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,


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Anonymous said...

I read that whole blog, I understand where you were going with this. The only thing is, one person being homosexual is not poisonous like second-hand smoke. It cannot kill a person who is straight and thinks homosexuality is bad or a sin.
However, religion has killed many. Many have died for having different beliefs. People claiming to be religious still bully and hurt those that do not conform to certain "norms".
I think that instead maybe everyone should start listening to the ten commandments and listen less to some of the other things that the Bible says weren't set in stone by God. If we must live day-to-day by the Bible, why not follow the kinder rules? "Love thy neighbor" or even "Turn the other cheek".

Anonymous said...

Because, as he makes the point, there are people who believe that homosexuality is poisonous, and only facts and talking/learning abt glbt folks will help soften their position-as well as pointing to scripture that contradicts their thoughts.

Cathy Finn-Derecki said...

Erik, you are having the conversation behind the conversation, and that's never easy, but keep at it. Frequently, on these matters, it is easiest for us to talk on the surface about our feelings, but very difficult to dig beneath them to the very human, flawed ways that people of many faiths come to sometimes false conclusions. I truly believe that your willingness to empathize with and understand the possible underpinnings of the fear of proximity to homosexuals is a manifestation of what UUs are called to do: Not just know about religious traditions other than their own, but truly synthesize a worldview that can imagine a scenario where loving one's enemies is not just an exercise in tacit, tolerance among polite society. Good for you for doing the hard work.

Pete Armetta said...

Just telling someone they're WRONG of course doesn't do anything to change their views or how they feel. And no matter how many "straight allies" the gay community has, of course straight folks never have or will be gay so of course will never really know what that experience is like. It's certainly high-minded but is "building bridges" and being "nice" or "safe" some sort of goal in and of itself? What's the desired outcome? I've been hearing about this a lot lately and it's not at all clear to me. Unless it's just a matter of making gay people feel "welcome" which seems to be what we spend an awful lot of time rolling everything up to i.e. mental health etc.

Cathy Finn-Derecki said...

Pete, I feel your frustration on that one. The whole welcoming paradigm is a fuzzy one at best,, not in terms of intent, but in terms of execution. I'm not sure that the model of standing there and shouting "Hey we are welcoming! Come over here!" is working all that well. But I do believe that TJMC in particular has a demographic bent that, all the welcoming aside, speaks volumes when someone walks in the door.To the extent that we are conscious of this, and work to overcome our skewed older white educated liberal feel, which is really alienating to some of the more troubled in our society, is the extent to which this kind of welcoming thing becomes academic. What I'm not sure of is how we get there. I do believe, as a whole, that we have become way too comfortable, and discomfort, for me, has always led to some kind of growth, however, reluctant that may be.

Pete Armetta said...

There's absolutely a demographic bent and the whole "welcoming" debate has been lost on me for awhile, although is certainly well intended. It's probably because I'm not of that demographic bent haha

Again I'm not sure what outcomes are desired or how one would measure them anyway. To me there's a danger of a stigmatizing and divisive effect on folks i.e. "Oh, I'm the gay one, the mentally ill one, the troubled alcoholic one, the poor one. They're being nice to me because they want to "welcome" my kind". How welcoming is that? People are people and maybe we need to look past all of what's on the outside and look inside.

I appreciate being able to talk about it after our wonderfully thought-provoking Sunday service! :)

Cathy Finn-Derecki said...

You and I may be comfortable being different -- it's something I've been comfortable with all my life. And the thought of a church of folks just like me is kind of like a David Cronenburg movie :)

I loved this morning's service on so many levels. I've thought long and hard about the AA/UU parallels, and what's missing in UU that is so very present in AA. What's missing, to me, is the cost of entry: To come to AA, and start that journey, you must first be broken. I'm not sure that the UU folks feel particularly broken when they come.

So, what I'm saying is, it's Erik's job to break us :)

RevWik said...

Oh Cathy . . . I sure hope it's not my job to break folks. 'Cause if it was I'd be out of a job. "Too late." Like I said yesterday, we're all already broken.

Now I would be willing to cop to helping folks to recognize their brokeness. Or, maybe better, helping folks to own up to their brokeness.

And Pete . . . I'd say that the purpose of the whole "welcoming thing" isn't at all to make people feel welcome. It's to reshape/reform our society so that it's one in which people ARE welcome just as they are. If I wanted to get all religious on you I'd say it's about creating "the Kin-dom of God" or "the Beloved community."

I recently saw a post that said something to the effect that if a man wants to be a feminist he doesn't need a space within feminism he needs to take the space he's already in and make it feminist. My comment back was that I think that this is the work of every kind of ally -- not to make folks who are too often characterized as "other" feel welcome in the world that has so characterized them. It's to make that world truly inclusive.