Monday, January 18, 2010

Sharing vs. Debate on Haiti, Gays in Christianity, and Everything Else

Candace Chellew-Hodge writes about some Christians' discussion of whether they should the love the sinner but hate the "sin," or if they are really called to just hate both.

That's one of those discussions I've been in before. To be honest, I'm a bit bored with it. Maybe that's because I'm leaning away from being part of the aspects of religion which focus on limitations, rigidity, dogmatism. More on that in a later blog post.

Then there is Pat Robertson's much-decried statements that Haiti's earthquake was the result of an historic pact-with-the-devil which has curse that nation for many many years. Anthea Butler discusses this using points that lead me to believe that Robertson's comments connect to an outdated colonial rich-white-man's superiority delusion, and ultimately a (possibly subconscious) racism.

It's getting exhausting trying to meet people point-for-point when, frankly, the points repeat with every debate. I prefer discussion to debate.

Yes, the distinction is subtle. They may even be synonyms. I use them as different terms for convenience of communication. When I think "debate" I think of two people, each with a thesis. The goal is for each to present the best arguments for their position, to be convincing, to win. I'm not sure what you win, maybe an ego boost or admiration in the eyes of viewers. Unless my debts get paid off from this sort of debate, I just find them frustrating and energy-sucking.

A discussion, in my own use of the term here, is one wherein both parties (or more than two) are engaged in a thoughtful, honest, open mulling-of-the-issues, preferably with open-mindedness thrown in. "I have to admit that it is hard for me to discuss abortion because I have had a traumatic experience with it in the past." That's the kind of honesty that's great to have in a discussion. In a debate the retort would be something like, "then all of your arguments are suspect," or "let's use your traumatic experience to turn it around to prove my point." In a discussion, the response would be empathy, or at least a deepening engagement with the topic at hand and, even better, between the people involved.

I'm not advocating anti-logic. "I don't see how that's logical" is still a proper thing to say when someone says something. For me the defining characteristic of a good discussion is that there is no longer a final goal of "winning."

With someone going on about how different it is to hate the "sin" but not the "sinner," is there really a point in pursuing it, trying to convince him or her that it is difficult to love someone when you truly "hate" something about that person? Maybe, but one must listen first, encourage that person to really get into why they feel that way. But it's exhausting to try when it just boils down to Bible quoting and talking points. If it doesn't get down to the nitty gritty personal aspects of why someone feels the way they do, that energy is expended for little reason but to build one's rhetorical skills.

The example of Pat Robertson and his Haitian devil comment is trickier. This is based on a colonial idea of the "primitive" (in today's terms, "Third World") person, the "savage," who is not enlightened by the "one true religion," and of course proper old-European social class stratification. Vodon ("Voodoo") isn't devil-worship. It's not a religion I know much about, but the idea that it's satanic is coming from the imposition of a certain kind of Christian worldview that is pretty much irrelevant to those who do not share that worldview. It ultimately boils down to who is right and who is wrong, once again. I'm "right" because I'm "white" and my ancestors were European. Goodie. Again, while it's fun and enlightening to have a discussion about the complex issues that Robertson has raised, I don't see much fruit coming from actually debating the guy, or those who agree with him.

Bishop Spong wrote this in October of 2009: "I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone.... Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy." (The short manifesto is worth reading in its entirety.) That's where I am now on all religious debate. I'm willing to discuss (by my own definition which I described above), but if I'm asked which religion is best, or most true, or most dangerous, I'm not going to answer definitively. I will share my experience, knowledge, interpretations, even instincts, but I'm not going to try to prove me right or prove you wrong. I'm not going to waste time answering every talking point. If I make an assertion, and you ask me to defend it, I will do my best to explain why I feel that way or from where comes my conclusion. But the minute it becomes about winning a debate, I will ideally pull out. I don't care if I'm accused of something unsubstantiated, like "typical liberal can't take a debate." I've been called a "typical liberal" many times, for this reason, even if my accuser only knows one thing about me (like my stance on the war, for example). Whatever. I'd love to engage with you on why you feel the way you feel, and why I feel the way I feel. But that means listening, sharing, asking, nodding, being very present to the experience of you and me being who we are, connected as humans. Can we do that? If not, then it's time to move on, because, to steal from Spong, it's "no longer worthy of my time or energy."

No offense, but I've spent too much time playing these games. I want a boyfriend, a life's vocation, a purpose. I want to connect and mingle, not bash my head against yours.

Peace and all good

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