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Religion and Love

John Simkin

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  • 3 months later...

What does religion and love, except incidentally according to said level of being, have in common?

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What does religion and love, except incidentally according to said level of being, have in common?

The relationship between religion and level of being is central to any understanding of the relationship between religion and love (and for that matter religion and hate).

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OK, what does religion and hate under sinilar strictures have in common?

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"We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another." Jonathan Swift.

To answer John's question directly, yes, Swift was right at the time he wrote it, and sadly he's still right, certainly about Western Christianity. However, 'indifference' is probably a more deadly vice than hatred, partly because it is not so obvious. I think the word 'religion' is in any case redefining itself to mean 'somebody else's mode of spirituality, which I don't myself approve of, especially organised religion'.

However, since Swift was writing in the context of the Anglican Church (presumably of Ireland) it's perhaps relevant to look at a modern case. As it happens Ireland in the late 1960's springs to mind, as I can still remember my brother, then a fairly new reporter on the Manchester Guardian, returning from Northern Ireland and announcing to me (knowing that I was interested in the subject) that the Troubles had nothing to do with religion. It depends on your definition I suppose.

I have been following a recent bad case of politics and religion, trying to work out who or what is to blame for the following proposed law:


When the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 first came to my notice my first thought was that it must be some sort of joke.

Taking it seriously was not helped by the fact that it was introduced into the Parliament by Uganda's chief scout! But hate appears to be one of the motivating factors, and religion is certainly part of the story. It is quite possible it will be accepted by the Uganda Parliament quite soon.

The Bill specifically rules out any acceptance of the idea (or defence) of sexual orientation, and basically reinforces the existing criminalisation of homosexuality in Uganda, creating the death penalty for what it calls 'aggravated homosexuality', heavy terms of imprisonment for lesser 'offences', and making it an offence not to report homosexual behaviour.

Two consequences of the bill (even if the death penalty is removed) will be the weakening of a hitherto successful anti-HIV campaign, and an increased climate of fear in a country whose social structure is already in a delicate state.

The introduction to the bill makes clear the mindset behind it: Uganda is apparently being corrupted by non-African influences, particularly gay-rights organisations. (Actually there is no strong gay organisation in Uganda, the Ugandan Unitarian Universalist Church having provided the organisation for what will probably be the last gay meeting before the Uganda Parliament votes on the bill.) There is a popular belief in Uganda that homosexuality is un-African and a European import. The government will therefore gain widespread popularity if it throws its weight behind what is at the moment a private member's bill.

President Museveni has an interesting choice: he can bow to the pressure of world leaders and repeat his excuse that there are 'foreign policy considerations', or set himself up as a chamption of African independence and integrity against neo-colonial interference (a role that certainly didn't do Mugabe any harm.)


It is also possible that Museveni may be tempted to use this law to attack political opponents, because it would be even easier for a simple denunciation to the police to put an opponent in gaol. This kind of thing already happens in Uganda, the brother of the Archbishop of York being a fairly recent victim.

There is a good deal of hate in this bill. One local radio station allegedly called for homosexuals to be killed. If the bill becomes law and is implemented of course homosexuals will be killed, by the state, but there is also a real danger of the law also giving the green light to vigilantism.

The root cause of this state of affairs is therefore widespread prejudice, in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa, about the nature of homosexuality. Academics who refer to the fact that homosexuality can be found within traditional African cultures are simply not believed. Another cause has been controversy in Uganda over the relative merits of condoms and abstinence in the prevention of HIV/Aids.

When Uganda was under the British neo-colonial system I found it fairly easy to understand what was going on: it was peculiarly inept to say the least to support Amin, a simple apparently jolly fellow who had worked his way up in the ranks to become one of the two African officers in the Uganda army at the time of independence.

Now Uganda has become an American neo-colonial colony I am finding it more difficult to follow. Is this all about the American Political Evangelical Right interfering in Uganda?


Or was it the three American evangelists addressing a conference in Kampala about 'healing' gays, in March 2009, that fed directly into a frenzy of political homophobia, and the introduction of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill?


Despite some foreign 'religious' support for the bill, most churches in the Western world came out against it, rather slowly, following in the wake of political statements by world leaders such as the Canadian and British Prime Ministers, and of course the American President. In Uganda the only Church that has expressed any real sympathy towards the gay minority, as far as I am aware, is the Unitarian church mentioned above. The Anglican Church of Uganda, for example, has welcomed the principles of the Bill (which include the rejection of any idea of sexual orientation), but has suggested one or two amendments for its implementation. (For the record the American evangelist, Rick Warren, who has considerable influence in Uganda, has condemned the bill.)

What is rather more disturbing to me is that a number of Christian evanglical organisations in Britain were very slow in appreciating that this was a clear issue of human rights, irrespective of any belief that 'homosexuality is a sin', and therefore missed an opportunity to send a clear message to Christians in Uganda that they ought not to be supporting this bill. The organised church in the Western World seems to me to be about 200 years behind everybody else in understanding Christian ethics.

However, there are churches, particularly in the developing world, where Christians don't find it difficult to support the downtrodden and the poor, because they are the downtrodden and poor, and where you will find many instances of love overcoming hatred. For the time being, and despite my having myself once enjoyed the fellowship of Ugandan Christians, you can cross Uganda off that list.

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Norman, in my experience what you say is probably very pertinent. I travelled with an evangelists tent for some months and part of the future outlook back then was a very enthusiastic hope for the spread of the Word in the countries surrounding and including Uganda. The reported conversions were, as reported, quite remarkable.

The responsibility of evangelists is, imo, not approached correctly in instances. Those who preach fire and brimstone, cherry pick from the bible, in fact ''rewrite'' it, which is one of the greatests of sins, to an audience yearning for succour can cause great damage. Hence my insistence on distinguishing between the teaching and the religion.

It seems to me that the massive evangelist efforts over the past decades has had an impact and it's not turning out well. It seems the Government is opportunistically appealing to a grouping and for the government it's not about god but about staying in power.

Unfortunately the falsity of the message will have a backlash as people begin to see the truth and the peace and salvation they yearn for will not be forthcoming.

It's a battle for hearts and minds and should not be ignored. It seems to me that Black Nationalism, which is an important thing in throwing off the yoke of colonialism, is being used to cloak something sinister, and the opiate of religion is used to stifle progress.

Again, what does Religion and Love have to do with each other?

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