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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I don't know what I think anymore.

It's a blessing to live in a nation that supports religious freedom; in a nation that has a seperation of Church and State. Does it mean, however, that one area is blind to the other?

My head is logical. In my head, I love all people, no matter what. People need, deserve, love and acceptance. But my heart feels what it feels. To modify those feelings, by reason, with my head, is only lying to myself.

My head says that homosexuals are people. My head says I should love all people. It says I should accept them, associate and become friends, and support them. And these things I do.

My heart says that marriage is between a man and woman. I have very deep feelings about this with little to no logical reasoning to defend my position.

Do I think that homosexual couples should have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples? Yes. Tax breaks? Yes. Include each other on their health insurance? Yes. Would I consider a couple who commits to this union commited to each other? Yes. Do I want it called a marriage? No.

It comes down to a definition. What is marriage. Do I think that homosexual couples have as strong a bond as a heterosexual couple? I'm not sure. I have a gay friend I used to work with who has been with his significant other for over twenty years. That's a hell of a commitment. Is it the same as my commitment to my wife for the last five? Or the same as my parents for the last thirty? My head says yes. My heart says no.

Of course, i'm dealing with a perfect world, because it is easy to condemn either side in relationships that fall apart, or with people who switch partners they share a "lifetime bond" with every week/month/year. But what if I had examples of an unfaltering commitment on both sides. Is it the same? Logic says it has to be. But my heart says "is it?" And I don't want it called a marriage. It's not the same.

What does it say about my heart if I am fully content with the idea if it has a different name. Yet I recall seperate, but equal, and how well that worked. I suppose a marriage has as much religious implications to me as it does legal. So maybe I feel like it is treading on those toes. For example, what if another religious group wanted to call themselves Christians, with the same altar, church, etc, but they believe something completely different. But religious groups don't do that. We have different names for our sects and are content to have our traditions, even though some things are similar.

I can understand how people want to fit in. To be accepted, and not be singled out for persecution, and they are just in their desires. Would a civil union, or any other term, cause just that?

I think this is something that is fundamental in me, something similar to "I don't like vegetables". I can reason and rationalize things all I want, but it doesn't really change it.


Mike said...

David, I like the way you approached the topic within a head vs. heart structure. Interestingly, I have nearly the polar opposite reaction as you.

In my heart, I *know* that marriage is a vow between two loving people to bring unity to their duality, and whether those two loving people are men, women, or one of each matters not. In my head is where the question might arise because, being straight, I cannot step into their shoes to understand having feelings for another man.

That being said, I do not struggle at all with the idea of gay marriage. In fact my wife and I, at our wedding reception, gave a donation in lieu of wedding favors to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) in support of gay marriage.

I have a lot of ideas on this topic -- honestly it's one of those topics that really gets under my skin; I see it as nearly analogous to the pursuit of equal rights by non-Caucasians and women in our country's history. That being said, a new idea came to me while reading your essay, and so that's the one I'm going to present in this post.

Near the end of your post, you wrote, “I suppose a marriage has as much religious implications to me as it does legal. So maybe I feel like it is treading on those toes.” At first reading, I thought, “Of course; a number of my friends are against gay marriage, and this is one of their primary rationalizations.” But then it occurred to me that there are many Christians who are gay who support gay marriage, many right in our very community here in the Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago. One of my best friends, a Baptist Pastor who is against gay marriage, once told me that while being gay is something a person is born with, acting on those feelings is a choice. I have several thoughts that follow this introduction:

(1) Why should these Christians be denied the gift of marriage? As you said, they deserve all the secular benefits of union. But these are otherwise God-loving Christians; why should they be denied the religious benefits as well?

(2) Not allowing gay marriage is the equivalent of saying that this person’s innate feelings of love -- a God-given gift -- are wrong. Love is the center of Christianity. And this is effectively saying, “This greatest of gifts that God can bestow upon you -- the ability to love others -- is wrong and you should keep that bottled up.

I agree with you 100% that gay couples deserve all the legal benefits straight couples receive in marriage. Sure, we could call that a civil union and accomplish that goal; and what’s to stop the gay couple from considering their civil union the same as marriage (from all angles, including religious)? Nothing at all. So it might seem just fine and dandy to allow civil unions and move on to the next issue facing our country, treating it as simply semantics. But doing that, in my mind, is a very, very grave injustice to homosexuals. It is exactly equal to you saying to your wife, “Honey, you’re the most important thing to me, and I know you’ve been talking constantly about wanting to get a job. So here, I’m going to give you this job: stay home and clean the house and cook for me. And I’ll give you $1000 a week for it.” Sure, practically it’s the same thing, since she gets the benefit of working (a paycheck, her husband’s insurance/benefits, etc.). But it is condescending beyond belief and effectively means, “You’re less of a person than others out in the workforce.”

One more quick comment. In your last paragraph, you said, ”I can reason and rationalize things all I want, but it doesn't really change it.” I disagree wholeheartedly with this. Well, rather, let me restate. I DON’T disagree that that’s been your experience. I do disagree with the ability to change something. Let me explain briefly. It’s a central belief of mine (one borne from personal experience) that I can most definitely change my fundamental beliefs. I cannot change some aspects of my physical being -- i.e. I have a pretty good vertical leap -- at one point it was about 32 inches, though now I’m in the 20s. But can I ever achieve a 40 inch vertical? Probably not; my musculature just isn’t made for that. However, the mind is infinitely flexible. I don’t mean to say that we should change our minds willy-nilly, nor that it’s an easy process. But in my personal experience, moments of clearly seeing something have most definitely resulted in a near immediate change in my fundamental beliefs. But it does go beyond reason. Let me go on just a little further, since I think this is important.

In Buddhism one very useful type of meditation is analysis. For instance, one could meditate on the topic of impermanence. To do so, after calming one’s mind, you could begin to consider some aspect of impermanence. Let me quote the Loka Sutra from the Pali Canon:
Now what disintegrates? The eye disintegrates. Forms disintegrate. Consciousness at the eye disintegrates. Contact at the eye disintegrates. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the eye — experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain — that too disintegrates.
"The ear disintegrates. Sounds disintegrate...
"The nose disintegrates. Aromas disintegrate...
"The tongue disintegrates. Tastes disintegrate...
"The body disintegrates. Tactile sensations disintegrate...
"The intellect disintegrates. Ideas disintegrate. Consciousness at the intellect consciousness disintegrates. Contact at the intellect disintegrates. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the intellect -- experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain -- that too disintegrates.
"Insofar as it disintegrates, it is called the 'world.'"
So you could begin with forms, for instance. And look into any chosen form, and observe how you can see it disintegrate over time. As you perform this analysis meditation after meditation, you begin to see the reason behind what is stated in this sutra, behind impermanence. But that rational observation hasn’t yet “clicked” with you. It’s just “in your head.” At some point though, there will be this moment of insight, the “Aha! Moment,” when you finally understand (to some level) impermanence. This insight, called Sartori in Zen, is the moment that such fundamental changes within can occur in a heartbeat. But you’re right, you have to go beyond reason, as such fundamental beliefs transcend reason. But you have to go THROUGH reason to get there. You can’t go around. So you’re right, you can reason and rationalize all you want, and it won’t change anything. But if you explore, probe, and contemplate a topic starting with reason, then you’d be amazed at the wisdom that can arise.

Ryan said...

A beautiful post, David. Thanks for sharing your struggle with us. I hope that you find a peace in your questioning as well as your answer.

Early on, you said "To modify [what my heart feels], by reason, with my head, is only lying to myself." While I understand the head/heart dilemma all too well, in my experience I've often found it to be the other way around. It is often reason and logic which reveals the ways in which we lie to ourselves. Let me explain.

I can have a firmly entrenched belief about something, something that I know in my heart to be right and is at the core of my being. Let's say I believed that the Earth really was the center of the Universe. I look around and I see how this planet seems to be perfectly placed to support life, specifically, my life. I watch the sun and moon rise and set and the stars wheel about the heavens, and my heart is content to know that such a show is being put on around my planet, and is convinced by the day to day experience that this is so.

However, if I study astronomy and pick up a bit of calculus for fun (no one but Mike would really do this), then I very quickly learn that we are floating freely somewhere on a spire of an unbelievably large galaxy, which is but one of the galaxies in our immeasurable universe. I have facts, I now see the logic and reason underlying a heliocentric solar system, but my heart is still holding on to my daily experience, the one that cries "I'm not moving, the sun is!" This new logic has now brought me to a place, a place where I have to decide if I am going to continue to hold to my heart's belief, in the face of evidence and logic and therefore accept the lie, or if I am going to let that knowledge change my heart, so that I now treasure my experiences here on earth, knowing that they are a part of something much bigger than my first beliefs could ever have imagined.

Our hearts drive us in life; they fuel our passions and help us define ourselves by our emotions and the way we use our emotions to drive us to action. However, we cannot ignore that our hearts, our passions, are informed by the reality around us, which our head perceives. The head informs, the heart acts. To see the two in opposition is to sell both of these attributes short and will only lead to further confusion.

Your final statement is that "I can reason and rationalize things all I want, but it doesn't really change it." I think this is an example of what Dave talked about in his previous post, the "It is what it is" statement. Reason and logic won't change anything until you decide that they can. And, like Mike explained at the end of his comment, reason isn't always the answer, but it will lead you to an answer.

David said...

To begin, I would like to say that I really appreciate an intellectual discussion, and feel very happy to not be attacked in my belief/struggle, as much as I have tried not to attack the issue with my statement in the first place.
Mike, I will not pretend that I even understand the very first of tenets of Buddhism. But there are two items in your comment I think I can make at least a fairly decent point.

The first is in the analogy of marriage to a job. I certainly see your point, and I in no way wish to degrade a person, or promote superiority, etc. But to play devil's advocate, what about two people that have jobs in separate fields? Lets say, a nuclear physicist and a musician. They are both respectable and deserve their compensation. They both make an "honest" living and are able to provide for themselves and their families. Gainfully employed. Part of the working force economy. So much is similar. But is a nuclear physicist a musician? (of course he could be, but is a man employed as a nuclear physicist a musician at work?). What about vice versa? I doubt that either party would say the other is "not as good as the ultimate profession of blank" but neither would a musician want to be called a nuclear physicist. At least, I don't!
I do worry for the tenets of my beliefs and wish them propagated, but not imposed. However, I don't wish to be imposed upon myself. I don't think that marriage is a right. Cousins can't get married in many states, and mothers can't marry sons, fathers, their daughters, etc. It might be said that it is not the same, but I think it is very possible for someone to be sexually attracted and emotionally bonded in this way. But they aren't allowed to marry. As far as gay Christians go, I have to say that I can't say that promiscuity has any part of a Christian lifestyle (I am not trying to imply all homosexuals are promiscuous). For Christian homosexual couples that aren't promiscuous, I have no business telling them they are "sinning", I think that is between them and God in their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, referring to the Bible "All things are permissible, but not all things are profitable". But my beliefs come from Genesis 2:24 "Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh". I wish for marriage to be this religious definition as much as a follower of Wicca wish for people to understand their definition of a witch.

About Satori. First of all, you should know that wikipedia has a stubb of an article that is not informative at all. Sadly, this is my only source for such things. It is loosely defined there as "enlightenment". I don't understand it, I don't know how a Buddhist meditates (although, I do search my soul when needed) and I am far from any sort of expert, amateur, or really even knowledgeable. I am really hoping to not offend or tread on your toes just like I want my toes protected. I do think I understand something about impermanence and my false understanding of a situation. Having bipolar disorder, I come under false assumptions often and must fight through them. One such battle is with the notion of self worth and suicide as an "out". Obviously, the effects would be disastrous if the false "beliefs" eventually prevailed even once. I think I might understand your meditation exercise, if even my next statements imply otherwise. The exercise is to imagine the loss of a form, and losing the effects and affects of the form, of seeing beyond it. Lose the eyes, lose sight, lose the shapes you see, the colors, etc. But this isn't so. I have blind friends from Walmart (we've got a job for you) who still experience colors and shapes. None of them were blind from birth, so I can't account for that factor. People who lose limbs have ghost pains. Beethoven lost his hearing, but he heard everything he wrote, and depending on which sect of classical musicians you speak with Beethoven is God. I'm trying to say with this analogy that my heart will take all logic and reasoning into consideration, but it will never forget my original stand. I used to believe this, but this information implies this. Does my heart follow through? I guess it depends on the facts, but where are the facts in this issue?
And just to poke you in the ribs a little, I shall remind you that reason only got Dante so far through hell. :)

Mike said...

Hi David,

I, too, greatly enjoy these intellectual discussions! And though I always try to avoid it, if something I say does make it feel as though I am attacking you or your views, please understand that that is not at all the case, and it was just a mistake in words.

First thing, my post was not really at all supposed to have been based in Buddhism -- I just used examples therein that I thought applied. Buddhism does speak out against promiscuity, as it is harmful to all involved. However, it has no opinion whatsoever on the gay marriage issue, nor on homosexuality altogether. So, generally, Buddhism has no problem with gay marriage, as long as the parties are in a long-term loving relationship, the same as you’d hope a heterosexual couple would be before getting married. But my statements, stories, and arguments are my own; I do not get them from any Buddhist source. (Since you’ve admitted to knowing little about Buddhism, I thought it would be helpful to directly point out the Buddhist view, as well as the distinction between anything I say and what Buddhism might.)

Now on to your points. In your first point, you give an analogy between two people in two separate jobs, in response to my analogy of marriage & jobs. I think there is a major difference between our two analogies, and I think they speak to different points. In my analogy, one person is seeking the same rights as other people -- the same rights this person deserves to have -- but she is denied that by being handed an inferior alternative that otherwise “appears” to have the same benefits. (please note that I am NOT degrading stay-at-home moms here. They have one of the toughest jobs imaginable, one I would NEVER want. I’m speaking of the case in which somebody wants to do something else, but then is given this second option that was not originally desired).

In your analogy, you’re taking two different people who already have separate jobs and are happy with what they are called. Of course, I agree that one would not want to be called the other, nor is a nuclear physicist the same as a musician. But there is no need for them to change names; indeed, there is no conflict at all. Both sides have exactly what they want: they each have a career in a field they enjoy, and they’re recognized as such. You’re correct when you say that neither party would call the other’s profession lesser. But that is because both stand on equal footing, in careers they wanted and enjoy and in which there is work. Again, there is no conflict, no desire for equality. So I think that your analogy is not as applicable to the situation we’re discussing; I just think it does not model a sufficient number of the dynamics in play.

You continued by quoting Genesis 2:24: "Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh". I wish for marriage to be this religious definition as much as a follower of Wicca wishes for people to understand their definition of a witch. I think this is a worthy definition. Heck, I AGREE with it! However, I also don’t see it as conflicting with gay marriage. Take John and Bob, two hypothetical homosexuals. John leaves his father and mother and is joined to another, Bob. Bob leaves his father and mother and is joined to another, John. Both are leaving their first loving relationship, that existing between them and their parents, and entering into their second loving relationship, that between a husband and a wife. Christianity is a religion that emphasizes relationships above all else, relationships with God, relationships with other people, etc. Therefore, I think this quote from Genesis primarily focuses on the transition of a person between the two most important person-to-person relationships Christianity describes, first that between a child and his parents, and then between a person and his spouse. I think the mention of “wife” is more of a convention of the norm than a decree of gender. In a similar vein, remember that the ancient Jews were a very patriarchal society, hence the focus on “man” leaving his family. In proper equality terms, this same sentence from Genesis could be rewritten as, “a woman shall leave her…be joined to her husband.”

On to your second point. I probably should not have used the term Sartori. I was actually using it rather loosely, more along the lines of a “realization” as opposed to intellectual understanding. “Intellectual or theoretical knowledge is knowledge that is understood only at the intellectual level, whereas wisdom is understood at the experiential level.” [Ardelt]* Ardelt continues, “It is only when an individual realizes (i.e., experiences) the truth of this preserved knowledge that the knowledge is re-transformed into wisdom and makes the person wise(r).” My point was more along the lines of describing REALIZATION as opposed to intellectual understanding.

In terms of impermanence, pick any item you can think of, or any thought or sound or whatever. Seriously, anything. Then sit in meditation and contemplate that. When you look closely at it, you’ll notice that it is constantly changing. Even the Grand Canyon used to just be the Grand Rock Bed (there was no Canyon until the rock was shaped by natural forces). Obtaining an intellectual understanding of impermanence, that all things are constantly changing, constantly in flux, is actually quite easy. However, REALIZING that fact is a different issue altogether. Buddhism maintains that impermanence is a very important topic, one of the Three Marks of Existence. However, if it were that easy to understand and utilize in religious practice, the Buddha wouldn’t have had to have taught on that topic so often. The point is that one’s Buddhist practice should bring one to a REALIZATION of impermanence, which goes well beyond the intellectual understanding easily gained. You could call it a spiritual epiphany, or the Holy Spirit coming to you. Regardless, it’s a DIRECT EXPERIENCE of impermanence that reaches deep into your core. It punches through your mind from the realm of thought into the realm of existence, in such a way that you KNOW (not think anymore, but KNOW) the truth of what you’ve experienced. You live with gravity every moment of your life, but its significance and truth don’t really hit home until you fall out a second story window.

You said that, ”I'm trying to say with this analogy that my heart will take all logic and reasoning into consideration, but it will never forget my original stand.” What you say is true, though in a way that I think you did not intend. In my Introduction post on this blog, I wrote about my realization of interbeing. Prior to that moment, my heart told me that I was a fully independent being, not dependent on anything else; I had my own “core of self,” whatever that means, that was entirely mine and separate from everything else. But in that moment of Realization, of Awakening, that I described in that essay, the truth of Interbeing was like a blinding Sun burning reality into my heart. At that very moment, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that my old conception of my unique, independent core of Self was entirely false. I had no independent core, nor does anyone else, nor anything else. Indeed, we are all completely inter-dependent. I am, because you are. You are, because I am. This is, because that is. This is not, because that is not. That Awakening was so powerful that it shook me to my core and entirely changed my world view.

Logic and reasoning tell me that I seem to have an independent Self, and so my heart takes that into consideration. I immediately recognize that such reasoning only holds in a relative sense, not an absolute sense, though I will never forget my original stand of thinking I had an independent Self.


* Ardelt, M. (2004). Wisdom as expert knowledge system: A critical review of a contemporary operationalization of an ancient concept. Human Development, 47, 257-283.

Mike said...

I forgot to check the "Email Follow-up comments" box, so this post is just enabling that. (though I did tell Ryan where he could add all our email addresses so that all of us contributors would automatically receive all comments... ;) ) *pokes Ryan in the ribs*

Ryan said...

Great discussion, guys.

And yes, I finally took the hint and added our emails so that you don't have to check the "Receive emails when someone comments" box.

Hope you're happy, Mike. You made me do stuff.

Mike said...

*waves hand in front of Ryan's face* These are not the droids you are looking for.

David said...

Your Jedi mind tricks will not work on me, boy!
I must think some more on this issue myself.

Dave V said...

Wow. Great discussion. Disclaimer: These are a bunch of loosely organized thoughts relating to my inner conflicts concerning homosexuality, marriage, and Christianity. I hope I don't lose anyone.

To this day I wrestle with how to reconcile homosexuality with Christianity. I find it pretty absurd to deny that people are born gay, and I find it even more absurd to deny that homosexuality doesn't only consist of promiscuous sex or violent orgies.

One thing I have considered a lot lately is the Biblical account of the first family. Now most Christians use this account to say "see! God clearly intended marriage to be between one man and one woman. It was God's design. Case closed!" I, however, can't help but see how the Biblical account of the first family could easily rip all kinds of holes and gashes into that reasoning.
If you look at the creation account as completely literal, you are screwed. And even if you look at it as allegorical legend, to keep the continuity of the story it seems the writer wants us to examine it similarly.

Children + ? =Grandchildren.
Get my drift?

It is commonly accepted among Christians that there was a lot of incest early on in creation. We briefly explain it was simply necessary, in order to multiply,but we don't have to do that anymore- and we move on.

Later in the Bible God clearly commands that certain family members shouldn't "lay" with one another;namely brothers and sisters, fathers and daughters, mothers and sons. There are also many accounts of God prohibiting inter-marrying between races.

The ethics of who could marry who obviously changed within the Bible, much of this change appears to be a means to an end, I won't go into all of that now. So I begin to ask: "is there a pattern to these changes?Could these changes still be taking place?"
We are comfortable saying Heterosexual marriage was God's design, and we point to Genesis as our evidence. So why can't I insist that incest is God's design too, pointing to Genesis as well?
Does everything recorded in Genesis truly give us a standard of God's design for today, or is it merely telling us what happened at the beginning, painting a picture of the development of mankind?

But at the end of the day I have still come to no definite conclusion aside from this: Heterosexual marriage, particularly in Western culture, is no pinnacle of deep commitment. Yet marriage, I believe, is all about deep loving commitment between two people. I know of many older men who have been married 3 or 4 times(to women), hated every minute of it, and admit they may still get married again. Is that more honorable than gay marriage, just because it is heterosexual? I've had people close to me get married recently, saying they find comfort in the hope of divorce as an emergency escape. Many people have that mindset. To me, marriage is what you make it to be(not to sound like I'm repeating my last post).

I believe the dedication and permanence of marriage is of much greater value and significance than the genitalia of those getting married, and until heterosexuals can brag of their collective reputation for healthy marriage examples, we don't have any business denying homosexuals the ability to marry. In other words, I find loving commitment, unity, and undying dedication between two people to be the sacred principles behind marriage;likewise, I find any violation to those principles to be of utmost irreverence to the institution of marriage, far beyond any perceived irreverence by the "wrong kind" of people being married.

As a little bit of a side rant...just because all heterosexual couples fill out the same paperwork for marriage does not mean they all have "good","godly" or even "Christ-like" marriages. Our government's institution of marriage does not require married couples to follow any particular religion,so I have never understood why the Christian church values the government's institution of marriage so much as is, and suddenly steps up to control THIS aspect of it's definition(sexual orientation). It is up to individuals to live out their marriage in a way that reflects their faith and moral convictions, I shouldn't force anyone to have a marriage that meets up to(or deny a marriage that does not meet up to) MY religious convictions.

Ryan said...

Great post, Dave. It was much more coherent than you seemed to think.

I think you're spot on in your comments about the difficulty of how to read Genesis in regards to the issue of marriage. However, if we can't point to the "first" family as an example of marriage, what do we make of the fact that Jesus seems to do just that? The exact passage eludes me, but when people ask him about divorce, his response is to point to Adam and Eve.

Your thoughts?

Dave V said...

Matthew 19:3-6
}3Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"
4"Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,'[Genesis1:27])5and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'[Genesis2:24]? 6So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

It can be a tricky passage. It could very easily be used to argue in either direction.

The big question is Christ in fact stating here that God made male and female because marriage was only intended to be between male and female or is Christ just answering according to the nature of the pharisee's question, which was about a man divorcing a woman?

I look at it this way: The pharisees asked Jesus about divorce. Jesus' was answering a question about divorce. The pharisees were talking about divorce between a man and woman; marriage was assumed to be between a man and woman in this context, that was the norm. Therefore Jesus was answering their question within the same context in which they asked it. They were asking about marriage as they knew it(heterosexual union), so Jesus answers accordingly. The question wasn't about who can or should get married, and so I don't see why Jesus' answer would be addressing that issue. The question was about men divorcing their wives, and I find it rather unmistakable that the theme of Christ's answer is that marriage requires intentional, lifelong unity and commitment, and it should not be separated by any means...so no, its not okay to get a divorce "for any and every reason".

It is still undeniable that Jesus goes a little out of his way to quote the "male and female" passage, which in genesis is somewhat seperate from the next passage he quotes, and doesn't directly have much to do with divorce. This could be taken to mean that Jesus wanted to clarify the gender/sex standards for marriage, or that every part of his statement was meant to create the exact image of precisely everything marriage is meant to be, but when I look at it within context, that idea doesn't really strike me. I think he was steering scripture to apply to the context in which the question was being asked, but it is very possible he was implying something more.