I’m beginning to feel left out—sort of the way you felt in school when everyone else in your class was invited to a party but you. Evidently, there are all these people who are on a first-name basis with God—who “hang out” with Him (actually, I’d always thought of God as a “She” but I guess I was wrong about that, too), getting the real scoop on what He wants, who He likes and dislikes…who He intends to invite to the Ultimate Party in Heaven, and who won’t get to come
I’m beginning to feel left out—sort of the way you felt in school when everyone else in your class was invited to a party but you. Evidently, there are all these people who are on a first-name basis with God—who “hang out” with Him (actually, I’d always thought of God as a “She” but I guess I was wrong about that, too), getting the real scoop on what He wants, who He likes and dislikes…who He intends to invite to the Ultimate Party in Heaven, and who won’t get to come.
I was reminded once again what an outsider I am when I read what Randy Ball, an elected Florida Representative, said in a widely publicized letter defending Florida’s ban on adoptions by gays. His letter—written on official Florida stationery—stated that the “transcendent God” who oversees the world “condemns homosexuality as an abomination.” In later remarks, he explained that “This country (I presume he was referring to the United States, although he certainly seems to live in a different country than I do—maybe even on a different planet) runs and operates on the Judeo-Christian ethic that comes from the Bible.” (Not to be too cynical about folks given to these statements, but as a person of the “Judeo” heritage, I can tell you that our addition to this formula is pure political correctness. Scratch one of these public pietists, and you’ll find as much anti-Semitism as homophobia. But I digress.)
Now, I am perfectly content to let Mr. Ball believe anything he wants. If he is confident that he knows the mind and heart of God, I’m not inclined to argue with him—hey, I’m not inclined to ever socialize with him. But that is hardly the point.
If a free and democratic society is to continue to exist, the rules have to be seen as fair by both the Balls of this world and by the gay people and others he would marginalize. And therein lies the problem. Our constitutional system requires that government be neutral on matters of religious belief—that the state avoid taking sides in theological debates. Government is supposed to handle such collective responsibilities as paving streets, defending against foreign aggressors, delivering the mail, assigning air lanes, checking chicken for salmonella…It really has plenty to do without mediating religious wars. But people like Representative Ball don’t see First Amendment neutrality as neutral. In their view, if the state isn’t imposing their religious values on the rest of us, government is discriminating against them. If gays are treated by government as civic equals, for example, that is evidence that government is favoring the forces of evil. It does no good to point out that the same system that prevents them from disenfranchising gays prevents those of us who find their beliefs odious from disenfranchising them.
It also does no good, unfortunately, to remind these folks that there are many deeply religious people whose vision of Godliness differs mightily from theirs; people whose approach to deity is—shall we say—a bit more complex and nuanced. People who would feel it unspeakably arrogant to claim that they knew the mind of God, but who nevertheless harbor a conviction that no God worth worshipping would demand that Her followers hurt and despise their fellow-beings.
Every once in a while, I think about the fanatics who flew into the World Trade Center, convinced that in the next life they would enjoy honey and dates and 70 sloe-eyed virgins. And then I think about Randy Ball, Florida representative. If there is an afterlife, I think they may all be in for a surprise.