I was born an atheist.
I stayed that way the first ten years of my life. Then, one fateful day I had a sleepover with my cousin who told me that bad things would happen to me if I didn't pray. So I prayed for the next ten years of my life. I went from atheist to agnostic. I briefly hung out with a youth group in high school, but found them "odd" to say the least. I took an introduction to the Bible class at my southern college and had to attend a church service as a class requirement. Both were enlightening, but didn't neither made me a believer. I attended two additional church services: One midnight mass with an ex-girlfriend and one service during a summer program in Kenya. Those too, didn't do it for me but I was content to remain agnostic.
I then got to experience firsthand the world of Southern Baptist hospitality. I heard a woman at my graduation chastise another woman whose husband was Catholic as she told her that "at least she made the right life choice." I saw a good college friend get married at a church ceremony and reception where there was no dancing, no booze, and where I was told that tying soda cans to the newlywed couple's car was "disrespectful." Two years later, I saw my college professor and his partner absolutely downtrodden after marriage was officially enshrined in their state constitution as "being between one man and one woman."
I stopped being agnostic that day and I reverted back to being an atheist. No supreme being of mine would ever advocate discrimination.
Flash forward eight years. As someone who tries as best he can to be news savvy, I have seen the utter distortion of religious principles to advocate hate and discrimination in 21st century America. Nowhere is this more obvious than the modern religious right's openly hostile attack toward the LGBT community thanks to an obscure passage in Leviticus. Religious zealots have used Leviticus 18:22 (‘You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination") to justify their condemnation of gay people for centuries. In their defense, I shall agree with them that it was unnatural for a man to lie with another man. It was unnatural 2,000 years ago. Those that use the Bible as a living, breathing document seem to be unaware that it reflects the values of the Middle East 2,000 years ago where gay relationships were frowned upon. Know what else was frowned upon during that time? Tattoos, planting different crops in the same field, mixed fabrics, eating shellfish, working on the Sabbath, and having a woman marry who was not a virgin. The modern religious right in this country is perfectly content to cherry pick which of these religious laws to follow on a daily basis.
As if the modern religious right wasn't bad enough to deal with on the gay rights issues, they also seem to want to embrace the patriarchal hierarchy of society found so often in both the Old and New Testaments. To this day, women cannot become ordained as priests in the Catholic Church. Women can heal the sick like Mother Teresa, women can start a civil rights movement like Rosa Parks, women can lead a nation like German chancellor Angela Merkel, but they cannot give a Sunday sermon. It is this desire for control that leads the religious right to refuse to recognize women as equals and thus not allow them to be seen as equal to men in the eyes of God.
To control women and keep them subservient, the religious right not only forbids them to become priests, but they also believe them to be incapable of making their own health decisions. The fact that the religious right claims to be "pro-life" has to be one of the greatest misnomers of this era. You are not "pro-life" if you want to legally force a woman to give birth to a child. Period. Whether or not to bring a child into this world is the decision of two people and two people only: A woman and her doctor. For the religious right in the country to value an unborn child over the life of the mother is utterly despicable and deplorable. And yet, with constant legislative efforts at the state level, that is exactly what the religious right in this country has been trying to accomplish time and time again.
Not only does the religious right want to force women to give birth, it also wants them to not even have access to birth control. What's ironic is that birth control would lessen the amount of abortions, something you'd think the religious right would actually want to happen. And yet, they also want to restrict access to birth control for women. The current case before the Supreme Court shows us this exact reasoning: It's not about freedom of religion for Hobby Lobby, it's about them exerting their control over women. It's about them making the point that women are second-class citizens and are incapable of making their own health choices. It's about them wanting women to essentially be Biblical women who are subservient and submissive to their husbands. If women are that way, then the men have all the power and control in society.
And let's be honest. That is what the modern religious right wants: Power. Every issue in which their religious freedom is "violated" happens to coincide with an historically oppressed minority group being given an equal opportunity to achieve success. The religious right opposed women's suffrage, they opposed the civil rights movement, and they are currently opposing the gay rights movement. They are perfectly content to wrap their American flag around their Bible and proclaim that we are doing a disservice to this great Christian nation. That we are spitting on the graves of our great Christian forefathers. That we have become a land of sinners should we be advocating for these oppressed minority groups. And that we shall all face eternal damnation for all of us that don't happen to believe in their very own Christian God.
Religion is a virtue. Some of the most caring and dedicated people in my life are those that attend church every Sunday. What separates them from the modern religious right is that they don't just reference the biblical teachings of Jesus Christ, they live it. They give back to their communities. They help their neighbors and those in need. They don't judge others. They are the people who realize the Bible serves as a guide, but also that is malleable to the time in which we live. They realize that an obscure passage in Leviticus shouldn't allow us to deny love for millions of Americans. They realize that a woman is equal to a man and is more than capable of making her own health decisions. They realize that the biblical patriarchal society is outdated and that for a modern society to be successful women can't be seen as second-class citizens. And, unlike our friends at Hobby Lobby, they realize that it is perfectly okay if not everybody agrees with their own religious viewpoints.
These are the kind of people the modern religious right should be emulating.