Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Even critiques aren't EZ

A family member shared the article linked above. I have given it a great deal of thought. After first reading, it left me with a very uncomfortable, nagging feeling. It took some time and several readings before I could understand why. Here is my analysis, written at least partially because I needed to dissect things until I understood why I felt the way I did about the article. Beginning with the sixth sentence of the second paragraph ("When a Christian..."), it is an extremely well written, thoughtful article with tremendous value. Before that sixth sentence of the second paragraph, well...

The first paragraph is simply descriptive and sets the scene for the discussion. In the beginning of the second paragraph the author gracefully dives off the board of discourse into the deep end of fallacy for the sake of supporting his world view. Note that this is a common type of error which is clearly not unique to this author. It is also the type of error that you simply would have never seen in print before the internet era; in the era when "authors" had editors and editors had experience and printing was expensive.

What the author so egregiously does in those first two sentences is to presume to know another's motivation based solely on his interpretation of the other's actions. Were those actions offensive to the author? Apparently so. Does the author own the privilege of being offended? Certainly. Can the author possibly know the motivation of the person identified as hiding behind the veneer? I offer that he cannot possibly know that. He can observe, interpret, and report, but when he reports his interpretation it behooves him to identify that interpretation as what it is: his opinion and nothing more. An author increases the value to the reader of his opinion by being clear about what is observed and what is made up. I would accept his statement without question had he said, "I felt like the guy was out to ruin my day." This knowing full well that even what we observe is, at some level, made up.

What bothers me about the above is this: The bulk of this article is so well written, so articulate, so thoughtful, that I have a hard time believing that the author stumbled into this as an error. It seems much more likely that this was written as it was on purpose, to manipulate the reader and not to inform the reader. I believe it also exposes the author's prejudices in his call for overcoming prejudices  as he assumes hate while admitting the pamphlet was handed to him with a smile. In those words he calls on all, especially those who share his world view, to assume Christian hate where it may or may not exist--preaching to the choir, as it were. Certainly there are Christian haters, and, since prejudices come from somewhere, he's probably had to suffer a lot of unfavorable actions perpetrated by those who call themselves Christians. But to wedge all into the same box is as wrong as assuming that all gay people are permissive and predatory. The sad truth is that hateful actions may be perpetrated by people who actually have noble and loving motives, but are ignorant or misled. Most people who can muster any semblance of an open mind are probably somewhere on the curve between ignorance and understanding  Ignorance can be cured and that cure can lead to understanding  but first, the misled have to be willing to listen, and you don't get them there by assuming the worst of them. 

Our society has done this, too, assuming hate and prejudice because of disagreement or, God forbid, honest expression of opinion. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of hate and prejudice out there which we should work to eliminate through caring education. But acting in disagreement with another's choices, actions, or opinions does not, prima facie, prove hate or prejudice  Further, to increase a penalty for unlawful behavior based on the race, color, creed, or orientation of the victim as our society is currently doing, is, itself prejudicial and I believe both wrong and unconstitutional  A crime is a crime. A "hate crime" is just a crime. Crimes should be dealt with appropriately in our justice system which is supposed to be blind to race, color, creed, or orientation. Singling out certain victims or classes of victims only serves to perpetuate stereotypes and prejudices  We also commit this error by NOT forcefully prosecuting "black on black" or "Hispanic on Hispanic  or "gay on gay" violent crimes, thus shortchanging the victims. Note that "Repent or Burn" is not a refrain reserved for gays, but also handed to adulterers, addicts, drinkers, and smokers and those exercising a host of other unapproved behaviors.

As a member of a belief system that has been the target of smear campaigns and pamphlet-wielding fundamentalists (who I believe for the most have honest motives but are simply misled) I know what it feels like to be accosted on the street by a crowd with signs and shouts that attack what I am. Many years ago, my wife and I were shoved to the curb while leaving an LDS musical performance at San Antonio's Majestic Theater that had been targeted by a Westboro-like group. It was late and dark and the crowd of protesters was loud and menacing. That was scary. During the San Antonio Temple open house, we met the protesters on the street and politely offered them shade, bottled water, and access to restrooms at a nearby LDS chapel. Our leaders had taught us to not assume hateful motives but to turn away wrath with a soft voice. No wars may have been won that day, but any hate that might have been there was certainly defused. 

Rather than inform the reader in a way that may lead to introspection, thought, acceptance, and change, I believe the leading sentences serve only to further alienate people of differing beliefs. Of all the things we need, in society and at home, that is not on the list. I think it is a shame the author could not bring himself to rise above the level of those that accosted him.