Friday, October 30, 2009

Follow-up to Nancy Post

My new sister-in-law and favorite faculty member at the University of Otago (the research institution in New Zealand and nicely located next to some delicious wine country), Meegan, wrote some questions about my previous post on Nancy. I also got some questions, via Facebook, from my friend, Matt so what follows, although it's in direct response to Meegan, I think also somewhat addresses one thing that Matt was asking after.

I really appreciate any feedback that comes this way, it's not as though reading this stuff is fun, let alone then coming up with any questions, so thanks, y'all!

I welcome any and all feedback.

So, let's see, the section in question is this one, right:

"Those that are against homosexual marriage seem to be making the claim that homosexuals cannot have a relationship as described in Figures 4 & 5.
Perhaps this is why their arguments seem so flat and are thus typically dependent upon religious claims. The irony, of course, is that religious claims are based on an Intimacy model of truth, so evangelical Christians are forever going on about their Personal Relationship with Christ, and how we must accept Christ into our hearts (a place decidedly not publicly verifiable)."

This is a pretty sloppy shorthand I put here, I apologize - I wrote this in a stream of consciousness manner primarily over the course of an hour so it's no wonder that the result is not easy to read.

This sentiment about marriage equality originally burbled into my mind after I read an Onion article wherein a fundamentalist protester in the "story" had a sign that said, "God Hates Modified Sexual Organs! The gist of the "story" was that Fundamentalist Christians were up in arms because homosexuals, in order to get around the problem of same-sex marriage, were having one partner switch genders so they could be legally married. I thought that this was brilliant commentary on the "problem."

So at that time I started to jot down some notes on the logic of marriage equality and the logic of the marriage contract itself. I think that homosexuals should be allowed to marry if they want to do so. There are those in the community that question why homosexual marriage is even desirable and I am sympathetic to some of that thinking. If I understand correctly, (and I likely don't since I don't read many of the arguments, but this is what I think I have read) there is some concern that promoting homosexual marriage may also lead to a fouling of "queer culture." Again, I'm not particularly well-read on queer theory, but I think I get some of the thinking. I can see that there ought to be the question of "what's so special about marriage?" Especially if marriage is understood historically: an institution between heterosexuals that largely has been a technology used to maintain productivity among those that serve the aristocracy and the powerful (someone's gotta be in middle management and someone's gotta push that mop, and someone's gotta buy these products, marriage historically was the institution for promoting procreation and so served as an economic engine) while the aristocracy and the powerful have historically used the marriage technology to ameliorate regional tensions and expand influence (think of the marriages that formed the Hapsburg Empire, for example).

So in this sense those opposed to marriage equality (and where I live, in Atlanta, these opponents seem to largely be that blessed strain of Fundamentalists called Southern Baptist) are correct in asserting that marriage as an institution is between a man and a woman. They are wrong to not extend their argument some more, though, and say that this technology largely exists for economic reasons and not the religious window-dressing that they try to put on it. I mean, look at the Old Testament, those marriages are primarily for political reasons: to bring together wandering tribes so as to dominate another tribe or nation. Is the argument, then, because Fundamentalists are scared of homosexuals forming alliances and dominating other nations? It's a funny idea, but then we understand a little better all this talk about "The Homosexual Agenda." I think that there are people that are truly afraid of being dominated, I don't know why homosexuals are the ones to fear, but I suspect they'd probably also be up in arms if another group tried to assert itself (here's to the coming Latino and Asian equality fights).

The original statement I wrote that those opposed to marriage equality seem to be arguing that homosexuals cannot have the kind of relationship that Figures 4 & 5 represent. This is a pretty poor statement. In this discussion I'd then like to elaborate that what I intended form that statement is that the window-dressing of religion is used to claim homosexual marriage would not be the same and would attenuate heterosexual marriages. I suspect that they have to say this because the alternative is to admit that marriage has historically been the technology I described above and there is nothing magical about heterosexual marriage. I do believe there is something wonderful about marriage in the sense that it can be a community-affirming technology. It can be a practice wherein the community and those who want to marry get together and pledge to support one another over the course of a lifetime. That's an awesome idea and it's what I pledged to do when I got married.

But, I don't think that everybody in the U.S. is on the same page about marriage, if I think that divorce rates indicate successful marriages are not occurring half the time. And here is the second problem in my original statement, the problem of how we know the truth about something.

In my original statement I address, obliquely, the religious beliefs of those against marriage equality and say that there is an irony in the Protestant (again, me and my Southern Baptists, totally ignoring the Catholic) arguments.

The Integrity Orientation (Figs. 1-3) are characterized by external relationships, to everything. Words correspond to objects "out-there," when I take a new job I have a contract with my boss - the contract is the "R" in Fig. 2 and it mediates my relationship to my boss. This is also how truth is understood in the Integrity Orientation - Truth is not personal, it's universal and anyone can know the truth because what is known to be true is publicly verifiable. The best model for understanding this publicly-verifiable-truth is the scientific method, where I might do some experiments and say I proved my hypothesis, but it won't be thought to be true until someone else does the same thing I did and got the same result. A personal truth is an opinion or a belief. This, it seems, is at the heart of Catholicism (remember catholic means universal): we know you are a true Christian because you attend mass (and can be seen by the parishioners), and we know you are a true Christian because you confess your sins to a priest (thus the priest is the "R" in Fig. 2 and I am "A" and God is "B").

The Protestants said, "No way, I ain't gonna have a mediated relationship to God! I want him, here, in my heart, where my belief is." So in this sense Protestantism is about denying the publicly-verifiability of the truth of God and the celebration of the Intimacy Orientation where all relationships are partially internalized and the more related I feel to something the more of "who I am" feels like "who you and I are" together. It's an on-going project. One of the earlier attempts at rectifying the tension between the Integrity and Intimacy models was the Calvinists (forerunners of Presbyterianism and a constant guest appearance in the theology of Fundamentalists).

The Calvinists believed that, yes, we have a personal relationship with God, and we will know if God favors us because he will make his favor publicly-verifiable. How? If God loves you, you will be rich, you won't get sick, etc. So Calvinists were always watching each other trying to see who was going to be the Elect that get to go to Heaven (which was a skimpy 144,000 I think).

When I moved to Savannah, GA from South Korea I was really confused and scared when my evangelical neighbor asked me, "Are you saved, Paul? Have you accepted Jesus Kuh-rye-est into your heart?" I think it's odd that those of this belief system would say that homosexuals should be denied the same legal rights that marriage offers heterosexuals because the truth of marriage is not publicly-verifiable. They want to have the institution of marriage, but they can't allow it to simply be a contractual relationship (which is exactly what it is when the State licenses you to get married), but they also haven't developed an alternative to the marriage-as-contract yet. That is the irony, in my mind. On the one hand they have to say, "Marriage is an institution between a man and a woman before God," but at the same time they can't have God only acting as a mediator between the couple because that would then place God outside of either of them. So the response has been to harp on those familiar lines from Leviticus, for example, even though Christ told his followers that he was the new Law and all former (from the Mosaic tradition) laws are null. So if they really push against marriage equality based on scripture they have to rely on more and more complex theodicies and this is really ironic because what a theodicy does is use (written) words to make publicly-verifiable their truth claims even though their truth is an intimate one.

What will likely happen, to maintain distinctions between homosexual and heterosexual marriage is to create a distinction between being born of a hetero- family and create some sort of denigration aimed at the children of homosexual families. That's my prediction.

As to Buddhism. We should keep in mind that Buddhism is a rejection of Hinduism at its core. Hinduism holds that there is atman (the self, also called purusa, or brahman); atman basically means soul, that essence of me that continues after I die and is what is reincarnated. Buddhism rejects this idea of an essential self that continues after me, they have anatman (literally, no-self). Buddhism holds that there is nothing essential to us, we are interrelated to all the universe - we are the universe in a many-jeweled net of interrelatedness. The belief that there is some me that is essentially distinguishable from you is the source of suffering. One of the consequences of this way of thinking is that the cause is in the effect not the cause brings about the effect. But that's a whole other conversation...

You asked if I thought that mutually-arrived rules that govern were not violent. My short answer is, "no, there is still violence there."

But I'd like to elaborate that I don't necessarily think that violence is always bad. For example, I do violence to the food I chew; is the solution to then put all my food in a blender and drink it? Clearly no because even then, once the food begins to be metabolized there is the violent process of rendering ATP from the food, literally tearing electrons off the molecules. That's a violent process.

I think what's problematic is not violence in itself, but something more. I don't know that I can properly articulate it.

To be clear: I would like to reduce the number of people being killed, the number of people being beaten, and raped, and coerced. I certainly will fight anyone that attempts to rob me or rape my loved ones; but I'm also actively involved in promoting the conditions that would reduce this as a likelihood.

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