Empowering A Culture of Suicide and Self-Hate

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 3, 2010 — 41 Comments

As the increasingly grim and tragic suicide numbers continue to climb, as children suspected of being gay have their arms broken, and upstanding gay college students are bizarrely singled out by city officials, we inevitably have to ask, again, where is all this hate and fear coming from? Why do we have to start a campaign to remind young people that there will come a time when the hell and torments of their youth will end? Why is our culture killing these kids? Baptist minister Cody J. Sanders thinks he has the answer, the root of this hateful and tragic crop.

Anti-gay bullying is a theological issue because it has a theological base. I find it difficult to believe that even those among us with a vibrant imagination can muster the creative energy to picture a reality in which anti-gay violence and bullying exist without the anti-gay religious messages that support them.

These messages come in many forms, degrees of virulence, and volumes of expression. The most insidious forms, however, are not those from groups like Westboro Baptist Church. Most people quickly dismiss this fanaticism as the red-faced ranting of a fringe religious leader and his small band of followers.

More difficult to address are the myriad ways in which everyday churches that do a lot of good in the world also perpetuate theologies that undergird and legitimate instrumental violence. The simplistic, black and white lines that are drawn between conceptions of good and evil make it all-too-easy to apply these dualisms to groups of people. When theologies leave no room for ambiguity, mystery and uncertainty, it becomes very easy to identify an “us” (good, heterosexual) versus a “them” (evil, gay).”

In the end, it comes down to theology. Not, as Sanders points out, the easily defeated cartoon hatred of Westboro, but the more subtle belief systems that make even “accepted” GLBTQ individuals the “other”. A theology that, even if unspoken, privileges a certain kind of person over another.

“Additionally, hierarchical conceptions of value and worth are implicit in many of our theological notions. Needless to say, value and worth are not distributed equally in these hierarchies. God is at the top, (white, heterosexual) men come soon after and all those less valued by the culture (women, children, LGBT people, the poor, racial minorities, etc.) fall somewhere down below. And it all makes perfect sense if you support it with a few appropriately (mis)quoted verses from the Bible.

With dualistic conceptions of good and evil and hierarchical notions of value and worth, it becomes easy to know who it is okay to hate or to bully or, seemingly more benignly, to ignore. And no institutions have done more to create and perpetuate the public disapproval of gay and lesbian people than churches.”

If you create no space in our most primal belief systems for nuance, for difference, for multiple understandings of sacred, you end up creating classes of people who are lesser, who are ripe for torments and persecution. While defenders of these theologies talk of tradition and incremental change, more die, and are harassed, every day. It is for this reason, among many others, that I think we not only have to reassure kids that “it gets better”, but we also have to reject theologies that empower hatreds of this kind and replace them with something else.

“I don’t think it takes Sherlock Holmes to parse out why all of these things are taking place. It is because certain religions not only tolerate these negative opinions of LGBTQ people, they propagate them; they enshrine them in their sacred texts (even though some of those texts can be interpreted in other ways); they preach them from their pulpits.”P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, founder of the Ekklesía Antínoou

My “something else” is the modern Pagan movement, but it isn’t the only “something else” out there. These alternatives to a norm that pushes “others” to the margins, despite how small they are, are seen as a threat to the stability of the dominant faiths. Which is why the fringes of those dominant faiths are so obsessed with the supposed evils we commit.

“While the lukewarm and ignorant think of these customs as “just harmless fun,” the vortexes of hell are releasing new assignments against souls. Witches take pride in laughing at the ignorance of natural men (those who ignore the spirit realm).”

The faiths that are more refined simply mock us, though even they are showing signs of concern at our growth and acceptance. Despite these obstacles, it is more important than ever for us to make it known that our alternatives exist. To be visible and to make common cause with those who are told to hate themselves by the dominant faith lens. For no other reason than, in the word of Harvey Milk, to “give ’em hope”.

The culture of suicide and self-hate has to end. The culture of violence and oppression towards an imagined other has to end. It must. Those who oppose the dismantling of these theologies, of these understandings, can’t be allowed to enable the bullies, the ostracization, the enshrining of prejudice into law. When Matthew Shephard happened, we all vowed never again, yet here we are, with Matthew’s mother once more calling for the deaths to stop. We, as Pagans, must work harder than ever to change culture, and stop this senseless death in the name of enforcing the boundaries of tradition.

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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