The New Problem of the Gaytheist

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You don’t have to like religion, practice religion, or even identify with religion to be religious. You could simply believe in God in your own way, or pray every once in a while, or even just believe in some kind of spirituality or other form of higher power or greater connectedness, and guess what? You’re religious. You can also just never say anything about any such topics and you’ll be assumed religious (though perhaps not the right one, right Mr. Obama?).

At the Soulforce Symposium, I asked the panel about what I feel to be conflicting identities, being both gay and atheist. My friend, Cathy Renna, offered that she’s long witnessed a disenchantment with religion in the LGBT community, to the extent that it was once taboo to admit attending services on a Sunday morning. And she’s surely right, and it might only be in recent years that the LGBT community has placed a much greater focus on embracing and reconciling with religion. It could just be a pendulum swinging back towards a pro-religion point of view, but it would only have had to be as recent as the past six years for it to define my whole experience.

Now, let’s face it, it’s no surprise that LGBT folks would feel alienated from religion. After all, arguably all anti-gay and anti-trans sentiments are securely rooted in religious teachings and the willful ignorance that is religious thinking.

But not wanting to practice a religion and being an atheist are two very different things. Just because members of the LGBT community no longer want to be a part of religion doesn’t mean they’ve stopped believing, or stopped being “religious,” at least as I defined it above. It doesn’t make them atheists, and it definitely does not automatically make them welcoming or inclusive of atheists.

The virus of religious thinking does not let go so easily, and the human brain is incredibly adept at functioning under the conditions of cognitive dissonance. A person who believed that homosexuality is a sin that then decided that the Bible was wrong about that could easily never question that the whole rest of the Bible is just as fallible. That person might trust religion less, but never bother to think critically about any of the rest of it, and certainly not abandon it.

But being an atheist? That’s a whole different ballgame.

First, you should know that there’s a whole atheist community. It’s true. In fact, just like the LGBTQQIAA community has diversity, we have atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, nonbelievers, skeptics, brights, humanists, and more. There’s a lot of overlap—I identify with at least five of those labels—so we don’t use a a long acronym, just a single scarlet A. We have a coming out process and it can often be as difficult or worse than coming out as gay (and unlike the coming out process for homosexuality, it hasn’t been studied at all). We suffer incredible oppression in the United States; in fact, we are the least trusted minority and our vision of America is the least popular, even compared to Muslims and homosexuals [sic]. We’re also the only minority group for which tolerance has not grown over the past 30 years.

And yet, here we are. We vigilantly disclose our identities specifically so we can create change. We challenge people’s core beliefs and welcome heated debate. And we are a community. We make an active choice to identify openly and we seek each other out. We need each other’s support.

This community is a very different picture than the group of folks who just don’t participate in religion anymore. It’s a whole different identity, a whole different community, and a whole different set of challenges.

And you know what’s great about the atheist community? Even though it is predominantly heterosexual (like the rest of society), it is overwhelmingly supportive and inclusive of LGBT issues. I would go so far as to say that the atheist community understands that anti-gay attitudes are among the most dangerous and unscientific views still held by most of modern society, and they speak out in defense of the LGBT community all the time. The atheist community is by far one of the strongest LGBT allies of any other minority community.

But then I come back over to the gay community and the reverse is not true for me as an atheist. HRC’s putting out a “Clergy Call 2011 for Justice and Equality.” The Task Force has a whole “multi-faith” mini-conference as part of Creating Change this year, as if CC weren’t faith-centric enough. There’s the MCC and UU, Catholics for Equality and Soulforce, and a slew of other pro-religion organizations that work on behalf of LGBT equality. Now, don’t get me wrong, as a gay man, I appreciate those efforts greatly. But as an atheist, they totally alienate me. They make me feel unwelcome because they are antithetical to my point of view. And I seldom see partnerships with the atheist groups eager to help!

As an atheist, I want to dismantle the power that religion has, not reinforce it. I don’t want people to reconcile their homosexuality with their faith; I want them to see that homosexuality is a brilliant example for how flawed and unnecessary faith is. I hate the idea that religions or religious beliefs are something deserving of respect, and I have no intention of respecting them or catering to them in order to achieve legal equality as a gay man. I want to work with other LGBT activists, but I don’t want to have to sit through prayers or endure a faith hegemony to make my difference in the movement. And yet, that is increasingly the environment with which I am faced in the LGBT movement.

If you buy into the ex-gay movement even just a little, you are faced with two choices. You can try to change your sexual orientation or you can fail to change your sexual orientation. If you fail, they have nothing left for you, and certainly no validation for embracing an identity other than heterosexuality.

While it’s not as overt, I feel like the LGBT movement similarly offers a kind of non-choice for atheists. I can work with faith and I can work without faith, but there is very little room for me to work against faith. While there may be some who aren’t thrilled with religion, they like holding on to their own faith, nonetheless. Frankly, there is a certain baseline of anti-atheist prejudice (I call it “faithism”) and religious privilege that is just as prevalent in the LGBT community as the rest of society.

Many atheists within the LGBT community struggle to be out (or even come out), recognizing the challenges of openly identifying as atheist within the LGBT community, and particularly of identifying as both atheist and LGBT in greater society. Surely for most, LGBT issues are more salient to them, impacting their relationships, families, housing, and employment. It’s all too easy to subscribe to the silence and invisibility for nonbelievers that is already in place.

Gaytheism is a borderland that is not always fun to live in. On one side of the Venn diagram are the LGBT issues that are so salient and important to me that I am passionately dedicated to addressing, but which is a community that still ostracizes me for my way of thinking. On the other side is the atheist community, a group that completely appreciates who I am and supports my point of view, but who are less organized, less committed to the issues most important to me, and likely not the place I’ll find a life partner or a job in activism or education. And I can’t have it both ways and still maintain my own integrity, because I can’t both disavow faith and simultaneously reinforce it and feel like I’m making any meaning out of my own life.

Given that I am a man of integrity, what choice do I have but to push? Push the LGBT movement to open its eyes not just to the unreligious, but to its atheist subcommunity en masse. I have to encourage other LGBT nonbelievers to come out. I have to try to help organizations understand how their religious messages or strategies can be very exclusive. I have to convince the LGBT movement to accept and welcome the support of the many atheist and humanist organizations eager to be involved with the effort for LGBT equality. Maybe I even have to create one that represents LGBT issues specifically on behalf of nonbelievers.

So, I’m just putting it all out there for you, LGBT movement. I’m going to be a little thorn in your side. I’m going to call you out on your religious privilege. I’m going to cause some consternation for your believers. I’m going to say things that aren’t popular and that aren’t even always welcome. It is very much my intent to push and to change as much it is my intent to support and cooperate. We’re stuck with each other, so we’d best make the most of it.

But if nothing else, remember this: I’m not the only one. I know when prayers and Amens are making me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome; I can identify those triggers, respond to them appropriately, and continue on. But there are a lot of members of our community who aren’t where I am, who feel silenced and alienated by all the attention you pay to religion. I want to create a movement that understands and appreciates their point of view as much as any other, and I want to work together to make that happen.

I hope you do too.

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There are 27 Comments to "The New Problem of the Gaytheist"

  • Glen says:

    Zack, what exactly are you looking for from the wider LGBT community here? I don’t think you’re arguing that anyone with a religious identity is automatically your oppressor, and that the only way to be an ally for atheists is to abandon religious identity, practice, and belief. Still, you use phrases like the “toxin” of religion, and make statements like, “I don’t want people to reconcile their homosexuality with their faith; I want them to see that homosexuality is a brilliant example for how flawed and unnecessary faith is.” What can people of faith do to show atheists respect, short of becoming atheists themselves? Should respect between atheists and theists be mutual, or does respect for atheism mean the intellectual defeat of theism ?

    • ZackFord says:

      It’s a fair question. I think my point is simply to recognize that those perspectives are part of the community too. We need to be open to challenging debates and questions. As I’ve said on the comment thread on the crosspost, I think something as simple as recognizing and accepting the atheist subcommunity and letting us be a part of the dialogue (however challenging that dialogue might be for all involved) would be a HUGE step.

  • Christine says:

    I think I’m certainly a different flavor of atheist than you (more of the variety that doesn’t think religion is always toxic and doesn’t welcome heated debate) but I agree that it’s hard often to come out as atheist in the queer community (just like it is in plain old regular society as well – like you pointed out re: our acceptance from society at large).

    What irritates me so much is that from both Christians and non-Christians I get the assumption that I’m not religious because I’ve been so hurt by the Christian church. I guess in some ways, there could be a case for that if you look far back enough. If I hadn’t gone through the ex-gay movement and had some other disastrous religious experiences, I very well might not have questioned my faith, or the Bible (the verses outside the clobber passages) and might not be where I am today. However, I’m not one of those “I’m mad at God so I don’t believe in Him” kind of people (who still capitalize the “Him”). I just really don’t find any evidence for a God.

    Likewise, people also assume that I’m somehow bereft without faith, which is not what I feel at all. In many ways I feel more curious and more excited by the world around me than I ever did before. And I definitely feel a great responsibility to others in the here and now. Lots of positive things about my walking on this non-theist path.

    Not sure where I’m going with this, just wanted to leave my thoughts….

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post. And yeah, totally was right there with you at the Symposium, as you know.

  • James Croft says:

    I’m intrigued by the following:

    But then I come back over to the gay community and the reverse is not true for me as an atheist. HRC’s putting out a “Clergy Call 2011 for Justice and Equality.” The Task Force has a whole “multi-faith” mini-conference as part of Creating Change this year, as if CC weren’t faith-centric enough. There’s the MCC and UU, Catholics for Equality and Soulforce, and a slew of other pro-religion organizations that work on behalf of LGBT equality. Now, don’t get me wrong, as a gay man, I appreciate those efforts greatly. But as an atheist, they totally alienate me. They make me feel unwelcome because they are antithetical to my point of view. And I seldom see partnerships with the atheist groups eager to help!

    I’m surprised you feel alienated by the HRC’s Clergy Call since, when I met Harry Knox, who runs the program, at an event on religious debates over sexuality, he was extremely inclusive of me as an atheist and invited me to attend. He expressed an opposite feeling – that atheists were frequently unwilling to attend such events, and therefore were de facto excluded from the discussion. Further, he pledged to work to alter the wording on HRC’s pledge against NOM so that it is inclusive of people without faith (currently it refers to those who sign the petition as “people of faith”).

    I intend to be at the Clergy Call in 2011, speaking up for an atheistic and naturalistic worldview, despite my discomfort with the surroundings. If we aren’t willing to turn up and give our opinion, we can hardly expect others to hear us.

    • ZackFord says:

      I’ll admit to not knowing as much about the Clergy Call, but my first impression is that it’s not meant to include me. It’s an “interfaith” meeting for “religious leaders,” so aside from what you shared in your comment, I have no indication that it’s meant to be inclusive of me, as its language is explicitly exclusive. (I do not find the term “interfaith” to be welcoming; I have no faith.)

      • James Croft says:

        I do understand that many atheists have difficulty with the word “interfaith” – I do too – but my feeling is that it’s best to simply get over that hesitation and jump right in. In the choice between being there and speaking up for atheism, and allowing these events to go ahead without us, it’s really a no-brainer, isn’t it?

  • Bruce Partington says:

    “I want them to see that homosexuality is a brilliant example for how flawed and unnecessary faith is.”

    If queers must give up their faith to fit in your ideal society, why shouldn’t society require queers to give up being queer to fit into society? Your argument smacks of typical assimilationist demands of queers in the sixties as reflected in such time capsules of intolerance as the CBS documentary “The Homosexuals,” and treating queers with faith as a monolithic force while asking the reader to differentiate between various kinds of atheism is the cherry on top (though typical, alas) of an utter lack of self-awareness.

    I realize the New Atheism, as a new and developing movement, must follow the path of any oppressed subgroup, and that includes self-identification as a movement and a kind of intolerance towards compromise of one’s principles as a member of that subgroup. I haven’t fought thirty years for special rights for queers, I’ve fought for equal rights for all (including queers), even for those who disagree with me. And honestly when I read Dawkins, Myers, and their like-minded commenters I see a religious faith in action that dares not admit it is such, whose unacknowledged self-contradiction leads to a willfully-ignorant fundamentalism no less pernicious than that of the Taliban or the pseudo-Christians that monopolize public discourse in this country.

    I would hope that the New Atheists would improve things were they to gain power — for that is their unacknowledged goal — but all I see is more of the same sectarianism and intolerance with a different bias. I sure don’t want to live in a theocracy, but I don’t want to live in an authoritarian anti-theocracy either. You know, like Soviet Russia or Maoist China, hardly bright points on the timeline of humanity.

  • JustSayin' says:

    Thanks for writing this, Zack. I’m here at your blog after reading this entry as posted on Pam’s House Blend, and after reading your post on the Glee thread on Joe My God. To borrow one of the Christians’ sayings (and in doing so to subvert it), I encourage you to keep on fighting the good fight. What you’ve said needs to be said. Plus, I know you’ve really hit a nerve when a post on Pam’s blog gets as many responses as yours has!

    As for the above comment, how tired is the argument that Dawkins et al are fundamentalists in their own right? If you don’t know, the answer is…tired. Here’s the difference: they wouldn’t FORBID you to worship, but they certainly would encourage you to give the faith up. The religionists, on the other hand, would most definitely like to force everyone to bend to their will (and in quite a few countries, have successfully done so).

  • ZackFord says:

    Thanks for stoppin’ over, JS, and for your kind words.

    Yeah, I really struggle with comments like Bruce’s… one, because there’s nothing new about the “New Atheists.” We’re only saying the same things Russell said 100 years ago, Jefferson said 200 years ago, and what many scholars said long before that.

    And to say that we’re “intolerant” or that we’re a faith unto our own? Such projection! Can’t it just be we have some good ideas to share, we’re the only ones who can actually provide supporting evidence for them, and we get pissed when believers won’t give us the time of day because they’re too busy being offended?

    I guess I can see how believers might see a patient impatience as faith… ours is just more urgent because we don’t have any afterlife to take into account.

  • VanInSanDiego says:

    Hi Zack,

    I read your piece over at Pam’s House Blend and was going to respond over there but it seemed like the Inquisition had been unleashed. Way too mean for me.

    I’ve read your posts before and always enjoyed them but this one particularly drew my interest and, as I said, way too mean over there, so I came over here and did what I always do when I go someplace new–I read your profile.

    I was shocked to learn that coming out as an Atheist was so much more difficult than “regular” coming out. Would you talk about that? And if you don’t want to talk about that here, I’d be perfectly happy to email you privately.

    But, anyway, getting back to your post, let me first say I’m both Gay and Atheist and I proudly proclaim both and have for many, many years.

    Second, I thoroughly enjoyed your piece although I was puzzled at some points. No doubt my life experiences have been different than yours so, of course, my impressions will be different as well.

    I am puzzled by your conflicting identities (and also those of others who commented) being both Gay and Atheist because I don’t feel any conflict whatsoever and I wonder why you (all of you) do.

    You may have noticed that I capitalize Gay. I do that because the Supreme Court has stated that we are a class of people on several occasions now and we deserve the respect of a capital letter. Likewise with Atheist. We deserve the same respect as say Catholics.

    With that out of the way, let me continue by saying I am one of the lucky people who was not infected with the “virus” of religion (as you so beautifully put it) so I do not believe in any gods (or goddesses), fairy tale books or the like. I’m convinced that religion is the root of all evil. Having pretty much only witnessed the religulous behaving badly, I tend to have hostile feelings toward them and about the only one who ever has captured my attention for more than a nanosecond was Bishop John Shelly Spong, when he published his manifesto, parts of which I found interesting and useful and other parts not at all.

    So, yes, I’m aware of the Atheist community and, yes, it is incredibly diverse and, yes, there are not a lot of Gay people there. Sadly. I also agree with Sam Harris about the need for the word “Atheist.”

    I do “vigilantly” identify myself as both Gay and Atheist, as I said above. And, I do it so people know I exist. The Gay man. The Atheist man. The Gay, Atheist man. I don’t want a heated debate though. For me the debate is over. The APA says I’m not sick and the Supreme Court says I’m not illegal. Therefore, there is no argument. As Lady Gaga says, “If you’re having a problem with someone’s orientation, GO HOME!”

    My argument is when NPR programs give over their airwaves to the likes of Tony Perkins to talk about bullying. But that is another subject for another time.

    I don’t argue over the religionist’s fairy tale book. I live in a secular state.

    When people question Atheism, I use the question I think it was Christopher Hitchens used. He said he would ask people if they believed in Zeus or Apollo or Odin or any others of the hundreds of gods and godesses and when they would say no he would ask, so you’ve rejected all of them, eh? and they would answer yes and he would say, well, I just rejected one more thay you did.

    I don’t like that people believe in that nonsense but as long as they don’t infringe upon my rights, I really don’t care. I’m not so much worried about the Gay religious people and our allies who are religious as I am about the haters.

    Please don’t misunderstand. I think it is vitally important that our Gay brothers and sisters and our allies know we are Atheists just like it is vitally important for us to know that they are people of religion or wherever on the spectrum they are so we all know where we are coming from.

    But if your friend is right and the pendulum is swinging back the other way and people are going to be getting strident in their nonsensical religiosity we’ll need all the help we can get because it’s a fact that we’ll all have targets on our backs.

    I’m sorry you’ve felt hostility from the Gay community. If there is anything I can do to help, just let me know and I’d be happy to help.

    Best wishes,

    Van in San Diego

    • ZackFord says:

      Hey Van, thanks for stopping by!

      I’ve actually written about my coming out as an atheist before, so head on over to that post and feel free to ask any questions in the comments there.

      You can also read the first big piece I wrote exploring why it was important for me to talk openly about an atheist. It’s long and in many parts, but starts here.

      As the post on Pam’s clearly shows, it is a challenge talking openly about atheism in the LGBT community, but I think it’s helpful every time we do it! Thanks for joining up to do the same! 😉

      • VanInSanDiego says:

        Hi Zack,

        Thanks a lot for the links. I’ve put them at the top of my reading list for tonight and the weekend (not sure what you meant by long–so, just in case ).

        I also put your blog on my Favorites so I’ll be watching and reading!

        Take care!

        Best wishes,

        Van in San Diego

  • Brian Gerald says:

    You know, I think we could do a lot of good by working with the PEOPLE within these various religious-ish gay/LGBT/queer organizations. I co-founded Sanctuary Collective which supports young adults organizing in Christian communities and Soulforce is a client of mine and yet I’m an atheist (in the umbrella sense of the word). I know that I’m not the only one doesn’t believe in God / isn’t convinced of a God / doesn’t want to pin their hopes on some supposed afterlife / etc within queer movements organizing around religion. How can we be better about making our presence known? How can we help our organizations change language (that in some cases no one might believe anymore anyway)?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts and start working some stuff out.

  • Glen says:

    I love paradoxes, so I happily identify myself as a non-theistic person of faith. But I don’t spend much time at atheist events or in atheist groups, preferring just to practice my Quakerism. I am fairly out of the closet as a non-theist I suppose–certainly have no hesitation in saying so if the question of my theology comes up. The Religious Society of Friends is, in my experience, very accepting of this particular identity. So I feel I straddle this religious vs. atheist divide.

    To me, the room for this paradox–“non-theistic person of faith”–comes from the ambiguity in words like “religion,” “faith” and even “God.” On the one hand, theism is a primitive and–in my view–outdated scientific explanation. There are far more illuminating, likely and indeed compelling (in the poetic sense) theories today for the origins of the universe and life on this planet. (In fact the question of the origin of the universe has become obsolete, since we learned that time itself came into existence 14 billion years ago–only one way the old stories seem manifestly absurd in the light of modern cosmological knowledge, this new universe of countless stars and galaxies we live in).

    Then there is faith as trust–an issue raised on the Pam’s House Blend discussion. Or theism as emotional-psychological experience. Or what Sam Harris calls the science of consciousness, the reality of shifts of consciousness, experienced in meditation, prayer, mystic transport etc. Contrary to what you said at Pam’s, I am not sure human beings are any less hard-wired for these experiences than what they are for love. Until Darwin, to have religious experience–in the West, at least–was to believe in the literal existence of a creator-being. Now, it is possible to have religious experience without religious belief, to be transported by the mystery of God without literally believing in that God. As someone who experiences the divine without literally believing in it, I am absolutely comfortable with theistic language–“Amen” etc.–while interpreting that language purely metaphorically. I feel my life enormously enriched by being connected with thousands of years of theistic art, music, culture, tradition, writing etc.–can regard the theism as outdated without rejecting all the richness and human beauty that went along with it. I regard the legacy of theism as just as humanly complex and messy as any other area of human culture–Bach and cathedrals and love-thy-neighbor and MLK Jr. on the one hand; the Inquisition, homophobia, the Crusades on the other.

    So something about this war just really doesn’t speak to me. I note that anti-religious atheists and religious fundamentalists share the definition of faith as intellectual assent to literal beliefs or dogma. I don’t share that definition. This is one identity choice–atheist versus religious–where I really want to check off, “Both or Neither.”

  • Glen says:

    I’m an agnostic even if I believe the odds of a conscious creator-being–omnipotent, benevolent etc.–are close to zero?

    I have little respect for literal theism, considering it a belief system based on ignorance of modern knowledge (everything from cosmology to mathematics to critical Biblical (or Koranic, whatever) scholarship).

    I have tremendous respect for emotional-psychological theism, believing it a beautiful human-brain experience akin to aesthetic transport in a great symphony or novel, or great love.

    In my mind this makes me a solid intellectual atheist and solid emotional theist. I am not any kind of agnostic in either of these areas.

    😉

    • ZackFord says:

      So… even though you acknowledge that the human brain is susceptible to the deceiving intellectual flaws of theism, you still allow yourself the perceived emotional benefits of those very flawed ideas.

      I’m sorry for my incorrect jest about your agnosticism. It is your cognitive dissonance that now really shines through. 😉

  • Glen says:

    Since my theism is not cognitive, but rather emotional/experiential/metaphorical, there is no cognitive dissonance whatsoever. None! I promise!

    🙂

  • Glen says:

    If you know something’s just a metaphor, you can run with it. God is just an abbreviation of good–its etymological origin, I read somewhere.

  • Glen says:

    You said: “And I’m sure a woman could bring me pleasure, and that’s totally okay too, because it doesn’t make me a heterosexual. ;-)” I think I am the religious equivalent of the man who prefers sex with men but is emotionally attracted to women and wants to be married to one. Or vice versa. These people often identify as bisexual. They have loving sex (“make love”) with one gender and have tough-and-ready lusty sex with the other. What can I say? Human beings are complicated. Categories are important but limited. Ambiguity is part of life. So long as one lives these contradictions openly one is not compromising one’s integrity, I feel. Again, the bisexual metaphor applies to my “coming out.” On the one hand my religiosity allows me to “pass” as an intellectual theist, conferring on me religious privilege. On the other hand it’s more difficult being “bi-theistic,” I don’t truly belong either among theists or atheists. As I say, this is not the same as agnosticism. And the oppressive assumption I’m intellectually theist is worsened by the fact that I have a religious practice… The people I identify with are theologians like Paul Tillich and Jack Spong. As I say, I meet quite a lot of people like myself in Quaker circles. The challenge for us (as for bisexuals) is to not be in the closet and trade on religious privilege and keep our atheist parts hidden. The challenge for “pure” atheists like you is to accept that we have a sincere love of and attraction to religion, that we have a theistic side as well as an atheistic one, that this is not all denial or cowardice. This parallels what gays and lesbians need to do with bisexuals.

    • ZackFord says:

      I see and understand it, and you’re right, it’s totally not agnosticism. It reminds me of the way that Dawkins talks about enjoying and celebrating Christmas (

      ).

      I also quite like Tim Minchin’s approach. (

      )

      I share both of those sentiments.

      It sounds like you concede that because of your religious practice, you benefit from religious privilege despite being an intellectual atheist. I agree that we “pure” atheists do have to recognize that you “bi” folks are a part of our community, just as LG folks do with folks who are bi. But would you then agree that YOU have a responsibility to be even more visible as an atheist to counter the privilege you would benefit from by not being out (particularly since you will also be seen participating in religion)?

  • Glen says:

    Yes, I actually do agree. I don’t like this responsibility one bit, because coming out is always so difficult and uncomfortable, but yes, in principle I agree 100% that I do have this special responsibility, as to other religious non-theists.

  • Glen says:

    P.S. You’re getting much closer to understanding my religious identity, but you still aren’t exactly hitting it on the target. These guys are atheists with a soft spot for certain aspects of theistic culture, but their overall orientation is still unambiguously atheistic and non or anti-religious. I am “bi,” i.e. (for the sake of argument) equally religious and atheistic. I can maybe highlight this best by referring to the line in Tim’s song about rather breaking bread with Dawkins than Tutu. I would like both equally. The sense of admiration and connection with each would be equally profound. With Dawkins the connection would be intellectual/factual, with Tutu metaphorical/emotional. I would totally nod happily when Tutu talked about the light of God in every human heart. I would feel connected to this experience, even though for me the light of God is just a metaphor for something mysterious that happens with cells, chemicals, synapses, whatever, an aspect of purely human consciousness.

    • ZackFord says:

      See, I think I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t think I agree that it makes sense.

      If anything, it actually sounds more like you’re eager to defend the religious privilege you get, and there seems to be an insinuation that Dawkins (or I, for that matter), couldn’t sit down and have the loveliest of conversations with Tutu. I think we could, and appreciate his message exactly the way you described it. The only difference would be that we wouldn’t buy into the possibility of any “greater than the natural world” truth to his perspectives.

      I would challenge that your perspective is intellectually dishonest. If you buy into theology despite recognizing that the whole study is founded on flawed assumptions, aren’t you then taking ownership of those flaws yourself? And essentially defending them despite disagreeing with them?

      I wonder if a better description wouldn’t be “ex-atheist.” You’ll always be an atheist, but you’ve been convinced to continue participating in a theistic lifestyle and convinced that a theistic lifestyle is emotionally and spiritually fulfilling. A comparison to “ex-gay” seems much more apropos than to “bisexual.”

      • Glen says:

        Zack, I have a lot of things to say in response to this (to me, astonishing) comment, but let’s carry them on some other time–I have to grade papers, read books, have a life ;-)… Let’s just say the ex-gay metaphor does not resonate in the SLIGHTEST. Not the tiniest bit of self-hatred driving this choice, only an honesty about who I am and what I like.

        • ZackFord says:

          Well, I look forward to it. I don’t think many in the ex-gay movement would consider that there is self-hatred involved. I was referring more to the idea of still identifying with the privileged, oppressive group while openly admitting membership in the minority group.

          As I thought about it some more, the dichotomy your portrayed for bisexuality just didn’t fit. My understanding of bisexuality (as learned from bisexuals) is the potential to have attractions to either gender, NOT one kind of attraction for one gender and one kind for another. I would have a lot of sympathy for a person who could not find both sexual and romantic connection with the same person, and I really don’t think that portrayal resonates with most people who are bi. It actually sounds a lot more like the tiny group of people who are gay, but due to internalized homophobia identify as “bi” and pursue relations with the opposite sex nonetheless. They aren’t quite ex-gay, but their sexuality is still disingenuous.

          From what you’ve said so far, this seems the best parallel. But the ambiguity of it explains my incorrect comparisons to agnosticism (as though you’re still ambivalent about your perspective) or a parallel to being ex-gay. I’m trying to hone in on it here, so I look forward to hearing additional context from you.

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