Saturday, March 18, 2006

I believe in belief

How can I put this?

I don't see anything wrong with believing the church to be true to the exclusion of other religions. There, I said it. The single most insulting and confrontational belief of the Mormon church has my buy-in. And frankly, I'll go one bold step further and say what the church does NOT say, and that is that to harbor a vitriolic, venomous, caustic grudge against the church for this position is intolerant and bigoted. I mean, think about it. If one resents any institution that claims they are right and you are wrong, one is oneself an institution claiming that "I am right and you are wrong." It's hypocritcal.

I've already written a bit about my views on tolerance (near the end of the post), so I won't completely rehash them here. Have a look at that before you flame me. The point is just that I am fine with my baptist friends thinking I'm going straight to hell. I'll chat with them about it and then we'll go to dinner together. I have no problem with them urging me to change my ways and believe the bible. But when their admonitions are thereafter filled with hate and they refuse to be civil to me, walking on the other side of the street or some such nonsense (and hopefully nothing worse!), I think that's just not right. Same goes for my gay friends. I don't mind that they think I'm brainwashed by religion and voluntarily abandoning the free life I could be enjoying by believing gay behavior is a sin, but I think it crosses the line when my med student buddies wear pins that say "straight but not narrow" thus contradicting their own values of being tolerant by categorically insulting the religious demographic as "narrow". Yes, yes, I've heard the argument that they are just affirming their support and intended no insult to religious people. But if you stop and think about it, that's bullshit. The message is a clear allusion to a religious metaphor and it has no clever zing whatsoever if you don't interpret it that way. Regardless, it's a soft offense. Much worse things have been done to both gays and religious people...

But I digress. Back to belief in belief.

You can learn things in two ways--take it from someone who knows, or figure it out for your own damn self. The problem is that there are plenty who claim to know, but actually are either wrong or have ulterior motives. These ulterior motives can be self-deception, personal gain, conscience relief, or whatever. On the other hand, figuring it out yourself is just plain too inefficient. If I were to try to learn medicine by 'figuring it out myself' rather than accepting the facts others feed me, I wouldn't graduate med school in five lifetimes.

So, then there's just a lengthy interplay between hearing ostensible claims of moral or religious fact, and then testing the veracity in some manner that persuades me they are true or false. This is the scientific method of religion. You plant a seed and if it is good it springs up into a fruit bearing tree. That is, if you don't decide to install a jacuzzi right over the saplings to have your gay buddies over for a skinny dip. The whole venture is perilous no matter who you are, but especially when you are filled with angst and want some fast answers or some fast relief. If you try to force it, you may one day realize the quick growth was only a thistle and the real tree died long ago.

On the other hand, I can go overboard with my interplay, fulfilling Tim's prophesy that in the last days men would be "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2Tim 3:7).

Or, I can wrest the scritpures to my own destruction if I decide the end from the beginning and try to twist some dead branches and green spray paint into a tree looking structure so I can have the tree on top of the jacuzzi.

I take a deep breath. I realize my beliefs are fluid, not yet the rocky foundation I need. And I examine the evidence. All the while, remembering the admonition that if I don't nurture the tree--if I give up along the way and neglect it--I shouldn't be surprised when it slowly withers away and dies. At least that's what I've been told. And that's what I've seen happen with others' trees.

I want a majestic oak with gnarled mature branches, and a thick tapered trunk. There are people around me who have what I want from life. They have that oak. And so I trust them when they tell me how to nurture my own. I believe them.

It's sometimes scary too. But I don't want to modify my beliefs in a reactionary way. I believe in belief.


Dave Walter said...

I think it crosses the line when my med student buddies wear pins that say "straight but not narrow" thus contradicting their own values of being tolerant by categorically insulting the religious demographic as "narrow".

Another view would be that the button-wearers were fairly and even commendably challenging anti-gay bigotry, religion-based bigotry being the worst kind.

As I've said previously, privately held religious beliefs are fine. But when an organized religion attempts to have its beliefs codified into the law of the land -- as the LDS Church has done and continues to do -- then opponents have every right to counter that with buttons and more. In fact, I believe it's a moral imperative for them to do so.

By the way, I think you'll find this interesting: Can gays change?

-L- said...

I have no problem with "fairly and commendably challenging anti-gay bigotry." Hand me the purple triangle and I'll pin it on my lapel. Hand me the rainbow bumpersticker and I'll... well, I would slap it on my car except that I hate bumper stickers of all kinds.

But believing that homosexuality is wrong is a completely valid viewpoint that does NOT mean a person is narrow or hasn't struggled with formulating that view. I say again, to categorically insult religious people in such a manner is hypocritical when coming from persecuted gays.

There is no such thing as public policy that is divorced entirely from privately held religious views. Religion informs morality, and you're mistaken if you think it doesn't play an appropriate part in our national dialog. When determining public policy, healthy debate is followed by a final decision based on majority rule. The church and all other interested parties have a voice that encourages their members to contribute to that. I don't believe in theocracy, but I don't believe that religious points of view are therefore invalid in their contribution to the national debate either. When the pendulum swings too far, oppression and tyranny are replaced by oppression and tyranny.

Also, thanks for the interesting link on Spitzer's findings. I will be posting more about that in the future, but for now I'm still learning.

Dave Walter said...

But believing that homosexuality is wrong is a completely valid viewpoint..."

We fundamentally disagree on this. To me, believing homosexuality is wrong is akin to believing white people should be allowed to own black people as slaves.

Continuing with that line of thinking, I don't agree that oppression and tyranny need be replaced by oppression and tyranny. In the case of blacks, oppression and tyranny were replaced (or, at least, are in the process of being replaced) by equality. The pendulum clearly cannot and will not swing so far in the other direction as to subject the white majority to an oppressive, tyrannical black minority.

American societal institutions ultimately recognized that racism is simply wrong. American society needs to recognize the same regarding antigay bias. We can disagree on that, and choose to influence policymakers to act in accordance with our respective beliefs. But here's what I don't get: Why should a church that condemns gay lifestyles as immoral and/or evil be immune to being condemned as immoral and/or evil by gays?

-L- said...

The church should NOT be immune to being thought of as immoral or evil by gays. That's my whole point. Dave, I love that you disagree with the church, but I don't love that you hate the church. And I don't think that disagreeing with someone automatically justifies my labeling them as "narrow". I would just be happier if people could disagree without being snarky or hostile. But, I guess it's a fine line I'm attempting to draw. It's easier to see when crazy people bomb abortion clinics, or beat up gay teenagers and leave them tied to a fence to die.

And although the comparison to racism is often used in pro-gay activist groups, it is a poor one to convince a Mormon. Mormons, as you know, believe that the only inherent part about being gay is the attraction, not the behavior. Mormons believe that sexual restraint is possible in a variety of situations, and is even demanded by society as in the case of pedophiles. So it does no good to use a comparison that requires the use of one's own assumptions to persuade someone with a different set of assumptions.

And, by the way, many people (not me) believe that affirmative action is precisely a situation in which white people are oppressed by the black minority. There's no "clearly cannot" about it. I'll talk a bit more about racism in my next post.

Dave Walter said...

L, I don't hate any church or any member of any church. I agree that dialogue should take place without snarkiness or hostility. The "straight but not narrow" button didn't strike me as offensive, but that may simply be because I'm only vaguely aware of the origin of "straight and narrow" and totally unaware of whatever significance it holds among Mormons. I wonder whether the people wearing the buttons are similarly unaware.

I agree that Mormons generally won't buy the comparison of gays and blacks. However, I don't believe that makes the comparison any less valid. The "love the sinner but hate the sin" attitude, and comparisons to pedophilia (and murder, even) mask the underlying antigay bias.

David said...

Straight but not Narrow-where does it say straight is the path and narrow is the way, or did I pull that out of thin air. We've all heard of the Straight and Narrow Path that is taught of in Chrisitian Religions (or maybe just the Mormon religion.) I don't see how those pins are offensive. Christians (Mormons specifically) are taught that the path is narrow, which has to reflect on their way of life somehow, doesn't it? Calling them on one of thier beliefs is perfectly acceptable in my view.

P.S. It's late and I've been studying Pharmacology for who knows how long, please excuse my less than beautifully articulated half-thoughts. They're a far cry from the short novels the two of you have been writing in this comments section.

-L- said...

Dave Walter, I sure hope you realize I was not comparing homosexuality with pedophilia in terms of moral acceptability(although I acknowledge that some do.) But it must be said that sexual restraint is both possible and expected by society in some cases. If you can help me find a better example that would avoid the possible misunderstanding there, I would thank you for it.

And to both Daves: You are right that the pin probably isn't the gravest offense possible. My own wife (who is the smartest person I know) thinks calling someone evil is much worse than calling them narrow. But I would be just as critical of religious people wearing pins that say "gays are evil". Again, see my post on tolerance.

This post was about belief, not gay support pins. Hopefully I didn't completely obscure the main message with my comment on the pins.

-L- said...

I know you thought you might read the thoughtful replies of OTHER people in my comments, not just me commenting on myself [blushing], but I forgot in my last comment to apologize to Dave Walter for saying he hates the church. Dave, I've been very impressed with the constructive way you defend what you believe in, reason through the issues, and thoughtfully post so frequently. You indeed follow your own "moral imperative" and I have nothing but respect for that.

Dave Walter said...

L, no apology necessary -- but thanks.

I didn't think you were comparing homosexuality to pedophilia; I was just trying to make the point that gays frequently get lumped together with unseemly elements of society.

I agree that sexual restraint is both possible and expected in society by some cases. What bothers me is that the Mormon Church, Catholic Church, and others not only push sexual restraint by gays, but total abstention. At least they're not as bad as Kellen Wilson.