Here in America, where wacko religion and the political right have joined forces, we are subjected to a daily diet of nonsense claims – that America was founded as a Christian nation, that hurricanes are brought about by lesbianism, that it’s only right that a governor of a state like Texas (I know, I know – there is no other state like Texas), should use his time and energy and the taxpayers' money to organize a national day of prayer.
As Australians like to remind us – “we got the prisoners; you got the Puritans” – lucky Australia. When some people think religion, they think peace and love and charity and forgiveness and nursing and teaching and smiling a lot. When Americans think religion, we have to deal more often with hellfire, self-righteousness and condemnation. Here in the USA, the Bible is a hammer in search of a nail.
While things have gotten incredibly much better for gays, this hammer still comes down on gay heads more than on most other people's. If some of us want to hit back, you shouldn’t have to ask why. Virtually all of the homophobia in the land is traceable to organized religion and the inculcation of the notion that non-reproductive sex is a direct affront to a wrathful God.
How is one to respond to the soul-killing influence of authoritarian hierarchical Catholicism and reason-free evangelical Protestantism in this country? How does one fight back against these bastards?
One source of comfort for me has been to look out at what is happening in other places in the world. Fortunately, American religious provincialism is not the only way to go.
I take enormous pleasure in tuning in from time to time to what is going on in Germany, where the fight for gay rights and against religious oppression appears, at least in my eyes, to be a tad further down the road. Let me give you one example.
Unless you are gay and or German-speaking (and maybe even if you are) you may not know the German comic artist, Ralf König.
I first came across Ralf König back in early gay liberation days in the late 70s when his gay characters with their Knollennasen (potato-like noses) were a rare treasure, wonderfully cutting edge, clever, hilariously funny. König’s talent as an artist was exceptional. Particularly appealing was his “take no prisoners” attitude. While most of us were wishing the drag queens would cool it (because we thought “they were giving us all a bad name”) König was in your face with graphic images and a total absence of euphemisms.
König has since published some forty books. Some have been translated into fourteen languages and are available in seventeen countries. Here's a YouTube about him in Welsh. Two of his books have been made into films. One of those films, available online in its entirety on Hulu, is Der bewegte Mann, (Maybe, Maybe Not, in English). It has the added benefit of a soundtrack by Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester.
But I digress…
In a recent interview Ralf König says a young woman asked him recently why he continues after all these years to be so gay-centered. Isn’t it time he took a been there/done that attitude and spread his wings. And he has done just that. Recently he has branched out and is spending more time on another interest of his – bashing religion. He’s been so good at it that he has even been invited to join Germany’s Giordano Bruno Foundation, a group of leading thinkers, artists, movers and shakers dedicated to making it acceptible to speak out against religion in a country that still taxes you to pay the salaries of catholic and protestant clergy and to maintain the churches.
König appeared in Düsseldorf not long ago, a city which is 32% catholic, 19% Lutheran, 4% Muslim and 45% “Free of Religion”, to address a group of atheists who have organized to fight back against the church tax.
They meet once a month and every year actually have an ‘Enlightenment Service’ as opposed to a regular religious service. This year, as part of that service, they invited König to read several of his comics aloud.
König’s appearance is evidence that not only has religion receded in Europe generally, as LGBT rights have come to the fore, but the gloves have come off, and gays are letting the church and their sacred cows have it right between the eyes for their centuries-long homophobic policies. What is particularly noteworthy is the way the mainstream is beginning to throw their support behind gays in ever more concrete ways, as straight audiences become far more comfortable with gay humor than ever before, enabling gays and non-believers to join forces to fight back.
Düsseldorf is hardly alone in growing its “religion-free” population. In Dresden recently a “religion free zone” was organized alongside the national “church day” celebration in June. Seven of the German states, Hamburg, Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern have non-religious majorities. In Saxony-Anhalt, where Martin Luther was born, only 19.7 percent of the population is Catholic or Protestant.
Those with religious beliefs (30% of German youth in their teens and early twenties believe in a personal god and another 19% believe in some kind of supernatural power) are outnumbered by atheists (28%) and agnostics (23%).
Gay culture has moved into the mainstream here in the States as well. Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City has been made into a musical, Glee is one of the best things going on television, gay characters are now routine in soap operas, the presence of a lesbian talk show host like Ellen is old news. But few of these programs and personalities have taken steps yet to expose the harm done by religion to the gay community they represent. They work hard to entertain, and remain cautious about taking on a political stance, and religion continues to get away with murder. Apparently we still lack a critical mass of folk willing to take them on.
How much longer will it take, I wonder, before we find the courage to do the kinds of things they’re doing in Germany. How about it? Can we have a Giordano Bruno Foundation USA? Can we populate it with leading thinkers and artists and people from the business world? And then can we have them invite gay comics to poke fun at the church and at religious belief?
P.S. Here’s a sample of what Ralf König is up to these days. Here is a YouTube video of him reading his version of David and Goliath from a non-biblical perspective. It’s in German, but I’ve provided a translation, and if you copy it into a word file, you can put it in a separate window next to the window with the YouTube, and follow along in English.
Hope you get the same charge out of it that I did…