Pseudo-Debate in our Time
A pro-life friend of mine who used to be heavily involved in arguing about abortion, and in trying to see the other side’s point of view, finally gave up after realizing that there were no real discussion partners on the pro-choice side. The best of them would listen respectfully, then fall back on the same talking points. Finally, my friend concluded that there was no actual debate or discussion to be had. Real-life discussion had become like the pseudo-debates on Crossfire and other political shows: opponents who weren’t actually interested in understanding the other side’s point of view, but just parroting the party line, repeatedly.
I believe we are there on the gay rights and religious liberty debate. Later today — much later, because after church services this morning, I’m going to drive over to Covington to have lunch with Walker Percy’s daughter Ann, and see Walker and Bunt’s family home — I hope to write a long piece explaining why many of us orthodox Christians see things the way we do. I don’t anticipate it to do a bit of good, but I need to do it, if only for myself.
Aristotle taught that action begins with desire. Before you can do a thing, you have to want to do a thing. In that sense, to want to understand why orthodox Christians believe as we do about this issue, you have to genuinely want to understand. Not, I hasten to point out, want to agree, but want to understand, so you can know what, exactly, it is that you’re disagreeing with.
For example, it may be cruel and strange to you that Orthodox Jews look down so severely on intermarriage — that is, Jews marrying Gentiles. Who discriminates like that in the modern world? Isn’t that prejudiced? Yes, it is prejudiced, seen in a certain light. But if you look at it from the Orthodox Jewish point of view, it makes perfect sense. Here’s an argument from a Chabadnik. Aside from the matrilineal factor in Judaism, research shows that intermarriage usually occasions a falling-away from the faith. And this matters. It matters a lot. You may think that it is a welcome thing that people put aside an ancient faith that doesn’t fit easily in today’s world, but you should at least be honest about what your views cost these people.
Similarly with Christianity and its sexual ethic, both regarding homosexuality and heterosexuality. It is clear to me that almost nobody on the modernist side is interested in understanding why Christianity teaches what it does, and why it’s important to the orthodox to hold on to this. You can see it in the style of argumentation from the other side. They are fond of saying, “Well, once upon a time you changed this thing, so why can’t you change now?” It never seems to cross their minds that a thing that was once changed might have had separate grounds for the change, or that maybe the thing that was changed ought not to have been changed, because it had deleterious consequences.
Rather, the idea is: “You ought to change this thing, and I don’t see why you can’t come up with the rationalizations to do it.”
This strikes me as very, very American: decide what you want to do, and come up with the rationalizations later.
Some of us, believe it or not, still believe ourselves bound to an authority outside the Self. I don’t expect you to agree with us, but I do expect you to try to understand why we think the things that we do, and in the way that we do.
Actually, I don’t expect that at all anymore. It’s pointless. It always was. The media set the terms of the debate a long time ago.
UPDATE: Look, it may well be the case that a society should not arrange its laws around an archaic view of sexuality that few people in it still believe. And I know that disagreeing with us orthodox Christians may come from an informed view of our position. No dispute there. My contention is that few people care to try to understand why we believe the way we do, and why it’s not just one of those things we can decide to change and still be faithful to God’s commandments.