Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Clarifying my position on millitancy

I'm a middle-ground kind of guy. So when I see people in attack mode, my first response is to say "Now let's just calm down" or something similar. It doesn't make sense to me for people to be angry or frustrated with one another. I think generally it's my responsibility as an adult to exercise some self-control, rather than taking things out on other people. And I think if you put up with a little bit of flak from other people when they're frustrated, and respond calmly, you're a lot more likely to get listened to.

So the fact that I immediately had people go on the offensive on the Why Won't God Heal Amputees site put me off. I didn't get it. If you're trying to make a case for something, why immediately put the person you're talking to on the defensive? Why not assume they're a human being, like you, and accept that reasonable people can reach different conclusions legitimately? It seemed to me that not doing so was silly. It just didn't make sense.

But here's the thing - usually, when you can put yourself in other people's shoes, and see the world as they see it, their behaviour becomes a lot more understandable. I didn't see how it was possible that what I was reading could at first. But if you've already tried to talk to the people around you, and been told you're going to hell for thinking what you think, and if that's consistently happened for a while, from most or all of the people you talk to, then talking reasonably starts to make less sense.

Myself, I've lost a good friend because he decided that since I didn't believe in God the way he did, he couldn't be around me any more (although he would give up his "violent" Spider-Man comic books "when he had the strength"). Because he wanted to deepen his faith, he cut me off. And so, since I believe it's always important to try to put yourself in the other person's shoes, I thought about what it would be like if it wasn't just one good friend, but my family, and my community that I got cut off from. And if most of the people around me believed some really extreme form of religion, like I only see on TV, so instead of just being cut off from people I cared about I was also genuinely scared of how they might react. And if at first (because many of these people had been Christians at one point) I had believed the same things as those around me, so when I gave up that I didn't know what else there was to believe. When I looked at it that way, the way they were acting made sense. Objecting to using analogies and insisting on perfect rationality doesn't really make sense most times. But when you see even a little bit of irrationality as the start of a slippery slope and you've seen first-hand exactly what's at the bottom of that slope, because you've lived in it, well, then it makes sense to object to an analogy that might seem harmless to me.

So no, I don't approve of militancy, on either side of any debate. I still think it's not an effective approach, and I will insist that all discussion on this site be respectful and open. But I think someone in a different situation might say to me "Well, that's all very nice of you to say where everything is sunshine and roses, but in the real world, in my world, your approach doesn't work, I've tried it." Which makes me feel lucky to be where I am.

Last night I just had a "Wow" moment, where another perspective I didn't understand became clear to me, that's all. And although I don't agree with the viewpoint, understanding where it comes from helps me to talk to people who hold it, and that's a good thing.

And I understand too that it can go both ways. I guess being a person of faith can make you feel cut off from people who don't believe the same. But I've got to say it doesn't make the same kind of sense to me (yet). People moving away from others who don't share their beliefs makes me a little scared, because it cuts off dialog, which seems like a step in the wrong direction. So I hope nobody takes me saying what I think as an indication that they're not welcome to think differently. All you have to do is be willing and able to explain to me how your position makes sense.

No comments: