Tag Archives: debate

Semantic slavery

My friend recently wrote a blog post about his uneasy tension between what he feels is legally right and what he feels is morally right about gay marriage (synopsis: He thinks it’s morally wrong, but legally speaking the government should make it available for everyone, regardless of his feelings). The common thread among the against-gay-marriage comments is that we should allow civil unions for gay people, but just leave marriage for the religious people.

I used to be a big fan of this compromise myself, since I saw two sides desperately unwilling to budge, and this was a compromise, some kind of middle ground. However, over time I’ve come to realize what this little bit of semantic juggling — calling it civil unions instead of civil marriage — is.

It’s semantic slavery.

“Is there a legal difference between a civil union and a civil marriage?” my author friend asked as we talked about this later in the day.

“Yes,” I responded. “A civil marriage is for a man and a woman. A civil union is for whatever with whatever. It’s the only legal difference, but it speaks volumes.”

Let’s be honest. If Christians (because it has been mostly Christians who have been incredibly vocal about this issue) really felt that this word change was an appropriate solution, then (a) it would have been hastily adopted ten plus years ago when it first came up, and (b) we could have easily solved the problem by having a Super Secret Christian Meeting and declaring we replace all instances of the word marriage and use the made-up word egairram instead. Ha, we would sneer admist the cigar smoke and dark lighting in the backroom of an Itallian restaurant in New York City. They can have their marriage, but they can’t have their gay egairrams!

No, this is a ridiculous idea, because we all know that Christians are not opposed to the vocabulary issue of gay marriage, but the very principle of gay marriage itself. Still, this has become an increasingly popular solution amongst Christians — civil unions, a half-way compromise, is the answer! But they are not.

First, why the increased popularity? Because of this:

Gay marriage is quickly becoming an acceptable thing, and opposition is dropping over time. In short, in our post-modern, enlightened society, people who oppose gay marriage are being labeled as bigoted, and honestly, even conservative, sometimes-fundamentalist Christians bristle at the idea of being labeled bigoted. The nerve.

Because of this, you can’t openly oppose gay marriage anymore. We saw what happened to the Mormons who supported Prop 8 — the death threats, the hit lists, the blacklisting and protests and vandalism. If this is what it means to stand up for what I believe, no thank you, sir. Thus, the civil union solution gaining traction in the Christian community. It’s the perfect solution! Gay people get all the legal rights of marriage, but we get to keep the word marriage all to ourselves (as if that was the problem in the first place). And we all go home happy!

Except this “solution” is intellectually dishonest.

To fully answer my friend’s question, why does the difference between civil marriage and civil unions speak volumes?

The same way that whites only and blacks only bathrooms speak volumes.

Suppose we have two public restrooms. Both are architecturally the same. Both are furnished exactly the same. Both are sanitized and functional exactly the same. For all intents and purposes, they are identical, cloned bathrooms.

Except one has a “whites only” sign and one has a “blacks only” sign.

Suddenly, the bathrooms are definitely not the same.

What the proposition of instituting civil unions over civil marriages does is institute the idea of “separate but equal” all over again, except this time it’s not blacks and whites, but the straight community versus the queer community. There is no such thing as separate and equal, especially in the Christian community. Let’s all be honest — in our minds, civil unions are not the same as civil marriages because civil unions are not as good. They’re not as legitimate. It’s the old issue all over again — we don’t think homosexual relationships are as real, as legitimate, as honest and right as heterosexual relationships, and we want to codify this in law. This isn’t a compromise — it is proposed capitulation for the other side disguised as semantic splitting hairs coupled with some good old fashioned Christian mercy and American compromise-making. Otherwise, we would not have a problem making the jump up from civil union to civil marriage, if they were really the same thing minus the fact that we used a thesaurus for one of them. In a religion where Christ urges us to be one, we understand all too well what separation really means.

So let us not engage in these sneaky semantic gymnastics. If you’re against gay marriage, say so. If civil union is really, for all intents and purposes, the same as civil marriage, then why not just call it civil marriage? What’s in a name?

Apparently, all the difference in the world.

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Loyal opposition in the Kingdom of God

“Come, let us reason together,” He invites the children of Israel. Accordingly, Abraham and Ezra both dared, humbly and apologetically, but still stubbornly, to protest what they considered, in the light of their limited understanding, unkind treatment of some of God’s children. They just could not see why the Lord did or allowed certain things. So He patiently explained the situation to them, and then they understood…God did not hold it against these men that they questioned Him, but loved them for it: it was because they were the friends of men, even at what they thought was the terrible risk of offending Him, that they became friends of God.
– Hugh Nibley, Beyond Politics

And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been. For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
– 3 Nephi 11:28-29

Is there room for debate within the Church? On the one hand, we read of great prophets such as Abraham and Moses who, for lack of better word, debated with God about this and that. Moses protested his prophetic value, while Abraham haggled for the lives of Sodom and Gomorrah, clearly protesting what God had in store for the two cities. Enoch wondered aloud to God if He should really be crying, considering He’s so powerful and awe-inspiring. Isaiah told God that maybe He wouldn’t be a great messenger because the people hated him.

Of course in the end God was not persuaded. But the fact is, he didn’t blast them on the spot for insolence either. In this, he shows great mercy, even to the constantly erring and one of the most sympathetically human prophets. Jonah runs away from his missionary call, then preaches repentance after getting swallowed by an aquatic animal.  Even after being vomited up  (which I can only imagine is not a pleasant experience), he sits on a hill waiting for God to destroy them after they repented! Even then, God does not rain fire upon poor, near-sighted Jonah’s head. Instead, he gives him an object lesson and patiently teaches him again about the mercy of God.

On the other hand, we have a great deal of scripture telling us specifically not to argue. It tears us apart. In this, I can understand, but is there still room not to argue, but to debate, to be loyal to the Kingdom of God, but still use questions and discussion as a means to learn more about the Gospel?

So is there room for debate within our Church? And I don’t mean the shrill, prideful debate wherein you attempt to pummel your opponent into submission with a barrage of facts and twisted scripture or loud, yelling voice. I mean thoughtful, humble debate about the interpretations of the gospel of Christ.

While serving a mission in Oklahoma, I ran into a fair number of Messianic Jews (for some reason, Oklahoma has a ton of them. Go figure).  The one thing that impressed me the most about them is their ability to argue without really arguing. They would get together and begin to debate something fierce about the interpretations of the Bible, of various apocrypha, of the Talmud and other rabbinical works. The scholarship found in those small groups was astounding. My companion and I were obviously outclassed as far as scriptural knowledge was concerned, but they would listen intently on what we had to say. Never have I seen people contend about the Book of Mormon so peacefully. And never have I had my arguments dismembered in such a polite manner!

How did we lose this ability to debate and argue the scriptures? Of course, one could argue that this happened at the very inception of Christianity, where the Pharisees and Sadducees were vilified as the bad guys, mostly because they argued all the time, dissecting the commandments into hundreds of subdivisions. Judaism, Paul argued, was horribly fractured and based upon the fallible wisdom of man. Christianity, however, was united and based upon the wisdom of God.

Fair enough. But what has this institutionalized “unity” given us? I remember overhearing a conversation in disbelief at the MTC of a missionary confessing to his companion that until today, he had no idea that Joseph Smith actually talked with God. We joke about the “seminary answers” or the “primary answers”: Read your scriptures, pray, go to church, and when in doubt, usually the answer “Jesus” works. The early prophets of this dispensation envisioned a church of scholars, that if everyone was lay clergy, then everyone knew as much as clergy. Joseph in the  School of Prophets worked tirelessly to train his friends in Hebrew and Greek so that they could analyze the scriptural text in its original forms. They debated what the scriptures meant, since at the beginning of the Restoration, they did not have the decades of canon and precedent we enjoy today – they were building the canon.

And Brother Joseph never saw the canon as complete or finished. Why else would one of our Articles of Faith read that we believe in all that God has yet to reveal? Through discussion, the brethren found questions. They found holes and incomplete gaps in the Gospel fed to them by God line upon line, precept upon precept. And instead of glossing over these holes and gaps, trying to pull the edges together to cover them like a really bad comb over, they debated and discussed until their options were exhausted and then turned to the Lord in prayer for the answer. In fact, that’s how a vast majority of the Doctrines and Covenants came to be.

I’m sure this is how the Brethren work today, but lately, for many of the lesser theological questions, especially when it comes to policy, they give us lay membership a lot of leeway. Why? Because God wants us to be an entire nation of prophets, not a nation led by a prophet. Yes, the Prophet has the sole responsibility to enact church-wide revelation or change, edit, or add to the  canon. But as members, surely we can emulate the early days of the Church, debating and discussing with the Spirit of God, until we have exhausted all of our mortal mental capacity, and finally turn to God for answers? Instead, we brush over the holes and gaps in our knowledge, and then attempt to cover it with a seminary or Primary answer. What is the doctrine of Heavenly Mother all about? Read your scriptures. How do we deal with the problem of homosexuality being real, and how should we treat them? Pray about it.

I’m not saying there is little value in the seminary or Primary answers. They have great value when it comes to, well, teaching students in seminary and Primary. But when growing to adulthood, the seminary and Primary answers simply are not sufficient. My mission president once told us missionaries that five years after our mission, we shouldn’t be telling missionary stories anymore – we should be telling stories about experiences in the temple or with our families or further study in the scriptures or revelation given to us in prayer six months ago.* Joseph Smith also fully expected our membership to be well versed in our own faith. After all, eventually, he was well versed in his. After years of tutoring from revelation and discussion with his friends, he brought together all of his knowledge into a series of lessons concerning the nature and property of faith. How do you get faith? Seminary and Primary answers galore for this question should you ask this question in a Sunday School class today. But when reading Lectures on Faith, I was surprised to find the initial forms of a Mormon catechism in the back. Rote memorization we decry, yet has been a long tradition in almost all religions (including our own). Surely along with scripture mastery, we could have our young students memorize and recite:

Is it not necessary also, for men to have an idea that God is a being of truth before they can have perfect faith in him? It is; for unless men have this idea they cannot place confidence in his word, and, not being able to place confidence in his word, they could not have faith in him; but believing that he is a God of truth, and that his word cannot  fail, their faith can rest in him without doubt.

Surely that’s a more complete answer than “read your scriptures.”

____________________________________________
* By telling this story, I’ve completely invalidated my mission president’s advice.

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Tales from the battlefield – a new perspective on obesity and health care

I talked to a friend who worked in the health care industry as an emergency room nurse, because I figured someone who worked in health care would have a more informed outlook on health care than the pundits inhabiting newspaper columns and 24 hour cable network channels. We talked about insurance coverage, how people use emergency rooms as their primary health care provider instead of emergencies, and then how the obesity epidemic is taxing our health care system tremendously.

My friend talked about the basic things we’ve heard about obesity – people with obesity have higher percentages of problems ranging from hypertension to diabetes to sleep apnea and so on and so on. These long term conditions prove to cause a tremendous strain on our health care system, and that cutting out obesity rates in America would save us literally billions upon billions of dollars.

But one thing she mentioned definitely surprised me. She told a story of when “My coworker just last week had to call in sick because she was having back spasms from lifting a patient.” Apparently, a hidden cost of obesity is work related injuries to health care workers caused by caring for obese patients.

In one instance she told me about, an obese woman had to be intubated after eating at Olive Garden. She kept vomiting her dinner up, putting her at risk for aspiration pneumonia. According to my friend, “She had to go for 2 CAT scans, and we had to transfer her both times from the bed to the scan table. It takes about 4 or 5 people to lift the patient, if not more…There are some tools to help move patients, but they are very time consuming to use, and time is rarely a luxury we have in the health care industry.”

We often think about what obesity does to the obese person, but I had never stopped to consider the idea of caring for an obese person in the first place. Obviously, moving them about to do even the simplest of tasks would cause a lot of problems. While she said insurance coverage is a good thing, covering everyone who needs it would probably be unfeasible. But definitely one of the things we need to do for our health care system is just take better care of ourselves in the first place. Many people will say they don’t take advantage of the health care system, or even have to use it often. They may even be obese and don’t have any serious health problems they use the health care system for. But these kinds of problems caused by obesity take decades to develop, and by the time it has come full circle, there is very little left that you can do to prevent it. It’s too late – you are now one of the many who suffer from extreme hypertension or heart disease or type II diabetes. You’ve become a statistic. In other words, we as an American people probably hold a large percentage of the blame for why our health care system is so unsustainable.

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The Great Health Care Debate – a short story

The delegate paced the floor almost violently, his shoes scuffing being the only sound heard in the stifling, unbearably hot Philadelphia. As he whirled about with such vigor, several other delegates wondered if he would fall over from his own force. All eyes gazed on this living giant of politics, a veritable Founding Father of America, as he wrung his hands together in an almost pleading fashion. Many held their breath, waiting for his promised speech.

“Gentlemen!” the South Carolinian suddenly boomed, his voice filling the air. “Gentlemen! Our nation is in crisis!” Several delegates murmured in approval.

“We, as mere mortals, cannot comprehend the very crisis our country faces! Yes, gentlemen, all we have worked for will come to naught, our victory snatched away by the very maw of defeat, plunging our country into the Dark Ages! The Dark Ages, mind you!”

The delegate stopped his nervous pacing and slammed both of his hands emphatically onto his oaken desk, causing the ink wells and pens to rattle, sending parchment to the floor. Several delegates jumped, others gasped. James Madison gave out a tiny squeak of displeasure and surprise.

“I am talking, of course, of the damnable concept of socialized medicine!”

The entire room of delegates exploded. North Carolina roared with displeasure, while Pennsylvania’s delegates dissolved into a raucous chanting of “Don’t tread on me!” Both Alexander Hamilton, the delegate of New York, and James Madison, considered the man who orchestrated the Constitutional Convention, stood up immediately, unbuttoning and pulling back their sleeves. But when General Washington regally, slowly stood up, the entire room grew silent. Hamilton and Madison withered under Washington’s stare, and even the South Carolinian delegate stood quietly, though arms crossed, his jaw jutting out challengingly in the air.

“Gentlemen, I fail to see why this matter is so, as our illustrious friend calls it, ‘damnable.’ But, for sake of debate, let us debate this civilly, shall we?” Washington slowly lowered himself into his chair, and the delegates stayed uncomfortably quiet.

George Mason of Virginia finally broke the reverie. “It is damnable, my dear General, for it flies against the very concept that we are trying to establish here in this very Constitution! Socialized. Medicine. Is. Monarchy!” With the final word, he jabbed the air with his finger, and the entire room degraded into yelling and shouting once more. Washington rapped his cane sharply twice on his desk, silencing the room.

“My good gentleman, you are mistaken!” Madison quickly stood up, his thin reedy voice barely audible to some sitting at the edges of the room. “Please explain – rationally, prudently – how socialized medicine is akin to monarchy!”

“Isn’t it obvious? Did not King George try to control every aspect of our lives through a centralized economy, stifling progress and advancements in all sectors of industry? Any government which runs anything from its seat of power is monarchist!”

“Like the post office?” Ben Franklin quipped. Several delegates chuckled softly, for Franklin himself served as postmaster once.

“Or like your provision that we ban the slave trade in twenty years? Or would you rather the ‘slow poison’ of slavery, as you called it yourself, Mr. Mason, continue to run its course through this country?” Hamilton shrilled, his face contorted with passion.

“This is a completely different matter!” Mason sputtered, his face turning slightly pink.

“I fail to see how this socialized medicine even has anything to do with our Constitution,” Governor Randolf said. “We’ve already enumerated that Congress will have the power ‘To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states,’ which gives it provisions to alter the affairs of any industry according to the desires of the people, so I fail to see how regulated health care is either monarchist or unconstitutional, unless you wish to call the Constitution unconstitutional? Which would simply be -”

“Absurd! Yes, I know! But! Once any government begins to regulate economic affairs, it becomes a fascist regime!” cried out the delegate from South Carolina.

“Yes! Gaze upon these signs we made ourselves, physical manifestations of the fact that the American people do not desire socialized medicine!” another delegate cried out. Immediately, North Carolina, South Carolina and New Hampshire pulled out signs wherein James Madison’s profile had been defaced, King George’s wig drawn crudely upon it.

“Come now, is this necessary?” Madison cried out, irritated. “I must say, the idea that a government regulating a highly degenerated, corrupt, bloated, unscrupulous sector of industry becomes fascist is ridiculous!”

“Yes, what’s this got to do with the Constitution anyway?” Franklin added, also irritated. “Your misguided, unfocused anger is causing my gout to inflame!” Several other delegates snickered at this comment.

“Everything!” the South Carolinian delegate screamed out. “Can we trust a government that successfully fought off an imperialist monarch with woefully unequipped and untrained soldiers bred from our own backwoods farmers and blacksmiths to successfully run the medical welfare of our people?”

“Yes, we can!” Hamilton roared back. “This entire Convention is because our Articles of Confederacy are not simply not strong enough! A strong, federal government is required to run this country, lest it run itself upon the rocky shoals of progress!” Several groups now cried out in desperate protest. “Yes,” Hamilton continued, shouting down his opposition, “Strong enough even to regulate the vast industry known as health care!”

“Come now,” Washington intoned, “We cannot let future generations become derailed by this. We look forward to the future, gentlemen, not the past. We look forward to progress and unity, not backward to slavery and monarchy. Remember, gentlemen, our ideas were once considered strange, dangerous, and subversive; impractical and catastrophical if implemented. But look at us now! Throwing off the shackles of England, we stand together, shoulder to shoulder, as brethren for the cause of freedom! Even our brothers in France now follow our example! Truly, we stand at a unique time in history to create any government possible, even another monarchy! But we dissolve not into fascism, as the world said we inevitably would, but we look towards republicanism, of representation and liberty!

“Surely, we can look past our petty squabbles. Our Constitution has said enough already of this matter. It is up for the people to decide whether a government run health care system is both necessary and profitable, but let it be decided by the people. And let us not bring misleading accusations to this debate. Universal health care is neither unconstitutional, nor shying away form what we as the Founding Fathers of America desired. Health care means nothing to us – what we wish is a nation wherein our people can decide for themselves their own destiny, whether it be to the enlightened future, or the the darkened past. But of all this, the people alone must decide. Even we, gentlemen, cannot decide for them.”

The room fell reverently quiet, cowed by the gentle rebuking of the lion of America. But such silence could not last for long, as all the delegations broke once more into angry yelling and even a fist fight or two.

“Monarchist!” “Unruly hypocrite!” “Deist!” “Unconstitutional!” “Fascist!” “Imperialist!” “Money grubbing merchant!”

Some of the delegates pulled out their Madison signs, chanting for his removal, while others pushed back, furiously shouting at the protesters to quiet down and let the General speak once more. David Brearley of New Jersey roared, “And how will the Americans pay for this health care? By taxing them to death like King George did?” before being pulled down roughly by Georgian delegates Baldwin and Few.

Washington sighed, his eyes closing. Madison, dodging a thrown shoe, settled down next to the aging politician and whispered, “There’s no talking to these people. Hot headed and opinionated are the people of America. It is our greatest strength, and yet also our greatest downfall.”

“I fear that generations of Americans will look back at our contentiousness and disunity and wonder how the fate of their nation once lay in the hands of such hooligans,” Washington said softly.

“If I know anything about human nature,” Madison said with a smile, “Should this great American experiment work, I daresay we will be deified, canonized! Our words will become as political ammunition, never mind that our words will contradict each other constantly. Virtual popes and patron saints of all of America!”

“Patron saints, indeed!” Washington laughed, watching with guilty earnest as Hamilton hurled harsh epithets at an almost screaming delegate who had nearly broken down to tears. “I do not wish to be deified, only understood.”

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