Saturday, April 11, 2009

On Faith, Sexuality, Privilege and Projection

The great argument between the Far Right Xtians and the LGBT community has heated up of late, as public bodies give more latitude to LGBT needs and less to Xtian dogma in the public sphere. The Xtians are increasingly crying that the recognition of LGBT issues is an infringement on their freedom of religion and an imposition on their way of life.

Much of the differences between these two camps springs from fundamental misunderstandings on each side of the other, and of projection of each side's perspective on the other's goals.

The LGBT community is largely a “live-and-let-live” group, disinterested in enforcing its own lifestyle and preferences on the rest of the population but concerned when society at large denies it basic human dignity. It is neither expansionist nor authoritarian, and seeks only the respect and consideration it feels all humans deserve.

The Xtian community is by definition a messianic, missionary community who sees its role as saviour of Humanity. Xtians hold themselves apart even from most other Christian sects, believing them misled or “straying” from the True Faith, and driven to correct this “mistake” at any cost. They seek to correct the failures in civil society, and hold high standards for personal conduct according to a very precise, specific code. That they do this for the benefit of all and for the eventual salvation of Humanity is relevant: their cause has merit in their eyes, and in the eyes of many outside their realm.

The problem arises from each side of this argument's unconscious projection of its goals and methodologies on the other. The Xtians are recruitment-based: their membership is either indoctrinated in their youth or converted from some other belief (or from lack of belief altogether), and their aim is to project their “True Discipline” globally. Any impediment to this approach is perceived by them as persecution. The LGBT community is a passively created group: there is no “recruitment” to sexual identity, though any who define themselves as non-hetero are de facto members of the group and are perceived as deserving of the same respect and ability to live their lives without oppression. They are, however, adamant about the intrusive nature of any group's efforts to “convert,” “change” or "save” them since they believe it unnecessary – whether through faith that their Creator built them the way they are or through faith or lack of it that does not admit such direct Divine involvement in their existence.

Take for example the same-sex marriage issue. Marriage has had many functions over the ages beyond basic procreation: political and business alliances have been made, status established, power consolidated or conferred, and governments augmented or replaced all through marriages. Polygamy and polyandry both have a long history, and are still accepted in multiple cultures; the binary “one man, one woman” approach to heterosexual marriage is but one variant on the practice. The concept of marrying for love is fairly new: the far older tale is of a marriage for some other purpose wherein love is afterward found. Shakespeare first bridged the gap, though the Romantic movement made a good deal more of the concept. For the LGBT this is a civil right, divorced from religious overtones as described as early as the Deist writings of the 18th Century and as promised in the Constitution. Xtians see marriage as a key component of their Code and Law, and dismiss other positions outright as the product of “false” or “misled” beliefs which must be opposed for the good both of their own (for their protection) and for those thus led astray (for their eventual salvation).

Take also the claims of the Xtians that the LGBT community “recruits” young people and seeks to “infiltrate” schools and youth organisations to bring new “members” into the group. Xtians, of course, use such methods to spread The Word, and expect this approach from their members as a natural facet of practicing The Faith. LGBT persons, in contrast, recognise only that sexuality begins to be exhibited at a fairly young age, and regardless of one's faith needs to be handled with care, love and respect: the idea of “recruitment” is ridiculous, since the determining factors are more biological and familial than doctrinaire, and since there is no goal inherent in LGBT identification to “convert” any but rather to uphold and support those who think and feel as they do. Recruitment is alien to LBGT life; it is not, however, to Xtianity. Thus, the Xtians see in LGBT teachers a conscious effort to “pervert” the young people in their care, while the LGBT community sees only professionals dedicated to the improvement of all young people with no agenda beyond educating the young.

Take also how each group deals with its leadership. LGBT groups run the gamut of liberal to conservative, Christian to Xtian to Jewish to Muslim to agnostic to atheist, and are judged according to their adherence to these from an LGBT perspective. Log Cabin Republicans, for example, are often denounced by Progressives for their willingness to accommodate those who oppose them (thus diminishing chances of achieving true equality for their LGBT constituents), but they are not ostracized, excluded from the community or otherwise shunned. It is, after all, their right to speak and act as they do, though their goals and methods can rightly be questioned. Xtian leadership, in contrast, is often held to strict standards dictated by Xtian Law; breach of this Law is often met with removal from positions of power (either forced or voluntary, though voluntary vacations of position are often attempts to save face and avoid impending removal), and though forgiveness is a key component of The Law's philosophy it is usually only granted after much penance. LGBT leadership is measured by results and by adherence to civil law and decency; Xtian leadership is measured by the stricter standard of Xtian Law, which in those circles takes precedence over the civil law it frequently seeks to supersede.

In each case, the conflict stems from fundamental misunderstanding of each group's aims and methods. The Xtians, themselves seeking to convert all to their True Faith and holding steadfast to a particular Code of Conduct, see in any other group (including LGBT) a like-minded philosophy and agenda, and see in those groups' activities signs of the other's diabolical assault on The Faithful. Opposition to other philosophies is not only right, but virtuous, and demanded by The Divine in order to save all Humanity. LGBT people, desiring only to be respected for themselves and seeking inhibitions on those who would constrain or outlaw their own lifestyle and seeking only respect and forbearance from those around them: belief is irrelevant to them in this context, and the only truth that obtains in context is that different people are prone to different inclinations and behaviours which, practiced as free adult citizens in a nation presumably devoted to personal liberties and rights, ought to be respected. The LGBT position is not morally relativist, but merely the recognition that a belief system cannot dictate more basic portions of an individual's makeup deserving of respect from civil society.

Herein lies the rub: Xtian philosophy considers its Law superior to that of the State. Further, the Xtian missionary bent encourages – if not demands – its adherents to implement its Law in the public sphere as an obligation of The Faith. Xtians tend to see other groups with different understanding of the place of civil government in the same light. The precedence civil law takes in a pluralist society is viewed as a failure both of society and of The Faith, since civil law is the work of the public and presumed to be without the Divine inspiration Xtian Law claims. Imposition of civil law on the Xtian Faithful is perceived as a diminution both of their rights and of their stated goals, as it dilutes the code by which the Faithful are expected to live.

In contrast, the LGBT community, being drawn from a larger philosophical circle, see the imposition of any Divinely-inspired law as an encroachment by those intent on remaking society according to that one philosophy's precepts, to the detriment of their rights as citizens. Opposition to such efforts is not based on the Rightness of their opposition, but on the Wrongness of imposing a single philosophy's narrow interpretation of its own code on a society that does not universally share that philosophy.
What makes this friction of perspective pertinent is that the US was founded as, and still remains, a civil government founded on pluralist philosophy. In circumstance after circumstance, civil law trumps the tenets of Faith with regard to LGBT issues. Four states now allow same sex marriage, all states now recognize same sex affiliations as legal and its practices immune from prosecution, and workplace and housing protection is broadening. The LGBT community – like most US citizens – perceive this as the natural evolution of civil society under the framework of the Constitution. The Xtians, however, recognizing no law above Their Own, and seeking to implement that (for the benefit of all in both this life and the next), perceive such changes not only as challenges to their own tenets but outright offenses against them. In their zeal to remake the US as the Xtian nation they desire, they see the imposition of common law in the public sphere as an affront to their beliefs, not conceiving that their certainty of Rightness is not shared nor could be persuasive to those who disagree. The requirements of accommodation in such circumstances is anathema to a philosophy that denies the primacy of the civil sphere and demands that such be superseded by Divinely-inspired legal code.

In the end, much of the friction is a function of the fundamental misunderstanding of each group by the other. The LGBT community does not see the separation of church and state in a civil forum as an impediment to Faith, and see attempts to legislate according to a particular faith an imposition on civil rights. The Xtians, seeing the same civil forum as subordinate to the Divine, and who seek conversion of all within it (for their own good), see any constraint on their efforts as restriction of religious practice as it interferes with one of their key religious principles.

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