Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

October 7, 2010

by Jim Culleny

What should we make of the US military’s policy of Don’t ask -Don’t tell?  Don’t ask-Don’t tell is a recipe for deceit if not delusion.  It’s a politically convenient way to deal with the facts of the constitution, homosexuality, and the personnel needs of the military in the face of the beliefs of bigots.

A simple definition of bigot is, “. . . a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.”  Webster’s says “bigot” is derived from the Middle English: bī God (by God), which, given a major justification for gay-hate, is exactly the right reference.

Whatever Middle English bigots did, today’s bigots turn to particular religious scriptures and condemn certain people who were earlier condemned in the codes of ancient tribes which (by the very same codes and later scriptures) stoned adulterers in town squares and slaughtered Amalekites down to every  “… woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep . . .”  If, despite those scriptures, we now hold it immoral to slaughter innocent women and infants why are so many of us still ardent in the condemnation of homosexuals —or insistent upon compelling gays and lesbians to lie about their sexual identity if they want to serve and protect their country?  Why do today’s scriptural literalists no longer stone adulterers in town squares?  It might be because we’ve grown —because we and our god have evolved —although we still have a long way to go.  In our time anti-gay scriptural literalists just torment families grieving for lost sons and daughters by holding hate vigils at military funerals.

Considering history we can be thankful we’ve had an evolving god otherwise we might still be stoning adulterers in town squares.  In some fundamentalist cultures they still do. As Robert Wright said in his Book, The Evolution of God, “The consistent moral story of the Abrahamic religions is that any given book of scriptures can be put to a wide variety of uses.” Meaning, if you have a loving disposition you’ll base your life on love-filled scriptures.  If you have a hateful heart you’ll find back-up for that in scriptures too. Your disposition will determine your choice of sources.  As Wright suggests, the Bible is a smörgasbord of moral guidance.

So the military, based upon the attitude of some Americans who claim authority for their ignorance in religion, has been coping with the age-old co-existence of heterosexuality and homosexuality by running a recruitment policy based upon a lie of omission: I won’t ask, and you won’t tell.  In practice, our service men and women are ordered to pretend homosexuality doesn’t exist or that there are no gays or lesbians among them based upon the premises of religions which claim to be expounding the truth.  Paradoxical, isn’t it?

The policy of Don’t ask-Don’t tell issues from the same head-space that insists that gays and lesbians not love, or at least not display their love. It derives from smug ignorance demanding even more widespread smug ignorance.  It derives from bigotry.

To use the jargon of some, the Prince of Lies must love this policy.  This sort of thinking is right up his alley. It debases the honor of services who aspire to be composed of men and woman of honor. It undermines the honor that military cohesiveness is supposedly built upon. It elevates bigotry to a position of official acceptance.

The spitefulness of gay and lesbian haters so infects our society that not only is it officially embraced by the military, but is the cause of the emotional torment of some of our young people who, in realizing they are gay in a society of bigots, turn to suicide to end their torment.

As noted by at least one enlightened pastor, Rev. Patrick S. Cheng, “I have been simultaneously horrified, saddened, and enraged at the spate of suicides in the last month by teenagers and young adults who were bullied for being, or being perceived to be, gay. Billy Lucas, 15, hung himself on September 9 from the rafters of a barn. Seth Walsh, 13, hung himself on September 19 from a tree in his backyard. Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped off the George Washington bridge on September 22. Asher Brown, 13, shot himself in the head on September 23.”

Reverend Cheng is one indication that Robert Wright’s argument for the evolution of god may not be off the mark. It suggests that religious history itself may give us hope. Our military and some political leaders may insist upon hate-based lies, but if god can evolve from a vengeful, xenophobic, warlike tribal deity to one of universal love and compassion maybe the temporarily convenient but implicit lie of Don’t ask-Don’t tell will not last much longer.



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