One problem with the debate about homosexuality between the Christian Right and the Liberal Left is that neither side understands what the other is talking about. If you ask them to repeat it by rote, they often could, but the words each sides uses to express their stance are spoken in a language that the other side does not acknowledge as a legitimate tongue.
It is not a lack of articulation on either side. It is a lack of communication. Until this barrier is lifted, we can make laws to enforce social justice, but progress in the hearts of humankind will come through slow evolution.
Telling some Fundamentalist Christians, who believe that every word they find in the Bible is the sacred word of God, why homosexuality should be tolerated, only strengthens their certainty that it should not. Forcing them to think about the issue, to debate you in their minds, adds to their memory another imagined victory in the service of the Lord. Every time we force them to support their position, they feel righteous and the spirit of God flows through them. Given enough time, they become completely megalomaniacal and principled well beyond a point from which they could ever return.
I will use the term Christian, not to mean all Christians, but as a convenient abbreviation for a more detailed fellow. I know there are different kinds of Christians, but I shortened the term to indicate this one specific brand because I do not have the patience to repeatedly type in “fundamentalist creationist, Bible-thumbing, faith-based thinker.”
How can a genius be stupid? I keep coming back to that this question. I see open-minded believers defend the faith and at once attack those who use it as a weapon against social equality. This is one of many things that tell me that die hard conservatives are probably as reasonable as die hard liberals. Some conservatives on the far right are very logical in everything they say if you assume as fact the foundations of what they believe. Liberals like me challenge their conclusions about certain things, but seldom back up far enough to actually address the source of how they think. With all of their axioms to back me up, I would
probably believe much like they do on specific issues, such as homosexuality.
I do the same. I tend to naturally start with faith when I quibble over the machinery of modern religion. Is that the starting point? It cannot be. Back before a single believer in the Jewish God existed, someone did not awaken one day and birth a new religion when he discovered he suddenly had faith. Despite what the Church tells us, faith is often the conclusion to the Christian journey to find God. Where does God begin?
I once believed that where faith enters, reason, wearing a hood and sunglasses, exits an alley door, and there the story ends. What a childish idea. Reason and faith, it turns out, can co-exist, but they cannot co-decide. The faith-based thinker will dispute this, as it is culturally disreputable to draw conclusions without reason. In church, he will preach the virtues of embracing paradox and accepting things on faith. In the secular world, he will argue until his voice grows hoarse that a belief in his God is reasonable. The atheist will call him out on the fabrication, while professing no experience thinking in faith. Yet, all thinkers, atheist or otherwise, conclude all their assumptions with faith. The atheist calls his faith “axiomatic truths.” Sounds classy.
I have faith in things. Though it explains so many mysteries, removes so many obstacles to understanding reality, I have faith that solipsism, the theory that only I exist and I imagine the rest of you, is not an accurate description of the world. I do not just doubt. I know in my heart solipsism is not the answer. I have faith.
The fundamental problem with debates between people with different perspectives is this: each person assumes as obvious their assumptions and axiomatic truths and each person views the opposition’s fundamentals as patently absurd. From this place, we argue the specifics. Is homosexuality wrong? Yes, because God says it is. God does say it is. True, He says other things that we don’t weight the same. We have come to know God pretty well. We have faith that He ranks deviant sexuality high up on his list of possible offenses. We know that homosexuality is deviant. It is obvious to anyone who owns a Bible.
I wish to disprove the silly Christian stance on homosexuality. What do I do? I challenge the idea that the way one chooses to express love or affection for another consenting entity cannot be wrong, as love is good and there is no harm. Unfortunately, I have already missed the point. My argument is very bad. Homosexuality is not wrong because it harms people, though we know it does, else why would God have forbade it? If I am to debate a Christian on this issue and he is telling me that homosexuality is wrong because God declared it to be, there is no point in arguing that it is OK for some other reason. If I argue that just because you think someone should die does not make him worthy of death and someone else says, he is a murderer and will murder again if we do not end his life, it makes no sense for me to say, but what about my argument? As he did not dispute my argument and I disagree with his, his argument is the topic that must be handled before progress can be made.
Homosexuality is wrong because God said it was wrong. That assertion must be handled before anything else I say matters.
The correct question I should be asking is why God said it was wrong. I want to argue that I lend no more credence to the word of God than I do to the grunts of a unicorn. How silly of me. We are discussing why God declares homosexuality to be wrong. If I change the subject to question the validity of God’s word, I dismiss the homosexuality topic entirely in favor of this more fundamental issue, and admit that discussing the specific topic of homosexuality with a Christian who believes it is wrong because God let him know, is pointless. It is OK to abandon the homosexuality discourse as currently unsolvable, but to do so without realizing I have done it, is not OK. Once we forget what we are talking about, I think it’s safe to say we no longer know what we are talking about.
If I wish to continue, I have two choices: I can argue my case from a Christian perspective or I can knowingly change the subject and address whether or not the things the Christian thinks God is telling him are God’s thoughts or someone else’s. To support my position on this new topic, I can point to the large collection of serial killers who have responded to instructions they heard in God’s voice. I can list the myriad commands in the Christian Bible that contradict anything a Christian would stand for today.
In order to prove my point, I sometimes do this, for I am a fool. I home in on new targets, forgetting the original ones are still standing. To suddenly turn and attack God’s words is an inane approach, since the Bible does not stand or fall on its own integrity. It is supported by the faith the believer has in its reputed Author. I am injecting a reasonable argument where it doesn’t fit. Christians have heard it all before and their ministers have explained away the contradictions and inconsistencies with nonsensical explanations. They answer to the congregation’s satisfaction the problem of evil, how the Trinity works, and why Jesus had to die for our sins. The willingness to accept hollow explanations is inherent in the Christian’s faith: that is the genius of it.
I am so silly to try to challenge the Christian faith with reason. Faith lives in a different context. I am digging an ever deepening hole that juts well outside the Christian’s spiritual realm. The Christian explains to me that if I learn more, expose myself to God’s glory, I too can enjoy the benefits of accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior. He is so silly to try to challenge my reason with his faith.
I see the Christian and the Atheist debating each other as a comic absurdity. It is like watching a debate between someone speaking Mandarin Chinese with someone speaking Farsi. Nowhere in that verbal combat does anyone resign and you never hear anyone say: “You make a good point, but …” Faith and reason are two separate languages, each used in its own disciplines; and using one to communicate with someone using the other, is goofy. Only a moderate Christian can reason with a fundamentalist Christian, because only he speaks in a dialect similar enough to make communication between their two peoples possible. Only an agnostic can offer words of wisdom to an atheist. The only way I could ever successfully debate a fundamentalist Christian is if I were to argue as I imagine a Christian would argue, from a Biblical perspective, which would be a hypocritical thing for a non-believer to do, without first disclosing his lack of faith. Such a confession would strip the argumentative infidel of any credibility in the eyes of his opponent. And even if I use this stratagem, I could not say anything that may undermine my Christian opponent’s faith in order to prove God’s tolerance for homosexuality. I would have to start somewhere else, somewhere that does not transcend his ability to agree.
When we debate a position with someone with whom we are fundamentally at odds, we strengthen our certainty, and theirs. The memory of when we expressed our basic assumptions so eloquently comes back to us in all its majesty. The ridiculous case our opponents made to support their unstable position also leaves an impression. As each side adds another victory to the debate, the monster that is our own cherished opinions grows stronger. As our certainty is reaffirmed, yet again, the dissonant rattle, that threatened our perception of self, silences. We assure ourselves that we are, as suspected, the intelligent ones with the answers.
We have mountains of belief underneath us, and those who disagree with our ideas tend to challenge the conclusions they find precariously balanced on the peak of it all. We use our fundamental assumptions that took years to cultivate and that are beyond reproach to attack their notions of homosexuality, a position we find at the very tip of their mountainous belief system; but they do not assume our assumptions; they know them to be false.
Whether it is a liberal debating a conservative or an Atheist debating a Christian, the process is the same: asinine. Everyone questions everyone else’s intelligence. They are talking gibberish. One speaks Mandarin and the other Farsi, and when the discussion ends, each claims victory in his native tongue.
This article was inspired by a very profound article written by Burr Deming at Fair and Unbalanced. I originally posted this on his site in response to his post.