Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Call for Peace in the Culture War

This has been a very difficult post to write.  Judging by my Facebook feed, half of my friends think the Supreme Court’s decision regarding gay marriage was the greatest thing since sliced bread, while the other half thinks anyone who supports the decision has drunk the devil’s rainbow Kool-Aid.  I want to be sensitive to both sides of the issue, but I also have to be honest about what I really believe.  You will probably disagree with something I say below; please be forgiving.

I've waited a couple of weeks before weighing in so I could take my time forming and articulating my opinion.  During that time, I have read countless articles from various points of view, and I have found good points in all of them (some are included in a reading list at the bottom of this post).

My conclusion boils down to this: I’m happy that gay marriages will now be recognized in all 50 states simply because it's something my gay friends genuinely desire, and I think it's a reasonable request.  The benefits of marriage, both those inherent and those granted by federal law, will bring tangible security and happiness to those who enter into them.  Denying the privilege of marriage to same-sex couples makes them feel like second-class citizens.

There are many reasons that have been cited not to recognize gay marriage, not all of them founded in homophobia, but from my personal perspective, none of them are compelling enough to justify denying legal recognition of marriage to same-sex couples.  However, I respect others who have come to a different conclusion.

I have tremendous respect for John Roberts, and his dissenting opinion indicated that there could be some unintended ramifications of the ruling outside gay marriage that might come back to haunt us.  For this reason (and also because it would have demonstrated harmony between the religious and LGBT communities), I would have preferred for gay marriage to have been accepted by popular vote (or never banned in the first place).

With the matter now settled, it would be nice if we could put the arguing behind us and move forward in peace.  Unfortunately, conflict will inevitably continue for the same reason this argument started in the first place; this was just one battle in a broader Culture War.

Conflicting Values

For better or for worse, each of us has a certain set of values, and we do not place equal weight on the same values. For example, it might seem fairly obvious that human life should be highly valued, but clearly some individuals, nations, and cultures have valued one thing or another more than life itself, even one's own life, as evidenced by murder, wars, suicide attacks, executions, and even selfless sacrifice.

The result is that even when two highly intelligent individuals have all the facts, and the logic is laid out before them, no matter how well reasoned, they may come to two different conclusions.

Conflict Over Gay Marriage

The premise that gay marriage should be recognized is based on values such as equality and freedom, particularly sexual freedom and the freedom to love.  But these values are not universally shared or given equal prominence with other values.

For example, in India and other parts of the world, there are still many who practice arranged marriages, which might be because the families involved value financial and societal stability over love.  Some Buddhist monks abstain from sexual relationships of any kind because they place a high value on self-mastery and independence from material desires.  Catholic priests and nuns do not marry because they value devotion to God above romantic relationships.

Now, most Americans who oppose same-sex marriage value freedom and choice; but many of them simply place higher value on reverence to the sacred rite of marriage (which they believe God alone is authorized to define), or on the stability of homes in which children are raised (although this premise could be disputed), or they are simply wary of changing time-tested institutions before more data can be collected.

This is oversimplifying the matter, but it should not be surprising that people disagree on issues because their systems of values are so different.  It's too easy to blame one side for hastening the apocalypse and the other for being bigoted.  Such language silences those with earnest questions and incites retaliation from more hostile opposition.  Heated argument is a short-cut to actually seeking to understand why the other side believes the way they do and finding a way to live peacefully despite the diversity of opinions.

The values that most people who oppose gay marriage grew up with have shifted.  They were once in the majority and the commonality of their beliefs was taken for granted.  But the primary thrust of the shift has been toward more freedom.  I support this shift, even if some people use their freedom unwisely, because it will benefit both those who don't share my beliefs, because they will be able to pursue their own brand of happiness, and those who do share my beliefs, because our right to worship according to our conscience will continue to be preserved. 

That may seem naïve but I reject the notion that there can only be freedom of religion or freedom from religion – why not both?

Resolving the Culture War

Not all value systems are made equal.  Sometimes conflict is inevitable or necessary, as was the case with the battle over slavery during the Civil War. 

People on both sides of the cultural divide today feel very strongly about their positions.  The question is, what is the best way to resolve our differences?

As with conflicts over borders, the conflict over values can be resolved in various ways.  While violence against gays sadly persists, I trust that anyone reading this blog needs no convincing that violence is not the answer in the current conflict.

Another method to fight a culture war is through judicial or legislative force.  Such was the case with the fight against gay marriage, as well as legal challenges against those who have declined to participate in same-sex weddings.  I think this option is unwise not only because I don’t believe in force when it comes to matters of conscience, but also because, as we have seen, this approach only further polarizes the two sides.

The fight against gay marriage may be remembered as the Vietnam of the Culture War.  It may have been well intentioned but while it should have been a fight over hearts and minds, instead it was interpreted as a move for control and an affront to self-determination.  Ultimately it was lost and left deep wounds and sour feelings on both sides.

On the other hand, attacks against the tax exempt status of churches or attempts to force priests to perform same-sex marriages could be the Progressives' Iraq.  Christians still make up 70% of the population and perceived interference by the state in the autonomy of churches could escalate tensions quickly, even among those Christians who support same-sex marriage.

There is a way for the two sides to co-exist amicably. To paraphrase one of my favorite movies, let’s stop the fighting and let diplomacy resume.  We can resolve and even embrace our differences.  As long as this country is free, the people within it will disagree.  And that’s okay.

We don’t have to resort to name-calling or provoking.  We don’t have to harbor hate in our hearts.  I’m calling for a truce in the Culture War.

Our goal should be to either persuade each other through civil and open dialogue, or, when agreement is impossible, to live side by side in peace.  We don’t need a two-state solution.  There is so much we can learn from each other.  You can be friends with someone who vehemently disagrees with you – the only stipulation is that you must honor their freedom of conscience.

If you oppose gay marriage, try inviting a gay couple to your home for dinner.  If you don’t understand opposition to gay marriage, invite a Christian couple over for a chat.  You don’t have to talk to them about gay marriage or even religion or politics at all.  Just become friends – humanize those who oppose your views and realize that we’re all just doing the best we can to discover and do what is right.

Don’t misunderstand me.  People have a right to be disagreeable, to be uncompromising, and to associate or not associate with anyone as they please.  I’m simply saying that our society will be more successful if we each willingly choose to be civil.  And those who insist on behaving otherwise may not be accomplishing what they think they are.

My Beliefs

This is a political blog but given the subject matter and likely audience, I feel the need to eliminate any doubt about my personal religious convictions.

Marriage is wonderful.  I believe God created two distinct genders and intended for us to unite together and by so doing, to learn from each other, to grow together, and to become one. This belief is expressed in scripture: “God created man in his own image. . . male and female created he them.” (Genesis 1:27‐28). “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). "Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:11).  Marriage in the religious sense is a sacred rite that binds the two individuals as mother and father, standing at the head of their newly created family, the fundamental unit of society now and in eternity.  You can read more about what I believe here.

Men and women are different and complementary.  When a man and woman marry, they gain something by bonding with each other that they couldn't develop on their own.  The two sexes complete each other in a beautiful way.  Children benefit from having both a mother and a father, with traits and attributes distinct to each gender, in the home.

Perhaps this view seems backward in light of modern sensibilities.  But to me it is beautiful in its simplicity.  Although not taken to the extreme of the Buddhist monk, I believe all other considerations - power, politics, wealth, gender roles, sexuality - are only useful until they distract you from reaching your full potential as a child of God.  Of course we must navigate the realities of the world and should do so with sensitivity and love to those who don't share our beliefs or who, for one reason or another, are incapable of achieving what we may consider to be the ideal.

Marriage (including same-sex marriage) is more stable than cohabitation; it provides more security for offspring than single parenthood; it is more fulfilling than promiscuity.  I will continue to cherish my marriage and will teach my children to strive for the same.  But they will be exposed to other viewpoints and ultimately will make their own decisions; I will continue to love them regardless of their choices.

This does not diminish the validity of a same-sex marriage, nor does the existence of a same-sex marriage impact my marriage.  I absolutely believe a same-sex couple can have a happy and fulfilling life together and I support their right to the pursuit of happiness as they see fit.

The American Value

One value that is important to me, and which we ought to be able to agree on, is encapsulated in the First Amendment to our Constitution - freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of thought and expression.  We can't resolve any of our other conflicts unless we are able to speak openly and honestly about what we believe.

I want to live in a country where I am free to believe whatever I want to believe, regardless of someone else's opinions of the validity of my belief.  If someone wants to be a bigot, or propagate socialism, or believe in God, or express any opinion under the sun, they should be free to do so, as long as they don't harm others or otherwise break the law or encourage others to do so.  In the marketplace of ideas, the best values will rise to the top and the worst will languish.  And our country will be all the better for it.

Reading List

Here is a list of articles that I would recommend reading if you have the time.  I don't necessarily agree with everything or even anything in all of these articles, but each of them was thoughtful and gave me something to think about:

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