We Don’t Have to Play by Their Rules

I’m opinionated, and I feel quite passionately about several causes. With the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, I’ve experienced great joy this weekend. However, a few of my Facebook friends are opposed to equality for the LGBT community. I commented on one of these:

Play by their rules

At first, I felt incredibly guilty. I wonder if I had pushed the line, if I had said something inappropriate and disrespectful. After some time in thought, I reached a new conclusion.

If someone said, “I don’t think women should vote. I’m not screaming at people, I don’t stop them from voting, but I think my God says that women shouldn’t vote,” we wouldn’t stand back and respect their intolerance. If someone said, “I just disagree with the mixing of the races. I don’t stop integration, I don’t block the campuses, but I think God never intended for the races to mix,” we wouldn’t just nod and accept it. We wouldn’t sit back and say, “Well, we’ll agree to disagree.”

Intolerance related to the LGBT community isn’t something we can sit back and accept. It isn’t something we can respect. We can respect those who oppose because of their inherent dignity as human beings, but we do not owe them a courteous nod and accept their beliefs.

“I don’t hate anybody.” I don’t doubt that the woman who replied to me truly believes that. If you think that LGBT people are condemned to hell, that isn’t love. If you “stand up for your beliefs” which ultimately encourage other people to go out and beat, kill, and utterly degrade LGBT individuals, that’s hate.

Words have power. Beliefs have power. The Nazis were able to succeed because people believed in their cause. Hundreds of people were lynched because the murderers believed that those men and women deserved death. Matthew Shepard died because people believed that his homosexuality warranted death.

In these discussions, we non-believers don’t have to follow their rules anymore. We don’t have to back down the moment they mention beliefs. We can disregard scripture, and we don’t have to use their scripture against them—although I do enjoy doing that with my knowledge of the Bible and church history. We are no longer tied down to their rules of engagement.


Whatever religious practices are practiced behind closed doors, as long as they don’t cause physical or emotional harm, should not be interfered with. But the moment they bring those beliefs into the public sphere, they can be criticized. Those beliefs being religious don’t make them exempt.

Before I wrote this, I expressed my worry to a group of atheists I have come to respect. At the time, I was frustrated, emotionally drained, and I experienced a lot of self-doubt. They expressed many of the views I’ve written about, but I rebuffed them, wondering where respect should stop and end. Sleeping on this, thinking on this, I feel better and more secure in these opinions.

I no longer feel obligated to back down whenever they mention God as the source of belief. They’re allowed to have that belief, but if they can say nothing beyond “God says so,” it isn’t a real discussion. Real discussions have room for both sides to change their opinions. Real discussions don’t have an unofficial referee deciding the rules seemingly at random.

When people use religion as an excuse to oppose something, they are very often standing in the way of social justice. Religion was used to defend slavery, defend Jim Crow, defend their refusal to give women the right to vote, defend segregation. Many religious people also used their faith to oppose these injustices, and they shouldn’t be ignored, but that doesn’t remove the guilt from those who use their god to try and prevent others from having rights.

When people claim their religion is the source of all justice and all goodness in the world, they’ll be held to that standard. When the loudest mouths in their faith say they have moral superiority, but push down the poor, the weak, people most in need of defense, it shouldn’t be surprising when we lose respect for those people’s beliefs and the beliefs of that religion.

I don’t have to respect the Bible simply because it’s a religious text. I don’t have to respect it any more than I respect the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, or the Torah. As a student of religions, I do respect them for their significance in human history, but I don’t live my life by their guidance. I don’t think all gay sex is immoral just because I was told so by an ancient book.

God is incredibly important to a significant number of Americans, but their religion doesn’t trump others’ rights. I don’t want a White House that honors God, I want a White House that honors people. I don’t care about the religion of my president unless it hurts the American people and takes away their rights.

We don’t have to agree to disagree. We can stand up, speak out, and utterly disregard the argument: “God says so.”

3 thoughts on “We Don’t Have to Play by Their Rules

    1. I feel like any discrimination that can lead to death can be compared. People have been killed because of their color and because of who they’ve loved.

      People can object to homosexual behavior just as easily as they can object to the mixing of the races. Just because you can object to something that doesn’t mean it’s socially acceptable or moral to object to it.


      1. There are many problems with equating intrinsic and moral discrimination. First and foremost, over time, the ideology of the majority tends to drift. It must be remembered that cultural evolution, like biological evolution, is directionless. Therefore, it is never wise to arm your rulers with logic that, in a different context, could be used against you. That’s why in a free nation, intrinsic discrimination must always be illegal, whereas moral discrimination must always be legal.

        Examples of Intrinsic Discrimination (Always Illegal)
        “You’re gay, so I can’t bake you a cake.”
        “You’re Christian, so I can’t bake you a cake.”
        “You’re black, so I can’t bake you a cake.”

        Examples of Moral Discrimination (Always Legal)
        “We don’t bake cakes for same-sex weddings because we don’t approve of those sorts of sexual acts.”
        “We don’t bake cakes for Evangelical religious revivals because we think Christianity is a destructive and false religion.”
        “We don’t bake cakes for Black Panther events because we disagree with the way they promote civil rights through violence.”

        In our secular Republic, given its current social environment, I think we can definitely (and probably should) have legal recognition of same-sex marriage, provided that it is implemented in a manner that respects conscience rights, religious liberty, and the distinction between moral and intrinsic discrimination (i.e., discriminating based on moral choice verses discriminating based on unalterable or chosen identity).

        It should also be acknowledged that there are a number of secular arguments and people opposed to homosexual acts and other extramarital expressions of human sexuality. I do believe your category error is going to lead you to “shun the nonbeliever,” so to speak, and perhaps lose many friends.

        There is no love to be found in an attachment to an abstract ideology; you must instead look to imperfect human beings and accept them. Disagreement in matters of sexual mores does not imply hatred. If you would like, we can further discuss the philosophical and theological reasons supporting this fact.


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