Posts tagged ‘LGBT’

Processing the Terror in Orlando

Orlando Terror Attacks

Credit:  The Guardian

Terror doesn’t sleep.

This is one of the lessons we’re learning from what has become the worst mass shooting in U.S. history carried out early this morning around 2 o’clock at a nightclub in Orlando.

The shooter’s name was Omar Mateen.  He had drawn the attention of the FBI in the past, and before he carried out his terror attack, he called 911 to pledge his allegiance to ISIS.  By the time his AR-15-style rifle and his handgun were silenced, 50 people were dead and over 50 were injured.  Mr. Mateen himself was killed by law enforcement officials while he was holed up in one of the club’s bathrooms with hostages.

News reports have been filled with people expressing shock, sadness, and outrage.  All of these responses are certainly appropriate, but what especially grieves me is that they are also entirely predictable.  We know how people will respond to a terror attack emotionally precisely because we have had so much practice responding to terror attacks emotionally.  ParisSan BernardinoBrussels.   But this tragedy – like the ones that have come before it – is too important not to respond.  When human life is senselessly and violently taken, we should stop and we should reflect and we should respond.  Here are a few things, then, to keep in mind.

Do not be afraid.

This is not the first time I have written this in the face of a terror attack.  But this is also something that bears repeating.  After all, whenever an attack like this one unfolds, our natural and almost reflexive reaction is to ask, “Am I next?  Am I safe?”  But such questions are unhelpful because such questions are utterly unanswerable.  There is no way for us to control the future.  This is why the apostle Paul commends us to be people of prayer rather than people of worry and fear: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  We may not be able to control the future, but we do know someone who holds the future.  We are called to present our fear to Him and place our trust in Him.

I should point out that there is a difference between being afraid and being vigilant.  Fear happens when a person mulls over all sorts of possible, though unverifiable, bad scenarios for the future.  Vigilance is when a person looks for clues of trouble in the present and reports them to the appropriate authorities for investigation.  Being vigilant is helpful.  Being afraid is needless.

Remember, there is a reason attacks like the one in Orlando are called acts of terror.  They are attacks specifically designed to instill fear.  Don’t let these attacks have their way in your heart.  Christ is stronger than terror.

Be careful connecting dots.

One of the major focal points of this story has been the clientele to whom this night club in Orlando catered.  The club at which these attacks were carried out is called the Pulse, which is well-known as a hotspot for those in the LGBT community.  Shortly after the attacks, GLAAD, a gay rights advocacy group, tweeted, “Our hearts break for the victims and families of this horrific act of violence. We stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community in #Orlando.”  The call to stand in a solidarity of care, concern, and compassion is well-taken.

At the same time, many in the media and beyond are already wondering and conjecturing out loud concerning whether or not the fact that this is an LGBT club in any way served as a motive for the shooter.  In an article for the Huffington Post, Michelangelo Signorile offers a brief history of attacks against LGBT spaces, strongly intimating that the Orlando attack was probably more of the same.

Whether or not the patronage of this nightclub is somehow connected to the motive of the shooter is certainly a question that needs to be asked and answered.  At this point, however, overly confident pronouncements can do more harm than good.  A good rule of thumb is this:  investigation precedes correlation.  In other words, let’s not jump to conclusions.

As a Christian, this is something that I must regularly remember.  It can be far too tempting to search for some pious, consoling, and grandiose reason why a God who Scripture reveals to be a strong and sure defense would allow a horrific tragedy like this to happen.  But correlating current events to overly specific divine purposes is a theological fool’s errand.  Theologically, I must say only what I can know for sure according to Scripture: (1) that such a shooting is an expression of deep sinfulness and depravity (Romans 3:15); (2) that events of death grieve the heart of God because death is not a part of His design (1 Corinthians 15:20-22); and (3) that God is with and cares for those who have lost loved ones (Psalm 23:4).

Connecting disparate facts now will only leave you looking a fool later.  So be careful.

Remember Christianity’s unique message.

As I have said in the past, I am sympathetic to those who claim that ISIS does not represent Islamic theology, at least in any responsible sense.  Just as I do not see the theological stances of, let’s say, the Westboro Baptist Church to be authentically Christian in any regular sense of the term, I can understand why many Muslim theologians would decry and deny that ISIS represents their faith.  But even if ISIS does not represent the Islamic faith in any theologically and academically rigorous way, it does represent some sort of faith – even if the faith it represents calls on its adherents to destroy those it hates.  And this is where Christianity stands apart.  The beauty of the Christian faith is that it centers around a man who loved those who hated Him and sought to destroy Him.  Moreover, whereas ISIS calls on its fighters to lay down their lives in order to bring death to infidels, Christianity has a Savior who laid down His life in order to bring life to sinners.  In other words, Christianity serves as the perfect foil to all the terror ISIS is dishing out.  Christianity loves when ISIS hates.  Christianity promises life when ISIS seeks death.  This is why, on a day that is full of plenty of reasons to hate and to grieve, I once again to turn to Christ who gives me reasons to love and to hope.  And I ask you to join me in doing the same.

May Christ reveal His love and His life to Orlando.

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June 12, 2016 at 4:05 pm 5 comments

Same-Sex Marriage, Transgenderism, and Oppression

LGBT Rally

It was the fourth-century church father Gregory of Nazianzus who wrote of God:

The three most ancient conceptions concerning God are Anarchia, Polyarchia, and Monarchia … Anarchy is a thing without order; and Polyarchy is like civil war, and thus anarchical, and thus disorderly.  For both of these tend toward the same thing, namely disorder; and this to dissolution, for disorder is the first step to dissolution.  But Monarchy is that which we hold in honor.[1]

Gregory is speaking here of the Trinity and is making the point that the persons of the Godhead are not independent of each other and unconcerned with each other in a kind of divine anarchy, nor are they vying for power against each other as in a polyarchy.  Rather, God is a monarchy – at perfect peace in Himself as three persons and one God.  This is why the apostle Paul can describe the nature of God as “not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

Order is essential to the nature and character of God.  And the order of God shows up in that which He creates.  What God creates during the first three days of creation, for instance, are filled in a very orderly fashion by what He creates in the second three days of creation (cf. Genesis 1:1-26).  When God makes human beings, he orders them as “male and female” (Genesis 1:27).  When God assigns humans work, He creates an order that places people as the crown and the stewards of what He has made (cf. Genesis 1:28-30).  And when God creates human relations, He outlines an order by which “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

Recently, the transgender movement has been grabbing headline after headline.  A simple search on The New York Times website revealed that, in one 24-hour period, the paper ran 19 stories dealing with transgender concerns.  This comes on the heels of a pitched battle over same-sex marriage last year.  In both cases, these battles have been framed in terms of oppression.  To deprive gay couples of the ability to legally marry was oppressive, same-sex marriage advocates argued.  To ask questions about whether or not a person’s internal gender identification can be unflinchingly determinative of someone’s being as a male or female has also been called oppressive and discriminatory.  In light of such oppression, the argument has gone, what is needed is freedom – freedom to marry whoever you like and freedom to be the gender you perceive yourself as, even if your biological sex does not match your internal orientation.

Because freedom is such an integral part of the American ethos, to argue against freedom – whether that be the freedom to marry or the freedom to transition from a male to a female or a female to a male – seems almost sacrilegious.  But what if our starting category for these debates over same-sex marriage and transgenderism needs shifting?  What if we need to begin by asking questions not about oppression, but about order?  What if the orderliness of God and of His creation really does have a bearing on the way we order our lives – not in an oppressive way, but in a graciously protective way?

If not being able to marry who you want and live as the gender you internally identify as is oppressive, then it makes sense to push toward freedom.  Freedom is, after all, generally a good thing.  But if these strictures are not about oppression, but about order, then to push against them is not to strive for freedom, but to create chaos.  And chaos can be disastrous.

Scripture is clear that true freedom must be guided by Godly order.  In the words of the apostle Paul, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).  It is the orderly Spirit who must be present to give and to guide good freedom.  Freedom without such order degenerates into chaos.  And, as any number of Middle Eastern countries can tell you, chaos makes a society ripe for an oppressor.  To deny a Godly order is to invite an oppressive orderer.

In our current discussions over transgenderism and same-sex marriage, it is perhaps worth it to ask ourselves as Christians:  for what are we striving?  Are we striving to oppress, marginalize, and stigmatize the LGBT community, which has, sadly, admittedly happened in the past, or are we striving to call all people to a helpful order for their lives?  The first goal is clearly self-righteous and sinful.  But the second is Godly and needed – even if many outside the Church don’t see it that way.

_______________________

[1] Gregory of Naziansus, Select Orations 29:2

June 6, 2016 at 5:15 am 2 comments

It’s Not About Gay Rights Versus Religious Freedom

Same-Sex Marriage

Frank Bruni, columnist for The New York Times, has written a refreshingly honest, even if somewhat frightening, piece in response to the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana, which was signed into law last month by Governor Mike Pence.  The Act prohibits “a governmental entity [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion.”[1]  LGBT groups are furious, arguing that this Act will open the door for Christian business owners to discriminate against LGBT people by refusing to offer them certain services because these business owners will be able to claim that offering these services, particularly services that have to do with same-sex weddings, would violate their religious tenets.

Mr. Bruni offers the following take:

The drama in Indiana last week and the larger debate over so-called religious freedom laws in other states portray homosexuality and devout Christianity as forces in fierce collision.

They’re not – at least not in several prominent denominations, which have come to a new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn’t decree, of what people can and cannot divine in regard to God’s will …

In the end, the continued view of gays, lesbians and bisexuals as sinners is a decision. It’s a choice. It prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since — as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing …

So our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.[2]

Mr. Bruni is not only interested in whether a Christian small business owner should be forced to, let’s say, bake a cake for a gay wedding, he also launches into a critique of traditional Christian theology as a whole, stating that the faith should be “rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.”  This assumes, of course, that modernity is, in fact, enlightened – an assertion that Mr. Bruni seems to feel little need to defend.  This also assumes that the Western version of modernity that embraces LGBT beliefs about human sexuality is the rightful moral pacesetter of our world, something with which many modernized Eastern nations may take issue.  This also assumes that Christians should not only love LGBT individuals, but endorse LGBT lifestyles as morally acceptable.

The irony is not lost on me that although Mr. Bruni does address “the florists and bakers who want to turn [LGBT customers] away” because of the owners’ moral convictions, he is silent concerning the many businesses that are jettisoning the state of Indiana in light of its religious freedom law because of their owners’ moral convictions.  Why the inconsistency?  Because, for Mr. Bruni, this is not an issue of religious freedom or even of gay rights.  This is an issue of what version of morality should hold sway in our society.  In Mr. Bruni’s worldview, for a Christian to try to avoid baking a cake for a gay wedding is morally reprehensible.  For a business to avoid a state because of a religious freedom act is morally commendable.  Thus, it is not inconsistent that one business, whose owners are working out of a set of traditional Christian moral convictions, should not be able to avoid providing services for a same-sex wedding while another business, whose owners have more secularized moral convictions, should be able to dump a whole state.  After all, the Christian set of moral convictions is, for Mr. Bruni, immoral!  And immorality must be squelched.

Pastor Timothy Keller explains the necessary moral entailments of the debate over gay marriage using a brilliant analogy:

Imagine an Anglo-Saxon warrior in Britain in AD 800. He has two very strong inner impulses and feelings. One is aggression. He loves to smash and kill people when they show him disrespect. Living in a shame-and-honor culture with its warrior ethic, he will identify with that feeling. He will say to himself, That’s me! That’s who I am! I will express that. The other feeling he senses is same-sex attraction. To that he will say, That’s not me. I will control and suppress that impulse. Now imagine a young man walking around Manhattan today. He has the same two inward impulses, both equally strong, both difficult to control. What will he say? He will look at the aggression and think, This is not who I want to be, and will seek deliverance in therapy and anger-management programs. He will look at his sexual desire, however, and conclude, That is who I am.

What does this thought experiment show us? Primarily it reveals that we do not get our identity simply from within. Rather, we receive some interpretive moral grid, lay it down over our various feelings and impulses, and sift them through it. This grid helps us decide which feelings are “me” and should be expressed – and which are not and should not be.[3]

Being LGBT has often been cast in terms of identity.  Pastor Keller argues that the issue at hand is really about morality.  Is it acceptable or unacceptable to be a violent aggressor?  Is it noble or troublesome to be in a same-sex relationship?  Feelings and impulses do not give us the answers to these questions.  Only moral grids do.

Frank Bruni offers some refreshing candor in his column.  He knows that, ultimately, the fight over gay rights and religious freedom isn’t a fight over gay rights and religious freedom.  It is a fight over what’s moral.  And his conclusion bears witness to his moral conviction:

Creech and Mitchell Gold, a prominent furniture maker and gay philanthropist, founded an advocacy group, Faith in America, which aims to mitigate the damage done to LGBT people by what it calls “religion-based bigotry.”

Gold told me that church leaders must be made “to take homosexuality off the sin list.”

His commandment is worthy – and warranted.

Mr. Bruni is clear.  Christians must be made to accept homosexuality.  To settle for anything less would be unworthy and unwarranted.  In other words, it would be immoral.

I would beg to differ.

But at least we know where he stands.

__________________________

[1] S.B. 101, 119th Leg., 1st sess. (Indiana 2015)

[2] Frank Bruni, “Bigotry, the Bible and the Lessons of Indiana,” The New York Times (4.3.2016).

[3] Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Viking, 2015), 135-136.

April 18, 2016 at 5:15 am 2 comments

More than “He” and “She”

Gender

What’s in a pronoun?  This is the question Jessica Bennett of The New York Times asked in her article on the rapidly expanding list of gender pronouns from which a person can choose these days:

He, she, hers, his, male, female – there’s not much in between. And so has emerged a new vocabulary, of sorts: an attempt to solve the challenge of talking about someone who identifies as neither male nor female (and, inevitably, the linguistic confusion that comes along with it).

These days, on college campuses, stating a gender pronoun has become practically as routine as listing a major. “So it’s like: ‘Hi, I’m Evie. My pronouns are she/her/hers. My major is X,’” said Evie Zavidow, a junior at Barnard.

“Ze” is a pronoun of choice for the student newspaper at Wesleyan, while “E” is one of the categories offered to new students registering at Harvard.

At American University, there is ”ey,” one of a number of pronoun options published in a guide for students (along with information about how to ask which one to use).

There’s also “hir,” “xe” and “hen,” which has been adopted by Sweden (a joining of the masculine han and the feminine hon); “ve,” and “ne,” and “per,” for person, “thon,” (a blend of “that” and “one”); and the honorific “Mx.” (pronounced “mix”) — an alternative to Ms. and Mr. that was recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary. (The “x” in Mx. is meant to represent an unknown, similar to the use of x in algebraic equations.)[1]

Wow.  I love language, but honestly, the array of gender pronouns now available is dizzying and a little intimidating to me.  Indeed, one of the points that Ms. (or should it be Mx.?) Bennett makes in her article is:

Facebook now offers 50 different gender identity options for new users, including gender fluid (with a gender identity that is shifting), bigender (a person who identifies as having two distinct genders) and agender (a person without an identifying gender).

Without a degree in gender studies, how is one supposed to keep all these pronouns straight?

Even if they’re hard to keep straight, referring to someone by their preferred pronoun – no matter how many pronouns there may be from which to choose – is important, according to Ms. Bennett, who cites Caitlin Dewey of The Washington Post:  “Misgendering ‘isn’t just a style error … It’s a stubborn, longtime hurdle to transgender acceptance and equality, a fundamental refusal to afford those people even basic grammatical dignity.’”  In other words, misgendering someone is deeply insulting and morally reprehensible because it denies who a person is, or, to put it more pessimistically, would like to be.

This debate over gender pronouns fascinates me.  It fascinates me first of all because of where it most often takes place.  Ms. Bennett, albeit anecdotally, cites two places:  college campuses and the secularly liberal and affluent Sweden.  These are places of power and privilege.  This is not to say that these debates take place only in places of power and privilege, but places of power and privilege are certainly pacesetters in these debates.

Today’s debates over gender pronouns in the halls of power and privilege may be connected to an influential – even if somewhat problematic and not wholly accurate – theory of psychological fulfillment that was first put forth by psychology professor Abraham Maslow in the previous century.  In his 1943 paper, titled “A Theory of Human Motivation,” Professor Maslow famously identified what he termed a “hierarchy of needs.”  At the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy were physiological needs such as air, water, and food.  These were followed by safety needs, which include things like national peace, job security, and a safe home environment free from abuse and neglect.  Next came needs pertaining to love and belonging like the needs for friends and family.  Then came the need for esteem, that is, respect.[2]  Finally, at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, came the need for self-actualization.  In his paper, Maslow describes the need for self-actualization thusly:

We may still often (if not always) expect that a new discontent and restlessness will soon develop, unless the individual is doing what he is fitted for. A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be.[3]

Professor Maslow sagely puts his finger on the fact that before a person intently pursues self-actualization, he first must have his physiological, safety, love, and esteem needs met.  Maslow’s sequence of needs seems to inform, at least in part, why the debate over gender pronouns is hottest in places of power in privilege.  After all, these are the places, generally speaking, that have the highest potential to be the highest up Maslow’s hierarchy.  The desire to self-actualize one’s gender and the pile of pronouns that comes with such a quest is much less pronounced when you’re wondering where your next meal is going to come from.

For the Christian, of course, the problems with self-actualization run deep. Maslow, understandably, seems unaware of the ways in which his notion of self-actualization could or would be used 73 years later.  “What a man can be,” to use Maslow’s own words, is much greater than Maslow himself could have imagined, for, in the estimation of gender scholars, a man can be a woman, or a whole host of other things on the gender continuum.  Maslow seems to think of self-actualization in terms of vocation rather than in terms of a psychological identity that bends a physical reality.

Ultimately, the very notion of self-actualization, even as Maslow understood it, is problematic.  Christians believe that the road to fulfillment leads not through self-actualization, but self-denial: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).  Maslow himself seemed to intuit this when, in later years, he replaced the self-actualization at the pinnacle of his hierarchy with self-transcendence, arguing that, ultimately, human identity is found not so much in who one can be, but in how one can serve.

Christians know that self-actualization is nearly as old as history itself.  It was a serpent, after all, who first touted the glory of self-actualization when he said to Adam and Eve, “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5).  But what the serpent said was self-actualization was in reality self-destruction.

Something tells me that all these pronouns, denying and sometimes even downright despising how God has made us “male and female” (Genesis 1:27), isn’t far off from this old, old version of self-actualization.  The line between self-actualization and self-destruction, it turns out, is razor thin.  Let us pray we have not crossed it.

______________________

[1] Jessica Bennett, “She? Ze? They? What’s In a Gender Pronoun?The New York Times (1.30.2016).

[2] I find it troubling that Maslow places the need for esteem just under the need on the pinnacle of his hierarchy.  I see the need for esteem as much more foundational, for as creatures who are crafted in God’s image (cf. Genesis 1:27), we are afforded an esteem by our Creator that is foundational because it is rooted in the very order of creation.

[3] Abraham Maslow, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” Psychological Review 50, no. 4 (1943): 382.

February 8, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

2015 In Review

Happy New Year 2016 images download

This past week, I took some time to scroll through my blogs for 2015.  It was, in some ways, an unsettling exercise.  Consider these headlines:

Blogging can be a frustrating discipline because, at times, as my list above intimates, it can become flat-out depressing.  It seems as though I’ve blogged on a never-ending succession of tragedies, controversies, and indignities this past year.  And yet, as tough as these topics might be to tackle, I believe they are vital for us as Christians to understand and address.

A few themes have emerged as I’ve watched the headlines unfold in 2015.  First, it seems as though we are obsessed with sex and oppressed by violence. Between “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the Ashley Madison scandal, and same-sex marriage, headlines relating to human sexuality and the sexual ethics have dominated.  But so have headlines relating to violence.  The acronym ISIS is now the stuff of household lore.  Planned Parenthood’s gruesome harvesting of fetal parts sent shivers up the spines of many.  Beatings and shootings with racist tinges dominate the headlines.  As a child, I remember my parents criticizing many movies for having too much “sex and violence.”  Was art imitating life back then or is life imitating art now?

A second theme that has emerged is a search for who we are as humans.  I would be intellectually, emotionally, and relationally naïve if I did not recognize that same-sex marriage is about much more than sex.  It is about the ability of people to define themselves as they see themselves.  This is also the case with the transgender recrudescence.  How internal desires correspond to a person’s biological ordering is key to understanding the existential angst that many people in the LGBT community experience.

Third, issues of race and religion have taken center stage this past year.  From the racist chant by members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon to the shooting at the church in Charleston, racism is frustratingly alive and well.  At the same time the LGBT community is trying to figure out who it is and arriving at some spiritually dangerous answers, we seem to have forgotten some of the older spiritually salutary lessons we had to learn about who we are as a nation of immigrants.  And I would contend that this is true across the racial spectrum.  Trumped up charges of racism in the form of the newly minted category of “microaggression” do not help, but neither do denials that racism is real and consequential.  Religiously, we are learning quickly – both from Paris and San Bernardino – that bad theologies have terrible consequences.  The theological drivers of groups like ISIS cannot be minimalized or rationalized.  They must be confronted.

As I reflect on the stories I have covered, I have become convinced more than ever that our world is not just in need of good thinking, but theological thinking on the things that ail us.  The problems we have encountered in 2015 are not just the results of some bad thinking that needs to be tuned up by an enlightened intelligentsia so we can march boldly into a utopian era.  Rather, the problems we have encountered in 2015 are the results of nothing short of a deeply depraved sinfulness that needs to be confronted by the Word of God.  And this is where we, as Christians, have something unique to offer our world.  While the world is trying to solve its problems by political, intellectual, and social gerrymandering, we can be confronting and forgiving the sinners – even when those sinners are us – who create the problems.  In my mind, that’s our greatest hope for a better world.

Human sin, sadly, will probably continue to give me plenty of reasons to write in 2016.  But grace, thankfully, will give me even more reasons to rejoice.  So let’s see where the year takes us.

January 4, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Mizzou, Truth, and What Pleases Us

Credit: David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images

Credit: David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images

Last month’s heavily publicized protests at the University of Missouri are tragic for several reasons. The racist slur that ignited them is tragic. The fumbled response of the University President is tragic. The threats from a member of Mizzou’s Department of Communication toward the media, calling for “some muscle” when an ESPN reporter was trying to cover the student protests, is tragic. But so is the response of the students. Their protests quickly spun out of control – moving from a specific instance of racism to outrage over everything from systemic racism to sexism to patriarchy. When others with differing viewpoints tried to engage Mizzou’s students on these important issues, the students blew up.

What happened at Mizzou has revealed just how incapable some college students are of having a conversation with someone with whom they disagree. Or, to put it a little less charitably, perhaps these students aren’t so much incapable as they are intransigent. It could be, I suppose, that they simply refuse to listen to viewpoints that differ from theirs. Indeed, the now famous student “safe spaces” are unapologetically touted as places of refuge where students can flee from any idea that triggers in them any sort of emotional distress. In fairness, it should be noted, as The Wall Street Journal rightly points out, that safe spaces are not just cloisters for the thin-skinned:

All of us seek “safety” from genuinely rancid views – how many of us would stay at a party where someone dominated the conversation with overtly racist bloviations? These students have merely overextended the bounds of the conclusively intolerable.[1]

It is true that there are some fools whose foolish viewpoints do not need to be answered according to their folly. The problem is not that students refuse to engage with a particularly rancid viewpoint. The problem is that some students refuse to engage with almost any viewpoint that does not mirror and mimic their own. Even a mildly disagreeable viewpoint, to some students, is an aggressively hostile and morally repugnant viewpoint.

Mizzou’s riots have brought to the forefront a hard reality.  For many people, it no longer matters in any significant degree whether someone who has a viewpoint that opposes their viewpoint has a point. Categories like logic, truth, and prudence – particularly on moral and ethical issues – have been shuffled into the sunset as quaintly archaic interests. What matters most now is how someone’s viewpoint makes someone else feel. And if someone’s viewpoint makes someone else feel threatened, even if, according to the aforementioned categories, the point should be well taken, it is rejected out of hand. Philip Rieff proved to be quite prophetic when he wrote in 1966, “Religious man was born to be saved; psychological man is born to be pleased.”[2] What matters is not whether something is true. What matters is whether people are pleased by it.

It’s not just college students who have fallen prey to this therapeutic bias.  In 2011, Susanna Dilliplane published an article in the Public Opinion Quarterly titled, “All the News You Want to Hear: The Impact of Partisan News Exposure on Political Participation,” where she laments how more and more Americans get their news only from outlets that share their own political views. It turns out that adults have their own “safe spaces” in the forms of cable news channels, Internet sites, and newspapers.

Even the media itself can fail to listen to viewpoints that differ from its editors. A recent article in The Economist asked, “Can porn be good for us?” Several contributors debated the question, almost all of whom accepted the premise that porn can indeed be good for us, a position which The Economist, if its own editorials are to be believed, seems to share. The debate was presented, at least implicitly, as closed. “Porn can be good for us.” But then The Economist posed the question to its readers. 80% disagreed with the newspaper. In one particularly tragic comment, a reader wrote:

Dear Madam,

Can porn be good for us? NO!! My husband has been trapped for forty years now. He stole “our” sex life used it all up for himself.[3]

The Economist thought the answer to its question was obvious. As it turned out, the editors spent too much time listening to themselves and not enough time listening to their readers. They got duped by their own sexually licentious safe space.

It’s time we begin to ask ourselves some hard questions. Have we become a people completely unwilling and unable to listen to those with whom we disagree? Have we become so impervious to arguments that threaten our worldviews that, even if they contain truth, we cannot concede that someone else who does not agree with us on many things may, in fact, have a point on at least one thing?  Have we blithely rejected Patrick Henry’s famed statement – “For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it”[4] – preferring to believe lies that make us feel good instead of confronting truths that unsettle us?  Have we become so proud that we can no longer consider and humbly admit that some of what we say and think may, in fact, be just plain wrong, or at least incomplete?

Whether we are students on a college campus or adults with a daily dose of news or a news outlet with a suspiciously stilted question for debate, we seem to have become much less interested in informing ourselves with rigorous analysis and much more prone to amusing ourselves with tendentious pontificating. I fear, however, that we may be doing a little more than, to borrow a book title from Neil Postman, “amusing ourselves to death.”[5]

___________________________

[1] John H. McWhorter, “Closed Minds on Campus,” The Wall Street Journal (11.27.2015).

[2] Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith After Freud (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987), 24-25.

[3]Online Pornography: Can porn be good for us?The Economist (11.17.2015-11.27.2015).

[4] Patrick Henry, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!” (Richmond, VA: St. John’s Church, 3.23.1775).

[5] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin Books, 1985).

December 14, 2015 at 5:15 am 2 comments

What I Write, How I Write It, and Why

Photo credit: zen / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Credit: zen / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

I write my message on issues. I craft my message on hunches.  I hope with my message to make a difference.

These past few weeks have presented me with no shortage of blog-worthy issues to write about. Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn Jenner. The Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. On the heels of a horrific racist shooting in Charleston, a fight erupted over whether and how to display the Confederate flag. And a secret video of a Planned Parenthood executive talking casually about abortion and the sale of aborted fetal tissue was posted on YouTube. It’s been a busy few weeks.

As I’ve been thinking about the crush of big stories that have occupied my thoughts, something struck me regarding two of the stories about which I had written. When writing about the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, my tone was gentle and measured – concerned about ethics, but much more focused on people. When writing about Planned Parenthood, my tone was considerably more straightforward and even somewhat brash. Why?

I write my message on issues. I craft my message on hunches. I hope with my message to make a difference.  I just had a hunch that the legalization of same-sex marriage needed to be handled more delicately and interpersonally than the revelation that Planned Parenthood is allegedly selling aborted organs for possible profit. So I crafted my message accordingly.

Ontologically, of course, what advocates of same-sex marriage and Planned Parenthood promote is very similar. Both tout what one author has referred to as “erotic liberty” – that is, freedom to have sex with whom you want, when you want, and how you want without having to consider or confront the natural and reasonable entailments sex brings with it. Sexual desire and autonomy, in this view, cannot be impeded by gender or pregnancy.

But even though these two issues share a great deal in common ontologically, they are perceived in very different ways epistemologically in our broader culture. In other words, the nature of these things in and of themselves may be quite similar, but how people think and talk about these things is very different.

When it comes to same-sex marriage, there is a tension between what people know and what they believe. Most people know that Christianity places certain ethical restrictions on sexual expression. But many cannot bring themselves to believe that these ethical restrictions are reasonable or loving. In a world where it is increasingly difficult – and, I would add, unnecessary and unreasonable – not to have friends, relatives, coworkers, or, at the very least, acquaintances who are in same-sex relationships, believing that such relationships deserve anything less than a full-throated endorsement is a hard pill for many to swallow. After all, so many of these relationships seem healthy and loving. So even if many know what Christianity teaches about sexual intimacy, they have a hard time believing it’s right.

Likewise, when it comes to Planned Parenthood and abortion, there is also a tension between what people know and what people believe. In this instance, however, the tension is inverted. The problem is not so much with what people intuitively believe as it is with what people intellectually know. Most people – regardless of their political sensibilities – can’t help but be viscerally repulsed by Planned Parenthood executives who talk casually about a “‘less crunchy’ technique to get more whole specimens” of aborted organs for medical research and how, when performing an abortion, you have be “cognizant of where you put your graspers, you try to intentionally go above and below the thorax … I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.” It is hard to escape a nagging belief that this is not an outright assault against human dignity and life. This is why, when I address abortion, I quickly strip away sterile terms like “dilation,” “curettage,” “aspiration,” “evacuation,” and “Intrauterine Cranial Decompression” to write in frank and sometimes startling terms about what abortion really is: the ending of life in utero. Intuitively, people already believe this. I want people to intellectually know, however, just how grave the situation really is with Planned Parenthood.

In the case of same-sex marriage, people often know what Christianity says about sexual ethics, they just have a hard time believing it. When it comes to Planned Parenthood’s practices, there are a great number of people, including those who publicly support abortion, who believe what Planned Parenthood has done is wrong.  They just don’t always know how to express their concerns in ethically rigorous ways.

It is this distinction between knowing and believing that shapes how I have written over these past few weeks. When I write about same-sex marriage, I know I am diving into deeply held and tender beliefs about love. So I address these beliefs tenderly. When I write about Planned Parenthood, I know I am up against a whole host of euphemisms meant to obscure what people actually know about abortion. So I cut through the euphemisms with candor. In the first instance, I’m trying to persuade people to believe a little bit differently. In the second instance, I’m trying to bring attention to something I think people need to know more about.

When we address today’s cultural issues as Christians, it is important to ask ourselves: What are we trying to do? Are we trying to change a belief? Are we trying to share important knowledge? And how do the ways in which we address broad concerns actually make things better?

Though my approach to addressing society’s issues du jour is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive, I hope it proves helpful – at least in a limited way.  Frankly, it is born out of a concern that, all too often, when addressing cultural controversies, many of us who are Christians wind up doing little more than beating our chests in self-righteous indignation at our culture’s ills. The problem is, even if this makes us feel better, it does nothing to make our world better. Our world needs gentle persuasion when it believes wrongly. It needs frank facts when it lacks knowledge. But most of all, it needs people who are devoted not only to being right about issues, but to doing good for our world. This is why Jesus, during His earthly ministry, wasn’t just right in what He said, He was righteous in how He said it. And thanks to Him, the world has never been the same.

May Jesus’ legacy be evident in our lives.

July 27, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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