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.