Many people believe that religion can cause the best qualities of humanity to be expressed: compassion, empathy, humility. And in many cases, they’re right.
Sometimes, though, religion has the opposite effect: it can dehumanize. Perhaps the best example is the idea, promoted by some brands of Christianity, that humans have little to no inherent value. That any good thing they do is because God caused them to do it (I talk about this more in my essay on religion).
I was reminded again of the potentially dehumanizing influence of religion when reading about a new manual published by the Mormon church. It’s aim is to encourage parents not to reject and disown their gay, lesbian or transgender children. The fact that such a manual is even needed in the first place is shocking. Apparently many Mormon LGBT children, on confessing their sexual orientation to their parents, are effectively thrown out the house. Many go on to commit (or attempt) suicide.
So now Mormons have to be told mind-bogglingly obvious things like “Parents’ attitudes can have a dramatic impact on their gay and transgender children’s lives”. You don’t say!
And, “Open communication between parents and children is a clear expression of love, and pure love, generously expressed, can transform family ties.” Who would have thought!
Clearly Mormonism has, in many families, stripped parents of their common sense when it comes to parenting, and now they have to be reminded of the basics. This is what happens when you place dogma (in this case, bigoted dogma) ahead of people’s well-being. It’s fundamentally dehumanizing.
The same can be said about the horrific rant (some call it a “sermon”) of Sean Harris, a pastor in North Carolina, in which he advocated that parents “punch” their sons if they exhibit effeminate behavior. Harris’s beliefs have stripped him of the basic human qualities of compassion and empathy and have put violent authoritarianism in their place.
We should all try to be aware of the effect we’re having on other people’s emotional lives, no matter who those people are, and no matter how much we may disagree with their sexual orientation and other characteristics. Unfortunately, religion sometimes makes people lose sight of that, instead of making them better at it.