Keep talking: Sounds like a good idea to me

John Corvino’s latest post could be read with profit by some leaders in the American Psychiatric Association. We did not even have a debate planned; we had an academic program planned for over 7 months. Then, group four as identified in this essay became vocal and as the APA wrote, “misinformation and rhetoric” became the story.

Here is the punchline, but please read the whole piece.

Then there are those who wonder whether the silence I’m lamenting really is a problem at all. My Aquinas cancellation suggests that it is: intentionally or not, the cancellation sent students the message that this topic is literally unspeakable. But the problem is by no means limited to one side. Last year I did a same-sex marriage debate (with Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family) at another Catholic college. A week before the event, my host told me that a student was trying to organize a protest. “Because he doesn’t want a gay-rights speaker on a Catholic campus?” I asked.

“No, because he doesn’t want your opponent here,” she answered. The student thought that opposition to same-sex marriage should not be dignified with a hearing. On a Catholic campus!

That student, like the rest of us, would do well to recall the words of John Stuart Mill. In his 1859 classic On Liberty Mill argued that those who silence opinions — even false ones — rob the world of great gifts:

“If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

The moral of the story? Let’s keep talking.

I just noticed that this may not be John’s latest post as it was first posted on 365Gay on April 28. However, it is timely…

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  • Nick R

    I’ll start being more sympathetic when conservative Christian organizations start allowing the opposition to state their case in their own words. Churches preach their lies against homosexuals but never allow the other side to state their case. Focus on the Family misleads its followers and never allows the opposition to speak. Reparative therapy organizations do not accurately represent the opposition to their unfortunate participants. It’s only in secular or liberal Christian locales that we see the debates take place. So, stop whining. When conservative Christians treat others as they treat the conservative Christians, then perhaps they can have a complaint. Until then, they demand what they refuse to give.

  • Mary

    I dunno Nick – so you are saying that we should not talk at all?

  • http://aebrain.blogspot.com Zoe Brain

    A lot depends on whether you think those who are on the other side are Evil or just Mistaken.

    If the latter, a dialogue is possible, and who knows, you might even find your own views are erroneous.

    Where most Christians go wrong is that they see their opponents as their enemies, capable only of malice and distortion, doing the work of the Devil. This makes them differ from many on the opposite side, who see their opponents as enemies, capable only of distortion and malice, acting out of superstitious and hypocritical bigotry. I’m reminded of the definitions of Capitalism and Communism: “Capitalism is the exploitation of Man by his fellow Man. Communism is the exact opposite”

    I’m afraid that of the two, neither is wholly wrong. All too many conservative christian groups seem uninterested in debate, and deliberately lie “for the greater good”. Against that, there are multitudes of Christian individuals who are just trying to be Righteous, to do the Right thing. They tend to listen, and debate with charity. Both groups have exact counterparts in the opposing camp, though often on that side it’s the groups who are tolerant, and the individuals who aren’t.

    I confess I came to Dr Throckmorton’s site with a rather jaundiced prejudice against him. He has often been mixed in with other, rather Pharisaic scholars by those who don’t know him well. My opinion of him, based on his actions, rationality and a genuine struggle to find out the Right, has changed. We may disagree in many areas (though I’ve yet to find any of true significance, only details, much to my surprise). But I should never dismiss his views out of hand.

    He’s too rational, you see, too obviously seeking what’s right. This post of his is typical.

  • Kevin

    The issue of when it is appropriate for a forum to exclude a speaker or topic is far more complex than Warren suggests. For one thing, giving “equal time” to the “two sides” of a debate (as you often see on television news media) can distort both the nature of the debate and the mainstream-ness or fringe-ness of the views presented. Second, there are a lot of factors that go into deciding whether a forum should give a speaker a platform to present his views — does the person or his organization have a reputation for distorting information (e.g., Focus on the Family, since Warren mentioned it)? Would the person use the forum to educate, or merely to further a public relations campaign (or, in the case of the APA event that was cancelled, would a third-party hijack the event and use it as part of their PR campaign)? Has the person made scholarly contributions that are widely recognized across ideology? Finally, if the forum finds the views of the speaker offensive or inconsistent with the mission of the forum, they have every right to exclude that speaker. I’m not saying all of these factors were present in the APA case, instead I’m saying that the platitudes from John Stuart Mill are oversimplifications.

  • http://www.wthrockmorton.com Warren

    Kevin – Where you are missing the point is that the APA program committee approved the program 7 months ago. They knew who was going to be involved then and they knew what was going to be covered. The program and the presenters were approved 7 months ago by the same APA program committee that approved all other programs presented at the convention. The program was not pulled for any of the issues you mentioned.

  • http://www.wthrockmorton.com Warren

    Zoe – Thanks for the kind remarks. We can and should be reasonable and civil even when we disagree.

  • Nick R

    We can and should be reasonable and civil even when we disagree.

    I hear that a lot from people who are actively trying to deny me the same rights and privileges that they get. But when I point out their faulty reasoning is based not on evidence but simply on their beliefs, I’m accused of Christian-bashing. I get the impression that if I treat them as they treat me, I am persecuting them. But at the same time when they deny me the same rights and privileges they get, I must respect their opinions and be civil with them. Such a shame they are the ones not being civil or reasonable by denying me the same rights and privileges they get. Golden Rule? There’s a reason why some evangelical leaders have issued a manifesto indicating that evangelicals haven’t been following Jesus. They wouldn’t recognize the Golden Rule if Jesus threw it at them.

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