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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Gay > Rubrieke | Columns > Christina Engela: Fundamentally Speaking

Spit or swallow?


Christina Engela - 2011-04-29

Untitled Document

Belief is subjective: you don’t have to like somebody else’s beliefs any more than somebody else might agree with folks standing in church waving their hands in the air. Some folks see religion as chicken soup for the soul – well, some folks like their soup with croutons, others with noodles. Some like tomato, others butternut. It would be a boring old world if we all just stuck to "hearty beef" now, wouldn’t it?

When I posted that on Facebook as a status, an old friend of mine replied, extending the metaphor: "Some people are vegetarian, others just hate soup, others say soup is for sick people, and some just eat soup cos they are too poor to eat steak."

What can I say to that, other than “LMAO”?

Be that as it may, some folks like to criticise other people for believing "a load of bullshit" because they believe in another religion different from their own – which they see as the only "true" or "right" religion. Somehow the irony in that completely eludes them.

Others like their own religion or belief system so much that they decide that other people should adhere to their belief system too, and cannot accept the possibility that other people might not want to, or would choose another belief system. You see, to them their belief system has become a lens through which they see the world, and without this lens they would be plunged into a world of darkness, terror and gloom, and for all intents and purposes, essentially blind. Substituting their own lens for another would not work for them either, as it would seemingly distort their view of the world to the point where the world would be overrun by monsters and demons and they would see their worst fears realised.

Yes, I have used yet another metaphor – this time substituting the religious views people have of themselves and the world around them with optical lenses, and each religion being represented by a different lens – each providing a starkly different view of the world. As real optical lenses come in different strengths, so too do religions. Christianity 25+, for example, gives a different world view from that provided by Agnosticism -5. For one thing, the elephants look a little smaller, and things sure do look hazy, but not as hazy as, for example, when using Rastafarianism 0 (cough-cough, this is good shit, man). Yes, this is tongue in cheek, so please put down the gun and back away slowly and nobody will get hurt.

So anyway, it seems fair to assume we have religious folks who call themselves by the name of a religion, and then you have the religious folks on steroids, who really believe in everything their religion claims to stand for, falling for the advertising slogans and the marketing and sales pitch like a ton of bricks. They might get a little over-enthusiastic about it and actually hate all other religious belief systems aside from their favourite – they may even take issue with the other adherents of their belief system who do not – and yet they will also call themselves by the name of the same religion as the other folks who are not quite as obsessed. They move beyond just being concerned with their own spiritual well-being and start becoming first bothered and then obsessed by what the neighbours are getting up to in the privacy of their own homes.

Yes, I know – religion is all very confusing, isn’t it? In fact, the more you dig into it, the more it begins to look like espionage, and even politics – and the less you can actually separate the functional aspects of either social constructs. Look at the Middle East, for instance. In Palestine and Israel they haven’t been able to separate religion and politics for almost a century – and if that doesn’t tell you what awaits any country that follows such an enigmatic example, nothing will.

Logic dictates that since religion by its very nature is an illogical belief in the unprovable, without any tangible proof or evidence to back up the fundamentals of any religion – and therefore, no religion can be considered more real than another just because it is older, or has more books in it, or more followers – or even because it has spilled more blood than another. Taking all that into consideration, therefore, it is quite logical to assert that since no one religion can prove its legitimacy over any other by the provision of either conclusive facts or divine intervention, one could say that all religions are false, wishful thinking and utterly pointless – or all religions are correct in at least some ways and might collectively serve some kind of obscure useful purpose. One might then argue that either all religions should be scrapped (which would, of course, result in a massive outcry) – or all religions should be accorded equal status in the world, one with the other.

While the first option is a clear violation of human rights – the fundamental right to believe whatever you want to is guaranteed by most countries’ constitutions today, even if it is a load of horse manure and causes you to hate everybody and everything – but just as long as people aren’t actually stupid or mean-spirited enough to cause harm to other people, whatever their motivation, even if the motive is the satisfaction of said shitty thoughts – everything should work out just fine.

The trouble is, things often are not really fine – and many times people do nasty things to other people because of their personal religious "convictions" – only, whenever someone tries to actually convict them in court for the acts they committed in the name of these "convictions" they cry foul. You see, religion is being used by some as an excuse and a justification for acts of terror and violence committed in the interests of particular religious beliefs. Take Uganda, for example. Religious and political leaders there have been and still are calling for people to be murdered by the state simply on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity – and they use their religion to justify their call for violence, to excuse their incitement to commit murder, and to absolve their guilt. This is taking the tired old court joke of "the Devil made me do it" to a new low, and it just doesn’t fly.

Of course, while the second option, that of disposing of all religions, would be an ideal solution to more than half the troubles in the world today, not everyone who holds their own faith close to their hearts will willingly grant people of other religions the same courtesy. Some see all other religions and belief systems not as equals, but as "false", as competitors, usurpers and enemies of their faith. There exists in their vision no room for all belief systems to co-exist peacefully without stepping on one another’s other’s toes, or without a good deal of snarling, back-stabbing and bloodshed. This despite the plain facts showing that as much as they view other religions as false, they actually have nothing tangible to base their own claims on either. This, of course, all adds to the spice of the amazing soup of life, or is that a crouton?

The above example of the two choices society has, demonstrates how some people use their religion to excuse their acts of hatred or personal intolerance and to infringe on the human rights of others. Freedom of religion and belief are two fundamental human rights that should not be turned against themselves and the other body of human rights in order to usurp the human rights of one group by another, and that is what is happening in the world today. Somehow we have to maintain a balance between the two.

It is a good point to make that were there one religion with irrefutable proof that it was the one and only correct, true and "real" religion, everybody would probably flock to it and there would be no alternative faith groups. Well, perhaps not. Some people will disagree with anything, even solid facts. Some people refused to believe the earth is round, even after some people sailed ships around it. Some people still do. Some people are so obtuse that you have to drop a hammer on their foot just to convince them that gravity is real, but oh well, there’s no accounting for some people’s reasoning.

Despite religion’s not having any factual basis at all, fear has a way of making things more real. Considering our Western society’s traditions stemming from centuries of Christian domination, under both Protestant and Catholic influence, religion and religious principles are often imposed on a whole society, even though only partof that society actually considers that religion to be applicable to themselves, or even remotely considers this imposition reasonable or justifiable. Many supporters or proponents of Christianity today use fear to garner support for their schemes or to apply pressure on groups which they identify as a "threat" to their continued supremacy or social position. Many of the more moderate adherents of this religion will sit quietly on the sidelines while the more crazy, fundamentalist and obsessive factor will drown out their voices of love, peace and tolerance by jumping up and down and intimidating people – often threatening them. Some will even actively indulge in actions which really do harm to others. And before you consider telling me I'm talking shit, have a look at the far right religious fundamentalist Christian movements around the world – in particular in the USA and in Uganda, where they have been running riot for the past few decades, painting certain social groupings as "undesirables" and drumming up hatred and inciting violence against them. Uganda is a very good, very real example of religious fundamentalism run amok.

When it comes to religion and soup, I would say that the religious fundamentalist is the fly in the soup, muddying things up and agitating it into a frothy mess. I suppose whether these flies are doing the backstroke or the crawl is a matter of debate for another day, but there is no doubt in my mind that for many people down through the centuries, the only thing which made any religion "more real" for them was the fact that not believing as other people did, or being perceived to differ of opinion, or deviate from set doctrine, could or would get them killed. Fear keeps people in line, and so fear and religion go well in hand when one needs a system of control – which in effect is the central purpose of any organised hierarchical religion. If control was not a central purpose of such a religion then why would it need to be so organised along national and international lines? Why would it need to pursue such a deathly grip on secular politics? Why would it require such blind, unquestioning obedience and impose such invasive and inflexible laws?

This brings me to the folks who do not adhere to the religion per se, but nevertheless feel the influence of these religious-based features in their daily lives, and experience the pressure being brought to bear on them by religious influence in the media, in state laws and cultural norms – and put up with them, despite not having any personal connection to them whatever – either because it has gradually been infused into the social construct to a point where separation is impossible, or because resistance would prove disastrous.

People are expected by others not to work or operate their business on a particular day, despite the fact that they do not share their beliefs. Some people expect others to put up with references to their god in their national constitution, despite the fact that not everyone believes in that god, or believes that any god should have anything to do with the laws of the land. Some people are of the opinion that the phrase "an act of God" is a legal term meant as a metaphor – not a base statement of reality with ominous overtones.

Some people expect others to disregard scientific and medical facts just because they choose to close off their minds to reason and logic, just as they do. Some people view independent thought and deviation from their doctrine as dangerous and threatening. Some people view the way they are as the way things should be – and see those who are different from them as evil, perverse, dangerous and threatening – most often because of fear, which is inspired by those who play on differences between people and their ignorance about them. This is the very same classic example of utter stupidity evident in scenarios where right-handed people persecute left-handed people, men oppress women, whites deprive blacks of equality, gentiles exterminate Jews, and straights stomp gays into the dirt – because "there’s more of us, and we have the power – so we must be right". It is situations like these, where people cannot justify their hatred or intolerance for a group of people outside of their religious beliefs – given that their beliefs have no foundation other than the beliefs themselves – that make me question the overall IQ and general worthiness of the human race to survive its endless journey blundering and stumbling through the darkness. They cannot excuse it or justify it, yet they keep doing it – and the croutons in their little soup bowls provide them with the excuses, justifications and the comfort to soothe the hunger of their aching consciences afterwards.

And this is one of the reasons why transgender and gay people face such a battle in the world dominated by religion, particularly religions which set specific rules for everything, and cast all those who don’t conform as the bad guys in the movie. Of course, such folks who like to cast judgment on us also reserve the Director and Producer seats for themselves, while denying that they have control of the lines or the screenplay – or that there is even another side to the story. Obviously, when it comes to the administration of laws and justice and the proportioning of human rights among the masses it isn’t hard to guess who ends up on the cutting room floor or gets told "You'll never work in this town again!"

As most discussions on the topic of sexuality and gender reveal, some people just can’t handle diversity and the fact that other people have opinions different from their own – and the free will to decide for themselves how to live their lives. It makes some people quite angry, and even openly hostile. It makes some people want to get into politics and change the law so they can take away the humanity of other people they dislike on religious grounds – grounds for which they have utterly no justification whatsoever.

Which brings me to my position on all this. I am a transgender woman. This life is my journey; nobody can travel it for me, nobody can choose for me, nobody can tell me I must live my life according to their beliefs and not mine. Nobody can tell me what to believe. That is something I must find out for myself. I am a transsexual woman, I am asexual and pan-romantic. I may call myself Wiccan for now, just as I once called myself Christian, and agnostic – and I intend to learn what I can from it. Who knows what I may call myself in another decade’s time? I may one day call myself atheist – but that is my choice and no-one else’s. I don’t push my beliefs on other people and I don’t see why I have to defend my beliefs and my choices in life against other people’s beliefs about my beliefs in relation to theirs.

To all those folks who judge me for being transgender, or for whom I choose to form a relationship with, and who make my business their business, and who take it upon themselves to act against me and against my civil and human rights – I reject your "right" to do so. Instead of looking down on me because I had to have surgery to correct one of nature’s mistakes, and repeatedly trying to establish your "superiority" over me because of that, you should thank whatever flying spaghetti monster you believe in for being born anatomically correct, or bend over and just kiss it.

And if you try to force-feed me with your particular brand of soup, whatever its flavour, I'm unlikely to swallow it. In fact, be ready for a shower of hot, wet slimy rejection, croutons, flies and all.

Lastly, there is one more thing that I can add to the metaphor of the soup – the spoon – that’s my free will, which I will cram into a very uncomfortable spot and you will not enjoy it.

You may disagree with me or my life choices or beliefs – that is your right – but it doesn’t justify your aggression and hostility, or ratify whatever moves you make to strip me of my rights and my humanity. If people are nice to me, I'm nice back. I don’t kiss ass – I take bites – and you get what you give.

Believe what you like, I'm not stopping you. I will believe what I like, and you will not stop me.