Beliefnet
Project Conversion

There are folks close to me with substance abuse problems. Painkillers, alcohol, you name it, and their addiction is a cage they both cling to and abhor. I see their lives collapsing around them as the addiction burns relationships, jobs, and any semblance of humanity left inside them to the ground. They seem helpless as they thrash about in pain and ecstasy within the tendrils of substance abuse. Perhaps you or someone you know suffers like this. Don’t worry, you’re in good company because everyone is recovering from one addiction or another.

Mine happens to be hatred. Bitter, fiery, venomous hatred. Whom or what did I hate? Religion and the faithful.

Hatred is a powerful drug and it hurts so good. I felt empowered when I took a hit of hate and its various street names: acrimony, indignation, condemnation, judgement, belittlement, verbal abuse, etc. When we hate, we hold someone’s destruction–mentally, physically, or emotionally in our hands. I once shattered a young woman’s spirit so badly that she ended up on the psych floor of a local hospital for nearly a week.

When my wife first began exploring Christianity, I routinely reduced her to a sobbing mess of tears and doubts. With all of this power in hand it was difficult to give up my drug, and yet I did. Project Conversion was my inpatient substance abuse rehab.

But something happened recently which sent me tumbling off the wagon of recovery.

I recently posted about North Carolina’s “Amendment One” vote which declared that marriage in the state is only recognizable as one man and one woman at the exclusion of all else, including same-sex marriage and any other type of domestic partnership. Yesterday the people voted in favor of Amendment One 61% to 39%. This was an amendment that I and many other vehemently opposed, yet 61% of the vote–presumably from much of the religious right–supported the amendment.

I am not gay, but I do recognize that gays are just as human as I am, and so in my heart and in my mind they deserve every right I have to a legal relational contract with another human being. What this means is that I am not a gay rights advocate, I’m a human rights advocate.

That said, I didn’t truly awaken to this inherent part of my character until the vote came in and Amendment One passed. Something lit inside me, something ignited, but it wasn’t a spark of compassion for the LGBT community.

It was hatred for those who continue to deny them their rights.

“Those f**king Christians!” The thought rang through my thoughts and burned along the synapses of my brain like a surge of heroin. For a few brief moments, as I consumed a drug I had long denounced, I took a Scrooge-like trip to the past. I saw myself cursing my wife as she innocently asked questions about Jesus. There I was again, only a decade prior, calling everyone a heretic who didn’t believe in my brand of Christianity. When I found out about the vote, about how North Carolina had further entrenched itself in archaic bigotry, I snorted a white line of hatred and wanted every Christian I knew flogged and humiliated.

It only took a second, but I was there.

Now, at 2 A.M., I can’t sleep. I took my hit and now I’m coming down off the high. What have I done? I didn’t stop to think about the fact that not every Christian or religious person voted in favor of the amendment. I failed to remember Christ’s teachings about the Kingdom of Heaven. I’d forgotten about how Christ taught me how to die unto myself and rise from the ashes a creature of compassion and love.

Suddenly, the following scenario played out in my mind…

Statistically speaking, atheism’s “conversion” rate outpaces every religion in the nation. I thought, what if in the future, atheist see faith as harmful, shameful, and against their moral teachings (the anti-theist movement in fact does)? What if they become the majority and insist that religion is so destructive and disabling to the mind that our majority atheist leaders and voter pool decide to vote on a ban against religious practice for everyone’s own good?

What if they vote to ban religion to protect the sanctity of reason?

What if the tables turned and the practice of Christianity or any other faith/philosophy not recognized by the state was banned and its practice punishable under the full extent of the law?

At first, I liked the idea of such poetic justice, because if current trends continue it could manifest as a real possibility. I envisioned members of faith holding rallies and protesting for religious freedom, equal rights, and the right to forge a personal contract with the divine without interference from the atheist majority. Yes, I thought, Ha! would serve them right. But only one question remained in my daydream…

If that indeed happened, would I support their right to worship and religious expression–even though I didn’t practice their faith, just as I support legal unions for homosexuals even though I do not practice the lifestyle?

Ouch.

Once I settled from the high, I concluded that yes, I would support the religious-minded. It’s equality under the law. Period.

What’s done is done. North Carolina has deepened itself in the sludge of inequality, and I have taken my first hit of hatred in over a year. Sometimes we stumble and sometimes we fall, but Jesus commanded that we love our enemies, to bear our cross, and that if someone sues us for our coats that we provide our shirts as well.

Something I hear a lot of Christians say, but is actually credited to Mahatma Gandhi, is “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”

I suppose it’s time I practiced what those Christians preach, after all someone’s got to.

Remember to believe responsibly.