In response to Pope Francis’ support of civil unions, Theatre Editor Ananya examines the complicated relationship that often exists between faith and sexuality.
The human soul is a moth, attracted to the light that is the joy of being loved for who you are and being accepted as part of a community.
For centuries, we have flocked to religion to explain the unexplainable, to find peace, and to belong. Even with people moving towards agnosticism and atheism, a majority of the world’s populous is still religious to a degree. This loyalty to faith could be because of its perception as a harbinger of salvation and inner peace. One would assume therefore that this peace and salvation would mean harmony, acceptance, and tolerance; for, to the religious, we are all children of God(s). Yet many religions see it fit to exile a part of society; refuse them the acceptance and tolerance that should inherently be part of faith — the exile of the LGBTQ+ community.
I feel I should make clear here that this is not a criticism of religion or people of faith as a whole. Rather, it’s a criticism of the hate and exclusion that exists among some denominations, in contrast the message of peace and love that all religions share.
There seems to be a power in faith that shapes the minds of its followers, crafting their world view. When the lens through which you see the world says that your being in itself is an affront to the God(s) you might believe in, you are not just ostracized from that community you grew up in, but also are in a state of identity crisis. Are you religious? Are you bisexual? Does being one mean that you are not part of the other? Are you a good human being?
Regardless of how people choose to answer those questions for themselves, there is a lingering loss that exists. Because, more often than not, a trade-off is required: either that of sexual identity so as to retain relationships with the religious community they grew up in, or of religion, to live and love freely without judgement. So, in order to have some semblance of happiness and peace, the LGBTQ+ community is being asked to let go of a part of themselves. This is not a fair ask of anyone.
What is especially sad is that, before the advent of the rising global west and the pressing influence of mainstream western religious interpretation, several faiths in the global east and south were accepting of LGBTQ+ people. Homosexuality, gender fluidity, and transgender identities were a part of the culture and society in many religious communities. With the arguably ongoing domination of Western thought, many of these communities have changed their perspectives. If a stream of thought that emerged from one small part of the world changed the views, lives, and futures of an overwhelming majority, it is not unfair to ask that small part of the world to lead the way in setting things right.
Again, I feel the need to intervene and say that this by no means absolves responsibility off of other religions, their leaders, and their followers in standing against the bigotry faced by the LGBTQ+ community. I simply believe that it’s fair to say that a burden lies on the shoulders of Western religious leaders to acknowledge the influence they have had over the centuries and work towards making right the things that went wrong due to that influence.
It seems like the leader of the Roman Catholic world decided to take a small step in doing so.
“They're children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made to be miserable because of it,” said Pope Francis. His message to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics sounds inspiring, an apology to years of suffering and confusion experienced by the Catholic LGBTQ+ community. The effect this will have on their lives is by no means small, considering that to devout Roman Catholics, the papal office dictates the moral code and way of life. The question is, however, to what extent this message will be upheld by future popes - and more importantly, if this will lead to dissent within the ranks of the Catholic church and its conservative followers. For now, Pope Francis’ words seem to be a start towards illuminating a path of acceptance and community — a path to a future where the religious world is accepting of the LGBTQ+ community.
That said, this is only a tiny victory in the long war for identity and acceptance. The Catholic church, and other religions, have a long way to go in righting the wrongs of history. Until then, the world must fight: fight for the rights of humanity until all those exiled can find solace in their religion again.