Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bad Reasoning

I find that bad reasoning can influence my thinking as much as good reasoning. Is that the best you've got? I find myself thinking. Then maybe your idea ain't so great.

In the 1970's, I was exposed to a lot of Christians who believe that America's support of Israel figures prominently in the events of the Last Days. The general idea seemed reasonable enough to me. God seems to have Israel, the specific place, and Jews even when they aren't in Israel, as connected to the meaning of human history. Jesus was Jewish and the themes of his preaching assure us that's not accidental. The Holocaust and foundation of Israel were enormous and recent. America happened to be the world's preeminent power.

But the specifics of that, no matter how much people assured me they were straight from the Bible - you could look it up* - never seemed all that solid. There are a half-dozen general outlines, each with some possible variation, and none of them are convincing to me. Any of them could be true. I'm not saying they are false. But the evidence is scant, nowhere near what its proponents think. The books, videos, preachers, and teachers put forth bad arguments. And so, over the years, I have questioned whether America's foreign policy should be Israel-protective as one of its main objectives. The thought experiment pretend Israel is just one more nation in the world isn't very hard, actually. So the people who take that view also have an initial plausibility on their side. Sure, why not? Let 'em stand or fall on their own.

But when you let them keep talking, you find that they have bad reasoning as well. Specifically, a heckuva lot of 'em turn out to be anti-Israel and antisemites with very little poking. Online, it gets very difficult in comment threads to attend only to those people who at least seem to be Israel neutral - or well-wishing but unwilling to have America involved - because of the hordes of insane people chiming in. The excuses for Palestinian behavior, or Syrian/Lebanese/Iranian/whatever behavior are stunningly stupid. These are excuses you wouldn't accept from your teenagers for why they got a detention (not that any of my perfect children ever got a detention, you understand), but they hold up for nations?

Oh right, liberals are less likely to have ever had any teenagers, especially more than one. Maybe that's part of it. Though it can't be all of it.

So I am driven back in my first direction again. If the arguments against America supporting Israel are that mind-numbingly stupid, maybe we should be for it. We should at the least have the thought occur to us that America gets something back from this alliance, and have a little curiosity what that might be.


Recently, I have had the same experience in discussing same-sex marriage. As an evangelical, I have been exposed for years to the idea that the destruction of society, whether by natural consequences or direct punishment from God, will result from allowing - well hell, not just allowing SSM, but civil unions or homosexual behavior at all. While I agree with the general premises that 1) the family is not an accidental or optional vehicle for the training of the young and integrating them into society, but the only method that has been shown to work, 2) screwing with things that work invites disaster, and 3) permissions for homosexual behavior seem tied in theory to adultery, divorce, and Lord-knows-what-else - the opposing idea, that the right of the individual do do stuff they want to - is a fully American idea that deserves consideration.

Homosexuality has never been the key issue for me that it is for a lot of other Christians. I was a theater major and a dancer, for Pete's sake, and learned early to shrug at other people's sexual behavior. I have sexual sins of my own; working at a state hospital I have had all sorts of people with all sorts of problems who nonetheless deserve decent speech and general compassion. But primarily, I have never bought the idea that God puts it on the top of His list of things to complain about in other tribes. Idol worship seems to have captured that spot. For His own people, sure. The scriptures are more than plain that homosexuality is forbidden. Yet even here, it doesn't seem to be a dominant theme driving world-historical events. It's mentioned. It's forbidden. It is tied in to the general idea of the sanctity of marriage and the use of that image as a description of Christ's union with his church. Not much more.

So one would think that I would now be among those who shrug at the idea of SSM in America. What's the harm? Why is it my business? Yet as the debate intensifies we get the opposite effect. The arguments in favor - the arguments that people actually make - are ludicrous. You might convince me with great effort that a right discovered 30 years ago is indeed a Basic Human Right. We do extend ideas and see conclusions over time that may have been opaque to us before. But to insist that this new idea is just obvious, that only bigoted and intensely stupid people fail to recognise that changing the definition of marriage is something beneath even discussing, brands you as a hyperpartisan who is unable to even participate in a debate among reasonable people. To assume that opposition to SSM is the same as wanting to make homosexuality illegal is just the same as being opposed to civil rights for black people in the 60's is a set of huge logical leaps. I don't think gay rights in general are just exactly like racial civil rights at all, actually. Asserting louder that they are too doesn't help.

And of course, calling people bigots for disagreeing with you is always persuasive. I will say that in general, proponents of same sex marriage have not actually listened to their opponents' arguments. They have selectively listened to the worst arguments. That's fairly natural for all of us, but that's not good enough. I could play that game as well, noting that some proponents, if you let them fly, use language that makes it distressingly clear that they want the government to give the stamp of approval to SSM so that they can force it down the throat of mummy and daddy and their teachers and the straight kids from school that they ARE TOO OKAY!!! I don't take those folks into consideration when I'm discussing the general idea - everyone's got jerks and pathological people buried on their side somewhere, but it's best to seek out the reasonable people to talk to.

Yet here's the thing. In the debate over at Volokh, comment after comment, and even most of the posts, don't rise above the level of it's just obvious and you're a bigot. Not the first time I've encountered this over the last decade. Volokh is going to attract about the best disputants in favor of SSM you can find, and a few are pretty good. Yet even they slip into the Bad Reasoning.

It pushes me the other way. If that's the best argument you can make for SSM, then it's not such a great idea.

*When I hear that now, the insistence of a preacher that you should follow along in your Bible to insure they aren't misleading you, or the insistence of a congregant of following along to "check" on the preacher, I am convinced that I am in the presence of people who will make no sense. Trees. Forest.


Texan99 said...

Having assumed for most of my life that homosexuality was OK, and having converted to Christianity rather late, I find myself in the position of having to work out a position on this topic. From a strictly political point of view, I guess I take the libertarian position that it's not for the government to interfere in what adults do sexually or what kind of family units they choose to form, unless children are being harmed. Whether homosexuality is a sin, I can't say. If it is, I think it must be a minor one -- not even in the same league, for instance, as either abortion or divorce.

Anna said...

You know by now that I have a Lebanese-Armenian parent - I recently (past 3 years) converted to the pro-Israeli position just because the opposing arguments were so horrid. I think I have already beaten the dead horse enough on here, of how flawed I find the Middle Eastern outlook on life in general.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Oh but Anna, don't let that stop you. Someone else taking a turn at beating the old nags is something I entirely approve of.

terri said...

This is one issue that I don't ever discuss....because I just don't know what to say about it.

I have become much more liberal, theoretically, towards homosexuality and the idea of same sex marriage....but if I am truthful I would say that I don't know that I will ever be completely comfortable with it.

Which is funny because my brother-in-law's sister is a married lesbian expecting her first child with her partner. They live a thousand miles away so I haven't really had to tackle that conversation with my kids yet....but it's coming.

There was a time in my staunch evangelical days when I would have reiterated the "SSM is bad for society and the world and a harbinger of destruction...etc.etc." argument. I did used to faithfully listen to Dr. James Dobson, after all, and this was one of his little pet topics.

I don't feel that way anymore. And, in the grand scope of things, I don't know that I would any longer worry about homosexuality any more than I would worry about heterosexual promiscuity.

Though even that comparison fails because a truly committed homosexual union is not the same thing as a man or woman sleeping around or being a serial monogamist.

I don't know if I will ever be un-self-consciously OK with homosexuality. It's hard to erase years of anti-homosexual propaganda, even if you intellectually don't accept it anymore and see it for the "bad reasoning" that it is and can be.

On the other sense is that grace is all that any of us have when contemplating God and whether something is sinful, or whether we meet God's expectations, or trying to find out what, if any, of HIs expectations are.

We want to be right and choose right and be good and yet daily realize that we aren't completely capable of is my deficiency, and my hope for love and mercy in the face of it, any better than someone else's "perceived" deficiency?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I had forgotten about the "comfort level" side of things. I'm something of an opposite to most modern Americans of my generation, I think. I'm entirely comfortable talking and kidding with gay folk at work, but disapprove. I think it is more common in America for people to at least somewhat approve but feel uncomfortable.

The relatives-visiting-children-present piece is a mess. No good answers.

waca waca said...

I should clarify.

I'm not uncomfortable with gay the same way that I am not uncomfortable with anyone who lives a lifestyle that is different than me.

What I mean to say is that I don't understand homosexuality. I don't know what it would be like to be attracted to the same sex. I can't identify with that.

So....everything I know about homosexuality I have to learn from other people. The first view I learned was from the religious right and it made a certain amount of sense to me at the time, but at the cost of pre-emptively shutting down the conversation with actual homosexuals....because from that very conservative, religious view you couldn't take a homosexual's word about the behavior/lifestyle at face value.

Homosexuals were probably just looking for ways to justify their sinful behavior.....or so the thinking any opposing view was already tainted.

Now, I see how stupid it is to try and understand something without actually listening to the people who have experienced it.

I have to take much of what gay people say at face value because I really don't know what it's like to be gay. I don't want to dismiss them or what they have to say so blithely anymore.

Texan99 said...

I know what you mean. I've had close gay friends for so long that I'm incapable of concluding that there's something "wrong" with them in any greater sense than there's something wrong with all fallen humans. On the other hand, I find the idea of homosexual attraction utterly baffling, beyond imagination.

Even more difficult for me is transgenderism. We have a very old friend who suddenly announced last year that he'd become a woman. I want to be supportive, but in truth I'm appalled. How could he? I wouldn't berate him for the world, but I'm relieved he lives across the country and that I'm not called on to interact with him except in writing, where I can walk on eggshells in my comments.

terri said...

oops...I just realized that I was logged into my other gmail account when I posted this morning!

waca waca is me, terri!

Robert Mitchell Jr. said...

I think the core problem is that we have decoupled sex from procreation. We wanted the fun but not the responsibility. Which has turned out to be a very bad idea.

But we excused it with the idea that we were going to be responsible, get the house and kids, "later". Homosexuals get quite a backlash, I think, because they are so very like us, but with no illusion of "later".

So, in my eyes, Homosexual Marriage is just a symptom. We need, as a society, to remember how dangerous Sex is, what a powerful tool and weapon it can be. The only sex you should have is sex within a marriage to have children, the end. Anything else leads to the murder of children, a Mortal Sin, compared to the venial sin of Homosexuality.

So, I would say that Homosexual Marriage is trivial compared to the sins of Abortion on Demand and No Fault Divorce, but I still argue against it, because I do see them being scapegoated when the pendulum swings back, and I don't want them to be the ones to pay for our sins.....

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Robert, that last paragraph about gays being the canaries in the mine, or the scapegoat in cultural changes, is a very good caution to keep in mind. It is clear that there are some people who are bothered by gays in some way that is not merely intellectual, moral, or social, but with some physical anger or disgust.

james said...

I've wondered if that anger comes from a sense of betrayal.