Outreach coordinator James Croft of the Ethical Center of St. Louis and self-identified humanist, wrote an article in the Huffington Post in which he implored the LGBTQIA community to be inclusive of atheists when holding vigils in the wake of the Orlando shooting and offered some tips as to how to do this.
But when it comes to post-Orlando vigils, all faith is bad faith.
What I mean by bad faith is precisely what Jean-Paul Sartre meant by bad faith in his existentialist philosophy (particularly his seminal work Being and Nothingness). Bad faith, or mauvaise foi, is the self-deception that arises out of being inauthentic in an effort to avoid the pain of being. To Sartre, the inescapable fact about our existence is that we can choose to act among a wide range of choices. In his words, “We are condemned to be free.” We always have a choice … to a point.
There are certain facts about our existence that limit our choices. I can’t choose to fly by flapping my arms. I can’t choose to be a wildebeest. When we accept the facts about our existence and honor our agency within these constraints, we are living what Sartre terms an authentic life. Thus, it is from authenticity that our human anguish derives.
So it follows that bad faith is our attempt to escape this existential anguish. For an LGBTQIA individual, the struggle between living our lives accepting of the brute facts of our own sexuality or gender identity and society demanding or imposing bad faith upon us; is the central struggle in coming out. And coming out is a core feature of our community.
The LGBTQIA community is a confederation of people who have come out against the bad faith imposed upon us for nearly all of recorded history. And for this, we’ve been marginalized, beaten and even killed. When we came out at Stonewall, we aimed a bright light squarely on humanity’s propensity for inhumanity. We came out so that future LGBTQIAs don’t have to come out. The LGBTQIA community’s struggle is a struggle for authenticity, which inoculates us against those who tell us that we are fundamentally immoral people.
Religion tells everyone that they are fundamentally immoral with equal amounts of ubiquity and impunity. Religion tells us that our imperfection is necessarily the source of our immorality. Religion creates a need and then offers a solution in the form of bad faith. And then religion says that people are immoral when they are dissimilar from themselves in some seemingly crucial way and demands its adherents to do something in the name of morality. Make no mistake … the business of religion is to lull, persuade, demand or even violently impose bad faith on all.
Marx once said that religion was the “opiate of the people”. He was wrong. Bad faith is the opiate and religion is big pharma.
Religion tells us that the Orlando victims are “in a better place”, when they’re dead. Religion presupposes suffering when they tell us “at least they’re not suffering anymore.” Religion demands we forgive the shooter but only because a wholly imperceptible being of immense power demands it of us. Religion does everything it can to keep us from seeing this tragedy for what it truly is … a wholly senseless tragedy.
It’s senseless for a human being to bring an assault rifle to a bar and shoot a hundred people. It’s senseless for a human being to have access to an assault rifle. It’s senseless for assault rifles to exist. It’s senseless for a person to hate themselves and others for who they are. Nothing about the Orlando shooting makes sense.
And the emotions that come from the senselessness are apropos of our very existence. We should feel pain, anger, and fear from the very senselessness of the event. We can choose to engage in these emotions, or we can choose to swallow the saccharine bromide of religion to avoid the pain. Only one way offers authenticity.
And it is authenticity that we must protect as a community. That also means the LGBTQIA community embracing the American non-believer community. Whether or not it is realized, the analogousness between the two is eerily similar, especially in terms of coming out. What does it say about our community’s commitment to authenticity when vigil organizers insist on foisting religion upon our community?
And I’m not saying we shouldn’t mourn. As a community, we should come together and help each other with these difficult emotions and seek solace in our LGBTQIA siblings. But religion only offer bad faith, and bad faith is a counterfeit cure. It will numb our pain while eventually poisoning us. But it won’t just poison us.
Christopher Hitchens was right, religion truly does poison everything. So let’s not allow religion to set up shop at these vigils.