Toxic Religion

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Most of the world’s religions should be classed as biohazards.

The Australian Christian Lobby says homosexuality is bad for your health, so we should all come with a health warning. Jim Wallace, the now rather shaky head of the organisation, claimed recently that gays and lesbians die 20 years sooner that upright godfearing folk like him. Crikey concluded the idea was “mostly rubbish.”

If you still have doubts, Chrys Stevenson will put them to rest. In a brilliant piece, she painstakingly traces the sources for the ACL’s claims, and finds them to be just plain wrong.

In my view, the Australian Christian Lobby consistently fails to uphold  . . . ethical responsibility. Instead, they peddle propaganda imported from America’s religious right and uncritically rehash it here in Australia.

What the ACL ignores is the blunt fact that religion is really hazardous to your health, especially if you’re a woman or a child. Religious belief – which, unlike sexual orientation, is a matter of choice – is far more toxic than being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex.

Adherents of Christian Science believe that illness is the result of an imperfect connection with Jesus, which can be corrected through prayer. Medical treatment is frowned upon, but not outright banned. That hasn’t stopped dozens of Christian Scientists preferring to face legal prosecution, or even death, rather than consult a medical professional.

The much-loved and quintessentially English comedienne Joyce Grenfell, a staunch Christian Scientist, refused treatment when she developed cancer of the eye, until it was too late, and the disease had spread to her spine.

There are Christian Science nursing homes and hospices, but they generally don’t permit the use of medical interventions of any kind, including pain relief. Consequently mortality rates are higher among Christian Scientists than those using conventional medicine.

Children are often sacrificed on the altar of their parent’s beliefs. Rita Swan of Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD) has documented  deaths of children in Christian Science families due to:

“… meningitis, diabetes, diphtheria, measles, kidney infection, septicemia, cancer, and appendicitis. She has found outbreaks of polio and measles at Christian Science camps and schools; she has interviewed adults who, because of diseases and injuries that went untreated during childhood, became profoundly deaf, or lame, or suffered permanent organ damage.”

The 6m strong worldwide Watchtower Society ( Jehovah’s Witnesses) teach that blood transfusions, even if needed to save a person’s life, must not be accepted. An adult Jehovah’s Witness who willingly and knowingly accepts a blood transfusion is  committing a sin and might forfeit his or her eternal life.

This makes it especially hazardous to be a woman. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that pregnant women who are Jehovah’s witnesses are six times more likely to die, three times more likely to have serious complications than average, and have a 130 fold increased risk of death from major obstetric haemorrhage.

Abused children are basically told the leave it up to God to take action. Proof that an offence has occurred requires either:

  • A confession on the part of the alleged perpetrator, or
  • The testimony of at least two witnesses to a single case of abuse, or
  • The testimony of one witness to abuse, followed by testimony of a second witness to another instance of abuse.

If proof cannot be obtained, elders are to explain to the accuser that nothing more can be done…the congregation will continue to view the one accused as an innocent person. The question of his guilt or innocence can be safely left in Jehovah’s hands.

I can’t think of child abuse without immediately thinking of Roman Catholicism. Not great shakes for child health here, either, with a devastating trail of clerical child abuse cases and subsequent misery and suicide. And many many more still to be uncovered

Adults don’t do too well either, especially in the developing world, where the church campaigns against the provision of condoms and spread the lie that they don’t protect against AIDS. Stephen Fry nails it.

The church – in common with the rest of the more fanatical Christian sects – is also vehemently against abortion – something that wouldn’t be necessary nearly so often if all of them could manage a grown-up attitude to sex-education and contraception.

Evangelicals, or as I like to call them, Christaliban, claim depression and schizophrenia are demons that can be cast out. Perth-based Set Right notes that depression is a “common low ranking demon” while schizophrenia is “another demon we have met often and evicted”.

The Australian Medical Association dismisses that view as unscientific and potentially harmful.Dr Choong-Siew Yong, a practising psychiatrist who represents psychiatry on the AMA’s Federal Council said he was concerned about untrained practitioners making claims that contradict the science. He warned that claiming someone was possessed could reinforce their delusions and stop them getting proper care.

The Catholic Church has also warned of an increase in possessions and the need for exorcisms, with some priests blaming popular culture series such as Twilight and Harry Potter.

Mercy Ministries, an offshoot of Hillsong Church financed in part by Gloria Jeans Coffees was forced to close down after it was revealed it ‘treated’ mentally disturbed women in its care, including anorexics, with exorcisms rather than referring them for medical help.

One hardly need bother listing Scientology, so I will refer to “this marriage bureau for gay Hollywood stars needing pretty young wives” as cover only briefly. One of the basic tenets of Scientology is that mental disease does not exist. “Followers are not allowed to seek treatment for mental or emotional issues,” said Scrape TV Religion analyst Bertram Gas.

John Travolta’s son Jett, who died following a seizure, suffered from Autism,  for which Scientology will not allow treatment. Faced with criticism over this, the Church has reportedly now disallowed medical treatment of any kind for its followers, which at least will help them die out sooner.

Scientology operates a subsidiary whose sole aim is to discredit and dismantle the field of psychiatry, the “Citizens Commission on Human Rights”.

Women don’t do too well under Islam, largely because of the idiotic rules governing the segregation of the sexes. Male medical practitioners may not be alone with female patients, and often don’t examine them directly, use dolls or asking the woman to point at the site of the pain. I culled the following from several Islamic advice sites:

“Male doctors who are not close relatives are not permitted to look at women or to touch them, except in specific situations.

  • If it is possible to diagnose and treat the illness by merely listening to something, it is not permissible for him to look at or touch the female patient.
  • If it possible for him to diagnose and treat the illness by merely looking at the female patient, it is not permissible for him to touch her.
  • He may only look at or touch the areas whose observation or touch is needed to diagnose or treat the illness.
  • His looking and touching must be free of any desire whatsoever.
  • He must ensure that he avoids being in impermissible seclusion (khalwa) with the female patient: this is dangerous enough when the female doesn’t reveal the parts of her body that are impermissible for him to look at, so how should it be when she reveals such parts of her body for him to look at or even touch! He should therefore make sure that the room’s door is open or that another woman (such as the secretary) is present with them.

“All of the above rulings also apply to a Muslim female who visits a male doctor whenever it is permissible for her to do so (in other words, she may only allow the doctor to look at or to touch what is needed in order to diagnose and treat the illness).”

The net effect is to delay accurate diagnosis and proper treatments of women’s complaints: the plus side is, Islam encourages the training of female doctors to help ease this problem. But a woman doctor can’t treat a man except when there is no male doctor available, or if the matter cannot be delayed as in the case of accidents.

Hinduism seems reasonably benign, though there are some odd ideas about conception. In vitro fertilisation is only allowed when the egg and sperm belong to the couple in question. Using a sperm bank or sperm from any living person other than the husband amounts to “bearing a child outside holy wedlock”, and is considered adultery. Abortion is a non-no, except to save the life of the mother, even if the foetus is potentially deformed or likely to be mentally impaired.

So much for religion. As regards sexuality, let’s get this one thing, ahem, straight.

If you are heterosexual, you know it. You’re not sexually attracted to members of your own sex. End of story. Likewise, if you are homosexual. The notion that you are straight but somehow choose to be homosexual – to physically and emotionally desire a member of your own sex – is ludicrous. If you’re gay – you just are.

The notion that sexual orientation is a choice only makes sense for people who experience attractions to both sexes and choose to act only on one. Repressed bisexuals, in other words.

In conclusion, I’d like to point out that study after study has shown that supposedly heterosexual anti-gay men experience arousal when shown gay porn. Heterosexual men who are unconcerned do not.

And that religion, unlike sexuality, really IS a choice.

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About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. And now he's been nominated for LGBTI Journalist of the Year 2017, which is great news, as he hasn't won any of these things for years! If you want to nominate him too - the more the merrier - you can do it here http://www.australianlgbtiawards.com.au/public-nominations.html"Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)