Saturday, May 4, 2013

Truth and Meaning: Sharing Opinions

Truth and Meaning: Sharing Opinions

Midland Daily News staffer Chris Stevens is distressed that ESPN announcer Chris Broussard received angry replies to his comments regarding Jason Collins’ recent announcement that he is gay (“Who’s showing more courage – Broussard or Collins?” MDN, 5/1/2013). Stevens calls on us to air our opinions freely without the fear of being mocked, ridiculed, belittled or intimidated into silence.

I applaud this call to civility. This will certainly be a welcome change from, say, the last 2,000 years of human history. GLBT folk have been burned at the stake, herded into death camps, beaten and bullied by the millions. Gays, lesbians and their allies will welcome a conversation where they do not need to fear being mocked, ridiculed, belittled or intimidated into silence.

Perhaps appropriately, this call from a sports writer will challenge our fortitude and our conditioning. When people express scientific opinions that run counter to nearly every piece of available scientific information, it is hard not to mock or ridicule such an opinion. Few of us would respect someone who argued, for instance, that the earth was flat or that our planet resides at the center of the universe. And to date, the overwhelming preponderance of scientific research indicates that homosexuality is not a “lifestyle” choice, as Stevens labels it.

Unfortunately, opinions such as Mr Stevens' and Mr. Broussard’s have dominated the conversation for centuries, resulting in countless deaths and endless misery. Religious “opinions” based on biblical interpretations enslaved millions of Africans, abused and objectified every generation of women, started dozens of wars of conquest and colonization, and facilitated the widespread genocide of the world’s indigenous populations. The Broussard statements simply reflect one more example. Citing a handful of highly debatable Bible verses taken out of context and never intended to describe healthy, loving gay relationships hardly defends the expression of hurtful and oppressive opinions.

Stevens should spare us his righteous indignation when people point out the implications of these statements. When he uses his public forum to decry the “opinions” of the Westboro Baptist Church — who carry their vile and degrading signs everywhere they peddle their message of hate — then perhaps GLBT folk and their allies will respect his opinion more.

It is not intolerant to point out when someone is being intolerant. Refusing to tolerate intolerant judgments, such as those expressed by Chris Broussard, is a right and the duty of all religious people. For the Bible also says in Romans 2, “you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Truth and Meaning: For the Love of God

Truth and Meaning: For the Love of God

I recently saw a posting on Facebook that read, “Never forget that God only gives you what He knows you can handle. There is no situation that you are experiencing alone. God walks beside you, always.” My initial reaction was anger — rage that anyone should presume to offer simplistic slogans to people justified in feeling that God has forsaken them. Women abused by violent husbands and told that they are worthless, pushed to the brink of desperation. Teenagers bullied for being gay, or for refusing to conform to social norms, or just for being different who see suicide as their only escape. Children all across the world dying of hunger, drinking dirty and parasite-ridden water because of senseless wars, political corruption, racial discrimination, and greedy manipulation of natural resources.

But then I remembered Viktor Frankl’s incredible book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” in which he described his experiences in Nazi concentration camps. A belief in a god of love has indeed helped millions overcome great trials and strife over the centuries. So, regardless of my personal lack of belief in a creator who oversees and intervenes in our lives, I still appreciate that many people derive tremendous strength from the love of a higher power that offers them meaning and hope.

I can’t help thinking, however, that we can be far more than passive receptors of divine love. Just as it is wrong to lay the blame for all that is wrong with the world on god’s doorstep, it is equally wrong to automatically attribute all goodness and love to him. And the fact is, few of us today are doing all that we can to spread love in the world.

If we truly want to create a culture of understanding, then we need to concentrate less on our different opinions about the existence or nature of god, and more on the everyday welfare of our brothers and sisters, and on the future we are bequeathing our children. In reality, we are all viewing the same spirit of life and love that we know by many names. We just see that spirit through different lenses, through different windows into the mysteries of existence.

Regardless of my pious preachings and my prayerful proclamations at weekly worship services, I fail as a religious person if I do not do everything I can to help that desperate and abused woman, that teenager considering suicide, or that emaciated child. All of the love for god we express means nothing to the hopeless victims of our indifference if we insist on filtering that love through our personal lenses alone.