I read with interest your "Convictions" article in SFGN dated 3-30-16. It broke my heart.
As a person who lives free from religion, I wonder why those you interviewed on their faith stay with irrational belief systems in which, in their words, they "can't dress " as they wish, in which their "traditions" are seen as obstacles to their faith, where "worship itself isn't all that important, "where someone had to "find my own way," and another finds it "difficult to fit in anywhere," yet another is "ostracized," another feels like "I am sinning," and another is told that, "the people I love and I are going to hell."
Why do they do this to themselves?
A crucial meaning of the word "faith" is to have confidence and trust in a person. Faith is independent of reason. I believe that religion has co-opted the word, so when we speak of faith we mean religious faith – when it could very well mean having faith in oneself!
One comment made in the article suggested the importance of culture. I agree that one's culture is important and should be honored when possible. However, when one's culture – or an aspect of it – prevents people from becoming who they are, perhaps it needs to be discarded – for one's mental wellness, if for no other reason.
I hope that your interviewees can look beyond the mythological traditions and habits that cage them into belief systems that control by fear and intimidation. There are many secular support groups out there in the community. All it takes is will - and faith in oneself - to find one.
Frank E Grant, Ph.D.
I received your letter the other day and I wanted to thank you for your input. As a person who identifies as an agnostic atheist in the same vein Carl Sagan was, I hold nature and the universe as sacred. My natural condition towards skepticism and secular ideas are apart of me. Even so, I wanted to defend the people who I interviewed and why they may stay as members of various religions or faith groups.
Religion itself can be an outlet for a person's internal satisfaction for truth, contentment, spirituality, and intellectual curiosity. On the other side of the argument, it could be used as a tool to control, dictate, stigmatize, suppress, and destroy humanity. Throughout the centuries of time, politics surrounding religion has been used as a tool to control people rather than the actual belief in an ideology or belief system. (Examples: the introduction of Christianity in ancient Rome and the loss of Hellenic worship, the 16th century decline in Zoroastrianism because of the rise of privileges for converts to Islam, the modern push against Syrian refugees because of Christian fundamentalists and fear mongering, etc.)
One could make the argument that people should not practice a faith where religious leaders are actively hostile towards their sexuality, gender, or any unchangeable constant that’s apart of them. The resentment, pain, and anger is valid - but that’s disregarding the personal sacrifices a person goes through staying in a community where their personal interpretation of the scripture differs widely from the mainstream line of thought. With awareness and understanding, communities evolve and change.
Why, thirty to twenty years ago, certain mainstream gay rights organizations used to bar transgender people from their demands of legislative protections - should the transgender community have stopped identifying as LGBTQ? Of course not. This would have divided people, instead of allowing people to evolve. The intersections of our identity are too complex to discard just because it challenges a mainstream way of practice, ritual, spirituality, or mode of acceptance.
I was raised by an agnostic-leaning, Greek Orthodox Christian father and a Jewish mother who later converted to Paganism. Yes, you read that right. My childhood was filled with Passover, Hanukkah, secular Christmases, and a whirlwind of Pagan ceremonies after my mother began practicing witchcraft.
I have been exposed to people of various spiritualties, belief systems, and religions. If a person uses religion as a way to satisfy their own internal curiosities and questions about the universe at large, I support that outlet even though I don’t agree with it personally.
So for LGBTQ people of (religious) faith to practice their religion in the face of a religious community that can be divided on their existence, that gives me more respect to the individual. They practice not because of fear, but because it gives them meaning and happiness.
In a modern context, religion itself has an overwhelming control over the narrative of our country. It is the "dominant" group in our nation. There are hundreds of denominations and churches out there, but the fact remains that the many fundamentalist groups still shape America.
Religion itself is not a problem, but radical extremism and the dominance of this extremism is the main source of violence or conflict in any religion. Even in a world where religion did not exist, I imagine that a different tool meant to influence, manipulate, or positively motivate would take its place.