“Let My People (and ONLY my people) Go!”

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By John Robinson

I recently had a conversation on the subject of gay marriage with an acquired relative who is proudly, loudly Catholic. It is her adamant opinion that gay citizens should accept only civil union status and that the term “marriage” is entirely out of bounds for homosexuals. Curious about how she could defend a policy of “separate but equal” I continued to debate her despite my prescient knowledge of where the conversation would lead.

Stating (and I think actually believing) that “she had nothing against gay people,” it was clear she still advocated the position that they should know their place.  We’ve all heard this before. (“Some of my best friends are Negroes. Why, I let one sit on my furniture, once.”)  

She was adamant that allowing homosexuals to enter into legal unions and calling it “marriage” redefined marriage itself. I pointed out that allowing same-sex marriage would not impact her life at all. I also expressed the opinion that marriage is a purely civil convention. She disagreed, retorting that monogamous marriage between a man and a woman was a Christian invention. She stated that allowing gays to be called “married” would require her to revise how she defines her own marriage and this was an attack on her right to her own religious beliefs.  

My relative’s answer was illustrative of a tactic fundamentalist Christians have been employing for some time now. They assert two assumptions as fact, and their methods have been gaining some traction:

1.    Christians in the United States are, effectively, an oppressed minority.  

The imagery is stark and effective.  Poor, moral, faithful Christians huddling in a basement around a feeble candle and a tattered bible, trying to practice their simple, unassuming faith while UN helicopters land on the lawn to deploy armed atheists, Frenchmen, and Muslims to break up their peaceful worship services.  

Television Christians, including megachurch evangelists and Sunday talk show guests, raise this specter of an oppressed people struggling against an implacable and more powerful enemy. This enemy is engaged in a War on Christmas! This foe will not allow Christians to pray where and when they will! And this enemy would force their church to perform marriage ceremonies for whoever demands one!  

There you have it: gay marriage is just another weapon to deprive Christians of their rights. There you are, just a downtrodden Christian, already at the bottom end of the power gradient, and secular humanists and other like pagans are just chipping away at the few rights you have left. But, how, the rational mind inquires, how does granting rights to one group diminish your rights? The answer is the second myth being perpetuated by the religious right wing with some success.

2.    If Christians are prevented by law or rational majority opinion from imposing their superstitions and bigotries on others, then that obstacle deprives them of their constitutionally protected religious rights.  

Yes, if I am prevented from imposing my beliefs on you, then my rights are being violated. If I believe in Eddie the Magical Electric Panda, then it only makes sense that everyone else should believe in Eddie. Eddie commands that I convert everyone to his worship. By logical extension, it should be obvious that the government would assist me in codifying my personal religious beliefs, and imposing them on all non-believers. After all, it is a “fact” that our founding fathers were all cubs of the Great Panda.  

So, she asked me, with all sincerity, “Why should I have to redefine my marriage?”  Despite the fact that this was clearly a case of ‘You cannot reason someone out of what they didn’t reason into,’ I first answered that allowing such rights would have no impact on her marriage at all. Any pain or inconvenience she felt would be self-generated.  

As a response, she repeated her question and her assertion that monogamous marriage is a Christian invention. I tried explaining the concept of tolerance. 

I attempted to set forth the idea that “separate but equal” always results in the majority oppressing the minority. I waxed mildly historical by bringing up James Madison’s warning that the government acting as the tool of a wrong-thinking majority would be the most likely method used to deprive citizens of their Constitutional rights.  

The conversation winding down as such discussions always do when the imaginary friend card is played, I finally answered her question by saying, “For the same reason the Constitution requires me to redefine what is taxable.”  

You think you have it tough as a Christian? Try being an atheist…

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