I admit that it’s not fair to pick on Elton John. Although he is a truly talented musician, I don’t think anyone has ever accused him of being a deep thinker or a well-informed man. Nevertheless, something he said a few days ago caught my eye, because I think it exposes just about everything that’s wrong with identity politics. Here’s the money quote:
Sir Elton John wants religion banned completely — because he believes it promotes hatred of gays.
Speaking to the Observer Music Monthly Magazine the singer said religion lacked compassion and turned people into “hateful lemmings”.
The PRESS ASSOCIATION reports: In a candid interview for a dedicated Gay issue of the magazine he shared his views on topics as varied as being a pop icon to Tony Blair’s stance on the war in Iraq.
He said there was a lack of religious leadership, particularly in world politics, and complained that people do not take to the streets to protest any more.
Sir Elton said: “I think religion has always tried to turn hatred towards gay people. Religion promotes the hatred and spite against gays.
“But there are so many people I know who are gay and love their religion. From my point of view I would ban religion completely.
“Organised religion doesn’t seem to work. It turns people into really hateful lemmings and it’s not really compassionate.”
That’s it. That’s his entire take on religion: it’s not gay friendly. There’s no room at all in this world view for the fact that the Judeo-Christian religions have had a profoundly moralizing influence on the Western world. There’s no thought for the Old Testament’s focus on justice and and moral behavior; no care for Jesus’ ceaseless preaching about love and generosity. Instead, there’s a simple two-step analysis: Religion doesn’t like gays, therefore it should go.
I remember once having an argument with a friend of mine who had just come out of the closet. I always knew he was gay, so his confession was no surprise. What did surprise me was the speed with which he’d ghettoized himself. He’d moved into gay housing, joined a gay student organization and, instead of introducing himself as a student majoring in chemistry, introduced himself as a gay man. I questioned whether it was a good thing for him to define himself solely by his bedroom conduct, so that all other aspects of himself were swept into that shadow. Frankly, at this distance in time, I can’t remember his defense. I just remember that I wasn’t convinced, but instead felt strongly that he was limiting himself by placing his sexuality front and center.
But that, of course, is always the problem with identity politics. You’re not the sum total of your parts, you’re a one-trick pony, a stereotype. You’re not a brilliant man with an amazing gift for building computers, a wife and two loving children. You’re a black man and, by default setting, oppressed. You’re not a physician, a poet and a musician, you’re a gay man who is a doctor and has some hobbies. You’re not a much sought after computer program, you’re a handicapped woman in a wheel chair who got a job programming computers. The identity comes first nowadays. Everything else is a subset.
And if the identity comes first, everything that impinges on that identity has to go, regardless of whether that impinging thing has any independent merit. Religion? To heck with its civilizing influence and social controls. It offends gays so it’s got to go. Thomas Jefferson? Who cares about his remarkable intellectual contributions to the then-nascent ideas of freedom and democracy. He had slaves, so his ideas must be derided. And on and on. An identity ridden generation can’t separate the wheat from the chaff. I just hope identity politics doesn’t see too many valuable babies tossed away with the offending bathwater. (Sorry for the mixed metaphors, but I liked ’em both and kept ’em.)