Sunday, August 19, 2012

We Are Building A Religion

Within the last year I became involved in starting a new religion, Why This Way. I was hesitant to call it a religion for a few reasons. One of them is that it isn't what I think of as a religion: it isn't a theology. But it is a system of beliefs about other things. Another reason was that I think saying that we're starting a new religion might raise red flags for people that I know in my church. Like, if you start your own religion, you'll be worshiping yourselves. But it's just a matter of definition. If I said we're starting a new organization to promote health in every aspect of life, I don't think it would sound bad.

What's the point of Why This Way? It's always hard for me to sum up, because it is about every aspect of life. It started with Alex's vision, and It's not something I would have thought up on my own. Why? Because it seems too obvious. Just looking at our page of core beliefs, I would have thought that some of these things aren't even worth mentioning. But I think that's because they were already so ingrained into the way that I think, and I interact with a community of people who I perceive to think that way too. I guess it sometimes doesn't occur to me that it's not like that everywhere, and the more I've been involved in this, the more I've been able to identify things that don't fit with these beliefs, and don't seem right. Especially in the media.

We established (and are still establishing) our beliefs by coming to a consensus about what we think is important for a healthy and functional society. I've been asked before whether the idea that we don't mention God means that we're humanist or naturalist, but it doesn't mean that. We don't mention God because we know that people have different beliefs about God and we only deal with things that we can have a consensus about within our belief system. We're not here to replace other religions, but to exist along with them, and maybe influence them in positive ways. We also want to create an environment of respect for each other's personal beliefs about God.

One thing that's unique about Why This Way is that the first things we established were about the organization's decision-making process. This is because we often see organizations doing things in their governments that don't seem to make sense according to their values, and we want to avoid that as much as possible. We establish things by consensus, and we have rules of communication to encourage respectful dialog and minimize escalation of conflict. Although we have our set of core beliefs, the rules of communication are the first things we established, and our beliefs sort of grew from them. So although we are about health and holism in general, I guess our religion is very focused on respectful communication, and the idea that a lot more can be accomplished by people actually listening to each other and attempting to build a consensus than people might think. We want to bring that idea into as many areas of life as possible, like political debates, advertising, and education.

The Issue of Homosexuality

I've observed that the issue of homosexuality is a subject that holds a lot of hostility on both sides. I've been thinking about it a lot, and I think a lot of that hostility is based on over-generalizations and the ambiguity of labels assigned to the people involved. For instance, term "homophobic" tends to be used generally to refer to people and organizations that don't believe homosexuality is a good thing. What does homophobic actually mean? It's not very clear, but the technical definition is fear of homosexuals or homosexuality. It is generally used to refer to discrimination against gay people. I think using the term to refer to anyone who believes that homosexuality is bad implies that they only believe that because they're afraid of it, and thus ignorant of it, and I don't think that's true. In my experience, people who believe it's bad usually believe it for doctrinal reasons. But that's only among people I know personally - I know there are also people who are less clear about the foundation of their aversion to it, and are more likely to harass gay people and/or people (especially males) who exhibit any gender-deviant qualities. I think this kind of harassment is extremely inappropriate and damaging not only to the targets of the harassment, but to the reputation of people in general who believe that homosexuality is bad and who act respectfully towards everyone.

The next ambiguous label that I want to question is the term "homosexual." Specifically, what exactly is it that people who oppose homosexuality are against? I know there are different levels to it - sometimes it's an issue of gay marriage, because they don't consider same-sex marriage to count as marriage, but that's an issue in itself. I think when people say they believe homosexuality is wrong from a doctrinal basis, they usually refer to the act of same-gender sex. It's not the people themselves. It's not even the tendency to only be attracted to people of the same gender, which is often how homosexuality is defined. I think if people, as a society, are closed off from the very nature of homosexuality, the tendency to be attracted to people of the same sex, then it's oppressive. I watch those shows on TV where a boy tells his dad that he's gay, and the dad says, "No you're not." How is that helpful? It doesn't accomplish anything. But you never see the dad saying "Well, as long as you're not having sex," which might be an equally valid response to a teen announcing that he was in a heterosexual relationship. I think anything reinforcing the idea that people are less valuable or less deserving of love because they are gay is destructive. There's no reason to discourage homosexuality unless you believe that discouraging it will lead someone to greater happiness.

Another ambiguous thing that anti-gay people often say is "homosexuality is a choice," which I've heard other people adamantly disagree with. I think the whole point was muddled, though, by the fact that that phrase can mean different things: it can either mean that people can change what gender they're attracted to, or that people can choose who they have sex with. I definitely believe that the second point is true (except in non-consensual cases, or course), but I've heard enough disagreement with the first point that I don't believe it's always true. It may be true for some people and not others. I think when people hear "homosexuality is a choice," they often take that to mean that you can change your orientation. I think that idea can come across as offensive, and it can make people sound ignorant, because so many people who are attracted to the same gender have found that to be so untrue.

I want to go back to the issue of gay marriage. I understand the perspective that marriage is a sacred institution defined as being between a man and a woman, and that people don't want to mess with that. However, there is a problem in that legal marriage gives couples many government benefits, and I believe that nationally enforcing the man-woman model actually discriminates against gay people by keeping those benefits from people who want to be in gay relationships. I think it also infringes on the idea of religious freedom by forcing everyone to abide by a certain religious principle. I don't believe in the idea of forcing religious ideals on anyone. In my religion, freedom is an ideal, and religion is something that can only be followed by choice.