Tag Archives: gay marriage

Why Partisanship is the New Normal

The ferociously partisan atmosphere in America these days isn’t limited to Washington D.C., though it certainly is epitomized there. No, the divisive, bitter ambience in this country exists everywhere, from sea to shining sea. A few minutes on cable news or a cursory scroll through one’s social media feed at any given moment (but especially on days like this) confirms it. And it’s getting worse.

“Moderate” is increasingly a relic in American culture. The ouster of Indiana senator (and moderate, bipartisan-minded Republican) Dick Luger is just the latest evidence of this. Republicans are getting more conservative and Democrats are getting more liberal. The country’s middle ground is quickly becoming no man’s land.

Issues like gay marriage are further entrenching both sides. The day after North Carolina became the 30th state to adopt a ban on gay marriage, President Obama  ended his “evolving views” stalling and admitted to supporting the opposite view, thrilling liberals and stealing some of the spotlight from what happened in North Carolina. For Obama and his ever bluer base, opposition to gay marriage is seen as gradually eroding. The expectation is that soon enough gay marriage will be completely acceptable in society. But there are signs that, for red state America, the opposite trend is occurring. Voters in North Carolina–a swing state that went blue for Obama in 2008–actually voted for the ban on gay marriage by a larger margin (61-39%) than expected, and seven percentage points larger than the 2006 margin (57-42%) of another gay marriage ban in fellow Southern swing state Virginia (also went blue for Obama in 2008). This appears to be another sign that the red base is getting redder on wedge issues like gay marriage, even while the blue base is becoming bolder and louder on such divisive issue.

Why are we experiencing such unprecedented ideological divergence in our culture? Why is it looking–tragically–as if the recovery of a middle ground and a bipartisan, cordial public discourse is increasingly unlikely?

It may sound obvious, and it may be old hat by now, but I believe a huge factor contributing to all of this is the Internet. Namely: the way that it has fragmented and niche-ified our media consumption. For former generations, “news” was the thing everyone watched at the same time at night on TV. It was the local newspaper. There were far fewer options, so everyone tended to learn about the news from the same sources. Some big cities had multiple newspapers with slightly divergent political bents, but for the most part normal folks didn’t have easy access to “news” with a decidedly partisan bent.

Not so today. Now, we have 24/7 access to it. Whatever one’s political leaning may be, an entire personalized media landscape can be constructed to reinforce it. There are TV channels, YouTube channels, websites, tumblrs, blogs, e-newsletters,  newspapers and radio stations for whatever political opinion you may have. Everyone processes media narratives that are as infinitely different from one another as snowflakes. Each of us has a totally unique combination of blogs we follow, news sites we read, and social media connections who shape our media intake. No wonder “consensus” is a thing of the past. We don’t live in a Walter Cronkite world anymore. We live in our own iNews bubbles of self-perpetuating, fragmentary and volatile media flows.

And it creates a snowball effect. Given the choice, liberal-leaning folks naturally will spend more time watching MSNBC and filling their Twitter feeds with people of a similar bent. Conservatives will naturally choose to watch Fox News and populate their feeds with advocates of GOP-friendly ideals. In a world where it’s as easy as clicking “unfollow” whenever someone says something that challenges our beliefs, our “feeds” of self-selected narratives of reality will make us neither educated nor enriched; they’ll simply make us more ardent in the beliefs we already hold.

In this “million little narratives” world of individually curated and (often) hyper-politicized media experiences, it’s easy to see how fringe groups and all manner of Anders Breivek-style zealotry may develop. It’s easy to see how ideology-oriented communities can become dangerously insulated and prone to “no compromise!” hostility to the Other. It’s easy to see why we’ve become so bad at talking cordially with those who are different than us. There are just so few forums for us to learn how to productively converse with a plurality of differing voices. And even if there were, would we willingly enter those forums when there are unlimited options of lesser resistance at our disposal?

I think we must. The landscape of new media, I believe, is such that society is only going to become more divided. There will be more turnover in Congress. Less ability to “reach across the aisle” without dire political consequences. It will not be easy to recover cordiality, and the values of respect and moderation in the public square will be lost, to disastrous effect. That is, unless we each make a point of combatting this in our own lives. Some suggestions for how to do this:

  • If you watch news on TV, watch a different channel every night, even if it pains you.
  • Don’t just pack your social media feeds with people who agree with you. Curate a diverse plurality of voices.
  • Avoid commenting on articles, Facebook posts or other online forums when you are angered or upset. Take time to think it over, and if you still want to say something, say it with care and nuance.
  • Just say no to the social media “instant commentary!” impulse.
  • Do you have at least some friends who have different political views than you? You should. Engage them in friendly, loving debate.
  • Avoid watching the “crazies” too much (whether on Fox News, MSNBC, or any other channel… you know of whom I speak).
  • Read books on complicated subjects, not just news articles or tweets.
  • Learn to value humility and (gasp!) be willing to change your views on something, if reason (not peer pressure) leads you there.
  • Read Marilynne Robinson.

And on that note, a wise quote by Marilynne Robinson’s stellar, prescient essay for our times, “Austerity as Ideology“:

Western society at its best expresses the serene sort of courage that allows us to grant one another real safety, real autonomy, the means to think and act as judgment and conscience dictate. It assumes that this great mutual courtesy will bear its best fruit if we respect, educate, inform and trust one another. This is the ethos that is at risk as the civil institutions in which it is realized increasingly come under attack by the real and imagined urgencies of the moment. We were centuries in building these courtesies. Without them “Western civilization” would be an empty phrase…

In the strange alembic of this moment, the populace at large is thought of by a significant part of this same population as a burden, a threat to their well-being, to their “values.” There is at present a dearth of humane imagination for the integrity and mystery of other lives. In consequence, the nimbus of art and learning and reflection that has dignified our troubled presence on this planet seems like a thinning atmosphere. Who would have thought that a thing so central to human life could prove so vulnerable to human choices?

Saying No to Gay Marriage

The third and final installment of the What We Really Need Now is No” series.

I voted yes on California’s Proposition 8, and I’m sick of hearing that this somehow means that I’m an ignorant, bigoted hatemonger. I’m saddened that people assume that because I supported Prop 8, I hate or fear gay people, that somehow I want them to live without the rights that I enjoy.

My opposition to gay marriage has nothing to do with rights. I’m fine with gay couples receiving all the basic civil rights anyone else is guaranteed in this country.

No, I’m opposed to gay marriage because, well, because I think that it is a moral distortion and I cannot support it being affirmed as equally sacred as heterosexual marriage. I realize that “marriage” has taken a beating in our culture with divorce, infidelity, Britney Spears, etc… But marriage is still a sacrament that has throughout time been a religious rite of symbolizing the sacred merging of male and female. It is a slap in the face to orthodox views of morality to equate male-male, female-female with the traditional male-female union. I’m fine with gay couples getting civil unions, having the state recognize their commitment, etc. But I can’t bring myself to endorse church-sanctioned, “just like any other couple” gay marriage. It all comes down to the fact that I cannot affirm homosexuality as a right or pure expression of human sexuality.

Of course, this is the real heart of the matter for gay activists—the thing that has them screaming outside churches, harassing nuns, and sending white powdery substances in envelopes to the Mormon Church. They’re rebelling against the fact that there are people—52% of Californians, as it is—who do not affirm their lifestyle, at least in part. They are seething with anger not necessarily because any rights have been revoked, but because they perceive an attack and condemnation of their very existence in the passage of “Prop H8.”

Speaking for myself here, my vote for Prop 8 was not an attack on anything or anyone, and it certainly was no exercise in hate. I lament that it is perceived as such. It especially pains me when my gay friends perceive it as such. But I hope they understand where I’m coming from.

My support for Prop 8 was an affirmation of a principle I hold dear and will never apologize for: that wrong should never be called right, regardless of the sincerity or well-meaning of its practitioners.

Here will come the inevitable arguments that homosexuality is not a sin or is not wrong. You are welcome to think this, of course. But my moral system, as informed by orthodox Christian interpretations of Biblical teachings (as well as, frankly, my soul’s intuition), deems it as such—a sin—no more and no less than illicit heterosexual improprieties or pride or greed or gluttony are sins.

Is it not right to say no to the things one’s religion says is wrong? Would I not be making a mockery of my faith if I were to say, “well, because so many people are so sincerely and emotionally arguing that homosexuality is a valid lifestyle, I guess it can’t be wrong after all?” I wonder what the abolitionists would have to say about that type of reasoning? And yes, I did just go there.

Here’s the bottom line: it pains me to write something that sounds like a condemnation. But it’s not a condemnation. It’s an affirmation. In saying “no” to gay marriage I am really just saying yes to the moral system of restraint, discipline and piety that I believe is God’s best plan for humanity. I struggle with it in my own life, to be sure. It’s not easy. I’m no saint. I’m a child of the screwed up, fallen world as much as the next guy, as much as my gay neighbor or racist landlady. We are all unfortunately slogging through identities that have been marred and twisted and disordered by forces and circumstances often out of our control. But as much as it isn’t our fault that we have wrongheaded desires and unconscious impulses toward the wrong, we must nevertheless answer for them.

This may seem unjust, and yes, from our human perspective it sort of is. I can totally sympathize with feeling the dissonance between something that feels right or natural but that we are told is sinful or wrong. I understand and grieve with those who, because of abuse or damage done to them in their childhood, suffer from psychological issues today that they in no way chose or seek out. It is true that our environment, and often our parents or elders, screw us up. But that doesn’t mean that immorality is excused. It doesn’t mean that our damaged psyches can be normalized and accepted rather than redeemed. But they can be redeemed, thank God; but only when we deny that they define us. We must first orient ourselves upward, outward, and say no to our inward, narcissistic pull.

When I say no to gay marriage, I’m saying no to things in my own life, too. It’s an act of solidarity—this struggle to deny one’s self in service of a higher truth. But we’re all in it together. And I’ll let that be the last word.