Thursday, April 30, 2015

Can I make decisions based on conscience?

Yes, I can and I do. In my field of work (healthcare), I've had to deal with issues of judgment and conscience. I've broken company rules to comply with the wishes of a dying patient. (That was an easy decision, by the way.) I've told doctors that I wouldn't perform actions that they requested. I've done my best to make sure that even someone who was frequently an asshole was treated fairly.

I don't want a job where I can't exercise judgment--where my boss or the company policies are the final word on all matters.

Yet that's what is contemplated for some small business owners. They don't have the privilege of turning down work based on conscience, if their conscience tells them it's wrong to participate in same-sex weddings.

I'm not saying that everyone who declares that they'll never be part of a same-sex wedding has examined their conscience. We all know that some people don't examine anything, but are zipperheads in the thrall of talk radio blowhards like Rush Limbaugh. Here's a mechanic who won't fix cars for clearly gay men. This guy is not a conscientious objector--he's an anti-gay bigot. There's nothing in Christianity telling him that doing diagnostics on a gay man's car is aiding and abetting sin. His decision is not as a Christian but as a hater.

But I have no doubt that there are many wonderful Christians who are sincerely against same-sex marriage. I hope there's room for their consciences just as I want there to be room for mine.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Hegemonic sore losers

I think Christianity used to have quite a lock on most of the world, even if they didn't have a plurality of the population by religion. Christian countries were the most powerful. The white Europeans, their stock, and their religion seemed supreme.

But not so fast. There were a fair number of revolutions against this domination, even in the heart of Europe. The reformation was full of murder and mayhem in the name of one Christian sect or other. Anti-Christian feeling moved in a different direction in the 1700's through now, with political and moral philosophers building the foundations for public life that didn't depend on religion.

Religion as necessity?

Perhaps this was possible because religion isn't a necessity for quite a few people. They live largely without religion affecting them much. They manage to earn a living, raise families, get along with their neighbors, and defend their countries without religion playing a big role in any of these necessary parts of life.

So what happens when you realize you don't need religion to grow your crops or make a living? If you don't need it in raising your family? Or in teaching morality and how to live with others?

Well, religion may seem superfluous. But even more so, it may seem like a con game. If your religion requires you to follow strict food rules, strict rules on when you can work, strict taxes on pain of terrible punishment or exile, you might want to throw off that religion.

Rebelling against that old religion

Of course that is what most early Christians did. They jettisoned the accretion of rules that happened to Judaism, and the streamlined the religion quite a bit.

The same instinct is at work today. I look at traditional Judeo-Christian rules, and I see areas where the rules don't make sense. Is there a religious or moral reason that I have to wait until marriage (in my 20's or 30's) to have sex? Is there a religious or moral reason sexual relations between two men is wrong? And remind me what's wrong with occasional masturbation?

This isn't the only area where Christian teaching have been questioned. Christians haven't generally given away everything they owned, as Jesus told his followers to do. They started lending money with interest at some point. I can't think of a single person who has balked at buying a house because they had religious qualms about the mortgage interest.

To me, the sexual rules aren't sacrosanct, and modern life has eliminated some of the practical reasons for those rules. We can now easily have sex without the worry of unintended pregnancy. We know that masturbation doesn't cause blindness or schizophrenia. We know that same-sex attraction is usually a life-long preference, not a temporary surrender to temptation.

Can't let go

Somehow, letting go of these sexual rules has been very hard for some Christians, even the ones who have mortgages. I don't really know why, and I wish I could find out.

In particular, I'm thinking of Rod Dreher. He had an epiphany at some point and realized it was terrible to treat gays badly. However, this epiphany only included beating up gays, denouncing them, and throwing them out of jobs. His understanding didn't extend to realizing that they have the right to marry too. So Dreher, like many conservative or Orthodox Christians, has been very loud in protest against marriage equality.

Now Dreher doesn't understand how anyone can label him a bigot, or be angry with him. After all, he realized that Jesus commands him to have love in his heart, and he does. Isn't that enough? He's not against gays because he hates them, but because his religion commands him to see them as sinners.

Wake up, Rod. You're living in a world where the sexual condemnation you cling to has been largely discredited. You're likely to be dumped on your keister when you try to tell people that God has ordained these rules. That doesn't fly anymore with a large number of people. You can whine about the loss of 'truth' or 'morality,' but my suspicions is that you miss the power to make people follow these rules.

Dreher writes about his own experience of disobedience and conformance, and how that helped in his life. That's fine, but others have vastly different experience, and they take the lessons they learned to heart also. Why Dreher thinks he can get on his high horse and lecture people based on personal luck (sexual continence worked for him AND it's biblical too!!) is beyond me. Yet he never hesitates to do that.

Short-lived amends 

He may have apologized for his formerly hateful ways and statements, but he falls back on the same behavior so readily. Here's an exchange:
Lee says:
The issue you lament came about as a reaction (and inevitably in some cases overreaction) to conservative Christians using their religion as license to dehumanize and mistreat others. If conservative Christians want to complain that they are now being mistreated, they must first own up to their own sin. Unfortunately, one does not need to look far to see self-proclaimed Christians still spouting hate today. Christiantity’s failure to own up to and deal with its own hate-mongers makes its claims of victimhood ring very hollow indeed.
[Rod's reply: It is useful to know that this is all about vengeance for folks like you. There is no amount of apology -- none -- that will satisfy you. It's important for Christians to know this, so we suffer no illusions that those who seek to destroy us personally and take our livelihoods can be appeased. You can't be. I do wish you would quit lying to yourselves about what you want, though, and why you want it. -- RD]
Compare that to this exchange at a religious conference:
Lyons apologized to Andrew on behalf of Christians for vicious treatment of homosexuals. “I know many people did what they thought was right in the name of Jesus,” Lyons said. “I ask for your forgiveness as well.”
“You have it,” said Andrew.
Apologies and pleas for forgiveness don't last long when it's someone else pointing out Dreher's errors. I guess Dreher only believes in making apologies as noblesse oblige, not as an equal. He's got a lot to learn about not being on top. I'll have to see if he changes his tune in a few years.


Extras. Read the whole long post by Dreher. Notice how readily he circles the wagons to defend his tribe. How quickly he forgets the log in his eye.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Finally, my conclusion. Marriage equality, yes. Conscience, yes.

I've wrestled with the issue of good religious people and their objection to same-sex marriage. Long ago I saw the essential equality of all marriages. I support the freedom to marry, without stigma, outside of the cultural norms (which are often cultural strait-jackets).

But I also understand and respect deep religious faith. Many of the most generous, loving people I've ever known have religious beliefs that would condemn me to hell for all eternity. These are the kind of people who would risk their own lives doing missionary work in unsafe areas of the world. How can I condemn people who are so much more generous and open-hearted than I am?

Eventually, I realized a formula. You don't have to support marriage equality, but don't deny it to other people. Don't set yourself up as the judge who decides which humans deserve which human rights.

Finally, I had to wrestle with the issue of whether people who are sincerely against same-sex marriage must be forced to provide services to those weddings. Does the florist have to provide flowers, does the baker have to provide a cake, does the photographer have to capture the moment of the grooms exchanging rings and kissing?

Anti-discrimination rules for public accommodations

Our country been through a similar issue before. If you run a public business, under civil rights laws, you can't discriminate against people of different races, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability status, etc. This was a correct decision. The rights of a business owner don't trump the rights of the public to go about their lives without discrimination in the public sphere. No one is forced to like whites, to privately socialize with people of a disfavored religion, to invite them into your home. But in the public sphere, who must treat them as you treat everyone else--with fairness.

Sexual orientation isn't currently on the list of characteristics that can't be discriminated against. I think it should be, and it is in many states. In general, public opinion reviles discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Most people support fairness for gays in all areas of life, including employment, housing, court, etc.

However, requiring fairness doesn't mean that we (the public) require everyone to view gay sexual choices as equal to other kinds of choices. I don't have to declare that I totally support all kinds of sexual freedom as good and wise, just like I don't have to declare that Tea Party political opinions are just correct as my opinions. I'm not just 'allowed' to disagree--I have the freedom to disagree.

So it is with business owners. They may have to operate as though they are fair and unbiased, but aren't required to adopt those beliefs.

Remember 'Live and Let Live?'

When support for gay rights was much less popular, some of the appeals were for understanding and tolerance of different viewpoints. These were good arguments. Why not live-and-let-live? Can't we give space to people to have different religions, different sexual interests, different languages, different political beliefs? Generally, we want to say 'yes' to this. We aren't required to all think and do the same.

So why doesn't this extend to the florist who is a devout Christian? Doesn't she get to live-and-let-live without being hauled into court for not wanting to participate in a same-sex wedding?

Are there limits to how far live-and-let-live goes? Certainly. It's not a carte-blanche to loudly and obnoxiously tell people that you don't like their kind, and therefore you won't have anything to do with them. It doesn't undermine the right of others to expect fair treatment in employment.

I'd like to draw the line on live-and-let-live somewhere short of compelling people to take part in acts they profoundly disagree with. But they still don't get to be bigoted about it. Can I make a conscience-exception only for the sincere people, and not for the bigots? That's the question.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Nothing much to say about that

My interest in political observation has finally dropped. It's been over two weeks since my last post, and I'm not finding much to talk about. Most of the Republican leaders and presidential candidates are shaping up to be knee-jerk idiots who are against anything related to Obama. But that happened 4 years ago too. I watched the show then, figured out the ending before the actors and directors did, laughed at them during their screechy antics, etc. It's 4 years later, and I'm too jaded to do that again.

So I won't be writing about the latest GOP idiocy every week. If there was good news from the GOP, that would be a wonderful topic to write about--such happy news and so unexpected... but that's not going to happen, is it? The talk-radio idiots are fully in charge of the GOP agenda, so there will be no good news for the foreseeable future.

I was mildly interested in what happened in Indiana, but everyone piled onto that one. I'm ambivalent. On the one hand, I believe in conscientious objections. On the other hand, the analogy and experience of racial discrimination shows that there's no room for exceptions in the public/business world. Most people seem to see only one side, but I see both, and I'm torn.

However, I also see the legislation as a stunt by the GOP party in Indiana--a little poke in the eye to show who's in power there. It deserved to backfire, and it did. The lesson is not to poke people in the eye. A good lesson, but I already know it.

So, we'll see if anything comes along to pique my interest again. But I doubt it, and I don't even wish for it. I don't see a path to better politics in this country in the next 1.5 years. I just pray it doesn't get worse than the current level of terrible.