The city of Vancouver has declared “conversion therapy” illegal. So has Prince Albert in Alberta. The federal government is apparently considering amendments to the criminal code that would ban conversion therapy.
The case against conversion therapy is based, mostly, on it being aimed at the LGBTQ2 community. By the most conservative Christian churches, who consider homosexuality a sin, prohibited by the Bible and against God’s divine intention.
It’s directed mostly at gay men. The Bible has one verse denouncing sex between women, but I haven’t heard of conversion therapy being applied to them.
Conversion therapy attempts to show these “sinners” the error of their ways, and restore them to the heterosexuals God meant them to be.
I’m of two minds on this issue.
On the one hand, I do not believe that anyone chooses homosexuality.
I cannot imagine why anyone would deliberately choose to expose themselves to the kind of ridicule, scorn, hatred, and physical risk that gays have been subjected to — even today, in a supposedly enlightened society.
The few gays I know tell me that they spent their lives doing everything they could to avoid admitting, even to themselves, that they were gay — often with disastrous effects on their emotional well-being.
If suffering earns merit, as countless sermons have claimed, gays have surely earned the right to be whatever they want to be.
But on the other hand, I remember when mainstream society openly endorsed conversion therapy. In the 1970s, it was called “de-programming.”
It was advocated for returning prisoners of war, “brainwashed” in Vietnamese or Russian prisons.
Also, with good reason, for cult members mesmerized by charismatic leaders like Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Charles Manson. Manson convinced his Family to murder nine Hollywood celebrities and their hangers-on. Jones took his colony to Guyana, where 900 followers committed mass suicide with poisoned fruit drink. Koresh and 80 followers perished in the infamous Waco standoff.
William Sargent identified the tactics used by cults in his “Battle for the Mind.”
Essentially, cults manipulated the emotions of vulnerable youth by sleep deprivation, chanting, singing, games, and personal counselling, until those young people desperately wanted to belong to what they came to see as a caring community.
I have to say, as one involved in youth programs at the time, that mainline churches used some of the same tactics in their own youth programs — although not as intensively or as intentionally.
Now, as governments begin to classify domestic terrorism as “mental illness,” I expect conversion therapy will be advocated for white supremacists, people who shoot up mosques and Walmarts, and writers of hate messages on social media.
Or, perhaps, for those who persist in opposing hatred, bigotry, and prejudice.
People like me.
It all depends on who’s in charge.
In “1984,” George Orwell’s prophetic novel, Winston Smith was an ordinary man who worked in a government agency updating history to match the latest propaganda issued by Big Brother. Winston knew that much of the official “truth” was not true at all.
That was enough to make him uncomfortable. A questioner of conventional wisdom and uncritical patriotism. The powers-that-be trapped him. They put him through their own version of conversion therapy.
Winston came out brainwashed, a mindless supporter of Big Brother.
Incidentally, most people seem to think that Winston’s fictional nation, Oceania, was Orwell’s parody of Joe Stalin’s Russia. But, when I read about Oceania’s endless wars with other nations — any nation, it doesn’t matter — as a means of keeping its own citizens blindly patriotic, I wonder if modern U.S. fits better.
Winston embodies the dilemma facing each of us.
If I see you basing your life on something that is clearly wrong — like believing that two plus two equals five, or that gravity is an illusion — I have an obligation to try to change your mind.
But, what if you’re a mathematician who uses a logically impossible number, the square root of minus-one, in calculating complex formulae? What if you believe that more guns will make you safer? What if you believe in reincarnation, or soul travel to distant galaxies?
Or just have a different understanding of God?
Do I have the right to meddle with your mind? Do you have the right to meddle with mine?
That’s why I support the city councils of St. Albert and Vancouver. Whether or not conversion therapy works, it teeters at the top of a long and slippery slope.
Once you start re-programming people, no matter how valid the reason, where do you stop?
Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at email@example.com