I’ve been debating two things within the last 24 hours, one in my mind and one on Facebook.
On Facebook, I’m in a debate about homosexuality and the church. At the moment, there is a huge controversy within the EKD, the Evangelical* Church in Germany, about the question of gay and lesbian ministers and where they should live with their partners. A Facebook page by a protestant student organisation published a ‘Paul-o-meter‘ graphic, asking people how far they had gotten in overcoming those ideas of Paul based on his historical context, like the subservience of women, food prohibitions and the renouncement of marriage in favor of a celibate life. I’m not going into the details of the discussion, because I’d just get aggravated. The bottom line is, the Paul-o-meter said people should not be quoting the Bible to exclude gays and lesbians from official positions within the church.
Some of the people within this discussion said they thought this kind of graphic was ignoring the feelings of people, who were just plain afraid of homosexuals, and that we should be respectful of these people. Others said, we needed an objective debate without all the emotions, and that both sides of the debate were guilty in not trying to have such a debate.
While I was musing over how to phrase a response to this nonsense about people’s fears being a legitimate reason to exclude people and the utter stupidity of the Tone Argument, I stumbled upon the headline of a blog here in WordPress. It read:
Why are Liberals so hateful?
The first lines were about the hatefulness and rudeness of liberals. I didn’t read the blog, but my first reaction was to roll my eyes and shake my head. It has and has always been the conservatives who were hateful! They want to deny other human beings their basic human rights at every turn of the corner!
But the headline got me thinking: This person wasn’t lying. This person believed this. And that meant that on some level, this was true, as it was their experience with ‘liberals’. I try to be as respectful as possible in any debate. (While I think the tone argument is stupid, it is, sadly, part of my programming.) But I have often seen people get annoyed or angry with what I said or with statements I agreed with, because they found them offensive or felt they and their positions were being ridiculed.
And that’s just it.** There is no respectful way of saying that you understand abortion to be murder. There is no respectful way of saying that opposition to gay marriage is a violation of human dignity. There is no respectful way to say that eating meat is disgusting and immoral. There is no respectful way to say that if you’re not a Christian/Muslim, you’ll go to hell. There is no respectful way of saying that religious people are delusional. There is no respectful way of saying that women who love and have sex with other women are failed human beings.
It is impossible to really respect a position that you find to be absolutely wrong. Even if we try to be respectful in the way we say it, the basic sentiment always is: ‘You’re wrong, I’m right and even if I don’t say it out loud and don’t even think it consciously, that kinda makes me better than you!’ And it is impossible not to be at least a bit offended when someone negates the very principles you live by.
There are some instances, where I am okay with this. Someone who is not a racist/sexist/homophobe is wrong in my book and I do not feel the need to respect that. If you think that one human being is worth more than another, you’re an idiot (but still share the same worth and human dignity).
But other questions are tougher. I believe in God and respec… am okay with people not believing in God. But to be honest, I think having faith (by which I do not mean living in accordance with a certain set of rules of a certain religion) is better for you than not doing that. I don’t really believe it would make you a better person, it would just be better for you. Abortion is another difficult topic, where I can’t make up my mind between the rights of the unborn and a woman’s right to her body. Plus the fact, I’m a man and will never have to make that choice for myself. I can only ever be an adviser to someone who has to make that decision. And there are a lot of other questions like these.
The main problem is, I think, that there is no such thing as truth, reality or the cold-hard facts. As a religious person, I’d say only God has that kind of a perspective on the world. The way we humans see the world is never independent from where we are within it. And, to make matters worse, it is perhaps impossible to reconcile these different points of view with each other. We may be able to understand another person’s point of view, but that is hard and it does not guarantee that we’ll be respectful towards them. And it will not make us give up our position. But perhaps, simply knowing that the point of view of others is based on their perception of the world helps to make us more understanding and less judgemental. At the very least, it can stop us from wrecking our brains trying to find out how somebody can be so darn stupid!
*Evangelical means ‘Protestant’, not fundamentalist. There is a different word for Evangelicals in German: The EKD is evangelisch, while fundamentalist Christians would be called evangelikal.
**The following are examples and not my personal views and opinions.