Monday, July 30, 2012

An Open Letter to James White

Dr. White,

When I was a believer, I considered you one of my most important role models. Back then, I wanted to pursue apologetics and spend my life defending the faith. Now, as an unbeliever, I still have the highest level of respect for you as an intellectual and as a very articulate defender of your beliefs.

I am writing you now because I am having trouble understanding your current mindset regarding the issue of gay marriage, and I hope that you can enlighten me. First of all, I want to commend you on recognizing the blatant hypocrisy that people on "my side" (I am a supporter of gay marriage, as I am sure you have guessed) of the argument consistently portray. It is the very definition of intolerance to attempt to prevent a company from establishing a place of business in a city because of beliefs that they defend. I could not agree with you more on this. Likewise, the amount of verbal abuse that is directed against those who express any disagreement whatsoever with gay marriage is appalling to me. Hate speech, as far as I can see it, is much more common on my side of the fence, at least in the public sphere. It is very disturbing to see people, no matter who they are or whose side they are on, attempt to coerce, intimidate, or otherwise require others to accept their point of view as dogma.

You will undoubtedly agree here. I have heard you in debates over the years continually join with your opponents in condemning the Crusades, or the Salem Witch trials, or whatever example your opponent might bring up of evils done in the name of Christianity. I have even heard you defend the rights of Muslims to display billboards with borderline violent images on them. I agree with you on this too. My point is, you recognize that people have the right to choose to follow the truth. They are not to be forced to do it.

The problem I am having, Dr. White, is with your insistence that gay marriage is somehow an exception. Why is it that, in this one case, you insist that the government enforce the Christian perspective? Why will you not allow people the right to make these choices for themselves? You say you are a defender of traditional marriage. Is it your opinion that heterosexual marriage is somehow made invalid by the addition of homosexual marriage? I suppose you would consider the term "homosexual marriage" to be an oxymoron.

The way I see it, this is either a matter of specific benefits, or it is a matter of vocabulary. What I mean is this: Is your problem that you do not think homosexuals should receive the same legal benefits that married couples receive? That seems like a very strange position to take, from a Christian perspective. I'm not quite sure what would motivate you to take that position. My hunch is that this is, for you, a matter of vocabulary. You do not mind civil unions that are, for all practical purposes, marriages, just so long as they are not called marriages.

If this is the case, I can totally understand your perspective. From a Christian point of view, they are not marriages. I have no problem granting you that (though there are plenty on "my side" who would call you a bigot even for that. I would disagree with them). It would be sort of like a heretical cult that denies the deity of Christ calling themselves "Christian." You would reject that, and rightfully so. But you would presumably not want legal action taken to force them not to use that name. I mean, you wouldn't, would you? Why is it that, in this one case, you support such action?

Maybe you feel that those on my side won't be satisfied with simply being allowed access to marriage from a legal perspective, but would demand that all religious people affirm their marriage as legitimate. Perhaps you feel that this would be intolerant on their part. Again, I would agree with you. They have no right to demand that you affirm their lifestyle.  Your worldview does not allow you to do that. But this is my whole point. Neither side has any right to DEMAND anything! They cannot legally force you to accept their marriage as valid, but neither do you have the right to force them to accept your limits on marriage. Your limits are a product of your worldview. Your insistence that marriage remain traditionally defined is a product of your worldview. I don't understand why you cannot seem to grasp this. It does not matter what you think about what beliefs our founding fathers held, or how many people in this country agree with you. What matters, when it comes to recognized legal rights, is that people have the freedom to make these decisions for themselves, rather than having it made for them on religious grounds.

You have every right to preach against homosexuality. You have every right to deny that these marriages are valid in God's eyes. Indeed, as a Christian, you are obligated to do so. But were it to come down to a vote, you would not be able to justify a vote against the legal rights of homosexuals to be married. Even when I was a Christian, I supported gay marriage, though I believed homosexuality to be a sin. I just couldn't get past this one issue. Is it my place to enforce my definition of marriage, even if it IS the "traditional" one, on anybody else?

Where am I missing the ball, Dr. White? I assume you have a logically cogent reason for your position, but I simply cannot see it. I consider myself to be inclusive and tolerant. Why? Because I support the rights of Christians to believe whatever they want to believe, and to tell those beliefs to whomever they want to tell them to. You have the right to your opinion on gay marriage, and those who want to silence people like you are being intolerant. I'll say it a hundred times. I'll come on the Dividing Line and say it. I am a skeptic, a supporter of gay marriage, and I am appalled at those on my side who want to force others to agree with them.

But the fact of the matter is, if you take legal action to prevent homosexuals from getting married, you are just as bad as they are. You are saying to the world, "My worldview says that your marriage is invalid, and I'm going to use my vote to make sure that my worldview is the only option for anyone to follow." Don't you see the problem here, Dr. White? It seems to me that you, by constantly pointing out the hypocrisy of the Left in this, are hiding your own intolerance. The pot calling the kettle black does not make the kettle white.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

On Chick-fil-A and Tolerance

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, you have heard the latest report from the front lines of the culture war regarding gay rights. I am of course referring to the business with the good people at Chick-fil-A and their controversial (but not at all surprising) comments on the issue of marriage equality. I won't bother repeating the whole story for you, as the relevant parts will be summed up naturally anyway, and like I said I am sure you have heard plenty already. What I do want to do is give my thoughts on the matter, as I think the perspective I provide is not the perspective one is likely to encounter in most of the public dialogue on the issue.

First of all, I want to point out that I myself am a strong supporter of gay marriage. To me, the fact that we are still debating about it is astounding. Even when I was a fundamentalist Christian (I am now an agnostic) and believed that homosexuality was a sin, I did not oppose the rights of gays and lesbians to marry. I just did not see why the government should impose upon other people my particular religious beliefs. And this is a religious question. It is perhaps the only American civil rights issue that I have heard discussed in my lifetime in which one side takes the position they do for purely religious reasons. Yes, I am aware that other reasons are sometimes offered (like the argument about how children are healthier in a household containing two heterosexual parents. Are we supposed to outlaw divorce now, too?), but I consider them to be nothing more than a smokescreen, a desperate attempt to gain some credulity among those who do not care what a particular religion says about the issue. Even those who skip the smokescreen and argue from a purely religious angle cannot seem to explain what exactly they dislike about gay marriage in such a way that the rest of us will consider valid. The fact of the matter is, there is nothing about homosexuals getting married that has any impact whatsoever on traditional marriage. None. If I am missing something here, please enlighten me.

Now it should be perfectly clear where I stand in this whole debate. I do not support Dan Cathy (president of Chick-fil-A)'s stance as a supporter of the "traditional family." That being the case, I also want it to be perfectly clear that I find the response to Mr. Cathy's statements by many on my side of the debate to be absolutely appalling. It is one thing to refuse to give the company business because you disagree with them. That is your right. But that is not all we are getting here. There are those who are taking things a step further -  a step way too far.

Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston, a strong supporter of gay rights, has declared that Chick-fil-A restaurants are no longer welcome in the city. He wants to deny them any possibility of a business licence. This is not because of any illegal or immoral activity on the part of the company. They have not actively discriminated against anyone as far as we know. All they did was state their official position on a political question. In other words, they exercised their freedom of speech.

It cannot be overemphasized how inappropriate this is. Nobody has the right to refuse a business licence to a company for simply stating their political opinion and financially supporting those who share that opinion. Imagine what would happen if it were not Chick-fil-A, but was instead a company that supported gay marriage. Imagine if Oreo had been the victim here. There would be millions demanding Menino's arrest (and worse). He would never in a million years get away with it. He would be labeled a criminal, and rightfully so. I say he should be labelled that now. This man is not standing up for tolerance. Menino and those who think like him are promoting a totalitarian rule over the whole of the political arena.

This is hypocrisy, and it cannot be allowed to continue. We who support civil rights for the LGBT community must preach a message of tolerance. The other side never will, but we absolutely have to. This is a battle that we can and will win, but we will not win it by forcing our opponents into submission. I for one refuse to identify with those who attempt to stifle the rights of free speech via this kind of pressure, no matter whose side they are on.