May 30, 2008
by: jovial_cynic

image: Humility (cc) ToniVC

NOTE: This post is a bit of a stream of consciousness. Not in a high school English babble sort of way, but rather it's a progression of thoughts that lead from one to the next, albeit in a rather disjointed fashion. This is, in fact, a pretty good reflection of how my mind processes ideas, but I typically separate the ideas into their own blog posts. For some reason, I'm compelled to throw the whole thing together on this one. I'm not sure why.



A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were watching some television show in the evening, and the show happened to include a scene that involved two men kissing and embracing one another. I'll be honest - my initial reaction was that of aversion. My wife also reacted in disgust, and noting her reaction, I figured that we should have a conversation about our reaction and try to pin down the source of that aversion.

The easy way out is to simply say that we were disgusted because homosexuality is wrong. It's biblically defined as sinful, and as Christians, we should be disgusted by anything that is sinful. I say that it's the easy way out because it allows us to apply a moral justification for our reaction, and because it allows us to stop thinking about the issue -- the moral status of homosexuality is reason enough to be disgusted, end of discussion. The problem with this line of thinking, of course, is that there are plenty of biblically-defined sinful behaviors that do not incite a feeling of disgust. I've been enjoying watching ABC's Lost, and throughout the life of the show, the protagonists have been involved in adultery, theft, murder, etc., and I've never once felt a sense of disgust at it. So to pin my reaction to a male-male kissing scene on biblical grounds is rather hypocritical, or at the least, inconsistent. The feeling of aversion to the scene is much more likely to be a product of culturization, where I've been conditioned to find the idea distasteful. Additionally, I don't think that Christians should be disgusted by displays of sinful behavior, considering Jesus' reaction to the woman caught in adultery. Disgust is not an emotion that stems from faith.

I've actually heard an argument about this situation I previously described. It's the notion of boiling a frog; you just slowly turn up the heat on a frog in a pan of cold water, and the frog never notices the heat rising. The idea is that people used to be offended at the idea of adultery, theft, and murder on television, but as the mainstream media has continued to push the envelope on cultural norms, we've become desensitized to the effects of it. At some point, I think the argument is meant to suggest that we'll be boiled alive by sinful television shows.

Incidentally, the biblical story of Cain and Abel discredits the validity of this argument. Cain had no problem murdering his brother without the aid of network television. Sin is an internal plague; we are quite capable of the worst wickedness without needing to have the heat turned up on us.

This idea of a cultural boiling got me to thinking about the often-heard notion that there's some kind of "homosexual agenda" that's a threat to the "American way of life." I get the feeling that there are people actually concerned that there's an agenda out there to desensitize people to homosexuality, in order to... in order to what? I can't even get my brain around what the threat could possibly be. Are they going to turn heterosexual people into homosexual people? Are they going to persecute heterosexual people for their sexual orientation and attraction? Does this sound even remotely realistic?

I wonder about this "American way of life," sometimes. I don't think I really know what it means. I tend to liken it to the notion of high school football, where it's all "go team!" and other such group-identity mentality that's put in place by the government. Oh yes - if there's an agenda, it's in the school systems; I think that the reason sports are pushed so heavily is to help create that nationalism and group identity. It's no coincidence that the American flag is flown and the anthem is sung at every game.

I disgress.

I think that in the past, when the United States was involved in a couple of world wars, the idea of a national identity made some sense; people really felt like they could rally around a cause of global importance. But I have to wonder how much of that feeling of national pride was naturally internalized by American culture, or if it was force-fed to the public via propaganda. And then of course, Japanese internment camps during World War 2 may have caused some problems with trying to make the Japanese feel at home in the United States...

In any event, this fear of the dismantling of the "American way of life" says a lot about the way people view America. Phrases like "the greatest nation on God's green earth" are meant to rally people around national pride, and people buy it up. But is America... better? I can't help but think that people, everywhere, are simply people. By claiming that our own culture is somehow superior to other cultures is akin to confronting an individual and claiming to be superior to that individual. It just doesn't make any sense.

Scripturally speaking, God seems much more focused on the humblest of nations anyway. Bethlehem. Nazareth. Neither could dream of claiming to be the greatest of nations, but to them were given the honor of raising up the son of God. And we see this pattern in the scriptures over and over -- that God uses the weak and the humble in place of the powerful and the prideful.

Somehow, this idea of God using the humble and the weak bled over into some thoughts I had about gender equality, and the notion of the Christian patriarchy. The New Testament teaches that the man is the "head" (which needs some careful interpretation by itself), and for generations, men have felt that God works through them either exclusively or at least on the majority, and have used passages in the text that instruct women to not speak in church and for women to not teach men as a way to perpetuate the imbalance of power between the sexes. I happen to think that those passages are mind-numbingly misinterpreted and misapplied. In fact, the relationship between man and wife is explained as being patterned in the relationship between Jesus and the church -- Jesus sacrificed everything for the sake of his betrothed, and asked nothing of her in return. He died so she could have perfect freedom. He places her first in everything. In that regard, the Christian text is meant for her.

Perhaps we, who feel that we are in the highest place, should take note that God humbled the proud, and that Christ, when questioned about who would receive the highest honor in heaven, told His disciples that "the first shall be last, and the last shall be first."



valdez said:
Hi Josh,

Great subject! Why is it that we don’t find the same disgust in other vial actions as we do witnessing the intimate embrace of two men or women? It’s very apparent that the media is always trying to push the envelope on going against the grain of social norms, but it’s the wickedness of mans heart that needs no help from the boob tube. My thoughts of disgust with homosexuality will never change- I will always find that kind of relationship repulsive. But on the other hand, I will never hate someone for being gay. On the contrary, I have friends that are gay. One gay friend I used to be very close to.
It was interesting how you tied this subject in with “the American way of life.” It almost looks like you have posed a question- What does the American way of life mean? I liked your analogy of the football team “we got the spirit” kind of example, but I would suggest something a little different. What the American way of life means to me is simple: Nowhere else on this planet can so many people of different cultures, ethnic backgrounds and opinions live in relative harmony with the freedom to express themselves and pursue their own happiness without fear of persecution. There are certain degrees of exception to this understanding that we can spend weeks debating, but for the most part, this freedom reigns true. When Michael Medved makes his notorious statement, I do not believe it is meant to portray America as being a superior “we are better than everyone else” nation, but rather a nation that is greatly and richly blessed compared to most other nations. For me, this is why I’m proud to be an American. This pride that I hold has nothing to do with our government, quite the contrary, there are many so-called leaders in our government that I would love to see gone. But at the same time, I am humbled by how blessed our nation is, not only with the resources and freedoms we possess, but more the spirit of the few individuals who’s selfless actions benefit and support the many in this American way of life.

May 30, 2008

jovial_cynic said:
I agree with your sentiment about valuing the freedom we have in the United States. And in fact, when I've gotten into debates with my friends who feel that the US is morally inferior, I've reminded them of how horrible things are in other countries, and how a little perspective is very important. I don't disagree with anything you've said.

I guess my issue is that I often feel that many people who have the "greatest nation" mentality do have a superiority complex which leads them to view others as inferior. And I think that divisive politics attempts to herd people into an us-verses-them mentality. I hate that.

But like I said - I don't think we're in any sort of disagreement here.

May 31, 2008

valdez said:
Hey Josh,

Thanks for the reply. It's not always about disagreeing.

May 31, 2008

jovial_cynic said:
haha... a lot of my posts are controversial, so I almost always expect replies to be disagreements. :)
May 31, 2008

Mark said:
I dont want to be to "critcal" on your web site of "a healty criticism of everything", but do you find the act of women kissing disgusting? Perhaps its not the media but a persons genetic make up that makes them react that way. A DNA bases mechanism that instincively tells them that its repulsive, acting just the opposite of the one that tells them to procreate.

I am curious about this blame placed on the media. Could you point out to me some of these homophobic movies, t.v. shows or literature? If anything I think the media has done its best to desensitize the general public to homosexuality.

As for me, I am not a very religious person, so I cant blame my negative reaction when I see men kissing. I have no problem with somebody being gay and would vote yes for same sex marriages. I have no recollection of reading or watching anything that tells me to hate homosexuals.

As for the American Way of Life. To me it would encompass freedom. Freedom to say what I want, go where I want, do what I want and become what ever I want. You could say Americans are greedy and selfish. I would disagree and point out that nobody give more to charities, we have liberated millions of oppressed peoples without taking 1 square inch of land or one penny from them in payment. We export our technology to make the world a better place and have contributed billions in foreign aid. Are corporations greedy, you bet, but corporations are not America, you and I are. Probably the most important thing we have exported to other countries is a government for the people by the people. This alone has been our most important export because when leader(s) derive their power from the people (voting) they must have restraint and respect for their people's wishes. Remember, America was the first democracy/republic the world had seen since Ceasar ended Rome's republic in 32 BC. Maybe Americans feel that they are the greatest nation on earth because they are instead of just plain old hubris based on nothing. I dont think they believe that our genetic make up is superior, but our way of life and all it entails. Not that is it perfect, just better overall.

June 01, 2008

Mark said:
Sorry...I just re-read the stream of blogs and realized you weren't saying tv is homophobic, but rather it is desensitizing. And that I agree with. I guess I shouldn't skim when I read.
June 01, 2008

jovial_cynic said:
Mark - regarding revulsion being DNA-based... I think that there may be a good argument for some things being hard-wired (your tastebuds might have a very strong reaction to things that taste bitter, causing you to be predispositioned to dislike it), but I think that there might also be some cultural conditioning involved. My Korean relatives tell me that American food is over-salted. I don't think that's just an issue of their tastebuds; I think that they are accustomed to less-salty foods, and we are accustomed to more-salty foods, and have built our preferences around our circumstances.

As for DNA... I don't find women kissing as repulsive, but then, neither does my wife. She and I both are more repulsed by scenes of male-male interaction. I think that it's more culturally acceptable for women to engage in such activity than it is for men, whereas ancient greece seemed to have little problem with homosexual males. Again - I see a lot of evidence for cultural conditioning; I don't know that genetics plays a role in the situation.

As for individual verses corporate greed... my capitalist friend would argue that corporations are willing to risk more to gain more, and that individuals are generally more selfish, on account of them complaining about the actions of corporations while being unwilling to drop a single dime of their own to enact any of the change they wish to see. That's an interesting perspective.

I don't know if I agree that our way of life "and all it entails" is better overall. I mean... how is that even measured? America is so diverse that pinning down what it means to be American is increasingly difficult; everyone's dreams are different, and their cultural background is different enough to make me wonder how to define an American, aside from being a citizen.

I agree with you and Valdez that the freedom bit is the glue that ties it all together. But freedom isn't the same as culture. I don't know if freedom helps to shape character or values. Would you argue that American people (who live in freedom) are in some way superior or better than the people of North Korea? They don't have freedom, but is their way of life morally inferior to ours? Would eating a meal in the home of a North Korean be a less worthwhile experience than eating a meal in the home of an American?

And I think the natural response is to jump back and say that the issue here isn't the superiority/inferiority of the people, but rather of the government system that either allows freedom or doesn't. But people don't relate to governments. People relate to people... and when I hear people claim that one nation or another is "the greatest," my eye turns to the people of that nation, and how they interact with one another... and that's when I find a problem with claims to superiority. I don't think that government ever actually represents the people.

June 02, 2008

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