Saturday, October 13, 2012

On sin and second-hand smoke

I'm going to go out on a limb here.

It is quite likely that some of my dearest friends may find what I'm about to write here objectionable.

But I think I just had an epiphany.  I think I just got a glimpse of something True and True things strike me as important.  Truth is a pretty powerful thing, and seeing things clearly is always helpful.  (Not always pretty, not always pleasant, but in the end always helpful.)

So . . . here goes:

I was on FaceBook earlier this evening and I saw the picture posted here:  Saying someone should be gay because it's against your religion makes as much sense as saying someone shouldn't eat a donut because you're on a diet.

My initial reaction was to "like" the post and to pass it on.

But then I had my epiphany -- what the religious right is saying about homosexuality is actually not at all like this, and saying that it is does a disservice to the cause of equality.  Because telling someone that they shouldn't eat a donut because you're on a diet is stupid.  It's crazy.  And it never helps move a conversation forward to tell the other person that they're stupid and crazy.

Before I go any further I want to make something clear.  The argument I'm making here comes from my perspective as a straight ally.  I have not, personally, had the experience of having my identity, my very existence, branded as "evil" the way my gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender friends have.  I can imagine what that feels like, but I can't know.  Not really.  So it's quite possible that there may be a little more "detachment" for me.  There may be a little more willingness to try to understand "the other side;" a little more of a desire to try and find bridges.

For many folk in the GLBT community(ies) those bridges have been long ago burned.  Having been badly hurt in incredibly deep and personal ways . . . well . . . there's not so much interest in trying to understand the ones who have done -- and continue to do -- the hurting.

And I am certainly not saying that they should.  But maybe that's one of my roles as an ally.  Perhaps that's one of the things allies do -- as bridges ourselves we do the work of trying to build bridges.  Because, I believe, we must all eventually get together.  I preach often the message, "there is no 'us' and 'them,' there is only 'us.'"  With tremendous passion I believe this.  And I want to see it come to be as real "on earth as it is in heaven" (to coin a phrase).

So . . . that epiphany.

Let me suggest another analogy -- saying someone shouldn't be gay because it's against your religion makes as much sense as saying someone shouldn't smoke because you don't want to get lung cancer.  At first blush this also seems ridiculous.  It certainly did when the effort to ban smoking in public places first began.  But we've since learned quite a lot about the dangers of second-hand smoke.  If you smoke, the smoke you exhale, the smoke that exudes from you, that lingers around you like a cloud, can indeed make me sick.  As the child of parents who smoked like chimneys I can certainly testify that the odor alone is incredibly offensive.  But we've also now learned that the poisons in cigarettes are not ingested only by the person smoking.  Insidiously they spread, and do real damage to folks who've never lit up themselves.

So saying that you shouldn't smoke because I don't want cancer is not, as it might first seem, ridiculous.  It's not stupid; it's not crazy.  It actually makes sense.

And I truly believe that a great many -- perhaps even a majority -- of the folks on the religious right see this as true about homosexuality as well.  That was my epiphany tonight.  I understood -- perhaps for the first time -- that "they" really do believe that sin does not just harm the individual sinner but insidiously spreads and does real damage -- eternal damage! -- to people who otherwise are "innocent."

(And yes, I know, there's a problem with the idea that some people consider themselves "innocent."  There's the whole, "let the one who has not sinned cast the first stone" thing going on.  But let's not get caught up on that for a moment, okay?  While certainly theologically correct and consistent, it'd be something of a distraction from this line of thinking . . .)

So let's consider, for a moment at least, that the people who are saying that folks "shouldn't be gay," or that homosexuality shouldn't be normalized, or that their unions shouldn't be recognized and honored in the same way that heterosexual unions are . . . let's just, for a moment, consider that they have (what seems to them to be) a legitimate concern.  They're really afraid that this "sin" -- this literally God damned "abomination" -- is not just some kind of alternate lifestyle choice but is, in fact, a clear and present danger to them.  Let's imagine that for a moment.

Do you really think saying, "that's stupid" is going to be an effective strategy?  Does that ever help someone get over a fear?  If somebody's afraid of flying is it just a matter of telling them that that's crazy to get them over it?  Being called "stupid" and "crazy" generally leads to someone getting defensive, and defensive people rarely open up to change.  Usually they constrict and dig in their heels.

So what do you do to help someone overcome her or his fears of flying?  You lead them through a process.  You teach them the facts about aviation safety.  You give them ever-increasing exposure -- often going to an airport and watching the planes take off.  Walking on to a plane and sitting there while it's on the ground.  Little step by little step introducing the person to the actual experience of flying and, little by little, the actual experience replaces the fear.

Earlier today I saw a beautiful little video.  It's actually an ad by Expedia.  And I think that this ad is not only a lovely depiction of someone making such a journey from fear to love.  Because the story is told in such a matter-of-fact way I believe it could be a step on someone else's journey.  It's like offering an aerophobe an invitation to watch a movie about someone overcoming their fear of flying.  Doesn't that seem more effective than telling them that they're stupid?

In Gassho,