Saturday, January 29, 2011

the gay thing

There is a whole lot of gayness going around these days, and I'm not too sure how I feel about what it's been doing to pop culture.

Gay characters are ubiquitous in books, magazines, film and all manner of television programs. This has, of course, changed the climate of public discourse in a lot of ways, many of them super-amazing. In the groundbreaking 1993 gay-rights(ish) movie Philadelphia, one of the protagonists (played by Denzel Washington) begins his character-arc as a guy who loves to talk with great passion about how much he hates "faggots," and the filmmakers had to start him there because at the time, that was the climate and the starting point of a vast majority of Americans. This is no longer the case, which I think is a very, very good thing.

But being somewhat doubtful of the wisdom of allowing moral discourse to be defined by pop-culture gurus whose primary goal is entertainment, I would like to quibble with one aspect of the change that I find particularly troubling. That is, the way in which anyone who has any kind of issue with homosexuality has come to be categorized as a stupid, backwards, intolerant, hate-mongering, redneck homophobe.

While I will be the first to admit that there are, in fact, a whole lot of stupid, backwards, et cetera-et ceteras in the world, I think the climate of discussion has swung the other way - to a point where I hear a whole lot of unthinking intolerance coming from the other side of the, er, rainbow.

Let me back up, first, and admit that I was raised in a conservative Christian community; and although pop culture today endlessly demands that I be apologetic and embarrassed about this, I experienced enough love, strength and grace in that community to be somewhat protective of its name and value. We all like to feel that we can live as islands, but life is experienced through corporately-constructed social structures and regardless of how you or I may feel about it, the North American Protestant Evangelical missionary Structure is a part of mine. Even when I try to disassociate myself from certain ideologies of this group, if I am being honest I have to admit that, even then, by defining myself in contrast, I am still making myself known in relation to those very same structures and modes of thinking.

Nonetheless, I will argue with them and say (as I have said many times before) that while I tend to feel that homosexual expression diverges from what (to me) seems would be the absolute best for sexuality, I also feel that heterosexual expression does the same. I can't speak for women, but I have to say that I have yet to meet one heterosexual guy who isn't, on some level, a bit of a selfish pervert. This is a bent world, and the ideal that I hazily yearn towards in the sub-cockles of my heart of a sort of perfect sexual expression that is fully-loving, community-affirming, committed and self-sacrificing is - I am fairly confident - just not going to happen in my lifetime.

I do know for sure, however, that I will never, ever live the best, most loving story I am capable of by parading around pretending to be better than anyone else. This, I think, is where the tremendously deserved horrendous reputation of the "Christian" community has arisen regarding sexuality. These people have (in their desperate attempts to posit themselves as being somehow qualitatively superior to those who do not hold their same belief systems) been forced to create a house of lies in which all sorts of truths are swept under the shiny, brand-new, steam-cleaned carpet.

This obviously does not work, but I understand the motivation. Faith is scary. Not-knowing is scary. So it is understandable that they would try to avoid the things they do not know by building castles of certainty within which they can hide. The walls are imaginary, though, so the fear grows and the lies keep piling up.

While this sort of behavior does annoy and sadden me, I have to say that I have not seen all that much of it in the Christian circles in which I, personally, tend to move.

This may just be because there has been such hostility for so long against homosexuals in this community that they have all gone elsewhere. The truth is, I can list the openly gay people I know on one hand, and I only have close ties to one of them - who is actually mostly-closeted for the very reasons listed above. I am not happy about this - not at all. I believe the richness of love is best explored and experienced by learning to know and love people who are in many ways different than myself. I am a bit of a homebody introvert, however, and I work at a North American Protestant Evangelical institution, so my opportunities are limited. I guess that might be part of why my current screen-writing project is a feature-length film in which the protagonist is a gay artist.* I don't want to be afraid anymore; so I am trying to learn, to understand, and to love the Other - to realize how very much he/she is exactly like me (and how wondrously, paradoxically different).

I think there is a lot of this sort of soul-searching and loving going on in the Christian community these days, but that it remains mostly ignored in the culture-at-large because it's not particularly dramatic or interesting.

As much as I may want to excise my own demons of fear, I feel that the archetype of the gay-hating Christian has come to loom so massive in the public imagination that pop culture has justified itself in taking up the very attitudes it is attempting to push against.

Fact: not everyone who thinks homosexual sexual expression is not right is a hater.

Fact: tolerance is not about never disagreeing with anyone - it is about loving people with whom you disagree.

This is hard. It is hard to love unconditionally and with great patience, believing that in time love will win and the truth will out - even in yourself. It is a lot easier to paint your detractors as villains - to assume they are morally inferior to you because they hold an opinion that you find repugnant.

The truth, however, is that we are all frickin' horrible people, mean-spirited and arrogant. And we are all, in the exact same breath, wonderful and amazing and kind and good - bearers of a lovely, creative nature that can, if we let it, override our nastier bits. The greatest inhibitor to this, I believe, is the belief that we are better than others, and I am sick and tired of everybody painting everybody else as two-dimensional, caped and mustachioed villains.

Christians need to stop being idiots, yes. But it seems to me that the pendulum has swung. As one very small example, I exhort you to go watch the movie "Easy A," a wickedly clever movie that explores all sorts of moral questions without ever really moralizing. Almost. The metaphorical whipping boys of the whole film are a ridiculous little cluster-cuss of Evangelical Christians, who are as two-dimensional as any movie characters... ever. This is not seen as a creative flaw by the film-critiquing community because, as everyone knows, "Christians are all just like that."

While I don't like many "Christian" attitudes towards homosexuality and tend to think that there's waaay too much speck-searching going on these days, the sanctimonious, judgmental and yes, intolerant attitudes of those who disagree with them are starting to get on my nerves.

Whenever anybody purports to be better than anyone else, everybody loses**.


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*By the by, if you are gay and grew up as I did in NAPE society and are willing to talk with me, I would LOVE to talk with you about your experience. Drop me a line. We'll chat.

**I received an anonymous comment to this post that brought up some important questions. While I responded in the comments, for those who don't read comments I thought I would paste my response to this person here as well, as a clarification:

While it is tempting to react to your comment that my message is caring "on the surface" and the implication that you believe that I am, beneath the surface, ignorant and hateful, I am going to try instead to first address the specific reasons that you say cause my argument to dissolve.

What I was trying to say (but apparently did not quite communicate) was that I do not feel that homosexual expressions of sexuality are in alignment with the impossible ideal towards which I yearn. You will recall that I called myself a selfish pervert, and said that you are a selfish pervert as well (that is, if you are a man). My point was that things happen in life that are less than ideal, and that this is a fact and we ought to focus instead on loving each other without thinking our particular perversions are any less perverse.

There may also be a disconnect between us in our definitions of the phrase "not right." You said that if I substituted the word "Chinese" in this sentence - "not everyone who thinks homosexual sexual expression is not right is a hater" - my argument would fall apart. But instead of "Chinese," I could just as easily substitute the word "palsied." I think that it is not right that some people are palsied. This does not mean that I hate them, or that I feel like their lives are worth any less than mine, or that they are responsible for their palsy, or that there is less room for love or grace or beauty or creation in their lives. 


I can't really completely skirt the nature/nurture question though, can I? So let me just add that the existence of hermaphrodites has led me to believe that human sexuality and human gender is complicated and varied. I have very little idea how anybody comes to be what they are. I cannot read the mind of God, or pronounce ultimate truth on anyone. I am confused, as a Christian, about what the Bible does and does not say. What I can do is have my opinions about what would be the most healthy way of being. 



My best friend who lives near me smokes cigarettes. I think this unhealthy and I have told him that. I can say this because he knows that I love him and because pretty much everyone (even him) agrees with me, and while it is possible that at times I'm insensitive or obnoxious in the degree to which I nag him about it, no one is going to call me inherently ignorant and hateful because of it.  

I realize there is a difference between who you're attracted to and what you choose to put into your lungs, but I still feel that your supposition - that I am ignorant and hateful because I think (contingently, with humility... I hope) that homosexual sexual expression is as warped as my own heterosexual tendencies - is intolerant. 

Finally, I would say that it is possible to not hate Chinese people while still believing that they are by nature "not right." It would be harder to do, and hopefully time and attempts at loving interaction would show me how wrong I was to think that. But I would never get that opportunity if all Chinese and all people who knew the truth about Chinese (that they are awesome!) immediately assumed that there was something about my inherent make-up that was intolerant and hateful.

Love and time changes people, not smug superiority.

29 comments:

  1. From my side of the fence, I agree with you. Add me to the list of mostly open lesbians on your side. I feel that education and homelessness are more important than gay marriage in the big picture. My grandmother once told me she thought I was a better Christian than her. That was saying something, considering she enlisted in WWII and was a devout Methodist.
    My favorite people are the Christians that believe, but do not hate. They believe things that hurt my feelings, but we could love unconditionally and with respect.
    Thanks for writing.
    Noelle

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  2. I think you summed up our paradoxical human nature perfectly - we are "horrible, mean-spirited, and arrogant" and "wonderful, amazing, kind, and good". All of us are that and most of us know that about ourselves (at least some of the time), but few people acknowledge the latter part of that nature in those they differ with. It's so much easier to believe what we want when we demonize people who disagree with us - that way we don't have to wonder if there may be some flaw in our own always perfect reasoning.

    You've put your thoughts down well here Josh, I agree with you. It time we stopped using caricatures of people and groups of people as our starting point (or any point for that matter) when we consider our differences with others. As you suggest, let's at least consider for our starting point - loving people.

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  3. Though you have written this piece well, and you obviously have a caring message on the surface, I have to disagree fundamentally with your point of view. To me, the underlying assumption that homosexuality is wrong is incompatible with the tolerant, loving, point of view you propose. How would your thesis stand up if you replaced the word homosexuality with another word in your statement: " Fact: not everyone who thinks homosexuality is not right is a hater." What if you replaced with "being Chinese"? Your whole argument dissolves. One can't be tolerant and loving of Chinese people, and yet fundamentally think that they are immoral by nature. That would, by definition, be ignorant and hateful. I could be misunderstanding, but to me your argument is built on two suppositions: 1) homosexuals choose to be that way; 2) they are morally wrong.

    As long as those are the assumptions upon which you try to build tolerance, it ain't gonna work.

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  4. All right, "Anonymous." You raise some important points, and have forced me to think through my position a little better and modify some of my wording.

    While it is tempting to react to your comment that my message is caring "on the surface" and the implication that you believe that I am, beneath the surface, ignorant and hateful, I am going to try instead to first address the specific reasons that you say cause my argument to dissolve.

    What I was trying to say (but apparently did not quite communicate) was that I did not not feel that homosexual expressions of sexuality are in alignment with the impossible ideal towards which I yearn. You will recall that I called myself a selfish pervert, and said that you are a selfish pervert as well (that is, if you are a man). My point was that things happen in life that are less than ideal, and that this is a fact and we ought to focus instead on loving each other without thinking our particular perversions are any less perverse.

    There may also be a disconnect between us in our definitions of the phrase "not right." Instead of "Chinese," I could substitute the word "palsied." I think that it is not right that some people are palsied. This does not mean that I hate them, or that I feel like their lives are worth any less than mine, or that there is less room for love or grace or beauty or creation in their lives.

    I can't really completely skirt the nature/nurture question though, can I? So let me just add that the existence of hermaphrodites has led me to believe that human sexuality and human gender is complicated and varied. I have NO idea how anybody comes to be what they are. I cannot read the mind of God, or pronounce ultimate truth on anyone. I am confused, as a Christian, about what the Bible does and does not say.

    What I can do is have my opinions about what in my opinion would be the most healthy way of being. My best friend who lives near me smokes cigarettes. I think this unhealthy and even tease him about this. I can tease him because pretty much everyone (even him) agrees with me.

    I realize there is a difference between who you're attracted to and what you choose to put into your lungs, but I still feel that your supposition - that I am ignorant and hateful because I think (contingently, with humility... I hope) that homosexual sexual expression is as warped as my own heterosexual tendencies - is intolerant.

    Finally, I would say that it is possible to not hate Chinese people while still believing that they are by nature "not right." It would be harder to do, and hopefully time and attempts at loving interaction would show me how wrong I was to think that. But I would never get that opportunity if all Chinese and all people who knew the truth about Chinese (that they are awesome!) immediately assumed that there was something about my inherent make-up that was intolerant and hateful.

    Love and time changes people, not smug superiority.

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  5. My apologies if you felt I was calling you ignorant and hateful. Those are two things you are clearly not. (At least not in general terms. All of us are ignorant in many ways, and that is not an insult as it has unfortunately been taken in our modern language). Expressing these arguments in writing often sends a tone that isn't intended.

    I appreciate your reply, but I'm afraid I still disagree, assuming I understand you properly.

    My perception of your argument (very, very simplified) is that homosexuality is wrong, but that one's interpretation of that wrongness should must be cushioned by your acknowledgment that you (and I) are also wrong - the old speck vs. log in the eye argument. That is the fundamental disagreement I have - that homosexuality is even wrong to begin with.

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  6. Fair enough. I have no problem with being disagreed with. I'm not particularly bothered by whether I am or am not right, and disagreement seems like an inevitable aspect of good, healthy conversation.

    Thank you for clarifying your position on my moral worth, anonymous, and for that useful point about ignorance.

    I'm not sure I would express it as "cushioned by," though. The right or wrongness of homosexuality was not meant to be a part of the piece at all. My point was supposed to be that everything is broken and that we need to acknowledge that but still treat each other well.

    My feeling is that because everything is broken, so is sexuality. I have this vague intuition that at its best, sexuality would include the element of the possibility of biological family-building (having kids), but I am aware that this opens up all sorts of complex issues, such as: what about infertile heterosexuals, and what about birth control?

    I don't believe in simple answers to complex questions, though. I am at a place in my life where I certainly don't want to have any more children (but don't want to completely preclude the possibility of a sexual relationship), and have used contraceptives in the past to keep the number of children that I do have to precisely one.

    I still feel like in a different, more ideal world it shouldn't oughtta be quite like this. Nonetheless, this is the world we have, and this is who I am.

    I want to grow and learn, but the first person I am trying hard not to hate is me.

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  7. What if everything is not broken and everything is working as intended.

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  8. That would be nice, indeed. And in a sense, it may even be true.

    Still, my guess would be that you are not writing that sentence out of the middle of some horrendous personal tragedy, or during an experience where an obvious injustice is being done to you with no hope of rectification.

    It is my opinion that everything is amazing; and also, most obviously not.

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  9. Well, in response to your response (I was the second "Anonymous" not the third), I guess I'd have to disagree with your statement that everything is broken. (Actually, by chance, the other Anonymous guy/gal said pretty much what was on my mind too...). Why do you think sexuality is "broken"? Why is homosexuality broken? More importantly, why is "everything" broken?

    And, to dip into your response to the other person, why would one person's hypothetical personal tragedy mean that the world is broken? If someone close to me dies, then I am devastated. To use that as evidence that things are broken is, to me, a non-sequitur. In fact, I would say that would be a very self-centered point of view.

    [P.S. I do apologize for remaining anonymous. Normally I am a fan of accountability. But you may well imagine there are good personal reasons for wanting to remain so in a discussion of this nature.]

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  10. No need to apologize for anonymity. It frees me to be more snarkey than I would otherwise allow myself to be ;)

    I think the word "broken" is not a particularly good one, and I shouldn't have used it. I prefer the term "bent," but given the sexual nature of the discussion, I thought I'd avoid that potential pitfall :)

    I know that painful personal experience does not necessarily mean that everything is broken (or bent). In fact, I ought to qualify "everything" as referring specifically to all sorts of human relationships: whether they be individual to individual, group to group, nation to nation, human to nature, or human to self.

    I guess I just recoil against the tendency in some strains of thought to try to make sense of all the horrid ugliness in the world by saying that everything is fine, and as it should be.

    It may be that, in some overarching, metaphysical sense, this is true. However, on a day-to-day level it is most decidedly not, and I think that you cannot hope to ameliorate the effects of the not-rightness that is ever-presently causing divisiveness and the disintegration of human relationships by pretending that the problem isn't there. G.I. Joe says that, "knowing is half the battle," and while I would probably downgrade the percentage on that, I do think that acknowledgement of a problem is the first step to healing.

    I could try to endlessly parse out my experience and demonstrate to you the ways in which every human relationship I've ever had has been damaged in some way by failures in communication and failures to love, but I don't really see the point.

    If you have not experienced this, then more power to you (and tell me your secret). I can only write out of what I have lived and seen.

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  11. Addendum: One of the main reasons I use the word "broken" is because Bob Dylan did it first. And Bob Dylan, we can all agree, is pretty much the shizzizzlefizzle.

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  12. I’ve given it a few days, re-read your post and comments, and considered whether I should reply again, and I feel perhaps it is worth it. I fundamentally disagree with your position that everything is broken and that we live in a bent world, and I simply don’t see a convincing argument in favor of that position, and certainly don’t see one for lumping in homosexuality or even sexuality in general. If I may simply cut to what I think is the root of the matter, it appears that your position that things (including homosexuality of course) are broken or bent stems originally from the Bible. You state: “I am confused, as a Christian, about what the Bible does and does not say. What I can do is have my opinions about what would be the most healthy way of being.” I’m not surprised that anyone is confused when trying to use the Bible as a guide to morality, and I think that is the root of the problem with this entire issue. Let’s face it, most Christians tend to completely disregard the bits of the Bible that are inconvenient to morality in modern society, accept the bits that are convenient, and be totally confused on the bits that sort of fit and sort of don’t fit with modern society (e.g. homosexuality). If I may be so very bold and arrogant as to state what I think the underlying cause of your position is, I believe essentially you are writing about the Christian struggle between being told that homosexuality is wrong versus knowing that you should also be tolerant, loving, and non-judgmental. It is an impossible position to be in. Again, what I hear you saying is that you want more tolerance, but that you also recognize that the world (including homosexuality – let’s not forget what this article was about) are wrong/bent/broken.

    Further, I don’t see any evidence to support your position that the world is broken other than the claim that it is often inconvenient to us. You brought in the issue of people with palsy: “I could just as easily substitute the word "palsied." I think that it is not right that some people are palsied.” Why do you think it is not right? Certainly it is unpleasant and even devastating to have paralysis. Certainly we feel empathy for such people. But does that mean it is not right? How is it either right or wrong, bent or straight, broken or whole to have palsy (or to be homosexual)? It is nothing more or less than a fact of biological life. We might define it as some dysfunction of the nervous system (and indeed on an individual basis it is a dysfunction of the nervous system), but overall perhaps it is likely that nervous and other organ systems are not always perfectly convenient to us. That’s the nature of the system, but that doesn’t mean its broken or not right.

    To me, your statement: “What I was trying to say (but apparently did not quite communicate) was that I do not feel that homosexual expressions of sexuality are in alignment with the impossible ideal towards which I yearn” says a lot about your position. All of us yearn for a better world, but why do you yearn for a world without homosexuality? It is understandable to yearn for a world without war, human violence, or hate, but I would argue that yearning for a world without things like homosexuality is a bit like yearning for a world where lions are vegetarian. It might seem more convenient or nicer to us, but wouldn’t it really go against the very nature of our world?

    I have no doubt we take very opposing views on this and on the underlying bases of our positions on this topic. It is hard to be so diametrically opposed in position without occasionally misinterpreting. It may seem that I have misinterpreted some of what you’ve written, but I haven’t deliberately done so. Nevertheless, as I’ve written above, what I really think is the root cause of a lot of the friction between religion and homosexuality in America is that many religious people still use an ancient book written by ignorant (meant literally, remember) men as a source of determining what is right and wrong in this world.

    Respectfully yours.

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  13. I appreciate, Senor(a) Anonymousface, the way you have wrestled with this. Thank you. I also appreciate the way you seem to have worked to give me the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the next time someone near you says that all people of my ilk are vindictive hatemongerers who are giving their own colons the sniff-test you will find it just a scoach easier to say, "well, maybe..." because of our little back-and-forth.

    That, to me, is what it really comes down to. I do not believe that there will ever be perfect agreement between people, but as long as we can love the people we disagree with, I am okay with living in this world, disagreement and all. I LOVE this (bent:) world (boom-dee-yadda) and I love all the people in it.

    Sometimes we look at the things other people believe and shake our heads and think, "dang, can't they see how OBVIOUS it is?!" I, for one, can't look at a world where people chop other people up with machetes; where children in some parts of the world die by the thousands of malnutrition every day while across the street or ocean, others whine for the latest ipod; where bankers get bailouts and buy Bentleys; where children scream hatred at their mothers and vice-versa; where all this and more goes on every day... and not think that everything is not how it should be. I get that we don't agree on the degree to which things are bent, but that doesn't matter so much to me.

    Not everybody cares why these things happen, and not everybody cares to try to figure out how to make them stop. I hope you do. I'm guessing you do.

    To me, what people say they believe is far less important than how they treat each other - whether they love the people who are marginalized and hurting and hungry and thirsty and alone and afraid (and that, I think, may be all of us). You seem to really want to treat me well, so again, thank you.

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  14. Even before reading this article of yours I didn’t think that all people of your ilk are vindictive hate mongers, but hate is not the issue for me. What I take issue with is those who hold beliefs, not that I don’t agree with, but that are illogical, inconsistent, and most importantly simply dictated by others. I’m not calling you illogical, far from it, but as I say, the root of the issue for me is my suspicion that deep inside the (only) reason you believe there is something wrong with homosexuality is because in some form or another someone else has told you to believe that. I could be completely off the mark, but to me your whole message reflects an internal struggle to reconcile this conflict. (Please excuse the appearance of proxy psychoanalysis – I am simply trying to really make my point clearly). Your message of tolerance and your obvious care for people in general is, in my mind, completely incongruous with this position.

    If you are anything like me, and I suspect and hope that you are in this regard, you spend more time analyzing your own beliefs than those of others, holding your own beliefs up to the harsh light of logic and discarding them when they don’t measure up. As I’ve already stated, I simply don’t see the logic of the position that homosexuality is broken/bent/wrong. All I see is an ancient and ignorant position formed long before we even knew what sexuality is. And, actually, in opposition to your position, what people believe is almost as important to me as how they treat each other. (This goes back to my point that I think it would be impossible to think that Chinese people, for example, are wrong but never put that belief into action). If you’re not sure about this, think about how comfortable you would be living next door to a fundamentalist Muslim who believes that Western society as a whole, including all children, should be destroyed by any means necessary, but whom you never observe treating people particularly different than anyone else. Isn’t the argument that you can believe homosexuals are “wrong” yet be tolerant, respectful and loving simply the same argument but on a smaller scale?

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  15. Well if that's the case, then my article wasn't pointed at you at all, good sir or madam. Nonetheless, that's what the internet is all about: forgetting there was ever a topic, talking at cross-purposes, and generally amusing ourselves with the knowledge that were are far better at expressing ourselves when we don't have to do it with our mouths towards someone else's face.

    What FUN we can all have!

    Ergo, a few more random rabbit trails...

    One: if I ever said that I didn't care what people believed, I apologize. What I intended to say was that I don't care all that much what people "say" they believe. Those two things are often very, very different, because most people don't, as you say, spend much time analyzing their own beliefs. Our true beliefs are revealed by how we live. Loving action reveals loving belief, and often the words and propositions we purport to believe in are merely inherited luggage. They are a layer on the cake of our Selves, but they are not a particularly important one.

    Two: on that note, while it may be true that at one time I merely inherited a bulky duffel of beliefs about sexuality that, because of the cultural/historical climate in which they were created tended to focus inordinately on certain sorts of sexual behaviors, I assure you that I have now thought this one through and I'm not just acceding to some dead dudes. In college I wrote a truly awful piece on the topic that - I am embarrassed to say - may still be locatable on the internet. I no longer give much import to the plight of homosexuals, nor think about them that often. My life is too insular, or I am too selfish.

    However, I do tend to wonder if perhaps some of the reason this particular piece of mine seems to have sparked a bit more interest than usual (it seems to be rising to the top of my "popular posts" gadget) is because of all that historical baggage, and not necessarily because of what my main point is or the specific words I have said.

    Three: I wonder this because it seems to me that the main point of disagreement here ought to be not necessarily the relative bentness of homosexuality (which, I assure you, I give no special place in my hierarchy of suck), but rather a difference in our basic cosmology.

    I see the world as a place fraught with meaning. If we are in a grand, bazillion-year-old, evolving universe, then I see that evolution as a guided process, a lovely, creative work of art moving inexorably along, with joy. I believe in good and not-good (which I have called bentness) and even though I am not always sure about what those two things are, I feel in my bones (and logos, too, from time to time) that things are not-right - including sexuality of all kinds. I also think, however, that the not-rightness is being woven into the grander tapestry.

    I choose to believe that a loving Agent is doing the weaving, and that for whatever reason that Agent has chosen to allow things to be bent for a while, and that it is better that it is so.

    Even though I believe this, I still want the not-goodness to stop. I yearn for something more (but, to be perfectly honest, not particularly often: normally I'm just thinking more about how to make - and eat - a tastier apple pie), and I feel that the backwards, ridiculous method proposed/evidenced/lived by Jesus is the absolute best way to go about healing things.

    The really important thing to me is not whether I can convince you that the beliefs I happen to hold this very second are more right than yours, but whether or not I am being kind in how I respond to you and whether - if we were to meet in the street - I could give you the warmest hug you ever got... and really, really MEAN it (note: if you really, really need a warm hug, go to Montreal, Quebec, Canada and ask around for the hugger busker. A friend of mine told me his hugs are amazing, and you can tip whatever you'd like).

    And Four: Arf! Because that's all I really am - a yappy dog who doesn't know when to shut up.

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  16. I’m not sure that I’m understanding you at all or you are understanding me at all, or perhaps both. Such is the merit of written debate. But, I am interested in understanding your point of view even if, so far, I don’t agree with it.

    In reference to point 2 of your last comment. Why do you believe homosexuality is wrong (bent, broken, whatever you prefer to call it)? Maybe your thoughts on this are published elsewhere, or maybe they are too complex to rattle off in a comment section, but I am curious why you hold this position. If not handed down from you from others (at least not anymore), then what logical reason do you have to believe that homosexuality is wrong, or “not good”?

    Point 3 probably holds more complexity than we can discuss here, but I think it is the key point in shedding light on your overarching position of “bentness”. I’m afraid I have to dismiss outright the whole concept of a guided process in the universe because I see no evidence for that, and because fantastic statements like that are what have generally allowed people throughout history to impose their morality on others. (And, there is a hint here of what I was referring to earlier about homosexuality being rejected simply because of what is written in the Bible).

    I appreciate your desire to live your life with respect towards other people, including being kind to me in this discussion, and it is obvious you are sincere in this, but really to me that is besides the point. Being kind and respectful are important, but what is far more important to me is being able to back up one’s position logically and with evidence.

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  17. Well, I gotta say that your assertion that my faith position is a "fantastic statement" is not something I would ever bother to argue with you about. It is, as you say, more complex than can be adequately discussed in a little comment box.

    As with all faith positions, there are a lot of reasons why it seems obvious and self-evident to me, and I don't think there's much value in standing on a soapbox yelling, "the sky is BLUE, @#%^ it! can't you see?!?"

    As far as not understanding why I see homosexuality as wrong/bent/broken/not-good, perhaps it would help if I put it in a language that may be a bit more familiar to you.

    Premise One: Everything is (in some incomprehensible way) bent/broken/wrong/not-good.

    Premise Two: Homosexuality is part of everything.

    Conclusion: Ergo, Homosexuality is bent/broken/wrong/not-good.

    I understand that you think my first premise is false, so it is not surprising that you disagree with my conclusion. But there is no logical fallacy to my argument, and given my believe in my premises, I feel no need to apologize for not granting homosexuality some exclusive not-broken status.

    For me, the bent/broken/not-goodness of everything (held in perpetual, paradoxical, mysterious tension with the awesome, correct, beautiful wonder of everything) is one of those self-evident things that I have trouble soapboxing about.

    Haven't you ever experienced a personal tragedy and felt that something was horribly wrong? Haven't you ever ached for this world - so beautiful and fair, and yet so... full of incompletion - to be made right? If you have not, or have explained it away as a neurological anomaly, then I suppose we are probably just once more talking at cross-purposes.

    You say it's illogical, and I say, fine. But haven't you ever grown tired of the unrelenting unattainability of perfect logic? Doesn't it ever bother you to put your faith so securely in something so cold and inhuman?

    Honestly, I'm a little bored and depressed with my frail attempts to logicalize everything. I'm not interested in becoming Borg, or Vulcan, or anything else of that Star Trekkian sort. Reason is an excellent tool that I have no intention of abandoning, but as an overarching, life-guiding principle, I am growing weary of it. I'm taking another path (http://joshbarkey.blogspot.com/2011/01/another-path.html).

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  18. And yes: I am aware that I don't know much about formal logic, and that my little attempt probably needs two or three more transitional premises to make it logically precise; but it gets the point across and I don't really care all that much, anyways.

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  19. Perhaps we could go on discussing this forever and create the longest comments section ever. I’m sure some other readers (if they have bothered to read this far) are thinking: “Oh, just drop it,” but presumably blogs are intended to create discussion, so…

    Thanks for your clarification, I hope I understand your position better. It is clear that we approach things from completely different points of view. That you may better understand my basic point of view, I will respond a little, not just for the sake of argument, you understand, but in a sincere attempt to offer a different point of view and perhaps challenge your own. After all, people who make statements about the wrongness of things like homosexuality in public should at least be held accountable to why they hold that claim.

    Your statement: “As with all faith positions, there are a lot of reasons why it seems obvious and self-evident to me, and I don't think there's much value in standing on a soapbox yelling, ‘the sky is BLUE, @#%^ it! can't you see?!?’”, is the classic claim of the religious and is precisely why faith must be discarded. Descriptions of personal experience do not qualify as evidence. Someone yelling at me that the sky is blue is not convincing at all. Instead, a physicist demonstrating that the wavelength of light involved is about 475 nm, which we humans call “blue” leaves no argument in that matter. Faith is a vastly over rated word. The whole concept of faith is horrible: having belief in something for which there is no evidence? It opens the mind to all sorts of falsehoods, and worse, ones which can never be argued against for the exact reason you’ve stated: the holder of the faith can always fall back on the statement of, “Well, I can’t help you if you can’t see it.” I prefer evidence based belief.

    You are right, I think your first premise that everything is broken is false and, more importantly, I insist (until you show me otherwise) that the only reason you hold this premise is because you’ve been told so by a religion. The world that we live in is a marvelous piece of nature in which things work as they should. To suppose that when we as humans experience a bit of pain or suffering that it is nature that is broken is an incredibly self-centered point of view, and one that we as humans are far to often guilty of.

    It frightens me immensely that you dismiss logic so easily. Isn’t that simply the hallmark of someone who has had their position exposed but then refuses to admit that their position makes no sense? (“Oh well, logic is over rated anyway.”)

    Again, respectfully yours, an anonymous admirer of your literary talent.

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  20. First of all, I absolutely haven't dismissed logic easily. It took me a lot of frustration and arrogance and stupidity to realize that I didn't want it to be the primary driving force in my life.

    I think that link I posted helps explain better where I'm now coming from, but couldn't it be that I'm not lazily copping out, just honestly acknowledging my own immense inabilities?

    Seriously, man (and I'm just guessing you're a guy 'cause it feels to me like you think like one), I'm really fairly stupid. I get easily confused and distracted, and sometimes I wonder if I've got a single good idea in my head. I teach high school art, and am regularly presented with compelling evidence that I am nowhere near the smartest person in the room. My mind does weird things to me all the time. Sometimes I see flashing lights for no reason and sometimes, when I run, I think I can hear my brain sloshing around in my cerebrospinal fluid. It makes a sort of a clicking sound, and reminds me that I have had more concussions than is probably helpful for my hopes of becoming a chessmaster concert violinist.

    Not only do I find logic more frustrating and less fun as a primary mode of thinking, but I also find it less creative.

    As I have painted and drawn my way through life, I have almost always chosen people as my subject matter, because I find them to be the most interesting thing in the world. I also think they are irreducibly complex, and while I am happy to use logic to try to understand them, what terrifies ME is the possibility that I could succeed. What would interest me then? What mysterious beauty would be left to explore?

    Also - although this may annoy you - I must add that I was including both of us in the bit about screaming the sky is blue. It seems to me that you have complete, unflagging faith in the power of your own logic/evidence/reason. You see this as self-evident, and think I'm crazy/deluded to think otherwise. You are not likely to change this opinion for any reason I can forsee, and are absolutely certain of how right you are. Ergo, I don't see much point in arguing it with you. You want me to play by your rules - rules founded on a worldview with which I do not agree. I call foul.

    Finally (and yes, I know I'm responding to you all out of order. sue me), I think everything is broken/bent/not right because as I've said before, I have seen evidence of it in every human relationship I have ever experienced or observed.

    It has always been my opinion that it is blatantly obvious that things suck, and need to be healed. I grew up in a poverty-afflicted, terrorist-oppressed, corrupt-government country. I have watched a man beat a crying woman on the street - without intervening! I have looked at the world and my own heart, and I have seen great darkness.

    I have also seen great beauty. This is painfully difficult to understand, and although I still try to do so, I have given up on trying to reconcile everything perfectly.

    Art (which is where my real passion lies) does not explain questions away - it explores them, with wonder. Logic may build an atomic bomb, but it will never create another Sistine Chapel until it is willing to bow in humble silence before the Great Mystery of it All.

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  21. Also, if you say that my entire life (which is all I've got) is just anecdotal evidence, I swear I'm gonna tell you your mom's anecdotal evidence.

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  22. Perhaps I should back up and explain that I’m not demanding relentless logic at every moment from every human being – how dull that would be. Creativity is beautiful and to cherished. We all do many things that are illogical all the time, and often to our great joy. I’m no Vulcan either. But, perhaps you can understand my concern over dismissal of logic in this particular case. Your stated, public position is that homosexuality is wrong. Asked for a reason for this position, the only one I’ve heard you come up with is that everything is wrong. This does not appear to me to be a very logical or evidence based point of view, and I hope it makes sense why I might seem like I’m taking you to task on the issue given your stated public position. Remove logic from your artistic endeavors all you like, but understand that when you can’t logically back up statement that ultimately involve the morality of others’ behaviours, then I for one am going to take issue with that.

    I always find it both amusing and annoying when I state that I accept evidence-based truths and am then accused of being dogmatic, and I hope you can understand why I find that a supremely ironic statement. I’d be happy to explain further if not. But, if you are calling foul on my point of view of examining an argument logically and reasonably, then how can any discussion ever proceed? As soon as there is any problem with one’s point of view, then one can simply state that logic and reason don’t apply in this case. I suspect we’re touching on a conversation I’ve had many times with people of religion in which their position is that god by nature defies logic and reason – a position which instantly allows anyone to believe anything they want with no accountability: “I believe that the tooth fairy is real. The tooth fairy is outside logic and reason, so by trying to apply reason and evidence to my belief in the tooth fairy you want me to play by your rules.” How can one argue with that, um…logic?

    Please don’t give up on trying to reconcile the ugliness and the beauty in our world. They are, in my opinion, reconcilable when one firstly accepts what ugliness and beauty are: human interpretations of observations; and secondly recognizes what we as humans are: nothing more and nothing less than evolved mammals with the mental ability to purposely inflict both pleasure and pain on others.

    I hope you don’t feel that this discussion is degenerating or getting personal. I don’t. But it is sometimes difficult to touch on issues that are deeply personal without taking it that way. As I’ve stated before, I greatly admire your writing skill, your way of thinking for the most part, and your clear desire to better the world. I am just unable to accept your position on this topic given what I would classify as a lack of a properly developed thesis.

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  23. No sir, no ma'am. Not degenerating or getting personal. For me, this is always (hopefully) more of a game than a battle. Or perhaps a better metaphor would be a dance.

    I don't believe in taking logic out of anything, especially not my art. My highest value is not evidence, but love; and while I am aware that poorly-evidenced beliefs can easily create an environment for love to diminish, I feel that the whole thing ought to be driven by an intuitive, joyful, creative spirit. Hippie mumbo-jumbo, right?

    Well, as I've said - I've tasted the limits of my naked reason, and been left unsatisfied. I prefer to chase beauty than truth, because I have come to believe that, as Keats said, "'Beauty is truth, truth beauty' - that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

    I suppose that's why I vastly prefer a good story to an elegant equation. They're both beautiful and they both apply reason, but in story the primacy is given to the beauty.

    I'd make a terrible neurosurgeon.

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  24. I think I understand, and even to a degree respect, your position. But, boy, do I ever not agree. That has to qualify as one of the worst pieces of writing from one of the greatest writers. "Beauty is truth"? Absolute garbage, if I may say so. Truth is beauty is a bit easier to agree with, to be sure.

    I have no problem with your point of view, nor of your way of chasing beauty than truth. However, I will ALWAYS have a problem when I perceive you or anyone else trying to project right and wrong onto behaviors or people with that as your underlying assumption.

    To sum up my position: chase beauty all you want, but avoid making proclamations about the rightness and wrongness of certain human behaviors unless you're willing to logically back them up. I hope you understand how dangerous the world becomes when people refuse to do that.

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  25. Josh - what a great time I had tonight following the back-and-forth of this conversation! Can't quite believe I made it all the way through! But I did - and I think you've expressed yourself in a way that has made me understand you a little better - no small task I can tell you - I've been reading your blog for years!!

    These are a few of your comments that kept me reading, laughing, nodding, frowning, etc..

    'tolerance is not about never disagreeing with anyone - it is about loving people with whom you disagree.'

    'It is my opinion that everything is amazing; and also, most obviously not. '

    '(but, to be perfectly honest, not particularly often: normally I'm just thinking more about how to make - and eat - a tastier apple pie)'

    'First of all, I absolutely haven't dismissed logic easily. It took me a lot of frustration and arrogance and stupidity to realize that I didn't want it to be the primary driving force in my life.'

    This was a great exercise if nothing else. There's nothing more fun (although a bit exhausting) than watching two people forced to re-hash their positions a dozen times. Clarity is preferable to agreement - and this method certainly helps with the clarity.
    I so enjoy a good mind massage before bed time. Thanks again as always for the stimulating discussion. You too anonymous!

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  26. Thanks, Rob. I'm impressed - I barely made it through, myself :) You're right, though... it was a good exercise. I enjoyed anonymous's thoughts, and they really helped me to clarify my own position. Glad you enjoyed.

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  27. I only >just< realized: this post is a year old. I'm sorry if I'm unearthing what should not be (well - if this gets read at all in the first place). But I conversation like the one carried out by Josh and Anonymous just seem pointless, and so I felt I had to leave a note.

    Josh's opinion very bluntly distilled: Homosexuality is wrong
    Anonymous opinion: It isn't wrong, why should it be wrong?

    By the end, people got frustrated and stopped talking.

    I think the issue that drove the lengthy comment/conversation is not as much about viewing the world as right/wrong as it is about people talking on two very different wavelengths.

    It's of general opinion that no one wants to be classified as the wrong, the un-right, and the bent one. While people will albeit begrudgingly accept that certain acts are wrong or not the way it was 'meant' to be (e.g. lies, smoking, murder), as soon as the wrong/right label touches on qualities that are generally considered to determine the identity of a person ... it gets ugly. Consider saying stuff like 'being {American|woman|short|latina} is wrong' (I'm using my own identity classifiers).

    Thus, it is here things are setup for an argument: a claim and its rebuttal. Source of frustration and compulsion to need to make oneself understood. But the source of the unresolved frustration stems from the fact that the notion of rightness and wrongness comes from what is one's moral compass. And the compass that the two of you carry are very very different.

    So what I'm trying to say (though perhaps not very well, it's rather late and my brains a bit of a mush) is the argument on what is wrong/right is pointless. You simply have to subscribe to a single view for such discussion to be fruitful. There is no way to agree or disagree, let alone a way to reconcile the views. Religious belief isn't irrational; but belief in God and subscription Christian view has to come first. Failing that, how can you hope to agree or disagree on such a topic?

    There is no reason for anyone to have to prove that Christian morality is valid or invalid. And in the same way, there is no reason for one to question the moral compass of a person who is wholly outside the belief system. In fact, there's no reason to take issue with another's sense of morality, unless it affects something something more tangible like legal matters. Just as there being no way to prove views stemming from Christianity is wrong, there is no way to prove that non-Christian views are right either.

    Maybe the only thing that such two views could possibly discuss IS the legalistic side of the issue, which is devoid (though some may disagree) of any particular moral compass and is guided mostly by the social and historical norms (quick e.g. Christian argument: If hating is same as murder, by that compass we should be prosecuting hatred as equal crime as murder. Which is preposterous.) But that's another issue altogether.

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  28. Sidenote: I'm not against people expressing opinions. It is in my opinion that people should opine more, not less. But a serious argument should be truly considered only if people are willing to deal with the differences in the underlying premise and assumptions of an argument. If it's driven by emotions, it can only end ugly.

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  29. Thanks for your thoughts, Anonymous short American Latina woman :)

    Those are some really well made points. It's rare to have people on the internet who are willing to take several calm steps back and explore something from a bit more "meta" standpoint, so I applaud you.

    Your comment allows me to add a few thoughts to this overall discussion, which is great because I've been thinking a bit of late of how the fact that this was one of my "most popular posts" means that to some degree this blog is defined by it, which I don't really like.

    First of all, I am a work in progress.

    In college, I wrote a screed on the topic that got put in my school's online newspaper and embarrassed me for years until I was finally able to get them to take it off (I think - I hope).

    This post was also part of my process - something I wrote a year ago that may or may not always reflect my point of view. Fortunately, I can take things off my own website if I so choose. For now, though, I don't. And here's why:

    Contrary to what it may seem like to many readers (because of THEIR story, and what they bring to the reading), I was NOT trying to say something specific about the relative right or wrongness of Gay sexuality. My position on the matter would best be described as ignorance. I am not sure that what I've been taught is right, but neither am I willing to just accept popular wisdom on the matter. Whenever large groups of people believe something, I get suspicious. I'm wired that way. I don't have the information, don't know how to know if I've got the information, and am perfectly content to live with mystery and just work hard to live with love.

    The main point I was trying to make (I think) is exactly the one that you have made - that everybody should stop trying to make themselves out to be better, admit that we're all imperfect, and move on in love.

    When I write of some sort of idyllic, perfect-sex la-la land toward which I yearn, I don't even think I believe it's really ever something I could reach. I'm not sure, even, that I really believe it exists, or that if it did, it would be anything I would recognize. My (extremely conservative, Dutch Reformed) high school English teacher was convinced of the possibility of free love in heaven.

    Another thing you should know is that the Anonymous commenter I was arguing with was (I'm fairly certain) a friend of mine who is an Atheist/former Christian; so while we might have been talking at cross-purposes to no real conclusion, I think we both found it a useful exercise for understanding better where each of us comes from. Which is to say, the conversation had a very specific, relational purpose.

    On the legal matters you allude to, I am of the opinion that the gay community is in the right, and would be glad to vocally pledge them my support. I feel that those who argue against legal rights for gays are either being really, really mean, or just don't understand the actual function of Law in the American system (which is to say - I reckon - that it is NOT there to legislate morality, it is there to ensure justice for the weaker party).

    Again, thanks for your thoughts and the opportunity for a little more clarity.

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