Love, Religious Style

Daniel M of Good Reason relays this poignant anecdote:

I was on a long car trip with my very Mormon mother. Out of the blue, she said, “So you think it’s okay for gay people to get married, do you?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I think it’ll be fine.”

Mom said “What if your sons turned out gay? Then what would you say?”

“If they turned out gay, I’d say ‘I love you, son, and I want you to be happy and be with someone you love.’”

She said “I think you’ve lost your mind.”

“Oh, come on, Mom. What if I’d turned out gay? You might find it a little hard to understand, but you’d still love me, wouldn’t you?”

And there was a long silence.

And she said simply, “Well… I don’t know.”

Now my mom’s a good person who loves me a lot. (Of course, I am straight.) I don’t know if she feels that way because of the Mormon church, or because she’s from a slightly older generation. But whatever could make a person feel that way about their own child — that is some bad fucking mojo right there.

So I want to apologise profusely to every gay person out there for everything that our society puts you through in life. I’m so sorry. Please forgive us all. Some of us are getting there.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • George

    I always tell my wife that I would rather my kids tell me they are gay than tell me they are Liberals (I am Canadian so I define “liberal” by the logos of the Liberal Party of Canada, not the much, much broader sense so derided in U.S. politics)and when I say that I am perhaps driving at the point that you see in the anecdote you told. Parents, my own and myself included always want “the best” for their children;be that success or happiness or more subjective “best things” like “normal behavior” or “healthy sexuality” or in the case of my opening anecdote “appropriate philosophical dogma”. It is I think not necessary to comment too much about where these concepts come from. We all would love our children to think like we do firstly and as our communities do secondly. With no religious concepts of sin and final judgment to frame my reaction to the situation, I can still relate as a parent to these vicarious aspirations. This again is how I arrive at a problem with philosophical differences with my children rather than sexual differences. But imagine now “knowing” that something your child was doing condemned him to the “fires of hell” or the “Wrath of God” and you can perhaps understand what informs this type of reaction. If the parent supports or condones these behaviors do they not too commit the “sin” by affirming the behavior? This is the stuff of true indoctrination, that one could turn ones back to their children in order to appease an imaginary friend. I would be disappointed in my Liberal children; sure that they were wrong, happy to debate them, but assured that I loved them. The problem here is that this is not strictly a religious phenomenon we are talking about. It happens among secular people who cannot accept homosexuality,but my guts tell me that the secular distaste for homosexuality is most certainly INFORMED by religious social propaganda deeply knit into our culture. The good word is that this is changing. Both religious communities and society in general are becoming more comfortable with homosexuality, and this is seen in both the positive social change and loud negative backlash of the religious right.
    My parents always said when this subject was brought up that they would accept the fact that their child was gay but that they would be sad that their child had gone down such a difficult and unrewarding path. Is that not political correct speak for we would not support the decision? It implies the same thing that I commonly hear in theological circles: I am benevolent enough not to pass PERSONAL judgment on you but rest assured that a greater power will do it for me. If any of my children came to be gay I don’t want to think this way, tempting as the cheese on that plank is. In any case I am sure that life will be far less “difficult and unrewarding” for a gay man or woman in ten to fifteen years when I would need to broach these subjects with my kids.

  • George

    After posting this I would like t apologize for the ridiculously bad punctuation of the post…I have never sent a comment on a blog before. Maybe I should cut and paste with Word? Again, my apologies…

  • Dan Fincke

    Thanks muchly for the comment, George. I think what separates this anecdote from concern for the child’s well being is that David specifically offers to his mom the option of finding it hard to understand but suggests that she’d still love him. It’s the fact that she could even wonder whether she would still love him that I find so appalling.

    So, it’s not that she wants his good and would despair that he would wind up with a difficult and unrewarding life, but rather that she would question whether she would still want his good, still love him.

    This example hits home with me in a way that I will delve into in an upcoming post that’s been swimming in my head for a long time. The challenge of loving people while hating vices (or as the religious dub them, sins) is an ethically tricky one that indeed goes beyond religion. We should want to love people but not love disreputable traits and deeds. That’s an ethical challenge.

    But when a tradition associates harmless traits and, more importantly, the basic yearnings for love in people as wicked and teaches coldness of heart towards such traits based on faith-based reasons—then you have to see a corruption at work. It’s bad enough that ethics will sometimes come between us, but that’s understandable. We’re going to behave in ways that we shouldn’t like in each other. And some of us will have vices that should make us objectively unlikable. But dogmatically expanding the circle of villains beyond those with harmful character flaws and doing so in a contemporary context with so much information about the suffering and alienation of gays is a cruelty that only faith can produce. And that the faithful would rather cling to their irrationally based beliefs for which they no they have no adequate rational justifications instead of reinvestigating their presuppositions in light of how they force them to persecute a whole group of people is really despicable to me.

    And I say this in part because, as I will explain at greater length in a future post, I personally left Christianity partly over this. It was partly over being forced by my faith to choose between accepting a gay friend completely or accepting only while judging his gayness clearly that I realized that faith had consequences and could not be adopted as a personal decision without adequate reasons. This was of course only one of many factors but it was a poignant ethical realization that helped usher me out the door of the Church.

    But a fuller philosophical account of what loving people while hating vices entails is in order for another post. At that time I will also contrast rational processes of assessing people and their deeds distinguishably from faith-based ones.

    And no problem about any punctuation issues—I appreciated your introspective post and I’m honored to learn you gave us your first blog post! I hope to see more!

  • George

    Dan, thank you for this blog. The reason I have never posted before is that most blogs I find seem to require that you agree with the host at pain of insult or do not welcome the contribution of laypersons. Thank you for designing a forum that allows me to vent without being made to feel ignorant.
    For the past year I have been trolling blogs and websites trying to wrap my brain around religion in general and evolution denial in particular. This ironically enough ties into the post you just made. A good friend of mine whom I fell out of touch with for a few years suddenly stumbled back into my life about a year ago. We had spent most of our early twenties together and I considered him an intelligent and thoughtful person.

    When we got to catching up I found out he out of nowhere believed that evolution was a “great lie” designed to undermine faith in Jesus and that the earth is in fact 6000 years old (every scientific proof of an old earth is completely wrong). This revelation completely floored me and I spent the next several days arguing with him over coffee in a attempt to find holes in his logic. I quickly realized I was over my head, logic was countered by “facts” to which I was sorely ignorant of a rebuke. So I then spent weeks researching every angle of the debate to prepare myself for a “throwdown” on the subject. You cannot win with these people; and even when you win, you lose. I lost a good friend, had a major crisis of faith, and left Christianity myself shortly after.

    So the point is that to me this opinion he held so dear was an intellectual vice, I tried so hard to come to terms with it and I could not. My faith was eventually lost as well because I could not resolve the “sins” of a christian worldview with my personal relationship with Jesus.

    I still talk to this guy often but he is now more of an aquaintence than a friend; we now talk out of ritual rather than regard. I am as atheistic now as I believe I can be, becoming more so every day. I still find myself reach into the religious vocabulary; referencing fables, myths, dogma.
    The hardest habit to break is finding meaning in simple things that truly have no meaning. Like running into a friend you haven’t seen in years.

  • Dan Fincke

    Thanks for another great comment, George. I totally empathize with your experience and agree with your interpretations of it—especially when you put your finger on the problem being one of intellectual vice. That’s exactly it. Faith is an intellectual vice. And part of the problem with an intellectual vice is that it corrupts the very intellect to which we are inclined to appeal. We want to reason with people and they flagrantly advocate their supposed intellectual right not to have reasons, their supposed to right to show outward hostility to the demands of reason and to adopt prejudices.

    So when you are dealing with a corrupted intellect, merely reasoning with it is not enough. And this is incredibly frustrating for a rationalist who does not believe in emotionally twisting people into changing their minds!

    So what is most important to me is that we understand where people are coming from and engage them individually, in the terms of their own psychological, emotional journey to use the convenient self-help language :)

    I think it’s crucial that we be relentlessly logical and informed. Especially since, faith makes people endlessly, unscrupulous ratioanlizers. No matter how many fundamentally irrational beliefs you expose or contradictions you highlight, reality will be further distorted to accommodate them. So, the challenge is to keep building more precise accounts of epistemology to more clearly zero in on the flaw of believing on faith. And then the other challenge is to stay patient with the fact that disagreement will remain in most cases and resolution will be impossible.

    You might enjoy this post http://, if you haven’t read it already. And in the “Disambiguating Faith” series I have been trying to unravel for myself the various connotations that faith has to people and the intricate roles it plays in their lives and psychologies such that they cling to it against all evidence of its epistemic impermissibility.

    I am not sure though that I would say that events like running into old friends have no meaning. In fact, I’m just guessing and don’t presume to know, but I imagine that you don’t want to think it had meaning because the outcome was painful. But it was painful and had this major effect on your life and thinking precisely because it was a meaningful thing. The myth that “meaning” is something that only exists in a divinely guided universe is a relic of a Christian attack on atheism that’s only a couple centuries old.

    There is most certainly meaning apart from transcendent meaning conferral by a deity and the attempt to convince us otherwise is the attempt to deny the very meaning soaked existence in which we live. There is not intention behind coincidences. You didn’t bump into your old friend because God scheduled a meeting for you two without your knowing it. But that also does not mean that when you bump into him you, it is not an event with inherent connotations to it which are meaningfully structured both by the structures of psychological and sociological factors and by the idiosyncrasies of your own personal psychology.

    Two other quick points to note: to this day some of my closest friends are devout believers. Some of them have remained close friends since my believing days and some have been made in the intervening time since I left the faith. It is not the whole of our lives and there is hope for reasonable people to overcome their abstract disagreements to have deep and meaningful bonds with each other. It’s possible when you put people above the need to be right all the time. In certain forums and at certain times we must debate. But in others, we must remember the greater importance of love and friendship over the abstract truth. And in the context of such friendships, where there is genuine mutual respect and good faith between each other, debates about truth can wind up being their MOST productive—far more productive than would have been possible were we to have burned every bridge rather than consort with an enemy. Some people are intolerable to disagree with and so friendship will simply be impossible. I won’t dispute that such situations exist(and yours with your old friend may just be such a situation). But there are possibilities for friendships that are stronger than disagreement and my own life would be impoverished greatly were I to lose those bonds.

    And, finally, I know what you mean about recurring back to religious vocabulary. A dear atheist friend once told me something to the effect that my language was more saturated with religious vocabulary and allusions than that of any one else he knew. And another close friend who is by most categorizations an atheist and anti-religious (though he would dispute such labels I think) teases me all the time that I’m still a Christian in some ways.

    And I simply am. Regardless of my vehement disagreement with its propositional claims about the world and with much of what it teaches about how we should habituate ourselves to think and act, Christianity nonetheless shaped and conditioned me over at least the first 21 years of my life in ways I will never completely shake. And some of those ways, I probably shouldn’t even want to shake. I learned to treat the questions of what I thought about ultimate matters as crucially important from that Christian training. I learned to consider what other people think not a matter of indifference but something worth arguing about with them for the sake of truth from those days as a Christian. Of course, as a Christian it was a distorted view of what “truth” meant, a view which entailed assenting to my faith community’s arbitrary assertions about reality. But nonetheless, I am unapologetic about continuing to care enough to be willing to debate people and challenge their thinking. That was ingrained in me by my Evangelical upbringing and I think it’s a good thing. I don’t agree with the emotional manipulation, the conscienceless willingness to lie and rationalize to protect a faith, the commitment to irrationalist ethics, the group-think, the hatred and slander of the body, reason, the world, and human nature that characterizes Evangelicalism (and other strains of Christianity). But I’m grateful for the zeal it created in me and the ways that it taught me to believe that things like love, healing, reconciliation, kindness, and community were real possibilities for people. For all its corrupting influences, there were these real trainings in real virtues of thought and heart that I got from Christianity. Other people of course can get these things without Christianity and at the same time spare them all its vices. But, in personal terms, I don’t need to disavow everything I was or dualistically relegate everything from my Christian days to the bin of shame.

    Christianity has indelibly affected my character for ill but also for good. And many of its myths and tropes—when properly recognized to be simply myths and tropes—can still have evocative literary power for me in certain contexts.

    In that spirit, here is one of my very favorite songs of all time. It’s the song through which I discovered one of my very favorite artists, the incomparable Nick Cave. His fusion of atheism, religious imagery, and passionate love resonates with me in a way that at least one of my lifelong atheist friends simply doesn’t get. And that’s okay, I’m not exactly like my lifelong atheist friends. I’m an apostate and my heart responds in a deeply ambivalent way to the Christian tradition in which it lived for so very long and so very passionately. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as the affections of my heart never corrupt the inferences of my mind.

  • Dan Fincke

    whoops, forgot the song!

    Here it is:

  • George

    Now you have got me thinking….
    I’m not entirely clear about your point of meaning in everyday events.
    My logic tells me that a completely statistically probable event happens and I impart meaning to it that does not really exist outside of my INTERPRETATION of it. True enough that meaning exists simply because I perceive it to be there, but what about third party meaning. My heart still clings to destiny or some semblance of it and THAT is what logic tells me is not likely. My run in with my friend is more intertwined with my eventual loss of faith, which my mind wants to believe happened for a reason. It did not…

    For some time I had been struggling with my faith and much like you have alluded to in other posts I was finding it difficult to be an outward Christian because I felt I was enabling other Christians who believed some repugnant things regarding morality and ethics. But I had swung from right-wing to left-wing ideology in my early twenties and had some grasp of the “moral imperative” argument of right-wing ethics, so I could see the logic(however faulty) of their arguments.

    This friend of mine BELIEVES THE WORLD IS 6000 YEARS OLD. He believes in a far reaching scientific conspiracy to fudge data with the sole purpose of undermining Jesus. This was a turning point for me. It is one thing to use religion to come to faulty, literalist conclusions that suit your pre-existing stereotypes, a sort of lazy, comfortable logic. But to completely divorce yourself from reality in order to take a literalist view of scripture is completely alien to me. It underscored something that I had accommodated for far too long.

    What I mean by this is that I ascribed the divorce from God to that meeting as though it was somehow fated to occur. What was logically fated to occur was some event that would release what little grip I could muster while falling from the tree of faith. I was already, in retrospect, hanging from the last few branches trying not to let go. But my mind still wants it to be FATED, he came into my life to show me something. There was no OUTSIDE intention, just a cause and effect.

    So Dan, can you explain a bit further what constitutes meaning and if I am off base here in thinking that ascribing meaning to seemingly fortuitous events is nothing more than an remnant of a superstitious indoctrination.

    …Your Thoughts.

  • George

    By the way I love the song, not to undermine your “incomparable” tag but reminds me of Leonard Cohen….and that is a very good thing.

  • Dan Fincke

    Considering that Nick Cave attributes his entire career to his discovery of Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash, I really can’t complain about the comparison, I guess ;)