My Christianity Problem ctd.

My Christianity post continues to wander around the net, collecting comments and links (Thanks to Zoe Pollock and Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish.). For days now I’ve been thinking about one of the 65 comments that popped up on Bilerico. This stuck in my head because I used to say the exact same thing. What a surprise to discover that I’m now in a different place!

My alter ego is John Forest who posted the same comment on Bilerico and on his own blog. (Thanks for writing, John!) He said:

What if your problem is not Fundamentalist Christianity? What if your main problem is the restrictive notion that: it is not OK to be not OK with someone/some group?

I felt much more free when I let go of the notion that I had to be OK with everyone. Some people are so superstitious and/or ignorant and/or hateful and/or hostile that I do not feel obliged to see them as my human brethren that I need to love- regardless. Sure, if I saw one drowning or about to step in front of a bus, I’d pull her out. However, I am comfortable with the idea that at least part of my motivation for such actions would be based in a holier-than-thou framework.

John’s comment also reminds me that the stories we tell can limit our actions and our thoughts. He certainly appears to be working out of a different narrative than I’ve adopted in recent years.

His narrative seems to limit us to two choices: (a) accept people as our human brethren only if we don’t find them ignorant/hateful/superstitious/hostile or just plain wrong, or (b) accept people as our human brethren and accept everything they think and do.

I used to think that way. It made sense because it felt frightening to see the humanity in those who rejected and hurt me. To claim them as my sisters and brothers felt like giving up a part of myself. How could I fight back? How could I claim my authentic self if I saw them as being human?

But I’ve changed my narrative. I now see that I have at least three choices: (a) toss these folks out of the bin of humanity, (b) accept them and everything about them, or (c) reject their actions and beliefs at the same time that I strive to understand them and see that they are just as human as I am.

Choice “C” isn’t easy. Actually, it scares the frak out of me, but it makes intellectual and emotional sense because they ARE human. They are not monsters. To pretend they are is  as silly as their pretense that I’m a predatory fiend just because I’m a lesbian.

Does this mean I forgive people whose actions have hurt me and thousands (millions?) of LGBT people? I have to admit that I don’t feel forgiving, especially if that means absolving the anti-gay right of guilt for what they’ve done and continue to do.

The best I can say about the actions of those who actively seek to limit my rights and hurt LGBT families is that they are misguided and ignorant. At the same time, I can see that they may be as frightened of me as I am of them, and that their fear may be driving them to do awful things. I can see that they’re struggling with a changing world. I can see that they may well view the world differently than I do as Jonathan Haidt’s work suggests. I also can see the things we agree on like KU basketball, the BP oil spill, or the misery of 105 degree heat with 87 percent humidity.

Acknowledging our shared humanity doesn’t take away their guilt.  Acknowledging our commonalities doesn’t require that I surrender the fight. Looking at those folks through this narrative, however, does mean that I can realize that we’re alike as much as we’re different. I can be calmer as I work for equality.  I can have empathy. I can even understand the opposition better, which ironically makes me a more effective activist. Most importantly, I don’t have to founder in a pit of hate and anger.

Call me a coward, but I don’t want to live like that.

John, if I have misunderstood you, I apologize. Please let me know what I got wrong.

This entry was posted in Becoming Good, empathy, religion and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to My Christianity Problem ctd.

  1. Darrell Icenogle says:

    I found a kind of liberation in dedicating myself to civil discourse, because that goal in and of itself doesn’t come down on any particular side, and puts me in the role of trying to understand both sides. So, I’m trying to find empathy for people that I didn’t used to. I even found some things in what Glenn Beck had to say in Washington — a person for whom I have a visceral negative reaction to — that I could relate to.

    Insofar as trying to understand the world view of a religious person, I found Tim Crane’s blog in the New York Times to be very helpful:

  2. dianesilver says:

    Thanks for the link, Darrell. The blog looks interesting.

    What I find really surprising about some of the responses I’m getting is that it appears (and maybe I’m misunderstanding) that some people equate understanding another person with surrendering to that person. I don’t even think having empathy for another leads to surrender. It just leads to lower blood pressure for me and a refusal to demonize another person.

    I like your commitment to civil discourse. Perhaps that’s the path to lowering society’s blood pressure, and that has got to be a good thing.

    • Darrell Icenogle says:

      My operative theory, based on Haidt and others, is that changing someone’s belief is virtually impossible, but civil discourse leads to mutual understanding (empathy) which makes the differences less toxic. We all have experiences of being friends with, or working with, or even having fun with people with whom we have fundamental, meaningful differences in world view.

      Conversely, when people feel threatened, humiliated, or stirred to anger by their differences, surrendering becomes the only emotional option, and people are just really not inclined to take that option. That whole scenario is manipulated into political or financial advantage by “consequentialists” with increasing frequency and larger audiences in our recent history.

  3. dianesilver says:

    Agreed! I especially like your point about how people react when they “feel threatened, humiliated, or stirred to anger by their differences.” I wish I could believe that merely engaging in civil discourse would be enough to break through the noise from the manipulators (both political and financial), but most days I worry that it’s absurd to think that reasonable, civil speech can even get noticed, or am I being too pessimistic here?

  4. Yes, yes, yes! (I’m responding to the overall post, not the pessimism issue.) Your choice is exactly what we talk about in Aikido.

    The civil discourse issue remains tricky. In Aikido we concentrate a lot on responding to an attack in a way that doesn’t create a clash or cause the other person to want to escalate. It’s not easy to do physically, and it’s even harder to do when the attacks are verbal, but it is possible and can lead to constructive resolution of a conflict.

    I’ve been thinking about the man in Silver Spring, Maryland, who went into the Discovery Channel building armed with a gun and a bomb and took hostages because he thought the Discovery Channel was encouraging overpopulation with its programming (he apparently believed people are a plague on the planet). The police managed to kill him and rescue the hostages. It turned out he’d been picketing the place for years, had even been arrested in a protest there. I wonder whether the whole thing could have had a better outcome if people had treated him as a full human being when he was staging those protests, instead of probably thinking (as I am sure I would have thought), “oh, he’s just our neighborhood nutcase.”

    Recognizing the full humanity in people who are likely mentally ill, or who have a rabid hatred of you and yours, or who are corporate executives who take shortcuts that can lead to major disasters like the oil spill, is hard, and few of us achieve perfection at it. But in the end, I don’t know any other way to change the world. Every time you win by leaving someone humiliated in the dust, you’ve created an enemy who can come back to haunt you.

  5. John Forest says:

    It has been a while. I just read your response to my post.

    The readers digest version is that I think we are, basically, not so far apart. I would offer the following clarification. My quote: “Some people are so superstitious and/or ignorant and/or hateful and/or hostile that I do not feel obliged to see them as my human brethren that I need to love- regardless.”

    I would tweak that to read, “that I need to love in the same way”.

    It is difficult to avoid going to extremes in our examples. I abhor the tendency among pundits of any stripe who immediately jump to nazi or similar references when referring to those with whom they simply disagree. However, calling things what they are seems healthy to me. Also, maintaining a certain bar, lower than which we will not abide, seems right to me. I reserve the right to alter my behavior toward someone whose own behavior is well beyond reasonable boundaries. I would argue the following: Not offering my love/acceptance in the customary fashion while he/she remains outside the circle of decency is the best thing I could do for the most egregious offenders.

    Am I open to dialogue with those who are willing to set aside hate for discussion. Sure. Should I hold open a place in the fold for those who evolve? No doubt. I have been, at various points, less evolved and I can still see something of myself in their eyes. However, if nobody had held my beliefs/actions to account and given me something to aspire to, I may not have become the person I am today.

    I would leave you with the following. Some have said, the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. I would assert that such a journey begins by knowing where you are at the moment.


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