulate. Because when the majority of the world still pushes the community to the sidelines, you kinda have to be. So I’m sure you’ll follow…
I went to seminary thinking that all people who were religio-politically (is that a word?) more conservative than me were “fundamentalists.” Yet there are many people of faith across different traditions who are conservative but would not identify as “fundamentalist.” Take Christianity, for example (easy for me, being a pastor and all…): There are many “conservative” Christians who do not necessarily believe or argue that the Bible is the inerrant WORD OF GOD, but like their even more radical sisters and brothers use the biblical texts as THE reason for condemning homosexuality, bisexuality, and anything else that remotely smacks of sexually/gendered “other.”
One of the most important books I read (which I’m not recommending unless you’re a total academic religion freak) in seminary was called “Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation” by Dale Martin. In it, Martin names what I found so confounding – the tendency to hold on to particular religious ideas so tightly that the belief is almost the same as that of a fundamentalist. He calls this tendency “foundationalism.”
Martin describes foundationalism as being different from a fundamentalist belief in the inerrancy of scripture. He says “foundationalism… holds that the Bible provides, or should provide, a secure basis for doctrine and ethics, at least if we interpret it by the appropriate methods.” This is why you hear the excuse, “Oh – I’m not homophobic – but the BIBLE says it’s wrong.” Martin points out that such arguments are based on the person’s inability to see their own interpretation of the text and how it brings meaning to their lives. While they might acknowledge that the Bible is not necessarily a historical or factual “guidebook” to human history, they still cannot shake the idea that it is the foundation of their ethical and moral beliefs and therefore their choices.
What is interesting to me is that foundationalism is not found only in religion. It is actually based on scientific foundationalism which holds that our observations about nature will prove to be secure and true. Given the contemporary theist/atheist debates happening about the existence of God, it’s funny to me that both sides are arguing from a place of fear; each clinging to the ‘foundations’ of their own belief, as it were.
Atheistic arguments might seem more appealing, at times, to the LGBT community as a kind of pendulum swing away from the damaging religious foundationalist persecution and exclusion of all things gay. But that doesn’t mean that all atheists are open and accepting. I happen to know a very virulent atheist scientist who believes that science (because of it’s natural ‘foundations’ at the genetic level) will soon unlock the genetic sequencing to prove that both pedophilia and homosexuality are genetic diseases. Idiocy does not discriminate based on religious belief (or lack thereof), apparently.
So why does any of this matter? I think that knowing there is something tangible to be named, some way to describe that grey area of homophobic religious (or atheist) behaviour that pains many of us is important. When we start to shine the light of thinking through why arguments are or aren’t helpful, then we get closer to realizing the inherent connection between us all. Whether or not we can use such critical mumbo-jumbo to change the minds of the haters is another story, but we can always live in hope, right?