Homophobia, Religion, and Psychology

Homophobia, Religion, and Psychology

Andrew Keller

Homophobia, the term for inflammatory remarks about homosexuals, can be more aptly described as “the socialized state of fear, threat, aversion, prejudice, and irrational hatred of the feelings of same-sex attraction” (Smith 88). In the following paragraphs, we will examine studies that focus the effects that religion and psychology can have upon homophobia. In general, there is a positive correlation between religious authoritarianism and homophobia. What we will try to add to the studies - using elaborations of ideas from Sigmund Freud and Erich Fromm - is an answer to questions like the following: What does this have to do with psychology? Why should the average person care about this? What can we do to reverse homophobia?

Much of the studies that we found deal with two factors - religious fundamentalism and right-wing authoritarianism - that make for a strong correlation for homophobia. The first, an article by Bruce Hunsberger, examines the first of these two facets of religious belief. Religious fundamentalism is defined as “the belief that there is one set of religious teachings that clearly contains the fundamental, basic, intrinsic essential inerrant truth about humanity and deity” (Hunsberger 5). The basic idea is that people who are religious fundamentalists believe that their way is the only true way, and that they must fight against all who oppose it. In the case of Hunsberger’s study, religious fundamentalism was positively correlated with homophobia, in both of the two areas in which the tests were conducted, Ghana and Canada.

In the case of this study, there could be many reasons for the relationship between religious fundamentalism and homophobia. Hunsberger concludes that, when men come from same-sex schools, homophobia among religious fundamentalists increases; when women from same-sex schools are evaluated, however, the result is a decrease in homophobia (8).

Now we must go further and provide some psychological insight into this finding. Erich Fromm, in his book Psychoanalysis and Religion, speaks about incest. He states that incest is a desire to remain attached to the comfort of home; yet he goes further than that. This yearning for solidarity, according to Fromm, extends to “the tribe, the nation, the race, the state, the social class, [and] political parties,” and becomes “the roots of nationalism and racism, which in turn are symptoms of man’s inability to experience others and himself as free human beings” (81). If we extend this idea even further, we can begin to understand the relationship between religious fundamentalism and homophobia. By this definition, one’s religion would become part of things such as the tribe or nation; and homophobia would become just another word for such hatred as nationalism and racism.

In the book Overcoming Heterosexism and Homophobia, Warren J. Blumenfeld creates a link between homophobia and anti-Semitism. He states that, throughout history, dominant groups represent target groups “in a variety of ways in order to maintain control or mastery” (Blumenfeld 131). He also gives the example of the Employment Discrimination Act, which grants rights to gays and lesbians. Some people, he says, oppose it on the grounds that gay people are using their status as a victim as a way to obtain special privileges. This logic infuriated people such as Senator Paul Wellston, who said it is “precisely the kind of argument that has been made . . . in behalf of the worst kind of discrimination against Jewish people” (Blumenfeld). The point here is that there are many types of incestuous groups. In making a connection between homophobia and anti-Semitism, we can start to disassemble the hatred.

The second article to address is entitled “Homophobia, Irrationality, and Christian Ideology: Does a Relationship Exist?” The authors of the article, Caroll Plugge-Foust and George Strickland, found a positive correlation between both Christian ideology and irrational beliefs with the Homophobia Scale (2). Here the idea is that homophobia is based on an irrational hatred, as we stated in the first sentence of this section. The religious ideas are the same as the first study. The most important part of this study is the use of Ellis’ Irrational Beliefs Scale. This scale contains eleven items dealing with beliefs common in U.S. culture that, if endorsed by the taker, would indicate a neurosis (Plugge-Foust 7). The study did, in fact, find that there is a correlation between irrational beliefs and homophobia as well as Christian ideology and homophobia (Plugge-Foust 9).

What could this mean? This article deals with both the religious and psychological aspects of homophobia, so there is less to elaborate upon. But, for the sake of our argument, let’s elaborate anyway. Fromm, again in the book Psychoanalysis and Religion, touches upon the idea of irrational thinking. He gives the example of a Stalinist:

We talk to an intelligent Stalinist who exhibits a great capacity to make use of his reason in many areas of thought. When we come to discuss Stalinism with him, however, we are suddenly confronted with a closed system of thought, the only function of which is to prove that his allegiance to Stalinism is in line with and not contradictory to reason (Fromm 57)

Again, we can extend Fromm’s thoughts. Since this is simply an example, one can say the same thing about the positive correlation between irrational thinking and homophobia: The homophobic person who is otherwise rational can exhibit great amounts of irrationality when talking about his or her feelings toward homosexuals.

The third article we will discuss is entitled “Religiosity, Authoritarianism, and Homophobia: A Multidimensional Approach,” by Wayne W. Wilkinson. Instead of using fundamentalism or irrationality as a basis for homophobia, Wilkinson uses the term right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), defined as “a sociopolitical construct characterized by submission to recognized authorities and the social norms established by those authorities, and hostility toward groups seen as violating these norms” (57). By this definition, RWA is not very much different than religious fundamentalism. Both are characterized by the idea that the group to which the person belongs is right, with the underlying assumption that anyone else is wrong.

The findings of the third study contrast with the first. In this case, people scored low in RWA; they also scored low in homophobia (Wilkinson 63). The most striking part of the study is these people did not view their world as a “dangerous place typified by ‘menacing outsiders’ threatening the established norms” (Wilkinson 63). Most likely, this schema is the reason for the low levels of homophobia. There are many things to think about regarding this third study. First, the students were from a higher socioeconomic background than those from the first study. We will not dwell on this aspect, but there could be a relationship there. Second, Wilkinson concludes that the low level of RWA - or, as he states, authoritarian self-righteousness - may have led the group to withhold the _expression of positive views of gays, such as granting them the same rights as everyone else (64). In other words, they lack the ability to claim moral authority so much that they do not even want to say what should be done to counteract homophobia. These findings, of course, are a good thing; and they are also an excellent way to finish our evaluations of research.

We have talked about Erich Fromm in this part of our project in order to do make our point clearer. Fromm most certainly addresses authoritarian religion. In his view, the authoritarian type of religion - whatever type it may be - leads humans to make the types of errors in judgment that we have talked about regarding homophobia. One of these views is the belief of the absolute truth of one’s beliefs, which leads to incestuous thoughts of nationalism, racism, and, as we have explained, homophobia. Another distortion of authoritarian religion is irrationality. Like the case of Stalinism, people can be rational in all aspects of their life, except when it comes to their attitudes toward homosexuals. Thus far, we have left out the most important part of Fromm’s argument: the humanistic aspect of religion. What does this mean, exactly? We have already seen the humanistic side of religion in this project. The individuals who scored low on the RWA test are examples of this care for man. They know the dangers of hatred such as homophobia. Instead of trying to describe Fromm’s thesis, we will close this part of our project with his own words:

Beyond the attitude of wonder and of concern there is a third element in religious experience, the one which is most clearly exhibited and described by the mystics. It is an attitude of oneness not only in oneself, not only with one’s fellow man, but with all life and, beyond that, with the universe (Fromm 95)


Works Cited

Blumenfeld, Warren J. “Homophobia and Anti-Semitism: Making the Links.” Overcoming Heterosexism and Homophobia: Strategies that Work. Sears, James T. and Williams, Walter L. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. 131-140. This essay deals with the ways in which anti-Semitism and homophobia are interconnected. The article starts with a quote from Senator Paul Wellstone in which he decries discrimination against homosexuals, using the argument that it is the same as discriminating against Jews. The essay then describes ways that you can create ice-breaking activities to dispel myths about both gays and Jews.

Fromm, Erich. Psychoanalysis and Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978. Fromm, in this book, outlines the two types of religion - humanistic and authoritarian - under which, in his opinion, all major religions fall. He also speaks of the methods of incestuous behavior that carry over into society, such as racism and nationalism.

Hunsberger, Bruce; Owusu, Vida; and Duck, Robert. “Religion and Prejudice in Ghana and Canada: Religious Fundamentalism, Right-Wing Authoritarianism, and Attitudes Toward Homosexuals and Women.” International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 9 (1999): 181-195. The studies conducted are the same, just in two different places, in order to contrast or compare each of them. What they found is that, in both places, religious fundamentalism was positively correlated with homophobia; right-wing authoritarianism was positively correlated with negative attitudes toward women, and was therefore moot for this paper. They also found that when men go to same-sex schools, their attitudes toward gays worsen; for women, they get better.

Plugge-Foust, Caroll; and Strickland, George. “Homophobia, Irrationality, and Christian Ideology: Does a Relationship Exist?” Journal of Sex Education and Therapy 25 (2000): 240-245. This study investigated the relationship between homophobia, irrational beliefs, and religious ideology. The sample consisted of about 150 students, who anonymously and voluntarily completed Ellis’ Irrational Beliefs Scale, the Homophobia Scale, and the Doctrinal Label Scale of the Christian Ideology. The study showed a positive correlation between homophobia and irrational beliefs. Conservative Christian ideology was the best predictor of homophobia.

Wilkinson, Wayne W. “Religiosity, Authoritarianism, and Homophobia: A Multidimensional Approach.” The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 14 (2004): 55-67. This study investigated the relationship between religiosity, right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), and homophobia. In contrast to the other two articles, RWA (or just plain religious ideology) was low in the test-takers, which made for a low amount of homophobia. In fact, the researcher concludes that the participants felt positively about homosexuals, but were afraid to voice their opinion out of fear of sounding too moral.

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