When secularists complain about the influence and agenda of religious conservatives they most often focus on the alleged “intolerance” of the Christian right. A recent interview with pop music legend Elton John, however, demonstrates that non-believers will go much further than the faithful in their expressed desire to stifle all dissent.
On Sunday, November 12, Sir Elton told interviewer Jake Shears (a performer with the group “Scissor Sisters”) that he wants to see an organized effort to suppress institutionalized faith. “From my point of view I would ban religion completely,” the superstar declared, “even though there are some wonderful things about it…. But the reality is that organized religion doesn’t seem to work. It turns people into hateful lemmings and it’s not really compassionate.”
His main gripe against religion centers, inevitably, on the negative attitude toward homosexuality in all the world’s great faiths. “I think religion has always tried to turn hatred towards gay people,” he mused. “Religion promotes the hatred and spite against gays.”
Despite that “hatred and spite,” religious leaders actually express more tolerance to homosexuality (and non-believers) than Sir Elton expresses toward organized faith. Imagine the indignation if a religious leader suggested that we need to “ban homosexuality completely” --- or urged an outright prohibition on atheism? It’s true that many believing Christians want to persuade gays to overcome their same-sex urges, or try to get non-believers to replace their doubt with faith, but no factions in the varied array of conservative religious groups has called for “banning” ideas with which they disagree.
Believers remain supremely (some would say naively) confident in their ability to win every argument with doubters: that’s why there’s no attempt to shut down atheist organizations (like the summer camps for non-believers we’ve featured on my radio show) or to censor public criticisms of religious institutions. Yes, Christian conservatives object to the use of public funds (from the National Endowment for the Arts and other organizations) for anti-religious messages, but that’s an issue of sponsorship, not censorship. When it came to the notorious “work of art” by Andres Serrano showing a crucifix immersed in a jar of urine, the debate centered on its funding by the federal government, not the right of the artist to display his own warped creation in public – a right which no one questioned.