Today I received this letter in response to my Brokeback Mountain review. Its typical of other responses I’ve received, but this one was such a convenient distillation of the various contradictions and claims that I was grateful for the chance to address so many common attacks on Christian faith in one fell swoop.
When someone starts out by telling you to put down your Christian persepctive and see things the way they are, well, you know you’re in for a grand time. I’m not the most eloquent defender, I know that very well. But, inspired by G.K. Chesterton and so many others, I went ahead and made a quick run at it….
Dear Jeffrey Overstreet:
Can you only see the world through Christian filters? You are obviously far more intelligent than that. Brokeback Mountain also beautifully documents the suffering of all of its characters caused by the homophobia preached and practiced by intolerant Christians who foolishly believe in biblical literalism and inerrancy. If these Christians think it is wrong to practice homosexuality, then they shouldn’t do so, but why try to impose their religious beliefs and mythologies on others? This is a secular civil society wisely based on the Constitutional separation of church and state. Sexual behavior that harms no one between consenting adults in private is simply not an ethical issue, though it may be a religious one. Christ was a rebellious rabbi who opposed blind obedience to the established religious authority of his day. His primary message was compassion, not unquestioning obedience to scripture. He, himself, did not condemn same-sex love. Why do you? Compassion is far greater and wiser than fear-based childish obedience, don’t you think?
Nature celebrates diversity, not one size fits all, or only One Way. Ask your gay friends what religious condemnation of what is central and sacred to them–their ability to love–does to them. See Brokeback from this viewpoint and you will understand. Empathy is the basis of true compassion. Compassion is what our humanity is all about. It is the destination and the path. As you well know, Christianity has the bloodiest history of any major religion. Does this not cause you to reflect and question? Every religion believes theirs is the true one, but as a lifelong student of comparative religions, it seems obvious that humans have invented their gods and religions and then they pretend that they did not. My faith is in alternatives and diversity, not closed-minded dogma masquerading as faith. I suspect you, being intelligent, know well what I mean.
[name of writer removed by Jeffrey], Ph.D.
I’ll address this point by point:
Can you only see the world through Christian filters?
Hmmm. Good question. Can you only see the world through Clinical Psychologist filters?
Forgive me if that sounds flippant. My point is this: We all see through filters. Filters are good. If we don’t have filters, we can’t separate what is healthy from what is corrupting. We can’t block damaging ultraviolet rays in order to protect our eyes, so we can see and not go blind.
Perhaps lenses are a better metaphor. Lenses can either distort reality or help us see it clearly. Through Christ, I believe that I see things more clearly than through anything else. Putting down our lenses does not enable us to see some kind of basic truth. If you believe that I have to put down my Christian perspective in order to see clearly, then you’re using lenses of your own… lenses that lead you to believe Christianity is misleading.
You are obviously far more intelligent than that.
Well, I can entertain other perspectives, but I’ll only accept them if they ring truer than the perspective that I’ve grown to embrace. To borrow a word from G.K. Chesterton, “Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
Brokeback Mountain also beautifully documents the suffering of all of its characters caused by the homophobia preached and practiced by intolerant Christians who foolishly believe in biblical literalism and inerrancy.
Do you really think “intolerant Christians” are to blame for everything that goes wrong in the film?
Is it the homophobic Christians’ fault that both Ennis and Jack blatantly lie to their wives, pledging fidelity and true love, while secretly clinging to another love? It’s homophobic Christians’ fault that Jack goes to Mexico to sleep with male prostitutes? You give homophobic Christians too much credit.
Incidentally, you mention “intolerant Christians.” Does that mean you believe that there is such a thing as a “tolerant Christian”? How would you define that? If being “tolerant” means being compassionate and understanding, then yes, Christians should be tolerant. If it means abandoning our convictions that some choices are better and healthier than others, then you’re not talking about tolerance, you’re talking about shaping our opinions based on what other people want rather than what we believe God says.
Jesus offended people all the time. Anyone who refuses to adhere to an aspect of Christianity just because it offends people, well, they’re not much of a Christian.
As for “biblical literalism,” that is a subject of much debate amongst Christians. But just because I don’t take everything in the Bible *literally* (Jesus was a big fan of metaphor) doesn’t mean I can just cross out the parts I don’t like.
If these Christians think it is wrong to practice homosexuality, then they shouldn’t do so, but why try to impose their religious beliefs and mythologies on others?
Some Christians do try to impose their beliefs on others. Some homosexuals do too. So do some clinical psychologists. (Are you imposing your way of seeing the world on me by asking me to set aside my ‘Christian filters’? I’m not sure.)
I voiced my opinion in a film review. I haven’t gone out and forced anybody to do anything. Since Americans are free to voice their opinions, and free to follow the religion of their choice, Christians have just as much right to express what they believe as anyone.
You seem to believe in a “mythology” in which Christians are fascist monsters who go around forcing things on people. There are a few freaky Christian blowhards out there, and thanks to the media, they’re often in the spotlight because they’re freaky. And, at times, Christians have, as a majority, been swayed toward false perspectives. But I encourage you to stop by my church sometime. You might go away disappointed, because nobody’s going to force anything on you. It’s difficult to find a good representation of Christians in the media… the freaks are much more interesting.
This is a secular civil society wisely based on the Constitutional separation of church and state. Sexual behavior that harms no one between consenting adults in private is simply not an ethical issue, though it may be a religious one.
Ah, but there’s the rub. Some of us believe that certain kinds of sexual behavior do harm people, even if others disagree.
Again, I’m not sure where this is coming from. Did I say that homosexual activity was illegal? No. Did I say that I think it is a sin? Yes. So, yes, it’s a religious issue. To me, a religious conviction is not just a cultural detail that I can set aside. It is a core belief, something that stems from my faith, not an accessory I attach to it.
Christ was a rebellious rabbi who opposed blind obedience to the established religious authority of his day. His primary message was compassion, not unquestioning obedience to scripture.
When Christ showed compassion to the adulteress, he condemned the Pharisees for judging her, yes. But he also told the adulteress “Go and sin no more.” He didn’t just say “Go.” (I’m quoting someone from a recent blog there, but at the moment, the source escapes me. Sorry, Source!)
Christ wasn’t just about compassion. If you think so, I encourage you to read the Gospels again.
He was also a hardliner on the issue of sin.
And he constantly reinforced the idea that righteousness is not defined by what feels good, or what we want.I take it on more than just faith, for the reasons spelled out in my review, that homosexual behavior (not homosexuality or homosexual impulses) is a sin, just as drug abuse (not drug addiction or desire for drugs) is a sin.
Impulses are one thing. Choosing to indulge those that are not what is best for us, that is another.
We all have appetites. And all of those appetites have the capacity to veer off the best course. This world is so messed up, sometimes we’re born hungering for the very things that are bad for us. The compassionate thing to do for the child born with destructive tendencies is to help him learn the difference between what he wants and what he needs. Compassionately, of course.
He, himself, did not condemn same-sex love.
There are many things Christ didn’t specifically address. Pornography, for example. And yet, he encouraged us not to lust. Gambling, for example, and yet he encouraged us away from recklessness and greed.
He did, however, instruct us to respect God’s law and, moreoever, to go above and beyond the law to understand the spirit that created the law.
I understand that love is not about what I want sexually. (For a good definition of the fundamentals of love, see First Corinthians 13.) If a man and a woman decide to show love to each other by beating each other, that’s not really love, even if they enjoy it. That’s a distortion and a peversion, something that should be dissuaded even if it “isn’t hurting anybody else.” Love is about more than finding somebody with the same appetite. It’s about developing a discernment about God’s design for human life, and he created man and woman to serve each other, a plan that is uniquely blessed by the possibility of children.
Compassion is far greater and wiser than fear-based childish obedience, don’t you think?
I do not obey out of fear. There are, however, certain children who don’t respect what they’re told, and the only way they learn is through harsh discipline because of their rebellious natures.
I’m all for grounding rebellious teens if they hang out with the wrong crowd, because the fear of grounding will save their lives. Note that the scriptures say that “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” Fear is a good place to start, but you mature past the fear to realize that the rules were established for good reason. If you just ignore the fear, you may end up regretting it. Have you seen Grizzly Man?
Having said that, I obey because I learn, more and more each day, that greater fulfillment and joy comes from living within the guidelines God has designed for our benefit. It’s not fear anymore. It’s joy, and gratitude for the things I can enjoy because, to some extent, I have learned to control my appetites.
Just as Timothy “Grizzly Man” Treadwell learned by overstepping certain lines and deciding that, ‘Hey, who has the right to tell me I shouldn’t live with grizzly bears?’… so many will learn the hard way that the boundaries God has set for us are there for a reason.
The sad thing is that our hearts are messed up, and they guide us to desire things beyond those boundaries. And when we are ruled by our own hearts and natures, rather than a higher authority, we inevitably overstep those bounds and pay the price.
Nature celebrates diversity, not one size fits all, or only One Way.
Nature is flawed. I don’t assume that nature has all the answers. Hey, praying mantises do bloody awful things to each other. Should I imitate that? Each thing in creation follows after the design God charted for it, and imperfectly, because sin has messed everything up.
We can learn from nature, but we should also be discerning about where the things that penguins are supposed to do are different from the things that we’re supposed to do. (Nod to Steven Greydanus’s review of March of the Penguins at DecentFilms.com.)
Ask your gay friends what religious condemnation of what is central and sacred to them–their ability to love–does to them.
If “their ability to love” means having gay sex, and if that is what is “central and sacred” to them, then they are basing their convictions on their sexual preference. They are building their worldview on their appetites. Back to your idea of filters, they’ve just established filters that will reject anything that gets in the way of them fulfilling their appetites.
Let me repeat your words back to you with a twist: “Ask your obese friends what nutritonists’ objections to what is central and sacred to them–their ability to eat fast food–does to them. ” Do you see what I’m saying? Just because the truth hurts doesn’t mean it isn’t the truth. Now, Christians are responsible to represent the truth, but they’re supposed to represent it with grace and love. As a teacher of mine used to say, “You can be right, but you can also be damned right.”
See Brokeback from this viewpoint and you will understand. Empathy is the basis of true compassion.
In its proper place, empathy is a good thing.
But say, for example, I start empathizing with the KKK and stop trying to change their minds. Will that make everything better? I’m not saying gay people and the KKK are equal, please don’t get me wrong. But I am challenging your point that I should abandon my objections and just empathize.
Compassion is what our humanity is all about.
Compassion is a characteristic, a virtue, not a destination. If you see someone choosing something that isn’t healthy, what is the compassionate response? To affirm their choice? Or to kindly ask them to consider otherwise? Ack, I’m becoming redundant.
As you well know, Christianity has the bloodiest history of any major religion.
In any religion, there are those who twist the fundamentals and wield them for ther own greedy ends. You’re not talking about Christ anymore, or true Christianity. You’re talking about people who proclaim the name of Christ in the process of deceiving others, so this is irrelevant.
It’s always a good idea to be reminded to be compassionate. But since Christ is indeed the epitome of compassion, no, it doesn’t cause me to question him. In fact, it was compassion that motivated him to draw us nearer to God, to God’s law, and to God’s intentions for us.
So, because they all say their religion is true, it thus follows that none of them are true?
Please say more. I don’t know how to have “faith” in “alternatives.” Faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” What does it mean to have “faith” in alternatives? Or diversity?
Well, I have faith that I am somewhat intelligent. But I’m afraid I don’t see what you mean due to the contradictions and “filters” you’re using.