Thinking Out Loud: When “Assaulted” By Rainbows | Vol. 2 / No. 37.1

The Facebook rainbow is so oppressive, no? Photo: Flickr user mkhmarketing, CC BY 2.0
The Facebook rainbow is so oppressive, no? Photo: Flickr user mkhmarketing, CC BY 2.0

This was going to be a Skeptical Tuesdays post about how synthetic vitamin C is the same as “natural” vitamin C in pretty much every way that matters. But that’ll have to wait for another time, because I’ve just learned something terrible: I am an oppressor.

Well, not me,* but a lot of people I know and love.

You see, when gay marriage (or, as I like to call it, marriage) became legal in all 50 states recently, a lot of people on Facebook used that “rainbowify” filter. You know the one — it lets everyone know that a) you support gay marriage and b) don’t care if people used to use your profile thumbnail as a visual cue to clarify threaded conversations. A lot of people in the following days wondered some important things: when can I turn it back without being “that guy who turned it back first”? Was it really a massive social experiment by Facebook? You know, that kind of thing.

But now O. Alan Noble, of the Christian Times, has opened my eyes to the real question:

Won’t someone think of the Christians?

You see, he thinks legalizing the marriage of two persons of the same sex — not in his church, I might add, just anywhere — is an assault to his religion. And he is genuinely concerned about telling people this, lest he come off like a bad person. (Hint: if you’re asking that, it might be too late…).

You see, even though he comes to the correct course of action — i.e. don’t change your profile picture to an anti-marriage equality image of some kind — he does so for all the wrong reasons:

Our message isn’t conducive to branding. The rainbow overlay is effective because the message is self-evident to our secularized society, a society that believes in the sacredness of the sovereign self. In such a context, expressions of love between consenting adults are simply not the kind of thing that can be wrong. It’s a categorical mistake, like saying someone’s favorite memory or food is immoral. It’s incomprehensible to our culture.

Don’t change your profile picture to something anti-gay marriage, because people won’t understand his culture.

And what is it we won’t understand? That letting gay people get married is just “our culture’s latest deviation from God’s revealed Word.”

He writes it like he’s saying it with a sigh.

See, the thing is, we live in a secular society. When it comes down to it, that’s what bothers Mr. Noble, and there’s really nothing he can do. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Literally, the government can’t take sides on religious matters. It can’t punish or reward people for being members of a religion — or for not being members of a religion.

And Mr. Noble’s worldview is a totalitarian one, the very antithesis of a secular society. It demands certain behaviours not merely of its adherents, but of all free people. It has a proscriptivist morality based on tautology: a thing is wrong because god says the thing is wrong, and god says the thing is wrong because the thing is wrong. Thus it is no wonder that he feels, in his words, “assaulted” by the tidal wave of people on Facebook showing their personal support of the extension of marriage to same-sex couples: the very existence of a secular, pluralist society is an affront to any totalitarian worldview.

I applaud him for his conclusions — that if he wants people to agree with him that gay people shouldn’t marry each other, he’s going to have to use “empathy and commitment to love our LGBT neighbors” (yes, he really wrote that) — but his premise is the problem. America is a pluralist society. Just as it enshrines his right not to marry gay people, not to go to their gay weddings, not to attend their gay churches or their gay bake sales or their gay evening entertainment events, it also enshrines their right not to have him (and his religion) interfere with their human rights. So long as he believes, as so many do, that their way “is god’s way and is therefore the only way for everyone,” he will always be assaulted by the goings-on in America. Unless he uses that “empathy and commitment to love our LGBT neighbors” to realize that “my way or the highway” isn’t the law of the land, he’s always going to be upset.

Honestly, I only have one piece of advice for you, Mr. Noble — one answer to the question “What is the opposite of a rainbow?”

Oppression, Mr. Noble. That’s the opposite of a rainbow. And that’s what you get when one religion’s rules are applied to everyone.


*I never did get around to rainbowifying my facebook profile picture, but I assume that based on the fact that I loudly cheer my enduring support for marriage equality on a regular basis on the internet, that those who follow me probably didn’t take my boring old anime-themed profile pic to be anti-rainbows. [Caveat: being male and feminist, I recognize that my very existence in a patriarchal society is, in a sense, oppressive, but that’s not what this post is about.]


Richard Ford Burley is a doctoral candidate in English at Boston College, where he’s writing about remix culture and the processes that generate texts in the Middle Ages and on the internet. In his spare time he writes about science and skepticism (and the oppressive nature of rainbows) here at This Week In Tomorrow.