Religion doesn’t save everyone

Brian Thornton

William loved music. His CD collection was huge. William also loved roller coasters, and he had visited Cedar Point many, many times throughout his young life.

William was kind, and quiet, and gentle. He loved his family and his two best friends, and they loved him in return.

And yet one day this June, William delivered CDs he had created to several of his close friends, e-mailed a final note to family, locked himself in his bathroom, pulled his stuffed animals close and killed himself. He was 33.

I had known William for about five years, but my roommate, John, was much closer to him. He got the terrible call as we were standing in a friend’s driveway, the sun beating down on one of those beautiful late spring days.

Even though I didn’t consider myself particularly close to William, I did consider him a friend. And while I knew some of his intimate dreams (he longed to live on a Caribbean beach) and secrets (he was gay and HIV positive), there were some things I simply had no idea about at all.

During the days that followed, my friends and I interacted with William’s family during calling hours and the funeral. His family was deeply religious in an evangelical way that made me uncomfortable. When his sister spoke at his service, she spoke not of him but of his “saving” at the hands of her Lord.

At first I thought that perhaps William had been the black sheep — the cast-off from his religious family. But then, in an odd display, his family distributed his suicide note. His final words were laced with his belief that in death, he was going on to a place where he would finally find happiness.

I was saddened when I realized that William, the soft-spoken man who I had never heard speak a bad word about anyone or anything, was deeply troubled. But what devastated me was that the only solution he could fathom was to end his life.

William had been raised Catholic, and the Catholic Church doesn’t do very well with gays and lesbians, much less a gay man with HIV. As I read his words and heard friends speak at his funeral, I learned he had been a man searching for answers for much of his adult life.

That search had taken him on missionary work. To lengthy discussions with his born-again sister. To repeated readings of Bible passages.

But in the end, he was never able to reach resolution. As a human, the pull to find love and comfort with another person is ancient and impossible to ignore. Few are able to give that up successfully. And as a religious gay man, those powerful urges meant his choice was either to sin or be alone.

I think William felt he would be alone no matter what choice he made — either forsake human love or the love of his God. His ultimate choice, to kill himself, meant he no longer had to fight his internal war.

Religion can be a positive guiding hand when wielded lovingly. But too often it is used to control people — to make them doubt they are good.

William was good. He was loving. He wanted his God, and his religion, to look on him favorably. But his religion taught him that he could never be loved the way he was born.

I grieve when I think, in the end, William didn’t fail. But his religion failed him.

Brian Thornton is a graduate journalism student and Forum editor for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].