Only straight people go. And hell is like an Atlantis Cruise or a Lady Gaga concert or a men's underpants store—only gay people go. At least that's the impression you get scanning the headlines.

Mayor Osby Davis
  • Mayor Osby Davis
Last week the mayor of a city in California that no one outside California had ever heard of made headlines when he told the New York Times that gay people will be kept "out of heaven." When Vallejo Mayor Osby Davis got into trouble for his remarks—Vallejo has a large and growing gay community (Davis defeated a gay man for the mayor's office by just two votes)—Davis claimed that the New York Times took his remarks out of context. This prompted the New York Times to post the entire taped interview on its website. Here's the gays-are-going-to-hell part of the interview:

"So when you look at someone who is gay, you see them as someone Christ died for and you look at them as if they are in fact committing sin and that sin will keep them out of heaven. But you don’t hate the person, you hate the sin they commit."

And yesterday a Catholic cardinal made headlines when he said pretty much the same thing:

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan
  • Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan
"Transsexuals and homosexuals will never enter the kingdom of heaven and it is not me who says this, but Saint Paul," the cardinal said.... "People are not born homosexual, they become homosexual, for different reasons: education issues or because they did not develop their own identity during adolescence. It may not be their fault, but acting against nature and the dignity of the human body is an insult to God," he said.

The mayor eventually apologized and the cardinal—who added that gay people should not be discriminated against (um, tell the pope?)—was gently rebuked by the Vatican. (The Vatican didn't say the cardinal was wrong, only that the news website where the cardinal's comments appeared "should not be considered an authority on Catholic thinking." And this is being reported as a rebuke of the cardinal?) I'm glad the mayor apologized, I guess, and I'm glad the cardinal was "rebuked" by a more senior crossdresser at the Vatican. But strategically I think both of these incidents represent missed opportunities. Instead of demanding apologies for stating the obvious—of course conservative Christians think gay people don't go to heaven—we should've asked for a list of all the other groups of people the mayor and the cardinal believe are going to hell.

Because it's not just us. Hell is not an Atlantis Cruise or a Lady Gaga concert.

Everyone is going to hell... after the jump.

When someone tells me that gay and lesbians are going to hell I concede the point—any attempt to argue with someone about their religious beliefs will be interpreted as an attack—and move on to the obvious followup question: Anybody else going to hell? Any other groups of people? Or is just us? How about the Jews? Are the Jews going to hell? Non-Catholics? Christian Scientists? Are Mormons going to hell? Seventh Day Adventists? How about the Scientologists? Atheists, obviously, but what about agnostics? Wiccans? Buddhists? Muslims? Zoroastrians?

It's the quickest way to make religious conservatives and their heavens and their hells look ridiculous. Because they don't just believe "sinners" are going to hell. They don't just believe that gays and lesbians and adulterers and murderers and other people who have committed discrete sinful acts—they don't believe in gay people, only the sin of gay sex—are going to hell. They also believe that other large groups of people—groups that number in the hundreds of millions—are going to hell too. Here's the dirty little secret that spoils the modern ecumenical anti-gay hate fest: Most "people of faith" believe that people of other faiths—Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, the wrong kinds of Christianity—are going to hell. Evangelicals think Catholics are going to hell, Catholics think everybody who isn't Catholic is going to hell, all conservative Christians think the Jews are going to hell, and on and on.

And yet you don't see conservative Christians out there attacking the civil rights of all the other people they believe are going to hell. They may proselytize, sure, they may try to save the souls lost to the Whore of Babylon (that would be the Catholic Church, according to traditional Lutherans), but they don't attempt to persecute the Jews (anymore), the atheists (anymore), the other-kinds-of-Christians (anymore), the yoga instructors (really). Conservative Christians like the mayor of Vallejo and the cardinal are capable of sharing this world with sinners and apostates and infidels who enjoy full civil equality—atheists can marry! you can't fire someone just for being Jewish! yoga is totally legal in all 50 states!—content in the knowledge that God will punish the sinners and apostates and infidels after death. So, hey, no need to punish them here on earth! Because eternal torment is punishment enough, right? At least conservative Christians regard eternal torment as punishment enough where, say, the Jews and atheists and yoga instructors are concerned—at least they do now—and so they refrain from tormenting or attempting to disenfranchise Jews and atheists and yoga instructors here on earth.

All gay people want is the same deal the Jews and the atheists and the yoga instructors have got: full legal and civil equality, all the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens, equal protections under the law while we're all here on earth together.

And if it turns out that you were right about the afterlife, Mayor Davis, that just means more room in heaven for you.