Metro Weekly

Religious Overload

Commentary: Stonewall Baby

When I was 7, my family was in Ireland during the St. Patrick’s Day weekend. We went to Blarney Castle and I ate my first hot-cross bun. The most moving event for this young Catholic was, however, visiting some sort of religious-wares store, where my mother treated me to a crucifix and a little book of prayers. What I savored most was not a connection to God, but to a community. We Catholics were a global tribe with a glorious capital in the Vatican, and so much intricate pomp pre-dating any of those spin-off, blaspheming, Protestant sects. This was more initiation and indoctrination than spiritual succor.

But, again, I was 7. The Santa Claus hoax had already been exposed, so I needed something. Why not Jesus- At 39, it’s been a long time since I had any such interest. I stopped attending church when I was 12, not understanding how my mother was a ”fallen” woman for having divorced an adulterer and gotten re-married, while I, who had fallen headlong into the joys of masturbation — to visions of guys, no less — could still receive that prized, ”holy communion” wafer. I knew full well that she was a better person than I. If God couldn’t figure that out, then clearly mine was not an omniscient God — nor a loving one for that matter, if my mother was snubbed by a cheating husband, then snubbed by God, too. I never looked back.

As a result, I’ve had my share of annoyances with Christmas. Everybody knows this is just a retooled version of solstice-centered paganism and the Romans’ Saturnalia celebration, right- We all know it has little to do with little Baby Jesus’ birth date, rather than annexing existing traditions, yes-

Whatever the roots, I’ve come to enjoy the holiday season for what it’s worth. We put a tree in our home with gifts underneath, though probably that tree sentiment has more ties to druids than the divine. I mark the new year with glee. I enjoy all this warmth that counters winter gloom.

This season, however, I found myself being rubbed the wrong way far more often than in Christmases past.

Thanks to the American Family Association’s ”Project Merry Christmas,” Bill O’Reilly and others, wishing people a happy holiday was deemed somehow an offense to Christians, as if the well-intentioned, good-hearted greeting was a slap in the face or a punch in Christ’s belly. They seem to forget that this is not a Christian nation, but that we are a vastly diverse society of any number of faiths, and quite a number with none.

Save your ”Merry Christmas” for your family, friends or fellow parishioners, anyone you know to be Christian. As a non-Christian, I’m left flummoxed by the greeting. Wish me a happy holiday and I’ll wish you one right back. Wish me a merry Christmas, and I’m just left mumbling a couple joyous words strung together that make no sense. ”Uh… merry… happy… thanks.” Wishing a merry Christmas to non-Christians is similar to me greeting strangers with ”Happy Birthday!” on the day I celebrate my own.

The generic happy-holiday greeting was progress we had made, honoring our diversity, which may now be lost.

It’s the same sort of confusion I feel regarding the Rev. Rick Warren-invocation controversy. Sure, he’s an asshole who told his flock of thousands to vote for Proposition 8. But homophobic religious folks are still the norm rather than the exception, aren’t they- Certainly the president-elect could’ve found another cleric as gay-friendly — if not gay — as the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who will deliver the benediction. Politically, however, Warren’s a great choice for a symbolic reach across the aisle. He’s popular, they have a history, and he probably didn’t vote for Barack Obama.

I might care on a political level, but emotionally, I feel nothing. This seems to have people in hysterics, though. It’s what happens when you mix politics and religion. Just look at Iran. You can’t include religious arguments in political debate, as religious arguments are based on faith, meaning something that cannot be proved. It will always boil down to the forensic equivalent of, ”Because I said so.”

Would it not suffice for some GLBT heavy-hitters to hold a little press conference and declare our collective disappointment in Obama’s choice, then go about our business of throwing the best Inauguration Day parties in the city- Seriously, I’ve never heard an inaugural invocation, and I doubt I ever will. In the scheme of things, I find trouble assigning it any value.

I want my constitutional, legal rights. I don’t expect God-fearing voters to give them to me anytime soon, but my faith is in the judiciary. And I don’t expect religious leaders have as much sway as we’d like to think over people’s homophobia. The Episcopal Church tried to say gay is okay, so some congregants simply refused to believe it and left. Warren may have a similar epiphany, but most California voters will still likely feel uncomfortable about sodomy.

My wish for 2009 is less religion in the civic square. I get that the universe is a fantastic and wondrous realm, the dimensions of which are beyond my comprehension, and that I’m just a speck somewhere in it. My humility is intact. But I don’t need to run around sharing with everyone my relationship with the universe (this instance excepted, ahem). It will likely be an unanswered prayer, but I wish everyone would do likewise. Here’s to a 2009 where faith is held privately, and its public displays are limited to those mosques, synagogues, temples and churches designed for just such expressions.

Will O’Bryan, Metro Weekly‘s managing editor, was born as the Stonewall Riots ended, making him a Stonewall Baby, he insists. He can be reached at

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.