“Tolerance” and Phil Robertson

By geopungo [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By geopungo [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

So if you haven’t read the original GQ article in which Phil Robertson made his offensive remarks about homosexuality, you should really do that before entering into this discussion, but I warn you it is fairly lengthy. The reason you should read that interview first is because, as is often the case in situations like this, most other articles are taking his words out of context to confuse his original meanings to enhance offensiveness.

Of the half-dozen articles I perused this morning, the most common quote, almost always isolated, is a paragraph right in the middle of the interview. Drew Magary, the GQ correspondent who interviewed Phil, has just been admirably relating Phil’s commentary on America’s moral decline. Phil finishes by saying “Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong,… Sin becomes fine.” Which prompts the question from Magary, “What, in your mind, is sinful?” Phil’s quoted response is the big story:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: ‘Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.’”

Taken out of context, in all of its backwoods simplicity, this quote is being used to imply that Phil is blaming all sin on homosexuality and equating it with bestiality, which is something more aggressively conservative Christians are known to do. But that just doesn’t seem to be what he is saying. He is just saying it is sinful. He isn’t saying that homosexuals are the cause of the downfall of Christian morality in America, or even connecting these two things in any way, though an unfortunately large number of conservative Christians would gladly do just that.

I don’t even want to defend his statement too strongly, because I don’t agree with the interpretation which is being publicized, or even the way I believe he meant it. It represents an interpretation of that passage that I disagree with as well as a broader ethical paradigm that seems problematic and inconsistent with a biblical worldview. But all of that is beside the point, because Phil Robertson was just saying what he believed. And I can’t really fault him for that, even if I would like to have a nice sit-down conversation about it with him.

Lest we be confused, this is not a free speech issue. Free speech is a right guaranteed by the constitution that our government cannot take away. That is totally irrelevant to what is happening here. One person said something, knowing full well it would be published (and probably knowing it would be interpreted and misinterpreted in the course of publication and even more so after publication). These statements resulted in his arrangement on a different platform, A&E’s Duck Dynasty,being indefinitely suspended so has to provide demonstrable distance between his beliefs and those of A&E which directly and indirectly provided him with that platform in GQ magazine. A&E is well within their rights to do this, and I really don’t see any reasonable debate on this point. But I can’t help but wonder, why?

Why did A&E feel they needed to distance themselves from Phil’s statements? I suppose the most obvious answer is that they knew that, while his statements would be very popular with red-state Christians, who are an enormous target audience for Duck Dynasty, they would be enormously problematic and offensive to another large and growing segment of the population, the LGBTQA community, of which I increasingly feel I am a member (since that acronym just keeps getting longer). That is almost certainly a large piece of this issue, but there is another significant influence behind this decision that has been bothering me for a while.

In current American culture, we have the clear perception that people can believe whatever they want, and we should more or less tolerate it. I tend to subscribe to this belief as well, which has probably been one of reasons I have moved toward the more “progressive” end of the social, political, and theological spectrums, though I still consider myself pretty conservative in each of those categories.

Growing up in a conservative family and in a conservative church, I was raised in skepticism of these ideas of tolerance. This skepticism wasn’t because we didn’t believe in tolerance, but it was because we understood ourselves as being tolerant. We didn’t knowingly persecute people who believed differently than we did. I rarely if ever heard my pastor preach on homosexuality or societal ills, and while some conversations I heard growing up would offend people who didn’t understand them, they did not espouse hateful ideas, nor did they predominantly come from hateful people.

So I was confused when I learned that conservatives were being accused of “intolerance.” I thought for sure that this must mean something other than what I understood it to mean. I was still very young at that time, but I remember some pastors and adults in conservative circles came to understand more quickly than I did. They critically made statements about how society is somehow willing to tolerate everything except intolerance. For a long while, I thought these statements were immature and oversimplifications of the truth. In fact, I still think that, but I also think that they convey a true and important idea.

Society readily accepts some beliefs, depending on what it is ready for at that time. If you bring an idea to the table that is brilliant, but too far ahead of its time, it won’t take. If you bring an idea that is associated with an old idea, or a problem recently solved, no one will think it matters. They might even fight you on it because it is seen as a dangerous step backward. So society can only ever move at the pace it is ready to move, and if something valuable gets left behind, it is gone for good.

As society has increasingly accepted homosexuality, those who do not accept it, that is, those who believe that it is wrong, are seen as backward, past-dwelling inhibitors to progress. The same thing can be seen in feminist and racial movements. Joss Whedon spoke at Make Equality Reality, and his speech is a prime example of characterizing oppositions to these movements as something which is behind us – something which is holding us back. I don’t say this to criticize those movements as, to varying degrees, I agree with and support each of these movements.

But each of these movements hold the banner of tolerance, and use it to secure the progressive moral highground. This is as it should be. Tolerance, properly understood, is an enormous and important demonstration of love for those who are hurting, or who have been rejected by others in society. And loving others is the second greatest commandment. This is why I think those adults and pastors got it wrong all those years ago when they were speaking critically of this progressive “tolerance.” Tolerance is laudable and should be praised whether it is preached by a conservative or a liberal. And that is also where progressives seem to get it wrong a lot. Case in point – Phil Robertson.

Because what did he really do? He stated what he believed. He believes that homosexuality is a sin. He believes that the proliferation and acceptance this sin is one observable symptom of a downward trend of morality in American culture. That is okay. Christians should quit getting in a huff about Ellen being the spokesperson for Target, and GLBTQA should quit being hateful toward Phil Robertson because he has an opinion. It is okay to have opinions, and it is okay to disagree. That simple but volatile disagreement shouldn’t be this big of a deal to people who are preaching tolerance. Phil Robertson said nothing bad about homosexuals or homosexuality. He didn’t propose we go round up people with earrings in their left ear, and burn them in the town square, and he didn’t even say anything about gay marriage, which is the absolute minimum I can think for him to have said to get this reaction.

So this is my problem. Against all odds, tolerance has had a formative influence on the way I think. But if homosexuals and feminists and atheists and every other progressive movement want to bear the banner of tolerance, let’s at least be true to that banner, and treat people’s opinions accordingly. If someone’s opinion isn’t causing harm – physical, emotional, or psychological – then let their opinion be their opinion.

For instance, in Joss Whedon’s aforementioned speech at Make Equality Reality, he proposes that we begin using the term “genderist” as we use the word “racist.” That is, use it to deride a belief which is shameful, a horrifyingly outdated idea which has been replaced by newer, better, more enlightened ideas – in this case, feminism. In fact he specifically says that “…to say ‘I don’t believe that [women are people, and should be treated equally to other people]’ is unacceptable.”

It is tough to be totally clear to both sides about this. I completely agree that women are people, and should in all ways be treated equally to other people. I totally agree with that, and I support any ethically sound way to promote that idea. But, I also believe in tolerance. I genuinely believe that as long as someone is not actually oppressing women, they can believe whatever they want, and that is okay.

By the same tolerant token, I believe that homosexuality is a sin, and I love and accept homosexuals. Similarly, I almost entirely disagree with Phil Robertson’s statements, especially the interpreted theological and societal implications of it, but I am totally cool with him as a person, even if all the worst interpretations of his statements were accurate. Because he is entitled to think, do, and say whatever he wants, provided he doesn’t harm anyone else. This is true tolerance, and it is disappointing to see otherwise respectable movements hold this banner while disregarding it’s application when it is inconvenient.

What do you think? Is there true tolerance possible? Is it reasonable to expect movements founded on tolerance to move forward with tolerance for their opposition? Let me know in the comments.

ALL opinions are welcome to comment. However, please feel free to place all your insults, sarcasm, and incivility ELSEWHERE in cyberspace. I implore you to contribute respectfully and intelligently to a discussion that may benefit all involved by mutual education and edification.

Stupid Criminals: Part 4/4: The Condition and the Cure

After these last few weeks of discussing stupid, some might be surprised to learn it is not stupid which I actually find so offensive and destructive. Stupid is simply the most obvious symptom of the broader belief-disease which infects our discussion like gangrene. This disease may be thought of as the belief people can be stupid. It is a humanity-wide, culturally bred individualistic arrogance which very subtly devalues other people, their beliefs, and their worldview primarily on the basis of it being different from my own.

This disease is evidenced every day in millions of discussions around the world on phones, in person, and on the internet. It often comes from people who should know better. But it is so subtle we do not even see it, even while we are calling others out for the same thing. This comes from conservative Christians who preach Christ’s love and are biblically mandated to reflect His love. And it comes from progressive atheists who rail on Christians for being intolerant of opposing beliefs. It comes from politicians and wealthy businessmen, and blue-collar workers. There is an absolutely pervasive and tragic proliferation of the genuine belief people and ideas can be stupid. And worse, many of us believe we, individually, are capable of determining for ourselves not just if an idea is correct or incorrect, but if it even is worthy of the dignity of conversation.

If you want to know why congress can’t get anything done, this disease is the single biggest reason. If you want to know why marriages are falling apart, this is often a contributing factor. Do you want to know why teenagers are committing suicide? That is too serious a problem to be overzealous in assuming cause, but the lack of acceptance and feeling of alienation from feeling stupid is often a contributing factor, guaranteed. I am not giving statistics because I do not have any – also because statistics tend to be tools of manipulation more often than they are mediums of information. But I know, deep in my bones, the single most common, disregarded, thoughtless act of unloving incivility which darkens this world is the proliferation of this disease-like belief it is theoretically possible for a person or their idea to be stupid, or beneath reasonable discussion, and we are capable of making that discernment on an individual basis.

These last few weeks I have endeavored to convince you of the seriousness of this problem. If you do not have so much as an inkling of conscience nagging you that I might be right, then the rest of this post probably will not particularly interest you. But if you agreed with me from the first paragraph of the first post, or if the weeks of reading have provoked you to think perhaps stupid, and the disease-belief behind it, need to be banished from our lives, then join me in exiling it from our speech and thought. But the ideas behind it linger in other less frequently used words, phrases, and thought patterns. Those need to be watched as well. To aid in this endeavor, I have compiled a small list of such phrases for your reflection.

The first word-sacrifice on the altar to this endeavor is common sense. Common sense is an oxymoron worthy of its own blog post, but what it boils down to is this. There is no such thing as common sense. I don’t mean “people just don’t have common sense anymore.” I mean they never did. It never existed. When people say, “use your common sense,” what they mean is, “you should know all the relevant facts which I know, and knowing those things, you should come to the same conclusion as I did, because you should think like me, just like everyone else does.” This is arrogant on multiple levels, like stupid, only more subtle. Different people have different knowledge bases, different experiences, and different thought processes. The only common sense which exists is certain facts which are commonly known and understood. But this is clearly not how many people use this phrase, because this information is also commonly either unknown or misunderstood. The common usage of common sense disregards this fact and assumes that everyone should know this information. Common sense mostly stems from the idea everyone else should be more like me, if for no other reason than it would make my life easier.

Obviously follows a similar sort of usage and problematic sequence as common sense, but people use it more passively. I make a statement and include obviously, which subtly precludes any real contest of my statement. People also often use obviously completely innocently in some contexts. Nevertheless, we ought to be on the lookout for our own uses of it to discern whether they demean the intellect of those who disagree with us, or prevent open discussion on a topic.

The word I struggle with most in connection to this disease is ridiculous. Like obviously, some of its uses are completely harmless and innocent, particularly in its adverbial form. But all too often I catch myself saying or about to say an idea or action or rule is ridiculous. What this word breaks down to – and what I mean when I say it – is just a much more specific, albeit a little less biting, version of stupid. Ridiculous: worthy of ridicule. Or put another way – beneath the dignity of serious thought or discussion.

I imagine, in the course of eliminating stupid from our vocabulary, everyone will come across a number of substitute words they use, meaning essentially the same thing. This is not truly productive. You know what you mean, and often others will know what you mean. We have to eliminate from our mind the idea any person or idea is so stupid/ridiculous/ludicrous/obviously flawed as to be beneath the value of discussion and serious thought. Discuss and discern the merits of every single idea. This disease-belief has got to stop, and the only way we can stop it is by recognizing it and eliminating it from our own mind and our own conversation. And that means catching ourselves when we substitute new words to make the same old destructive point.

If you feel especially bold, then feel free to bring others’ attention to your commitment to eradicating this belief-disease. I rarely hear someone else say stupid without politely but seriously inserting that “stupid is a mean word,” or some similar comment. Sometimes, this simple little phrase provokes a discussion that leads in the direction of this disease belief. And sometimes – admittedly not very often, but occasionally – someone will even come to the conclusion that stupid needs to stop, and the world gets just a little better for it, because stupid truly is a mean word.

In fact stupid is more than just a mean word. Stupid is a word which is copyrighted by the disrespectful, the lazy, the ignorant, and the arrogant. They alone may be expected to use it. It has no place in civil, progress-oriented conversation. It is a word belonging to a conflict-ridden past. Leave it there, and move forward with civility toward understanding and clearer communication.

What about you? How do your words subtly demean or preclude reasonable opposition? Why do you use these words? Do you think it is a bad thing? Is it worth changing?

Miss the beginning? Read it from the beginning. Go check out Part 1: The Crime

ALL opinions are welcome to comment. However, please feel free to place all your insults, sarcasm, and incivility ELSEWHERE in cyberspace. I implore you to contribute respectfully and intelligently to a discussion that may benefit all involved by mutual education and edification.

Stupid Criminals: Part 3/4: The Really Stupid One

People use stupid for several reasons in an abundance of situations where it is just plain uncivil, unproductive, and inappropriate. But what about people and ideas that really are stupid? I mean. Some ideas and some people are just plain dumb, right? Well mostly this comes back to the arrogance thing. There is a sliding scale of intelligence in this world. One way of measuring it is with a standardized IQ test, but most people tend to measure it more casually than that. Some people are smarter than others. Some people suffer from mental handicaps which limit their capacity. At one time, this group was the primary object of stupid. But I cannot truly know how smart someone is. Similarly, no one knows how smart I am. I can discern when someone has an idea I had not thought of and probably never would have. I can even casually note the frequency with which such ideas come from any one particular person. But this does not necessarily make that person smarter than me. This just means their mind works differently than mine.

The same goes for when I finish a math problem faster or slower than another person. I’m not necessarily smarter or dumber than them on that basis. I may just have a different mental skill set. But what if they come to a different conclusion entirely on such a math problem – even a simple one? For instance, what if they say 4+3=9 while I know 4+3=7? This is still attributable to a different skill set. This example might fit better under my later discussion of the myth of common knowledge, but the point is, there is no way for one person casually to determine the intelligence of another. If indeed there are people on this planet devoid of intellect, reason, and judgment, neither you nor I would be able to identify them on the basis of their knowledge or acuity on any subject. It is simply not possible. Any presumption to do so or to have done so ultimately stems from ignorance, arrogance, or narcissism.

By Guyon Morée from Beverwijk, Netherlands (Angry tiger) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Guyon Morée from Beverwijk, Netherlands (Angry tiger) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

But what about inanimate objects, like a table, or laws? Can those things be stupid? I hate to be a stickler about this, but the table you just bumped your knee on was put there by a person. If your problem is with its location, then it probably made sense to put it there at the time. The person who placed it there simply did not have your lack of spatial awareness in the forefront of their mind when they put it there. Laws are more complicated, but ultimately follow the same general principle. The law exists because very intelligent, educated people created it. They created it under an enormous number of unreasonable pressures and obstacles – not the least of which were opposing intelligent educated people who kept calling them stupid! So yes, a law can be dysfunctional, but it is not stupid, because an intelligent person or group of people was behind it. And unless you are part of that group or fully informed of every factor leading to the creation of that law, then you are in no place to make such a harsh, rash assessment of that process.

This brings me to the singular situation in which I have found it acceptable to use stupid. When I lock my keys in my car, I fully retain the right to introspectively assess and determine this situation was not in any way the result of intelligent, rational thinking on my part. It was a result of passive, distracted negligence, and it was stupid. When I bump my knee on the table in the living room and wonder what colossally inbred boob had the audacity to place it there, I remember I was the one who put it there. I was also the one who forgot it was there when I stood up to go get my food out of the microwave. And that was stupid.

This is not because I can call myself whatever I want whenever I want. It is because I already know and understand the paths of my mind and the value of my thoughts. It cannot be arrogant for me to presume to understand myself well enough to dismiss my own thoughts or actions. But if the same idea comes from another person, I am obliged to assume this person came to that conclusion by a different, possibly more reliable thought progression than I did. Therefore, perhaps they can explain the idea in a way which circumvents the reasons for which I determined it was unacceptable. And even if they cannot explain it, it is not for that reason irrational, unreasonable, or stupid. It simply means they cannot express their thoughts in adequately convincing words.

When I was in elementary school, my teachers always told me to check my work. Even then, I was smarter than everyone else was, so I knew what I was doing. Why would such an enlightened prodigy of genius ever need to check his work? Well, when I got tests back I found out why. Even such a prodigious genius is capable of making stupid mistakes, and I found a lot of them marked with red ink. I knew I was stupid when I saw those red ink marks, and I still know it when I make stupid mistakes, and those mistakes are the only things which I have found worthy and acceptable to denote with stupid.

What do you think? Do you do stupid things? What makes the things you do stupid, and why do or don’t you think that other people are stupid for the same thing? Let me know in the comments.

Not sure where to find the first two parts of this series? You can find Part 1 here.
Update!!! Part 4 is posted!

ALL opinions are welcome to comment. However, please feel free to place all your insults, sarcasm, and incivility ELSEWHERE in cyberspace. I implore you to contribute respectfully and intelligently to a discussion that may benefit all involved by mutual education and edification.

Stupid Criminals: Part 2/4: The Motive

Stupid is a criminally counterproductive word, which is not in any way edifying or beneficial to its user or its object. So if stupid is so incredibly destructive, why do people use it? In a way, there are probably as many reasons for using the word as there are situations in which people use it.  However, I have found people’s motivations and rationalizations tend to boil down to a combination of arrogance, apathy, and conviction.

Arrogance is often a key factor, though not usually the active catalyst, in a person’s usage of stupid. As I mentioned previously, part of the crime of using stupid is it dismisses a person or idea and prevents further conversation on the topic. This is often because consciously or unconsciously they feel they already know the other person’s perspective, and consequently feel confident writing it off as ridiculous without any discussion on the matter. But ultimately, this is simple arrogance. It is arrogant first, to presume to know the mind of another person without discussion. It is arrogant second to write off an opinion at all, even after discussion. But to take something someone else believes is rational, and to say it is wrong – beneath reason even – is to place yourself unreasonably far above another person and to declare it utterly impossible you are wrong on this issue. This sort of declaration borders on narcissism.

"Mr. Apathy, may I touch your mustache." "I don't care," "YES!!!!!"

“Mr. Apathy, may I touch your mustache.” “I don’t care,” “YES!!!!!”

But this narcissistic over-confidence is not the only reason people use stupid. Often times, a discussion simply is not important or not enticing to one party at a given moment, and the first easy out of the conversation is to dismiss an otherwise merely disagreeable idea as stupid. Here, arrogance is not the issue. Apathy is. I sympathize with this problem, as I often find myself in conversations in which I would rather not participate, but in light of the tremendous destructive power of stupid I find it best to use other means to extricate myself from those situations.

Quite the opposite of apathy, another common factor which compels the use of stupid is great conviction – more particularly, conviction combined with frustration at another’s opposing conviction. As a Christian, this is probably the most obvious, most frequent motive I have seen. I have rarely witnessed a new-earth creationist and a Darwinist have a conversation which ends without one or both calling the others’ ideas stupid. I also find this very understandable, but it is the single most unacceptable usage of this word. That discussion – in fact any discussion which stems from great conviction in both participants – has tremendous value which is derived from those convictions. It is therefore tragically unfair to end the conversation, perhaps permanently, by deriding one another with such a destructive word.

Most of the time, it is not a pure version of any of these three factors. There are often subtle combinations of these three motives as well as other subtle emotions in play. But these three things tend to characterize the usage of stupid more often than not. While they are largely understandable in light of our fallen humanity, they do not adequately excuse use of stupid – not by a long shot. We must be on guard against our arrogance, and be aware of our apathy and conviction so they do not lead us unjustly to dismiss ideas and people as stupid.

Why do YOU use stupid? Do you think it is acceptable? Am I stupid?? Let me know in the comments

Missed Part 1 last week? You can find that here.
Check out part 3!

ALL opinions are welcome to comment. However, please feel free to place all your insults, sarcasm, and incivility ELSEWHERE in cyberspace. I implore you to contribute respectfully and intelligently to a discussion that may benefit all involved by mutual education and edification.

Stupid Criminals: Part 1/4: The Crime

For well over a year now, one word has dominated my list of pet peeves. In all honesty though, I rarely think of it as a pet peeve. It is not merely a word I find annoying, or one I wish people would not say, though it is definitely both of those. It is a word which I firmly believe is the single greatest modern tool of Satan in causing division and preventing civil conversation and reconciliation between any two people or groups who disagree about something. The subject matter is irrelevant. It could be anything from theology to anthropology, to geology, to political psychology. When two people disagree, particularly in casual conversation, they will often dismiss each other’s view as irrelevant or disregard it with one simple word: Stupid.

But what is wrong with stupid? If someone is somehow intellectually handicapped in such a way as prevents them from achieving a reasonable opinion on an issue, doesn’t that invalidate their opinion? And wouldn’t it then be thoroughly appropriate to disregard their opinion and end that conversation by calling them stupid? The simple answer to these questions is no. No opinion can appropriately be dismissed as stupid, and therefore no conversation is so valueless as to warrant its premature demise to stupid. Using stupid is a crime.

I emphasize it is a crime because thinking of it this way might facilitate a change in perspective. As with all crimes, it violates common moral standards, especially those pertaining to civility. It also violates certain unspoken understandings and contracts between conversational participants, as I will demonstrate later on. But most importantly, – though it is likely the first point some will disregard – utilizing stupid is in most cases far from a victimless crime. It robs both the person who says it and the person who is dismissed by it of intellectual growth potential, and potentially robs the entire world of ideas which, if not for certain people’s arrogant disdain, could quite literally change the world. The entire world suffers under the oppressive proliferation of stupid. That is why it is a crime.

By Cartoonist unidentified [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Cartoonist unidentified [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At the very least, calling a person or an idea stupid is generally a criminally premature dismissal. This dismissal generally falls into one of two situational categories. First, I may use stupid to dismiss an idea on a topic with which I am entirely unfamiliar or only moderately familiar. But if I am not deeply familiar with the subject matter, how can I even have confidence in my knowledge base to say an opinion is wrong, much less saying the idea is beneath reason and intelligent discussion. Using stupid in this situation is a very common example of arrogance.

But what about the topics I am deeply familiar with. What about a subject to which I have dedicated significant amounts of time and effort to educate myself, so I can have a more accurately informed opinion on the topic. I am a master in this category of discussion, so I certainly have the knowledge base to determine many opinions are factually inaccurate. But deeming an idea or person stupid is so much more than saying the idea builds on inaccurate facts or a faulty logical progression. This statement devalues the mind which generated the idea as well as any mind which even treats it as reasonable. Therefore, by referring to any idea – even one which truly follows a factually or logically flawed path – as stupid, I am devaluing the time I have spent educating myself on that topic. If anyone who does not know the information, which I know only by virtue of extensive study, is stupid, then all my study and pondering of the subject has merely made me a step above stupidity.

Unfortunately, part of the criminality of calling a person or idea stupid is that I forfeit almost all immediate likelihood of further educating either myself or the person who proposed the idea.  This is because calling the idea stupid is saying it is beneath reasonable discussion. I know this because if the idea warranted further discussion, I would give a well-reasoned logical or factual critique of the idea, explaining why it might be faulty. Instead, I call it stupid which effectively ends the conversation. The person whose idea I derided can only become defensive of their idea, submit in humiliated awe beneath the power of my non-existent intellectual argument, or perhaps make an argument which might make me think this idea might have some merit. If they accept their humiliating intellectual defeat, then the conversation ends. If they become defensive, then their mind and arguments are tainted with bitterness which significantly lessens the probability of meaningful discussion. And on the off chance they avoid this pitfall and proceed to make a well-reasoned argument, then, having used such a strong word as stupid to deem them and their idea irredeemably unreasonable, I will most likely feel defensive, which will poison my arguments, again, greatly diminishing the likelihood of conversational progress. In the case of any of these potential responses, the conversation ends and all immediate hope for the intellectual enhancement of either party evaporates along with the conversation.

By CostPanteley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By CostPanteley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In fact, ending a conversation this way criminally violates an unspoken inherent understanding between respectful, intelligent contributors. Conversation implies a certain level of presumption on the part of all participants. All must expect and assume each contributor to this conversation possesses the intellectual capacity required to contribute to the conversation. This is not merely something which people should assume at the beginning of a conversation. It is an essential agreement inherent to all conversation. As I utter the first words of the conversation, I silently declare my belief that all intended contributors are capable of participating in the conversation. If I do not assume this, then the only reason I can have to enter a conversation is to feed my own narcissism or to feed someone else’s.

With this assumption, nothing they say ever ought to be written off as stupid. Whatever they say – however flawed – is worthy of at least a fraction of a second’s reflection and a few second’s well-reasoned response. Dismissing them or their argument as stupid unjustly removes their idea from the conversation. No person or idea is worthy of this treatment. Civil discussion retains no place for this sort of conversational behavior.

What about you? Do you catch yourself using stupid? Do you think it is a problem?

Part 2 is posted! You can check that out here!

ALL opinions are welcome to comment. However, please feel free to place all your insults, sarcasm, and incivility ELSEWHERE in cyberspace. I implore you to contribute respectfully and intelligently to a discussion that may benefit all involved by mutual education and edification.

Before you get a chance to say it…

I am a white, heterosexual, Christian male. I am keenly aware of the fact that this is an amalgamation of demographics which, in terms of bullying, hatred, abuse, and societal disenfranchisement we generally perceive as the aggressors, or at least the dominant party. However, that is not an excuse for anyone, including me, to dismiss my perspective on bullying, racism, sexism, homophobia, or any category of hatred or abuse by people of a powerful plurality on a less powerful minority. Lately, these topics have been on my mind for discussion and writing, but I am hesitant because my views seem to lack a certain empathy or even sensitivity for the victims of hate and abuse. It seems inevitable that someone, disagreeing with my opinion on racism or sexuality, will attempt to invalidate my opinion on the basis of my race or sexuality, so it seems appropriate to place this declaration right at the outset of this blogging adventure.

So yes, I am white. This limits my perspective only as much as the perspective of a member of a racial minority is limited. I am thoroughly incapable of experientially understanding what it is like as a law-abiding black man to walk through a predominantly white neighborhood and have a woman on the other side of the street briefly glance at him with concern. But that black man doesn’t really know what it is like to be that white woman on the other side of the street either. But no one attempts to disqualify his opinion or feelings about that experience.

The fact that my perspective is to some extent limited by my experiences should go without saying. And my experiences are largely influenced by my race, gender, religion, and sexuality. But the same is true of those of minorities in these categories.

While my opinions may at times seem insensitive to their perspective, I almost always feel that discussions of these topics exhibit flagrant disregard for any potential defense of the majority. And when someone from the dominant plurality tries to point this out, they tend to come off like an elephant complaining that the mouse stepped on his toe. I am convinced that this is largely a consequence of the vaguely whiny/angry tone in which I usually hear them convey their point and because they are speaking to a minority audience that is predisposed to disregard any opposing perspective as being racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.

Can't we all just get along?

Can’t we all just get along?

All that said, I don’t intend to defend racism, sexism, or any form of hatred or abuse on my blog. But I will periodically take views on these topics that will seem insensitive to the victims or minorities in these situations, and I resolutely reject any notion that these views lack value or veracity simply because they come from a dominant party who perhaps has less experience as the victim of hate or abuse than many other people.

I am unapologetically a white, heterosexual, Christian male, but that is not all that I am. I am a whole person, and will not have my opinions or feelings (or anyone else’s for that matter) reduced to a consequence of my demographic and dismissed as irrelevant or inaccurate. This sort of premature dismissal is an enormous obstacle to civilized progress-driven discussion.

ALL opinions are welcome to comment. However, please feel free to place all your insults, sarcasm, and incivility ELSEWHERE in cyberspace. I implore you to contribute respectfully and intelligently to a discussion that may benefit all involved by mutual education and edification.

RE: A Faith of Our Own

Another book I read and reviewed last Summer was Jonathan Merritt’s A Faith of Our Own. In A Faith of Our Own Merritt paints an inspiring and enlightening picture of where he sees my generation of Christians going with regards to political activism. Reading this book aloud to my father and stopping frequently to discuss points in which he disagrees with Merritt served to accentuate the sharp contrast between how I and many of my generation desire to work out our faith and engage in politics and how he and his generation have done so in the past. I actually read it aloud to him in the hopes that perhaps it would broaden his perspective on the different methods of political/religious interaction. No such luck.

A Faith of Our OwnThe fact of the matter is that Jonathan Merritt is spot on when he identifies the growing schism between the older generation of veteran Christian culture warriors and the younger generation of Christians who hope to peaceably work out our faith without selling our souls to the political power machine. If I had read this book alone as opposed to reading it to my dad, I would likely have thought that some of Merritt’s statements regarding the lack of adaptability of the old guard of Christian conservatives to this renewed method of Christ-likeness were over-stated. I know many older Christians who occasionally make disappointingly vitriolic statements about political ideas and people, but I generally consider most or all of them to be reasonable people.

I figured that as reasonable people, when presented with the facts in just the right order, perhaps they might be willing to accept that, while their efforts have been well-intended and admirable, they may have been wrong-ended and misguided from the get-go. I know this to be a difficult thing to digest for even the best of people, so perhaps I underestimated the carnal desire to save face or over-estimated the ability to rationally interact with an idea in that generation, because if my dad is any indication, the old guard of Christian conservatives will continue to wear their fingers to nubs trying to scratch out the eyes of the evil, venomous liberals, and liberal Christians will likely continue to do the same to conservatives.

But that is merely my own unique experience reading this book with my father this afternoon. There is so much more to this book than a criticism of the past generation, in fact, that theme only shows itself in this book as a logical stepping stone to show what many in my generation of Christians are hoping to leave behind, in order to contrast it with what we hope to accomplish as we embrace for ourselves the heritage of faith which he have received from a generation of courageous and valiant, though misguided, culture warriors.

This book really surprised me with the detail of the vision that Merritt paints for his readers of a future paradigm of Christians working out our faith. While I have long thought that my father’s way of interacting with politics was irrelevant, unproductive, and detrimental, I had never really considered the alternatives in quite so much detail as Merritt paints it. He writes clearly and passionately of a Christianity in which he is already participating which values people regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, political party or any other demographic distinction which keeps the Church divided and unproductive in demonstrating Kingdom living to the world.

Jonathan Merritt’s book is both saddening as it forced me to look with sympathy on the past generation as they realize or fail to realize the damage done by their best efforts, and inspiring as it paints a picture which I greatly hope to participate in bringing to fruition. Though the final chapter aptly warns against an overly ambitious blind pursuit of any vision, lest we end up just like the generation I look upon with sympathy. A Faith of Our Own is a book I highly recommend to anyone of any generation in the hopes that they may raise their personal awareness of this fairly new way of thinking about politics and faith and so that they will be equipped to join the movement or set us all straight if necessary.

ALL opinions are welcome to comment. However, please feel free to place all your insults, sarcasm, and incivility ELSEWHERE in cyberspace. I implore you to contribute respectfully and intelligently to a discussion that may benefit all involved by mutual education and edification.


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