Is religion in Europe running with the pace of social and liberal democracy or is it still in the past, isolating minorities and even allowing some of its representatives to demonise groups of society? Christos Mouzeviris discuses.

Europe is becoming an increasingly liberal, tolerant, modernized and irreligious continent; however, this transformation is not happening at the same pace in every country. We observe a rising trend of nationalism, xenophobia and conservatism that often not only questions the permanency of those changes, but also brings back dark pages of Europe’s history that a lot of us would like to leave in the past.

One of the most remarkable developments that occurred on our continent during the past few decades is the acceptance of almost of all our minority groups, such as the LGBT community. While not so long ago, people had to hide their sexual orientation or face imprisonment, exclusion, expulsion from their job, rejection by their families, daily ridicule, bullying and intimidation, nowadays LGBT individuals can finally be accepted for what they are; a valuable asset of every society and equal members of it.

A wrong free speech

Yet there are still many that see the change of attitudes towards not just homosexuals, but ultimately every person’s sexuality as a threat, or something that needs to be analysed and explained with anathema or outdated, pseudoscience. Instead of finally accepting that each person’s sexuality is as unique and different as its personality and it is linked to its ability to identify, express and think itself freely, many want to box this side of human nature into two categories that they have learnt to think as “normal”.

Sadly, among the harshest critics not just of the LGBT community, but any “deviant” form of sexual relationship can still be found among our religious leaders. Funnily enough all those priests, bishops and other church representatives, think of themselves as people of “God”, that reflect somehow the divine love for all humanity, apart of course from those who are born “different.”

In Poland, a country that had initially a promising European path when it joined the EU-before seems recently to have it allowed its religious and political conservatism to get the better of it- the archbishop of Krakow, Marek Jedraszewski has recently made some outrageous public comments. At a homily to mark the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, he warned of a “rainbow plague”, reflecting the ongoing tensions in the country over gay rights. The archbishop compared the increasing demand for LGBT rights, with its communist past that “took control of the country’s peoples’ souls, hearts and minds.”

By linking Polish citizen’s human rights to the country’s former communist administration, he intentionally tried to associate LGBT activists to the authoritarian and oppressive past of the country. Obviously, the only argument he can use to convince his compatriots of his bitter homophobic tirade is to compare gay individuals to something that the people of Poland loath and have very bad memories of.

The Polish Catholic Church sadly used to stand as a bastion of national identity, intellectual freedom and hope during the decades that Poland was under communist rule but now it rather represents all that is bigoted.

The whole package

As the country made the leap and joined the EU, a club that is comprised by some of the world’s richest and most progressive nations, Poland should have anticipated that together with the economic reforms and benefits, come the social ones too. And since most of the Western European nations have decided to offer LGBT individuals the recognition and security of the human rights which they deserve, then how can Poland refuse its own citizens theirs?

It doesn’t make sense to have half of Europe offering full rights to members of this minority group, while the other half refusing to modernise on such issues, while maintaining the free movement of individuals and an EU citizenship. Under those circumstances, Europe is forced to resemble America of the 1950s, when in some states African Americans enjoyed certain rights while in others they did not.

How can the religious elite of Poland justify hate speech towards a considerable percentage of the country’s citizens, portraying them as the enemy, a plague or something as oppressive as the communist regime; the irony in this is that they are the intolerant ones and the persecutors. Why do they hate LGBT activists so much, people who are only fighting for equal rights within the rest of their society, like recognition and acceptance, something that especially in countries like Poland, a nation that fought so hard to maintain its identity and freedom, should at least be admired.

Borderline ridiculous

Yet it is not just in Poland, that religious conservatism has become a toxic, bitter and often laughable example. The same week we had a Church of Cyprus bishop, Neophytos Masouras, in a speech describing that homosexual (male) children develop when pregnant women are having anal sex!

He went on to claim that homosexuality is a “problem” that is transmitted by the parent to the child by engaging in “unnatural” sexual acts. However, if for a minute we accept that his theory is correct, then how can he explain the existence of lesbian women, or other “problematic” individuals? His peculiar justifications and explanations are based on the “teachings” of a Greek Orthodox saint named Porphyrios, who died in 1991 and tried to advise all homosexuals that their lives should be dominated by celibacy and constant prayer to rid of their “tendencies”.

Porhyrios believed that when a woman enjoys anal sex during her pregnancy, a desire is created and then the desire is passed on to the child – simple as that. Of course, it is doubtful if Porhyrios, Neophytos or any of their naive followers have bothered to study any scientific analysis on homosexuality or listen to members of the LGBT community on their experiences and challenges they are facing in modern times.

These two examples are coming from high ranked religious representatives in Europe in 2019. Both Cyprus and Poland are EU members, relatively developed economically and socially, politically stable, democratic and with a highly educated population.

Yet somehow, it is okay for priests to speak about things they do not understand, thus should not have a say on, plus project their own bitter, outdated, uneducated and spiteful views on people that often need support, acceptance and love; something the all religions in Europe claim that they offer to their followers. Members of the LGBT community have proven that are highly valuable in a society, since they are very active and creative-if we only allow them to be. They often hold key positions in politics, arts, education, civil administration, health and medicine, sports, entertainment or science.

They could be your brothers, your children, sons, daughters, sisters, but also your own fathers and mothers. How can anyone allow such ignorant and hateful comments to be made regarding them, especially coming from the Catholic Church which itself has a lot to answer for, regarding millions of sexual child abuse cases across the world.

A new religion

As for trying to explain how homosexuals are being born, religious representatives should leave such attempts to science as it is clearly not their field of expertise. Religion in modern Europe if it is to survive, will have to drastically reform itself and stop following doctrine which was conceived by men with limited education, centuries or even millennia before our times. The purpose of religious leaders in our continent should not be to judge people on how to basically be themselves or live their lives, but rather to offer them guidance in their spiritual search. They should offer unconditional love and support, rather target anyone who does not feel cisgender with fascist-like intolerance.

Times have changed and with them our societies and thus, the people living in them. We cannot allow such men to poison the minds and hearts of people against their fellow humans. Any religious organisation, dogma and sect should discourage their representatives from promoting such doctrine, as it is harmful not only to our society but the religious bodies themselves.

How do they expect young individuals to follow any religion that does not accept them or a member of their family and  refers to them with such diminutive manner without any justification or evidence, rather the preaching of men who lived centuries ago in a society totally different than ours. Can we maintain such attitudes or beliefs in our modern societies and if we accept this for LGBT people and activists, then why not for women, ethnic and religious minorities, people with disabilities, migrants and even children? If we resist change and progress when it comes to attitudes towards homosexuals, then why not regress to the times when we jailed men who had sex with men, when women could not vote or own property, children had to work, slavery being normal and interracial marriages were forbidden.  This is not the Europe we should aspire to live in.

We need to establish the same basic human rights of all communities across our continent and if that challenges some narrow-minded bigoted fascists that hide their true nature behind religion and priesthood, then shame of the Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish or any other established religious body and authority that exists in Europe nowadays, for allowing them to hijack religion, in order to spread their hatred and ignorance.

LGBT people do not need to be excused or their existence explained to be accepted, they just need the later. They do not need to be patronized, feared, forced to repent, ridiculed or hated, they need equal opportunities to showcase their talents and contribute to the progress of humanity and its civilization, as they always have done.

Christos Mouzeviris
Christos Mouzeviris is a Greek journalist and photographer based in Dublin. Christos is a pro-European federalist.

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