Tag Archives: Christianity

Corner of church and state street

Monotheism’s Importance To International Relations

Christianity, Islam and Judaism, along with their own institutions, have contributed to the shape of many vital political concepts.

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Corner of church and state street

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The relationship between religion and international politics has been often characterized by mutual suspicion and conceptual misunderstandings as a result of unsuccessful and flawed analyses about their interaction. However, accounting for religion as an intervening variable in world politics can not be entirely dismissed: from a sociological and constructivist standpoint, the field of faith can provide us with relevant and helpful insights for explaining the evolution of some political concepts.

As far as the three Abrahamic religions are concerned (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism), historical and comparative analyses show us how religion might be a useful explanatory tool for grasping complex structural phenomena. In fact, far from suggesting any pretentious and inconsistent theory of “religion in world politics”, I will be focusing on monotheism as the basis for the exercise and theorization of sovereignty, social mobilization and civil society.

To begin with, according to Daniel Philpott, the so-called ‘Westphalian System’ of modern states, based in the modern conception of state sovereignty, was built on religious grounds in Europe. Before 1648, political Europe was characterized by deeply fragmented forms of sovereignty, although transcontinental institutions such as the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire, ruled this broad geopolitical arena through what John Sidel has called the interwoven area between “non-territorial” and material power (powers over land, taxation, and local officials). As a result, the Christian authority represented the embryonic stage of a complex state system, which was later institutionalized through the thirty-year experience of inter-religious conflicts, ending with the Treaty of Westphalia.

Previously, the 16th century had marked the rise of the Protestant Reformation within the Christian world. Calvinism, in association with the structural consequences unleashed by the interaction between transcontinental institutions and pre-existing and scattered forms of sovereignty, played a meaningful role in determining the rise of the state. As Philip Gorski cleverly points out, the Protestant Reformation laid the foundations of a “disciplinary revolution”, which made available the necessary discipline for political control. More importantly, in addition to this cultural feature, the Calvinist church provided the modern state thanks to its own power relation with local communities and government.

If Christianity, and related institutions, have played a substantial role within the development of sovereignty and the modern state-system, Islam has to be mentioned as mobilizing factors in world politics. Islam laid down its bases during the 18th and 19th century. Indeed, European colonialism stretched its arms over Muslim lands, such as in the Indian Ocean where the Portuguese, Dutch and British powers intensified forms of imperial and colonial control. In these lands, the aforementioned imperial powers applied the same political and organizational tenet: the extension of Christian extra-territorial sovereignty founded on the basis of religion.

In the 20th century two remarkable occurrences took place: the creation of new networks of Islamic intellectuals and activists on one hand; and the instrumental use of Islam in domestic and foreign policy against the colonial encroachment on the other. The interaction between these two political and social consequences strengthened the rally ‘round effect of religion in the international realm, especially since the rise of new media and the improvement of communication among Muslims. As a matter of fact, both the rise of Al Qa’ida in the last thirty years (as a counter-hegemonic force against the Soviet Union during the Cold war, and more recently the United States), and the state sponsorship of Islamic movements by Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan, confirm the political clout of Islam in international affairs.

Finally, an overlooked case deserves to be taken into account: Judaism. In his latest book, Michael Walzer stresses the constraining role of Judaism in managing political power: drawing from the philosophical work of Nietzsche, even Walzer identifies the Hebrew Bible as a text against the will of power, as turned by humans against one another. Generally speaking, the Hebrew Bible is concerned with the use, abuse and justification of power by governments. Moreover, Walzer enriches the analysis of Judaism by underlying its role in elaborating a successfully theory of society, conceived as a self-help structure: indeed, the Jews have been able to survive as a society, and without formal political institutions, over the course of history. For such a reason, this religious text continues to be compelling and relevant, and further studies should be provided in order to understand evolution and interaction between civilizations.

Far from being thorough and exhaustive, this article aims at suggesting a more serious account of the role of religion in international relations. As these few words have witnessed, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, along with their own institutions, have contributed to the shape of some important political concepts. All of them, in particular, can serve as “autonomous public spaces and as a countervailing power to state power”, by creating a “particular kind of civil society and associational life.

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Photo Credit: Ian Sane

Big Ben and Westminster Abbey

The Peculiar Influence Of The Church of England

Given the influence of the Church of England and the claims it makes on issues such as the law and equal marriage, its new Archbishop has a responsibility to provide a transparent account of his views so that they can be properly scrutinised.

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Big Ben and Westminster Abbey

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While it is often said that the United States is politically and socially religious to a considerable extent, it is worth remembering that it is constitutionally secular. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment protects the right of every religious group to practice their faith privately, while ensuring that no one group receives advantageous treatment over others via funding or expressions of support from the state. It has also allowed for the establishment of non-religious executive, legislative and judicial branches of the US government, each free from the prejudices inherent in theocratic systems. This luxury, however, is not afforded to British citizens, who are instead expected to accept that the clergy of the Church of England, the dominant sect, will sit in the legislative house adjacent to that of the country’s elected representatives. Moreover, the monarch rather than the Prime Minister is the ultimate head of state and of the state religion, and while this intimate relationship between our democratic and royal institutions is often viewed as little more than a benign tradition, it remains a potential risk to political representation and social equality.

One of the by-products of this fusion of church and state has been the prominence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose commentary on social and political issues is often given a generous amount of coverage in the media. Dr Rowan Williams, who is now stepping down from the post, has frequently commented on issues ranging from economic justice to western foreign policy. However, while Dr Williams is entitled to express his views on these and any other issues, his responsibilities as a political as well as a religious figure mean that his opinions deserve the same critical scrutiny afforded to other political leaders.

Dr Williams’ suggestion in 2008 that elements of Islamic law should be accommodated in the UK provides a useful example of why this scrutiny is so important. While ultimately inconsequential, these comments nonetheless reflect claims about the nature and development of the judicial system. They also reflects a need among advocates of church and state cooperation to accommodate numerous religious groups, in a similar sense to the proposed inclusion of multiple faith representatives in the House of Lords. On the surface, such suggestions may seem to appeal to representation and fairness, but in reality they reinforce the exclusion of minor faiths and unbelievers while empowering major religious traditions undeservedly. Avoiding this discrimination is one of the main advantages of the US political system, which, instead of trying to cater for numerous faiths, separates all religion equally from the state. Far from constituting oppression of religious freedom, this method succeeds in preventing it. Crucially, Dr Williams’ comments on Islamic law suggest that the Archbishop of Canterbury is not only a participant in political discourse but can also seek to influence and develop it in ways that other religious and non-religious individuals cannot.

This unique influence can also be seen in religious resistance to equal marriage. On its website, the Church of England describes ‘the enduring place of the established church in providing marriages that have full state recognition,’ and has also claimed that marriage equality could threaten religious establishment in the UK. Moreover, Dr Williams’ replacement Justin Welby has maintained his opposition to equal marriage while simultaneously offering a vague commitment to re-examining his views ‘prayerfully and carefully’. In light of this, it is clear that while religion in the UK may resemble a ceremonial oddity, the views of leading figures on the validity of marriage could have a direct impact on the civil rights of individuals in society. These individuals, as well as advocates of an equal and fair legal system, deserve better than ambiguous spiritual statements of reflection and prayer from the leadership of the Church.

The political prominence of this leadership is indicative of a constitutional framework that places one religious doctrine above all others and insists on fusing it with the operations of the state. This structure is more than a mere historical peculiarity, and exists in opposition to the ideals of a modern and inclusive democracy. Given the potentially tangible influence of the Church of England, and the bold claims it makes on issues such as the law and equal marriage, Justin Welby has a responsibility, not only to religious believers but to every citizen, to provide a clear and transparent account of his views so that they may be properly scrutinised.

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Photo Credit: Better Than Bacon

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Uganda’s ‘Kill The Gays’ Bill? It’s Democratic. And It’s Religious.

Some may call it neo-colonialism, some may call it imperialism, but when the stakes are this high democracy based on ignorance and hatred cannot simply be allowed to plow on towards death and suffering. Action must be taken now.

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In 2009 Uganda proposed the “Kill the Gays” bill, or anti-homosexuality bill. In this bill two provisions are set out which essentially equate homosexual acts to the same level as murder. Single offenders or those in same-sex relationships are faced with a sentence of life imprisonment. Those considered serial offenders – those who are HIV-positive, paedophiles (in Uganda under-18) or authority figures (including parents) – will face the death penalty. Those who knew of any offenders and did not report it would face a fine and up to three years in prison.

The bill, in the face of widespread international condemnation, has bounced back and forth in status in the Ugandan parliament. By the end of 2009 the bill had been softened to drop the death penalty though claims of western pressure were rejected, and by May 2010 it had been shelved. An attempt that August to revive it was defeated, however two years later it is back.

Why? Because ‘Ugandans are demanding it’.

This use of quotation marks seems to have been used in every use of the phrase in media treatment of this story, as if it is not credible, to be taken with a pinch of salt or not to be taken seriously at all. This simply is not the case, and in the purest concept of democracy as rule according to the values and interests of the majority this bill should pass.

96% of Ugandans believe that homosexuality should be rejected from society. Not only is this overwhelming support for the suppression and punishment of homosexuality in Uganda practically beyond question, it is completely in line with the attitudes of the region in general. Outside relatively liberal South Africa the closest a sub-Saharan state comes to supporting homosexuality is the “small” proportion of rejection in the Ivory Coast: 89%.Neither is this a concept restricted to sub-Saharan Africa. Israel is the state most likely to support homosexuality as part of society in the Middle East, yet even here only a third of the population defend it. In Egypt only 1% do. Although Western Europe is overwhelmingly supportive, the further East you go the more this position struggles. In East and South Asia only Japan shows such support. Although the Americas are generally supportive the United States stick out among their neighbours with a rejection unique in what is understood as the “West”.

In fact, the hatred of homosexuality (I refuse to use the term homophobia, “fear” is not the correct term) of the United States is very much part of its influence worldwide. Many publications have chased the influence of ultra-conservative US preachers to Africa, highlighting their influence in hate-filled sermons to fire up local populations against the imagined threat of homosexuals in their drive to infect their children with homosexual thoughts and HIV. Entire US organisations are dedicated to spreading anti-homosexual and anti-abortion agendas worldwide through religious preachers and pressure of, and through, international corporations.

However these preachers are not “exporting” this hatred, no matter what some publications may claim. Instead they are capitalising on an ignorance and hatred which is already present in these regions, one which is created by a combination of a history of superstitious practices vilifying such differences as homosexuality and albinism and colonial rule which enforced strict religious rules.

These rules, enforced by the religious practices of Christian European Empires or the Islamic Arab Caliphates, are obsessed with sex. There is no set of moral rules more obsessed and paranoid about sexual relations and even thoughts than the bizarre declarations of the Judeo-Christian holy books. The effect of the massacres of the American and African populations who would not convert to Christianity dwarfed the religious wars which rocked Europe. Wars fought over different interpretations of how Jesus might have imagined society centuries beyond his birth despite predicting the world wouldn’t last past the first century. (Matthew 16:28, 23:36, 24:34, 26:64, Mark 9:1, 13:30, Luke 9:27, 21:32)

The influence of these extreme conversions or death was to create local populations even more dedicated to the iron rules of holy books than their conquerors. Magnified by the lack of education they benefited from these rules of ignorance and superstition remained even as developed states began to turn their backs upon them. As the West cast aside these foul rules and its populations began to reject the Church in all things but identity so too did the ignorant hatred of homosexuality fade. According to Gallup polling, those states who accept homosexuality as part of society are overwhelmingly those who also reject religion as the fundamental basis of morality, those which place education and freedom of expression and ideas first and foremost.

Uganda, by democratic remit, should enforce the law which bans homosexuality and sends many homosexuals to their deaths. It is what the Ugandan population wants and it is what is demanded by their religion. Should they be allowed to do so because such a measure is democratic? No.

Some may call it neo-colonialism, some may call it imperialism, but when the stakes are this high democracy based on ignorance and hatred cannot simply be allowed to plow on towards death and suffering. Socially liberal values, however they may be despised as left-wing by much of the West, are the fundamental values of western society. Freedoms of expression, identity and from persecution and death are far more important than the decratic right of majorities to oppress those they dislike as they see fit. The persecution of homosexuals across the world is evidence that democracy alone is not enough to produce a civil society. Corruption of morals and ideas by religion and intolerant demagogues are all too common in those societies where democracy is new and where absolute moral deference to authority demanded by religion is widespread. Everything must be done to prevent these injustices and save those who’s only crime was to be born and feel love in a way their neighbours do not understand. Enough with democratic right to oppress, action is needed now.

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Photo credit: Todd Huffman

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Is Multiculturalism Dying?

Christian moderacy does not exist in Muslim communities, whose own moderacy is seen as extreme to their Christian neighbours. Europe is multicultural, but it is intolerant of extremes, and to the moderate Christian and atheist, Islam seems extreme.

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This piece forms part of our series on multiculturalism.

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“Multiculturalism is dead”. That was the position of the most powerful person in Europe, Angela Merkel, two years ago. It marked a major shift in policy, one which was swiftly echoed by the UK’s David Cameron, as the Multiculturalism of the centre-left governments of the noughties was being left by the wayside.

But why? What happened? What has been the legacy of multiculturalism’s heyday?

European tolerance is something which has blossomed since the Second World War in a backlash to the brutal colonialism and eugenics programs practiced across the continent. Western European legal systems have increasingly protected the rights of all, with minorities and individuals gaining increasing protection from persecution by the law. Tolerance is the great victory of the modern Europe, and continues to see strides from year to year. Don’t believe the conspiracy theorists pointing accusing theories at the New World Order swiftly taking control of your government, your minds and your freedom, your freedom has never been so secured.

Part of this has happened over the last two decades, the same time as the rise of multiculturalism as the dominant rhetoric in European liberal democracies. Toleration certainly did well for the movement, reaching its zenith in the absolute priority of showing tolerance to all cultures in every nation, the reduction of hatred and offence. Toleration was a victory which gave rights to the oppressed and launched a war on prejudice and discrimination.

But this tolerance should not be all-encompassing, and with good reason. Tolerance lead to the western regime which watched in denial as the Nazis rose in Germany. Tolerance let the Chinese march into Tibet. Tolerance was in the small whimpers of condemnation as the Tutsis were slaughtered in Rwanda, Saddam Hussein butchered the Kurds and as homosexuals are hung in Saudi Arabia.

Toleration should only go as far as to tolerate those who tolerate others. Not to those who cannot tolerate others themselves. The extreme left and right of Europe have been marginalised to the point of extinction for half a century, the recent economic crises only partially awakening the old beasts which perverted democracy so thoroughly in the early twentieth century. The BNP and National Front of France have never been allowed to grow out of control before being pushed back by the centre-right. The rise of the extremist parties of Greece was shut down by the all-or-nothing authority wielded by the EU holding bail-out cheques. Intolerance in politics has been put to the sword by western and northern Europe, and memories of the past are not about to let them rise once again.

But politics is not alone in being a realm where extremes are seen with suspicion and even intolerance by the centre and majority of northern and western Europe. Religion too has fallen here, as with all other ideologies. Europe is by far the most secular region in the world, states where religion is rarely promoted and even more rarely oppressed. The majority of European states are constitutionally secular and the rest have limited religion’s influence severely. This secularism is backed by the rise of the non-religious. Well over half of European citizens rate religion as “unimportant” to their lives (Gallup poll, 2007–2008). Indeed the death of religion’s influence, dating far back to the European enlightenment, has progressed so slowly but so absolutely that almost no one has noticed its passing. Christian fundamentalism and politics has been left to the US, so absolutely that many Christian-Right parties of Europe have been forced to re-brand.

It is this intolerance towards extremism in any ideology which has lead to an intolerance of Islam, not the last vestiges of the evils of Europe’s past. Europe is a continent where the thought of law dictated by Leviticus seems ridiculous to the point of insane and the concept of a state doctrine of creationism being taught over evolution is plainly incomprehensible. Despite the continued sway of the pope, Christianity has become the tea-and-biscuits of the Church of England, not the fire-and-brimstone of the Vatican.

Enter Islam and the Muslims who follow its creed. Their women wear head-scarves as their holy men dictate, their homelands hang homosexuals and stone women who are raped. Their members appear in the news not for their donations to the Red Crescent but for riots in Paris and Copenhagen and protests at the burials of soldiers returned from war. They set fire to buildings for the drawing of jovial cartoons and demand courts that can judge based on law by the Koran. Dozens die across Europe in honour killings by Muslim families who feel their honour has been tarnished.

For Muslims, many of these things are seen as a bad representation of their faith, and that is true, it only shows the most extreme fringes. But Muslims must think of the anger they felt at the Danish cartoons, at their outrage when France banned the Burka. How many Muslims believe that Sharia law is a vital part of their society, and has a place even in their communities within western countries? Do Christians of France cry in outrage at the banning of crosses worn by public officials, were there riots in response to “life of Brian”? Does the British “Christian Party” hold enough sway to even face mention in national papers?

To the European, these beliefs of so many Muslims are not moderate, they are shocking. It has been decades since any court ruled based on a biblical passage, a century since women began their march to be seen in every way the same as men. Cartoons are drawn on a daily basis poking fun at Jesus Christ and his father and even the most serious of Christian preachers have learned to chuckle.

Islam is, by nature, not any worse or better than Christianity. However in Europe, Muslims regard their faith with much more passion and seriousness than do their Christian counterparts, what of them are left. The battle for gay marriage may be the last one that the Christians of Europe will ever fight, as churches lay empty. By contrast Islamic Mosques are filled day by day by Muslims who hold every word of their holy books close to their chests. These Mosques, however infrequently, produce extremists and even suicide bombers.

Islam is not hated and rejected because of some forgotten legacy of European colonialism, one which the nations of Europe have long had to release as their slide from superpower status progressed, it is rejected because of a culture of tolerance in Europe which has grown hostile to intolerance. The extremes of ideology, the fundamentalism of the right and left wings of politics, or the literalism of Christianity or Islam, have become completely at odds to this culture.

There exists a disjoin between Muslims and the states they have entered in Europe. Christian moderacy does not exist in Muslim communities, whose own moderacy is seen as extreme to their Christian neighbours. Europe is multicultural, but it is intolerant of extremes, and to the moderate Christian and atheist, Islam seems extreme.

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Intolerance: The March of Equal Rights

Before you stand against gay marriage think about whether you are in a minority, whether that be religion, ethnicity, place of birth, being left handed, of different skin or hair colour, and how if you are one amongst them maybe you would have been swinging from those ropes as a result of intolerance. 

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This week it was announced that Scotland, Vietnam and New Zealand are beginning the walk towards equal rights for all sexualities to be married. The Catholic and Anglican Churches of England are in full rout, barely able to take a stand for more than days at a time. President Obama of the US has come out in support of equal marriages as state after state brings their laws up to date. What began with a leak in the wall of Church-lead prejudice in the Netherlands has turned into a tidal wave as the Christian Churches fold yet again.

And yet even as Christian opposition in the developed world collapses, driven by falling numbers in church attendance crippling their political clout, Muslim states are upping the public violence and persecution of homosexuals across the Islamic world. The line is being drawn between the developed world and the developing, the secular and the Islamic, and the voices either side of the line are becoming louder. Championed by the lobbying site “www.allout.org” LGBT allies are creating a global lobbying clout with which to pressure states into pushing through progressive reforms or dropping conservative ones. On the other side of the line Saudi and Iranian public executions are becoming a public declaration that homosexuality is never to be tolerated in the fiercely Islamic states, and ex-Soviet and sub-Saharan African states legislatures are actually pushing further towards the illegality of homosexual acts to the point of death sentences and banning the word “gay”.

The lines are drawn. Ten states list homosexual acts as grounds for the death penalty or life imprisonment. Ten states recognise marriage equality. It’s a tie. But when only ten years ago only one state was in the second category, the tides are clearly turning.

In 1948 a black man could only marry a white woman (or vice versa) in under half of US states. By 1967 only the American south was holding out. On the 12th of June, 1967 these last states were forced to stand down by a court decision branding inequality of marriage between races as unconstitutional. That was only 45 years ago, and yet now the concept of a white man being able to marry a black women as being illegal is a concept which only bears serious consideration in a few lonely farms hundreds of miles from civilisation.

In 1913 many suffragettes were locked behind bars for their protests to grant equal rights to women to vote. In the 1950s and 1960s equal rights for blacks in the US to escape discrimination and regain the right to vote  shook America just as in 1967 homosexual acts were no longer threatened with criminality in the United Kingdom. Now lies one of the last major fights for equal rights in the developed world after a century of progress.

It is with this background the next step is being taken. Equality laws enforcing a lack of prejudice is already commonplace in developed states so that companies and governments cannot discriminate based on colour, creed or sexuality. Marriage is simply a facet which was left untouched due to a deference to religion which is swiftly fading.

This progress, which has come across in leaps and bounds through the last century, is the true clash of civilisations which Huntington attempted to theorise in the 1990s. As a battle between modern liberal secularism and equality of all before law, and the forces of conservative prejudice and violent tribalism it has in some way or another defined politics of the last several hundred years. First the English civil war, and the collapse of absolute royal power in the state which would go on to spread its ideas across the world. Then the revolutions of the 1700s cracked the divine right of Monarchies over the rights of their subjects, a cause Napoleon spread by musket across Europe, breaking the tyranny of the European dictators as he marched. The idea of master race rose its ugly head with the Empires of Europe: European slavery and white supremacy leading to conclusion with the gas chambers of Nazi Germany where all minorities shared the same fate. With the collapse of empires in the 1950s and 1960s came the collapse of white supremacy and the first signs of a coffin for institutional tribalism.

The fight continues today as the beginnings of intolerance towards intolerance, of entire societies in which intolerance is banned by law and intolerant societies are no longer respected. It is in this atmosphere that the rulers of Europe began the second decade of this millennium declaring multiculturalism dead and integration as the way forward. This was not a declaration that other cultures were not welcome, quite the opposite, it was a welcoming of others into the fold, but only as long as they showed an equal welcome to those cultures they joined. No longer would the Islamic subjugation of women and hatred of other faiths be tolerated, no longer would hard-line Christians be able to push for the illegality of homosexuality, no longer would nationalists be able to call for the ejection of immigrants, but in turn those immigrants would have to play by the rules of the societies they joined.

As this doctrine of integrated melting-pots of Europe has begun to take hold, so have the liberal and equality values spread. The north-eastern and western US states, South America, South Africa, the Pacific Islands and South East Asia have all begun to push in the same direction. Northern and Central Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia are becoming increasingly isolated in their rhetoric and acts of intolerance. The Arab Spring was the cumulation of escalating pressure on established elites immune to the rule of law to concede power, and the results have refuted the most critical of observers. In Libya liberal parties have seized elections as in Tunisia and Egypt moderate Islamists have confronted fears of a tumble into the intolerance of Saudi Arabia of Iran by promoting liberal reforms, strong constitutions and working with liberal parties to ensure freedoms for women in the newly democratic states.

Gay rights are a symptom of something deeper and more permanent than simply a happily married gay couple moving in next door. It is a symptom of a success in the fight for equal rights and liberal values we have been battling towards for centuries. It is a sign of the collapse of intolerant ideologies and the march of freedom before law across the world, from the Netherlands towards the Islamic World. It is a step by step process and everywhere you look there is conflict marking the battle for every step.

So before you stand against the image of two porcelain men holding hands on top of a wedding cake, rewind to the beginning of the process and scroll to the top of this page. Go back far enough and those men were blasphemers, blacks who disobeyed their masters, women who were raped, Jews, adulterers, barons who stood against the dictatorship of kings and peasants who could not afford to give away their wheat. Before you stand against gay marriage think about whether you are in a minority, whether that be religion, ethnicity, place of birth, being left handed, of different skin or hair colour, and how if you are one amongst them maybe you would have been swinging from those ropes for a petty crime. Those are the values you would have stood for decades and centuries ago, the values where those unlike you do not deserve to stand at your side as an equal.

Then look to the places where gays swing from the gallows, and see that intolerance must be met with intolerance.

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Originally published at A Third Opinion.