Bullied To Death: When Will Enough Be Enough?

Each new suicide resulting from anti-gay bullying begs the question: when will enough be enough?

We Americans don’t know the meaning of the word “enough.”  We don’t know when to stop consuming: if everyone on the planet consumed at the level that Americans consume, we would need five planets to accommodate the greed. We also don’t seem to know the meaning of enough when it comes to violence. For instance in the wake of a recent gun tragedy in Tucson Arizona, Utah is considering a measure that would make a handgun a state symbol. More saliently to the present discussion, the Obama administration is boasting of a recent victory with the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” where the country is not celebrating a victory for LGBT people to express their love, but instead celebrating what may be the highest compliment made to gay and lesbian people: we may now participate fully and completely in the in the culture of violence—regardless of who you love, the US government now endorses your capacity to kill.

My own experiences as a gay Minnesota (where by the way we have seen a large number of recent gay teen suicides) teenager in the 1980s were filled and punctuated by periods of school bullying– intimidation, traunting, threats– starting in seventh grade. While I never did resort to attempting suicide, for six years the thought was never far from my mind. The bullying didn’t only take place at school; it took place at home. I grew up in a home where my dad routinely maligned gay men, forbade us to watch shows like “Soap” because of an openly gay character, or even “Three’s Company” which depicted a character merely pretending to be gay. We would even be forbidden to read a newspaper which covered a gay pride events. In the safety of home my dad was so fond of saying that the way to eliminate the problem of gay people was to “Lock and load.” The bullying was everywhere. There was no safe haven—least of all in our Catholic church which we attended without fail every Sunday, and which provided the ultimate justification for my father’s hate.

Indeed, religion is often the most powerful force behind bullying because it creates an acute sense of divinely sanctioned self-righteousness which buoys the bullies, making them feel invulnerable to criticism. You may recall that Jesus spoke out against bullies.  When a woman was to be stoned for her adulterous behavior, Jesus intervened and famously invited the person without sin to cast the first stone. (You may have noticed that the adulterous man was not being bullied in that story).

You may also recall that Jesus was a victim of bullies. In fact, the Imperial Roman bullies take Jesus’ life. Unfortunately, this narrative lends a martyr-like quality to victims of bullying, and may tend to highlight another abuse of religion.  Too often in history, victims are told to endure torment and suffering in this life secure in the knowledge that it gets better—but only in the next life, once they are dead.  This abuse of religion is an abuse of God rooted in dark and tragic ideas of a God who controls everything.  If your God is ‘in control’ of everything—that is, eveything happens precisely because it is the Divine will— then it is difficult not to become trapped in an attitude that condones the status quo as Divinely ordained (by definition).  The status quo, in this case, has bullies tormenting victims into committing suicide—which is another way of saying, bullies tormenting victims to death.

Enough already with the God of coercion.

Enough already with the God of control.

Enough already with self-righteously sanctioning the violent status quo that is consuming our children and leaving them dead.

The Buddha taught that if a path we are taking—even a path suggested by the Buddha himself— is not bearing fruit, we must listen to the truth of the situation say enough and stop. The Buddha says, if what you are doing is not working, you are obliged to try another of the 80,000 dharma doors.  The truth of the tragedies piling up as we lose one gay young person after another to the torment of bullying demands that we are obliged to try another way.

We are not robots destined to perform functions programmed into us. We are free agents, free to find another way. We are free to stop destroying one another.  We are free to learn the meaning of enough.

Each of us must look deeply into our own lives and honestly decide to work against the forces of bullying.  How do you support bullies? How do you fail to support victims? It is not enough to be against bullying, or say you are against it. What will you do to stop it?

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9 thoughts on “Bullied To Death: When Will Enough Be Enough?

  1. Well done, Paul. Linking our excesses in materialism to our lack of response and compassion is indeed telling. Our nation (indeed the world) is in need of healing. May we all take on the discipline of “Tikkun Olam” – healing the world.

    1. Agreed, David. Well said. And Tikkun Olam requires so much more than the hateful bigots in high places hypocritically denouncing acts of bullying by others.

  2. Paul, your experience of having a bully in your own home and knowing how your own father felt is one that I made me angry with his “Lock and Load” suggestion. This thinking is far too prevalent in our society where homophobic tendencies caused one of my good friends to be dropped off his Youth Encounter team because one of the members didn’t like the fact he was gay. The oxymoron of going out in the world to serve others while maliciously treating your neighbor with such inhumanity made an effect on my reluctance to go into ministry. It is when I realized how much more powerful my voice could be if I spoke up and spoke out that it made the decision to attend seminary possible. I applaud you for your challenge to the status quo and to encourage others to stop using the name of God as their defense against their own fears. Thanks Paul

    1. But how do we determine whether someone is “using the name of God as their defense against their own fears” or simply correctly articulating the view of God an a particular matter? It is the inability in principle to distinguish between these two which makes me so skeptical of God-based morality.

      1. James, thanks for making me think about this–I guess my point of view is that many people have different views of God and you are correct in stating that people are correctly articulating “their” view of God, but my view of God is in line with what Paul suggests–a God without coercion or control. However, I find it difficult to agree with an opinion of God from someone who thinks God is “love” and then condemns others to hell or judges them through their authority on God. I am in agreement with you that I am also skeptical of a God-based morality that seems so contradictory.

        1. Thanks for this ongoing conversation. I think maybe to start, for me, it may help to think about a morality of love. That means a morality of reciprocity and mutuality. These are terms that classical theists find very difficult to apply to a changeless, impassible, unaffected God—a male God whose love goes out but for whom nothing comes in. To me that isn’t even love, since what kind of demonic love is it that is bereft of sympathy, empathy, mutuality and reciprocity? Meanwhile, process theologians have for three-quarters of a century been talking about a God of real love, capable of real mutuality and real reciprocity. I seek a morality of persuasive nonviolence, not the coercive and imperial violence so long sanctioned by the God of classical theism. I seek a morality of love that is both generous and grateful, both giving and receiving. And a morality of love, when God is love, is a morality of God.

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