Saturday, July 28, 2012

I'm Open-Minded & I Vehemently Disagree With You

"Open-minded" is one term in a slew of identifying terms. As with any identifier, the term means many things, probably too many. An excess of meaning is tantamount to a paucity or complete lack of meaning. I am going to parse out what being open-minded means to me, balancing positive descriptions ("it is" statements) with negative ones ("it is not" statements).

When I identify as open-minded, I am doing so, because I perceive my beliefs and philosophies to be open to criticism and construction from within and without. The obvious metaphor here is a door. When an opinion dissents from mine, I keep the door of my mind open to that view.

Just because a visitor arrives, doesn't mean they will stay. Intellectual hospitality necessitates temporariness in some situations. To let any and all differences take residency would result in logical contradictions. Open-mindedness exists within the realm of logic and sense. I am open to listening to your views and I hope my interaction with your position to be mutually beneficial, but I may disagree with you in the beginning and in the end.

Some disagreements are simple matters of taste and opinion. Some disagreements are more significant, but without negative impact on anyone. Broadly speaking, theism and atheism are in this category. Before getting into the various permutations of theism and atheism, neither of these view points necessitate a negative impact on society or a lack of ability to collaborate for mutual growth of individuals, communities, and the environment at large.

Some beliefs hurt people. Anti-semitism is such a view. Racism is such a belief-system. Eurocentric, androcentric, and heterosexist positions are further examples of hurtful biases.

As with any other identifier, it isn't always true. Christians aren't always Christ-like. Libertarians enjoy some areas in which the government is involved. Heterosexuals have crushes on and enjoy physical contact with people of the same sex. People who identify themselves with a cultural definition of "masculine" have "feminine" sides.

Similarly, I am open-minded, but my mind is not open to somethings like anti-semitism, racism, eurocentrism, chauvinism, and heterosexism. I still can benefit from other views people in these groups hold, but I cannot imagine ever accepting their positions on equality. I think I listen to their beliefs, especially since I used to hold some of them. But from everything I've heard, they have nothing new to say. It is just the same old, misguided song and dance. I hear from them what they hear from me and neither of us do a great job at listening to each other.

Not only are they not saying anything new, but also they are hurting people. Just like open-mindedness does not mean being open to a slave trade based on race, sex, or economic status, neither does it mean being open to oppression.

In fact, it is precisely because of my open mind that I am against oppression. My open mind means I am for love, for love and reason brought me to an open mind. It would be outrageous and nonsensical to have an open-mind based on love and reason, but then be OK oppression and oppressive beliefs, to sit idly by while people are being actively hurt and discriminated. It is for this reason that I have dedicated my life (currently) to providing opportunities for college students to open up their minds: to do my part in fighting oppression and discrimination by influencing the development of college students.

I will continue to identify myself as open-minded, because I am. But I am certainly closed off to oppressive ideologies, because that is where the identifier falls apart, where it (self) deconstructs, because open-mindedness is built upon "closedness." (Get ready for my cheesy closing statement.) The open door defined by the closed, operating on the hinges of love and reason.

Monday, July 16, 2012

I Think You're Wrong, But I Don't Know How To Feel About Your Wrongness

I just read a blog post by Rachel Held Evans that conjured an image in my mind of Jesus singing, "Come together, right now, over me." I love the idea of Jesus singing the Beatles. The post challenged me, which is true to my generally ambivalent feelings about Evans. I like her, but I dislike liking her for three reasons:

First, because I didn't expect to like her. Sometimes "moderate" Christians (for lack of a better term) annoy me. I don't have a problem with moderates, per se, but I don't like how well they can blend in. I want them to be easier to spot.

Second, I don't like that Evans is popular. Simply put, I'm jealous.

Third, I don't like how likable she is. First I just read some of her blogs. Then I started following her on the Twitter. Before I knew it, I wanted to be her friend. How did she do that? Of course, she's a popular blogger and a print author, so the chances of me being her friend are slim. Really, the best part of being her friend would be that we could dialogue about her thoughts. Sometimes I don't want to ask questions to somebody's blog, I want to offer a dissenting, contrasting, or similar opinion and see what they think. Questions are more likely to get responses though. Even then, she can't answer every question. And what if I make a stupid typo or, just as likely, a stupid sentence or twenty? I don't want her dismissing me as much as I would dismiss me if I read my own comments.

Nonetheless, I follow her on Twitter and read a bunch of her posts. And I somehow went off on a jocose tangent before I even got started with the topic for this post.

When I read Evans's post about Christians coming together and working together, I had a hard time imagining it working. I have a pretty good imagination and I'm certainly an idealist, but reality got in the way of my imagination this time. The part of reality that got in the way was me.

If I read her correctly, Evans not only wants everyone to get along, but also to remain themselves. In order for Christians to work together, they need to be together. A lot. It would be a commitment as strong as going to church on Sunday. Although Christians could retain their congregating with their sects, I doubt most could collaborate with others while still meeting separately. 

We're talking here about desegregation. Desegregation requires identity loss. Commingling brings about mutual benefit and mutual change. Desegregation of something as radically diverse as Christianity would mean some people couldn't remain being the type of Christian they are. As one example, Landmark Baptists couldn't desegregate, because they strongly disagree that other Christians are Christians.

I would love the desegregation of Christianity, if the resultant change yielded a Christianity that looked a lot more like me.

I hate myself for saying that. Well, maybe hate is a strong word. And the feelings aren't because I said it, they are because I thought it.

I don't know about you, but when I'm honest with myself, I want some Christians to lose their identity. I want them to change. I want their particular brand of Christianity to cease existing.

For example, I believe in equality of the genders and sexuality. Those who do not agree have what I see as hurtful theo/ideologies. Through inter- & intrfaith dialogue, cohesion, and collaboration, I want people who disagree with me on these issues to change their mind. Sure, I want these conversations to be mutually beneficial. Those who don't agree with me on equality have things to offer, but I am about as ready to budge as a fundamentalist on this issue.

But for some Christian sects, they cannot be who they are and believe in gender and sexual equality. Patriarchy and hetero-privilege is so essential to their identity and it is wrapped up in their view of God, God's revelation, the Bible, ethics, and everything. Giving it up is tantamount to no longer being who they are. Christianity can't just come together without change and a lot of it.

How can I come together if I am like the missionary who wants to convert the heathens? As much as I don't like missions, I sometimes want to be that missionary. I've thought, "Maybe I should go back to church. You can't expect something to change if you're not a part of it. Maybe I should work to change it from within." But I'm not working to be transformed with it if I can't let go of myself first. Jesus said you have to lose yourself to find yourself and, according to the story, Jesus lost his life and found it again afterwards.

But how can I walk into intrafaith dialogue with someone who disagrees with gender equality without the desire to change them? How can I walk comfortably away from that dialogue knowing their beliefs are su/oppressing people?

I despise all of these thoughts. What if somebody actually reads my blog and just read about how much I want them to change, how wrong I think they are, how I think they are hurting people? All of these thoughts go against my faith in dialogue. They go against my understanding of deconstruction (I sure hope I am just missing something here, because I love loving deconstruction). I am dancing dangerously close to being a liberal fundamentalist. I can't even say I'm lacking a better term when I say "liberal fundamentalist." I like to tell myself it isn't fundamentalism, it is passion. But  I am just applying a bromide.

I'd love to end this post with a question, something to prompt you to respond. This post was partly confession, but confession with the desire for help. Perhaps that is the point of confession, not for absolution and forgiveness, but for help, for collaboration, for working together.

Even if I could come up with a good question, I would probably continue acting like someone so often identified as a liberal by talking more than I listen.