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Religion and hate crimes

How dare I attribute the blame for the continuation of hate crimes against lesbians in South Africa to religion? The Bible preaches love and prohibits murder. How can I make the sweeping statement that religion is complicit in the perpetration of hate crimes? And my personal favourite: how can a law professor use this blog space as a platform to himself disseminate hate speech against religion? These were some of the more outraged (or is it outrageous?) comments on my previous post. For better or worse, these responses call me to account. They demand, insist on a counter-response. As such, it would be irresponsible simply to silently ignore or dismiss them.

As regards the claim that I unfairly and inaccurately blame religion for hate crimes against gays and lesbians in South Africa, let me reiterate what I wrote in the previous post: I do not exclusively blame religion. My point is more nuanced. It is that organised religion (or some prevalent fanatical religious preaching, then) has a role to play in and therefore a responsibility for the perpetration of hate crimes against homosexuals. Undoubtedly, culture plays an enormous role, but as I pointed out (and as some readers recognised) culture cannot simply be divorced from religion. Often, culture is simply religion’s willing handmaiden.

Organised religion’s role in and responsibility for hate crimes ensues as a direct result of its dogmatic teachings according to which homosexuality is an abomination. In 1986, the Catholic Church, on the basis of the above belief, officially opposed extending civil rights protection to homosexual people. It does not take the intellect of a rocket scientist to see that the flipside of the coin amounted to the condonation of anti-gay violence. In fact the Church itself endorsed this reading: “When civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase” (Gramick & Furey 1988:5-6). No one can deny that, with very few exceptions, religion condemns homosexuality. When one condemns a practice as wrong, the logical implication is that the practice stands in need of punishment and correction. And the truth is that (having been told by their church that homosexuality is sinful and abominable) some people take the punishment and correction into their own hands, justifying their actions on the basis that they were acting as God’s committed soldiers. Against the background of the atrocious violence that has, in the modern age, been perpetrated in the name of religion all over the world, it is simply naive to assert that religion consistently teaches peace and tranquility. As Slavoj Zizek recently showed, quoting from the Bible, Christ himself quite clearly stated that he came not to bring peace on earth, but a sword (Matthew 10:34, inter alia). (Zizek goes on to convincingly debunk interpretations of this statement as simply “symbolic” or “metaphoric”, arguing that there is no reason why we should not take the statement literally as meaning what it says.)

It is interesting that none of the outraged commentators refer to (let alone problematise) the separation of church and state in South Africa. It is simply ignored, almost as if it never took place. And here Zizek (2010:133) is again instructive. He asks: “Is this not, ultimately, what culture is? One of the most elementary cultural skills is to know when (and how) to pretend not to know (or notice), how to go on and act as if something which has happened did not in fact happen.” At the parliamentary public participation hearings on the Civil Union Act, many of those who were arguing for same-sex marriage were struck by how religious groups consistently ignored the separation of church and state in South Africa and the Constitutional Court’s decision in the Fourie case. Here is an example from the Christian Action Network’s submission to Parliament: “We urge you to consider the fact that no state has the authority to redefine the God-ordained institution of marriage. The Lord Jesus Christ said in Matthew19:4-5, “Have you not read that He who created them at the beginning made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female’, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.'”  The submission of the Muslim Judicial Council went even further: “the spread of homosexuality and lesbianism will invite the anger of Allah”.

How can the followers of Allah/God not be angry if he himself is angry? Surely, not to be angry when God himself is angry amounts to an act of faithlessness and disobedience. And as we know very well in South Africa, anger, hate and violence are parts of one and the same pathology. In the context of hate crimes against homosexuals, the victims of this anger, hate and violence are the Eudy Simelane’s, the Sizakele Sigasa’s, the Salome Masooa’s and the Noxolo Nogwasa’s of this apparently post-apartheid era.