Pulling Weeds and Planting Seeds
I got into a conversation with a gentleman on ICQ the other day. At some point in time, the topic turned to homosexuality. Our conversation went something like this (not verbatim):
Him: Not at all. I think they should have all the same rights as everyone else. Except adoption. I'm against same-sex adotion because kids need a parent of each gender. That's the way nature dictates it.
Me: Your statement is homophobic. Studies show that children of gay parents have no more issues in life than children of straight parents.
Him: I'm not homophobic. If you have a problem with the idea of parents of both genders, take it up with God.
Me: You are homophobic if you think that gays can't make good parents.
Him: I didn't say gays didn't make good parents. I said two people of the same-sex raising a child is not healthy for the child and I wouldn't support them adopting children.
Me: Oh, come on, quit hiding behind semantics. When was the last time you heard of two straight men or two straight women agreeing to parent a child together.
Him: I don't know. Doesn't mean it doesn't happen.
Me: True. But even you have to admit that 99.99% of the cases of same-sex parents are gays and therefore your statement that same-sex parents aren't good for children targets gays and that makes it homophobic because it's demonstrably false.
Him: Like I said, I didn't make the laws. Nature or God did.
Me: No, you're interpreting that as the way nature/God intended it.
Him: You can't deny it takes both sexes to create a baby. Why would it be that way if not to show that raising a baby needs both sexes.
Me: I contend that it takes both genders of humans to procreate so that neither gender if seen as "better" than or "above" the other. So it's your personal interpretation, which makes it your homophobia.
It went on in a similar vein for much longer than the above brief exchange and later, in another online forum, I mentioned the conversation in a post I made. Someone responded with a statement about how they didn't know how I could continue to deal with such people. This is a question I get often and my response to her was the seed for this article.
In online forums as well as on ICQ, I do not resort to attacking either the individual or their beliefs: the former is called an ad hominem attack (Latin for "against man" I believe.) It is often the last resort of someone who has no logical refutation of some point that has been made. Without the ability to attack the argument, they attack the person making the argument. The latter is simply pointless: beliefs of any type cannot be proved or disproved (by definition). It's like arguing about whether or not a painting is beautiful: what is beauty to one is not to another and neither view in invalid.
That leaves me with only one thing to "attack" when debating/discussing issues with people and that is their factual information, which includes the logic they use to present it. Quite often, people like this guy on ICQ present beliefs as facts, arguing, for example, that "The Bible says (fill in the blank) so it must be true." The logical fallacy with this statement is called circular logic: you're using an unproven premise to prove your statement. No one has yet to prove— or ever will prove— that the spiritual teachings of the Bible are true— or which version of those teachings is true.
Another common logical fallacy is to suggest that if one word of the Bible (or any other sacred text) is not true, then all of it is not true. One need only point out the existence of historical novels to demonstrate the fallacy of this argument: a novel may contain historically accurate information, even characters, but may also contain some that never existed or some information that is false. That doesn't negate the truth that is presented in the rest of the novel. In fact, it is entirely possible to gather spiritual truths from a complete work of fantasy. There are many, many spiritual truths contained in C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" series as well as J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings". Robert Heinelen and Richard Bach are two more authors that spring to mind whose works teach spiritual truths through the use of fiction. So the entire Bible could be a made up story and still the truths it teaches would be no less valid.
Whether these exchanges take place in forums or on email lists or on ICQ or in real life, I see them as an educational opportunity. The person I'm debating may be confrontational and might appear to be totally rejecting my statements, but I know that I'm planting a seed. In forums or on message boards, I know those seeds will be read not only by the one I'm debating, but by anyone else who happens to read them. I choose my words carefully and I can get very wordy in an effort to make it clear exactly what I mean so that there are no misunderstandings. Every word I write in any of my online dealings and in all of my real life dealings are seeds. Some seeds will land on ground where it can't grow. Others will land on fertile ground where they'll flourish. Some may lie dormant for years before taking root because conditions simply aren't ripe right now for growing. The guy I debated that day may not be able to admit he was factually wrong that day, but what I said is now in his brain and it's going to stew around in the subconscious and I am one who recognizes the power of the subconscious.
Which is why I'm often such a stickler for wording. Which leads me to the subject of pulling weeds. The weeds I'm talking about are ideas that have deep roots because of the subliminal and subconscious associations we make with them. They're weeds because they're based on false information and misconceptions and because they proliferate so rapidly. Many of these subconscious associations lead to additional false assumptions or reinforce false information, as shown in the examples below.
I won't use the term "sexual orientation" because orientation has nothing to do with sex. Everyone has an orientation: yet when you even mention orientation, most people will assume you're gay because most straights don't see heterosexuality as an orientation. It's just "natural". Being gay is a natural orientation too: there are over 450 species that have documented gay and/or bisexual pairings. But I'm getting off track here. Orientation has to do with who we are able to fall in love with. Sex is no more important in a gay relationship than it is in a straight one— it's one of many ways in which we can express our love. Who you have sex with doesn't change your orientation. You need only look at prison populations to see that. Or all the older lesbians who are coming out and who spent 20 years married to a man but have always been a lesbian. If someone should find out you're gay, often one of the first things out of their mouths is "I don't care what you do in your bedroom...", thereby reducing what it means to be gay to merely the sexual aspect of it, which I believe is subtly reinforced through use of the term "sexual orientation." I refer to it simply as "orientation".
Another weed I try to pull is assuming what that orientation is when I meet someone, either in person or on line. I can't tell you how many times on ICQ I've been asked "So are you married?" My response is the same all the time: "Yes, my wife and I have been married for X years now." (The "X" changes, of course.) Ninety-eight percent of the time, the response I get back is something along the lines of "You're male!?!?" I'm not shocked by that percentage because society tends to assume everyone is straight. Kids are programmed from day one to assume that everyone is straight. One look at the world of "mainstream" advertising shows that business pretty much dismisses the gay population. There are no gay characters on kids cartoons or kids shows. On the few occasions when ads showing gays actually attempt to get mainstream exposure, the radical religious right screams bloody murder and accuses the company of trying to push the "gay agenda". Yet you don't hear one word of complaint that society has for centuries been pushing the "straight agenda" on gay kids and adults. Gays don't count is the message that is being subtly reinforced by the assumption that everyone is straight. So I don't assume.
"Flaunting one's orientation" is another weed whose roots go deep. Sometimes, when debating someone I know is straight and against gay equality, I will turn the tables on them and say, "I don't care if you're straight, just don't flaunt your orientation in front of my kids. You know, don't refer to her as your wife— call her your friend instead. And don't hold hands or call her 'honey' or talk about what you and your 'wife' did this weekend. And for God's sake, don't say you're straight— my kids don't need to know what goes on in your bedroom." Most people who get this treatment tend to either not know how to react or simply tell me I'm over-reacting, but that's all a gay individual has to do to be accused of "flaunting". The real irony of this is that if we say "I'm gay", we're accused of flaunting, but if we don't say we're gay and make sure we don't mention our spouse/partner/SO, then word around the office says, "He never mentions a girlfriend. I'll bet he's gay" or "She never mentions a boyfriend. I'll be she's a lesbian."
"Preference" is another weed that needs to be pulled. I don't call being gay a "preference" because it gives the subtle and often subconscious thought that being gay is a choice. I may prefer dark chocolate over milk chocolate, for example, and that is a choice of one over the other. Being gay is not a choice any more than being short or having green eyes is a choice. Use of the term "preference" also gives the impression that one can change one's orientation, because what you prefer can change over time. I used to prefer no onions on my hamburgers, now I love onions and prefer them on the hamburger. I really cringe when I hear the term "sexual preference" when referring to gays because it gives the impression that being gay is nothing more than a choice of sex partners.
I won't call it a "gay lifestyle" either because there is no such beast. A lifestyle, by definition, is a way of life in which the people living that lifestyle share a common denominator. You can live a miserly or frugal lifestyle, an ambitious lifestyle, a bohemian lifestyle, a criminal lifestyle, a pious lifestyle, an organized/orderly lifestyle, a chaotic lifestyle, etc. But you can't live a gay lifestyle anymore than you can have a straight lifestyle. The use of the term "lifestyle" also sends the message that being gay is a choice and changeable because how I live my life IS a choice and IS changeable.
Not all weeds have I'm pulling deal with orientation. I don't refer to America as a democracy, because we're not. We're a constitutional republic— the majority rules only as long as it doesn't violate the civil rights of even one individual. I point out that when it does, it is a judge's DUTY to overturn the law. That doesn't make him/her and "activist judge"— it means they're doing what government is supposed to do: protect the rights of the individual from both the government and the majority. In a true democracy, the minority have no rights except those that the majority chooses to give them.
So many times, people hold beliefs because of fears that society has programmed into them— fears that are based on false information and misconceptions. If I can show one person that those fears are ungrounded, then they can give them up— good for them and good for the world in general. By remaining logical and NOT attacking their faith or their beliefs or their feelings, many find it difficult to dismiss the information I give them. But in the end, I don't care if they agree with me or not— they are entitled to hold their own beliefs and opinions, even if those beliefs and opinions are based on demonstrably false information. What matters to me is that I did my part to put out correct information— that I planted the seed. If it is in the Divine plan for that seed to grow, it will grow. And sometimes, I'm really lucky and I get to see that seed instantly bloom into what to me is one of most beautiful of all phrases: You know, I never thought about it like that before.
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