This weekend I came to the realization that I can probably only date other free thinkers or skeptics—guys who grew up in the Church and, after much thought and weighing of evidence, decided that it was no longer tenable to stay there.
Frankly, it’s not an easy thing to turn away from the place that has been your home for all of your life. From my earliest remembrance, the church was the primary social and sociological organizing feature of my life. I can still vividly remember sitting in the hard pews of the Evangelical Mennonite church that my family attended, feet dangling off the side, not yet long enough to reach the floor.
… I remember singing hymns together, and the older Mennonite woman who taught my 1st grade Sunday school class, and the felt board and pieces she used to tell Bible stories.
… I remember lunches, dinners and missionary gatherings in the community hall, and playing games in there during AWANA and vacation Bible school.
… I remember Christmas, Advent services with the candles (and mine catching fire several years in a row), Easter, and all the services in between.
It’s not that I don’t care about the Church, or about religion, or even God. I take it very seriously, which is why I can’t believe anymore—because I take it too seriously to believe on such a profound lack of evidence as there is. As Richard Dawkins writes in his endnote to Chapter 11 of The Selfish Gene:
“I don’t want to argue that the things in which a particular individual has faith are necessarily daft. They may or may not be. The point is that there is no way of deciding whether they are, and no way or preferring one article of faith over another, because evidence is explicitly eschewed. Indeed the fact that true faith doesn’t need evidence is held up as its greatest virtue; this was the point of my quoting the story of Doubting Thomas, the only really admirable member of the twelve apostles.”
He continues in the same endnote: “Faith is powerful enough to immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings. It even immunizes them against fear, if they honestly believe that a martyr’s death will send them straight to heaven. What a weapon! Religious faith deserves a chapter to itself in the annals of war technology, on an even footing with the longbow, the warhorse, the tank, and the hydrogen bomb.”
I’ve dated a number of guys who have held various religious beliefs. My first boyfriend had a horrific experience coming out as a teenager in his Christian community, where he was literally thrown out of his house by his conservative fundamentalist parents, as well as shunned by everyone he knew.
It’s been a mixture, with some guys still believing that Christianity is the way and trying to reconcile homosexuality with the Bible; but mostly the guys I meet are apathetic at best about Christianity. Like most American men, church doesn’t have a strong draw for them. Most grew up around Christianity but once they were old enough drifted away; and for many gay men, we get the message early on that the church has no place for homosexuals. Some might even go so far as to say that gays make Jesus throw up.
I’m at a place right now where there’s a lot of internal anger towards the church and its teachings. Having grown up within the system, while I’ve known many decent and kind religious people, I frankly believe that religion itself is too often used as a tool of psychological abuse and terrorism, subjugating individuals through fear of damnation and glorified ignorance in a sort of holy Stockhausen Syndrome.
It’s ironic. When I first came out, I was committed to only dating Christian gays, even going so far as to joining Christian gay dating sites and online forums (such as the GCN Network, which is where I met my first boyfriend). Now the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, where I should probably only date date agnostics or atheists, guys who have come out of the church and are committed to free thought and eradicating ignorance and religious abuse and inculcation from the world.
This experience is so defining and pervasive that it honestly makes it difficult to connect to others. That was what made it easy to connect to Seth—our common religious backgrounds and the experience of growing up gay in a fundamentalist Christian environment. But that chapter of my life is over, and a new and brighter one has begun—and now I want to share it with someone who understands that; who takes faith and religion seriously but also realizes through having lived it how toxic and deadly an ideology it is.
What it comes down to is that I can’t date guys who are willing to suspend their critical thinking skills in light of everything that we now know. Looking at the long term (which is where I’m at in seeking a relationship), our beliefs about the world are fundamentally different. He’ll believe that everything happens for a reason, and that there is a God benevolently looking out for us in Heaven, whereas I do not. My deepest sense is that there is a God (though that being is probably more akin to the God of the Deists than the personal God of the Evangelicals), but see no evidence to believe that life has any intrinsic purpose beyond that which we ascribe to it. The universe doesn’t care about anyone. It is amoral, non-sentient. Therefore, we must care about each other.
Similarly, I couldn’t date a guy who is apathetic about religion, because what we think and believe does deeply define us. It’s somewhat like having lived through combat—difficult for anyone who hasn’t experienced it to relate or fully appreciate the gravity of the emotional, psychological and social ramifications. Turning your back on your religion is a huge decision—one not to be taken lightly.