Culture wars? Why?

Út 11 ledna 2011

We were living as strangers (both me and my wife were born and now live again in Prague, Czechia) in the United States for couple of years, so I’ve managed to do couple of faux-pas during my time in Boston. One day, in very friendly party, among our very nice and lovely neighbors, I’ve heard one of my neighbors (very nice guy, a budding artist hoping to finally make it in the arts world) to say: “I just cannot stand all those fundamentalists around, I think we should be straight and call them who they are—anti–choice, dictating women what they should do with their body!” He said it with such passion and hatred in his voice, that I cannot hold myself (no, I haven’t had in that moment enough courage to admit that I consider abortion a murder of unborn baby) and replied to something in the sense, that the name calling is not nice, and how he would like to be called “anti-life”. I have never in my life heard such deep silence. All those nice, tolerant, diversity loving Bostonians were looking at me like at a calf with two heads. I had no time to say, that I think my point of view was more nuanced … I don't think I would support reintroduction of the legal ban of abortion (although I believe that purely from the jurisprudential and legal technology point of view Roe v. Wade and related decisions are examples of very bad ones), I think there are many better ways how to decrease number of abortions than by banning them, etc. I have not got though an opportunity to say it, because once I was labeled as one of them nobody was interested in hearing my opinions. And it seemed to me nobody was really interested in the discussion about (dis-)advantages of the anti-abortion law.

I was just starting my PhD program in Law & Society at the Northeastern University and part of the program were courses in the political science. I have found that there is a big volume of study about cultural wars, the biggest one about the history of the alcohol prohibition movement (if anybody is interested the classical book on the subject, read Joseph R. Gusfield. Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and The American Temperance Movement. ISBN 0-252-01312-3). The main conclusion of these studies (and this one particularly) is that the focus of the struggle in the prohibition politics wasn’t that much the question of alcohol itself, but struggle for preservation of status of the established Anglo-Saxon society threatened by the ongoing immigration wave of Irish, Italians, and Germans. And best dividing factor between us and them was then the attitude towards alcohol, because there are apparently much more casual non-addicted drinkers of alcohol among these new nations (where for example a glass of wine or beer is standard part of dinner) then in the Anglo-Saxon culture, where much bigger share of population tend to be on extremes in relation to alcohol.

Generalization from the prohibition movement to current cultural wars was then obvious: these are much more status struggles than struggles for the issue itself. Should the America be governed and run by pro-life, marriage defending, gun holding (to mention just few most obvious examples) Bible belt Christians, or by pro-choice, gay marrying, anti-gun “Godless” population of coasts? Of course, the question is how does this rather obvious conclusion (when you think about it) relates to the topic of this blog. What is the proper Stage four relation to the cultural wars? It seems to me that if we accept these four stages as describing something about the groups in the society (and I have hard time to do it, but for lack of other models, I do accept it), then the fourth stage believers are back in their uncomfortably lonely position: on one side there are stage two conservatives fighting for the “Ol’ time religion” against the slaughter of stage three liberals from the coasts. And our 4th stage believer is somewhere between them trying to question firm conclusions and strongholds of both sides.

One more piece of history: I was in Boston when the Massachusetts Supreme Court allowed gay marriages in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the parliament was discussing possibility of adopting some kind of “defense of marriage” amendment which would overrule the court’s decision. Suddenly whole pro-/anti-gay cultural war was very strictly localized, and the Boston Commons around Beacon Hill (seat of the government in Massachusetts) changed into one big battleground of this cultural war. Majority of participants were local supporters of gay marriage, but there were substantial groups of opponents mostly coming from the outside of Massachusetts. I remember watching the posters of both sides (something about extending human rights from African-Americans to gays, and on the other side I remember slogan “God hates fags” with some Biblical quotations by Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, owners of the website God Hates Fags). I was thoroughly confused by both sides, which seemed to present these two positions as the only ones possible, and yet I knew very strongly that I would like to be as far as possible from both of them. A friend, apparently battling the same thoughts, said suddenly “This is as close to the Hell as I’ve ever got.”

To be specific and considering the gay marriage issue as an example, let me show what I would think could be a reasonable thinking of a stage four Christian (and of course, I don’t think it is the only one, I guess many of you won’t agree with many of my premises and conclusions; it’s more about a way of thinking than about particular issues). So, first of all I have to declare that I believe homosexuality is a sin (in the sense “missing the best God prepared for us”, not that I would believe homosexuals are bad people). Although I have never struggled with homosexuality myself, I have been actively participating in the Desert Stream Ministries (the inner healing ministry founded and mostly still led by former homosexuals) and I count some former homosexuals as my friends. However, I am also persuaded that beating sinners with a big poster “You are a sinner” usually doesn’t bring healing, and my role is not to persuade gays to give up on their lifestyle, but to be present and willing to help them in the moment they decide they would like to find a way back to the fullness of life God has prepared for them (be it a single life or eventually even marriage).

Given these two premises, I am in the wide arena of possible conclusions with not very certain opinion on possible legislative dealing (or non-dealing) with the matter. If I accept as given, that there are many people who are still living in the homosexual relationship (or in other words, who haven't accepted God’s plan for their life yet), then it would be probably humane to make for them living conditions acceptable. That includes certainly some kind of official acknowledgment of their relationship allowing them wide variety of legal advantages otherwise provided by law for husband and wife (e.g., right to visit each other in hospital, getting sick-leave when caring for a sick partner, inheritance, let’s abstain for sake of brevity from discussion on the issue of adoption by gay partners). I wouldn’t call this legal arrangement “marriage”, because that really signifies approval of what I believe is not a healthy lifestyle, but otherwise I would go long way towards making supportive environment for the life of gay couples.

One observation from this side of the Pond. It is interesting that the “Godless Europe” has in this issue much less problems than people in America. Given the long history of atheism (and tendency towards socialism) most European countries have an institute of some kind of non-marriage official relationship (originally for heterosexuals who didn't want to have anything to do with Church in times when marriages were still closely linked to religious ceremony). They are usually not very popular (I believe every European country has now as an option secular marriages in the town hall), I think many Europeans don't even know such institute exists, but their mere existence made it very easy for most European countries to adopt some kind of registered partnership for homosexuals as an option and (with some exceptions) I don't know about much struggle to open classical marriages to gay couples. Again, I don’t think this is the only possible solution and I am not willing to defend it with putting on the line my honor, my property, and my life, but I would love to participate in the discussion about these questions with other people interested more in discussion than in cultural wars.

However, even more importantly, I would hope that Christians would be able to distinguish when they are fighting for The Right Thing™ and when for promotion of their status in the society. And I am afraid, many times with many Christian organizations and politicians, I am not persuaded they see it.

Category: faith Tagged: culture desertStream homosexuality sociology