There seems to be a prevailing attitude on the part of some, that religious institutions and religious people should be held accountable for acts of violence or harassment towards homosexuals. There seems to be little effort to determine whether people who commit acts of violence towards gays are actually from a religious background. Rather, there is the assumption that religious idealogy leads to violence against gays (with little or no evidence), and that this assumption justifies pressuring religious people and institutions into changing their beliefs.
Well, I seem to be blessed with a good memory, at least in some respects, and I remember being in junior high school and hearing gay slurs. Looking back, I didn't get the sense that the people uttering those comments were particularly religious. I got the sense they were idiots (and I mean no disrespect to mentally disabled people when I say that). As a quiet Christian kid, to be honest, I would not have even really understood what they were saying, and those words would not have been acceptable to me, or part of my vocabulary. As an adult, I'm inclined to think that bullying of gays or more likely, the appearance of being gay, has more to do with adolescent insecurity and fears about their own emerging sexuality and emotional confusion that seems to characterize those years. Adolescent anxiety combined with immature behavior and peer pressure, I suspect, has more to do with gay bashing than religious influence.
But I want to say something else here. Firstly, I want to ask a question. Do people really think that little children sitting in Sunday school are being told to love their neighbour, love people and be kind to people, but then those people over there, be mean to those people? Is that what people think? I remember someone saying that if you look historically at the list of problems in schools, discipline, violence, and so forth, that you can almost trace to the year, that when behavior problems started going up, was when religious instruction was taken out. Now, I'm not arguing for religious instruction in schools here, and you can look up the statistics for yourself, but I would be inclined to predict that religious instruction is more likely to affect social behavior positively than negatively. And the reason why I believe this is because I see that positive influence in myself on an ongoing basis. Every week that I go to church I leave thinking that I am so glad I went, even when I didn't want to go, that I'm better for having gone. My week seems to get off on the right foot. I feel better about myself. I feel better mentally and emotionally, not to mention spiritually of course, and I'm reminded that I am commanded to love and care for others, despite my sometimes cranky nature. I'm reminded that I have a responsibility not only to myself, but that I am called to love and serve others. And that's pretty much what the medical evidence shows, that people who are practicing in their faith are healthier and happier than those who are not regularly involved in a faith community. I believe the evidence may also show that those practicing their faith tend to give back more to their communities, but I'll have to check that one. All this despite whatever tendency I personally might have towards isolation and despair. Maybe that's why I feel a certain affection for the new atheists, because I see a lot of myself in them. My inner curmudgeon is Christopher Hitchens (lol). If I wasn't a Christian, I am quite sure that I would be a very bitter and cynical person. I might even find myself doing something like writing a book trashing Mother Theresa, but I digress. Nobody's that nice. Nobody could possibly be that nice. She must have another motive somewhere (lol). Grumble grumble grumble.
What I'm trying to get at is this. I think contrary to popular assumption, more often than not religion is a reminder to people of how to treat ourselves and others, to take care of ourselves and the larger community, and I think we as human beings need those reminders. We need to be reminded of ethical standards, and it is for this reason that I would be more inclined to guess, generally speaking, that it is more likely to be a child that doesn't have a religious influence in their lives, than one who does, who is more likely to bully another child who appears weaker than them. Please don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying that non-religious people do not teach their kids ethical standards, but it would be one less place that they would be receiving that instruction on a regular basis. Maybe I should rephrase that, some people have naturally gracious personalities, and some people, children especially, seem to need more reinforcement than others, but I would expect to see a lower incidence of bullying on a large sample of children from faith communities over not having a faith background, contrary to the popular assumption which seems to imply the opposite conclusion.
Finally, something to think about, why from an evolutionary perspective should I be concerned with the well-being of someone in a far off corner of the world, with no relation to me or someone who is weaker than me, etc., also with no relation to me, who may be competing with me for limited resources? To answer my own question, because that person is created in the image of God, as am I, and therefore all people have an intrinsic worth, and should not be degraded or humiliated, despite whatever base instincts we all possess. I find it very interesting that public schools, void of religious training as they claim to be, now talk about being communities of character, etc. Why, because they have to, because we, unlike our animal cousins, cannot seem to get away from ethical issues which demand the moral training of children. Why is that, and what is the difference anyway, between secular ethics and religious training on a practical everyday level? I'm betting that if you looked at secular ethical training, it would have many common characteristics and content with religious training. But the question is, which is the stronger reminder, and which has the deeper grounding or coherence? Don't bully people because that's not nice, even as it becomes increasingly clear as the child gets older, that the way of the world is more often about competition than cooperation, or treat people as you wish to be treated, because one day you will stand before an almighty God, who knows your every thought, word and deed? One difference between secular ethical training and traditional religious training would be that the Muslim or the Christian or the Jewish kid believes that they will one day be held accountable for their actions, even if that smaller and weaker kid is just a little lower on the pecking order, the natural order, and even if no one is looking.