His face is everywhere--on the internet, on TV, and throughout print media--that gentle, timid, barely-smiling young man with red hair, glasses, and a prodigious talent for playing the classical violin. I'm talking about Tyler Clementi, the freshman student at Rutgers who suicided last week after his roommate video taped him having sex with another man then uploaded the video to You Tube for all the world to see. Four other young people killed themselves in the last three weeks because of wrenching internal conflicts regarding their sexual orientation. Their faces were not as widely seen as Tyler's, but they remain casualties of a culture in which meanness--whether related to homophobia, bullying, or demented religiosity is epidemic.
The subject comes close to home for me. Four decades ago, I could have been Tyler or any of these sweet kids who decided that life was not worth living if they must choose between death and an existence in which they would be forced to murder their souls and be someone they were not. Fortunately, I survived and at a time when there was virtually no sanity, support, or substantial research on the topic--and during a time when many more suicides were committed over sexual orientation than today and with the real reasons undisclosed.
Yes I know, in some countries, such as Iran and Uganda, gay and lesbian people are routinely imprisoned, put to death, or assassinated. Bullying, rather than happening randomly among the citizenry, has been institutionalized in the legal systems of those nations. And in some ways, that might be easier to deal with, would it not? One realizes one lives in a culture that maintains a barbaric attitude toward sexual orientation where in order to be who one really is, one must leave the country. The opposition to homosexuality is ubiquitous and daunting, rather than irregular, unpredictable, and in Tyler's case, uber hypocritical. It was not Fred Phelps of "God Hates Fags" who videotaped him and You Tubed his sexual activity, but rather a roommate who proclaimed tolerance and neutrality on the topic of sexual orientation.
Mainstream media myopically attempts to analyze this carnage in the limited context of bullying without connecting dots to the larger picture of a planet that appears to be increasingly marinated in anger. Last year, author and spiritual teacher, Caroline Myss, wrote in a Huffington Post article entitled "An Epidemic of Global Anger":
We are a community of nations on fire with anger. And we are getting angrier by the day. Whether we look at the increase in uprisings occurring around the world or at the escalating tension brewing in America, what is becoming more apparent is that we are witnessing a rapidly increasing rate of global anger, so much so that it qualifies as an epidemic
For nearly a decade I have been writing and speaking incessantly about the convergence of the Three E's: energy, economy, and environment and the unprecedented suffering the earth community is experiencing as a result of the deepening crises created by this convergence. The human race is angry, and perhaps the planet itself, but it is within the belly of industrial civilization that young men and women are killing themselves because of who they love.
This is also the civilization that has distorted the core teachings of Christianity beyond recognition, particularly in the area of love and sexuality. To a large extent, this is one of the tragic legacies of early Colonial Puritanism in the United States. More recently in the nineteenth century, one school of mainstream Protestantism dramatically diverged in a more conservative direction and gave birth to what we now know as fundamentalist Christianity. Irish minister, John Nelson Darby, began preaching a strain of apocalyptic theology that emphasized the imminent return of Christ and proclaimed that when evil is seen in a society, Christians should rejoice because it is evidence of the second coming. Since then, the growth of fundamentalist Christianity in the United States has exploded, but it was not until the George W. Bush administration of this decade that this historically new strain of the Christian faith in America blatantly sought to eliminate the separation of church and state and establish theocratic governance based on the principles of Christian fundamentalism.
Intellectually immersed in a literal interpretation of the bible and, in my opinion, emotionally terrified of the notion of same gender attraction, American fundamentalist Christianity has pronounced it as an abomination in the eyes of God. Yet the research I gathered for my 2007 book, Coming Out of Fundamentalist Christianity, suggests that significant numbers of individuals who identify as homosexual in the United States have been influenced by fundamentalist Christianity at some point in their lives. In the 1980s a number of fundamentalist movements claiming to "cure" individuals of homosexual attraction began to proliferate in this country and are still drawing in men and women from fundamentalist backgrounds who hope to be liberated from same-gender attraction. In countless cases, the "cure" has been psychologically devastating to individuals who have chosen it, and in fact, author Wayne Besen who has researched the "Ex-Gay" movement extensively writes that Ex-Gay therapy is nothing less than scandalous.