Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Heads I Win, Tails You're a Lying Bigot

I just read a fascinating article on Huffington Post. It’s written by Shane Windmeyer, a “Nationally recognized LGBT leader in higher education; bestselling author; executive director, Campus Pride,” and it details his contact and eventual friendship with Dan Cathy, of Chick-fil-A “Guilty as charged” fame. Shane discusses Campus Pride’s opposition to Chick-fil-A, the initial surprise phone call he received from Dan (and the hour-long personal conversation it preceded), the numerous in-person meetings he had with Dan, and the “respectful, enduring conversations” they had and the “kindness and openness” Dan constantly and consistently showed. The story culminates in Dan inviting Shane to the Chick-fil-A bowl, which was apparently quite a meaningful experience for Shane. It ends with a call for hope, for the respect, kindness, and “human decency” evident in this relationship to continue and grow between people on both sides of the issue.
Now I know what you’re thinking:
How dare Dan Cathy pretend to befriend a homosexual? Right? And how naive must Shane be to be taken in so completely by this idiotic bigot’s cunning and guile?  The nerve of Dan, to claim to respect someone as a person and still believe that person is living a sinful lifestyle? How dare he?
At least, that’s the response of a significant portion of the comments. While the comments section seems to have mellowed over time, there are still many, many gems to be discovered: A quick skim of the comments during the writing of this post revealed these fine specimens.
  • “D Cathy got what he wanted by giving you a feel good moment, and he got none of the downside. He got his pocket gay just as he wanted it. Smart.”
  • “Please don’t use your Leadership and Influence to dupe others in the same way that Mr. Cathy has duped Shane. “
  • “They’re using you, sir. They are still giving to anti LGBT groups. They still hate you. They’re worried about the impact to their bottom line. They aren’t your friend.”
And these are the mild ones. Let’s take a closer look at the article and see what could have sparked such a strong reaction. First, Dan Cathy takes it on himself to personally contact a high-profile LGBT activist to talk one-on-one with him, during which he comes across as “awkward at times but always genuine and kind.” Dan talks honestly with him, “listening intently” to Shane’s concerns and real-life accounts of the negative results of Chick-fil-A’s public stance. Dan even confesses naivete concerning the unintended consequences of his actions. Dan “embraced the opportunity to have dialogue and hear [Shane’s] perspective,” expresses “a sincere interest in [Shane’s] life,” and “expressed regret and genuine sadness when he heard of people being treated unkindly in the name of Chick-fil-A.”
Now, I know this sounds a lot like what the LGBT community has been asking for: respect, understanding, a recognition of mutual humanity. But one single detail makes all of this meaningless: that Dan “offered no apologies for his genuine beliefs about marriage.” This fact, seemingly a source of respect on the part of Shane, becomes incontrovertible proof to the HP community that Dan Cathy is a villain of absolutely epic proportions, unknown outside of bad books and worse movies: His out-dated beliefs and his obvious, hateful bigotry are outdone only by his sheer animal cunning in so completely hoodwinking a member of the LGBT community for the purposes of either damage control or increasing sales even further.  (Ironically, Shane Windmeyer, by consequence, becomes the unwitting dupe, the naive chump who is taken in wholesale, who needs to be rescued from his delusion of mutual respect and friendship with the dastardly enemy.)
Let’s leave aside the fact that, sales-wise, there’s literally no damage to control. Let’s leave aside the fact that the easiest way to sell still more sandwiches would probably be to go progressive and adopt a catchy, universalist slogan. Let’s even leave aside the fact that conservatives are under fire for demonizing the LGBT comunity, and now a homosexual man is under fire by the same people for not demonizing Dan Cathy.
I’m not going to go into that, because at heart, this is yet another mixup of love and tolerance. Because Dan Cathy does not toleratehomosexuality, because he calls it wrong and sinful, it literally doesn’t matter at all what else he does. As long as that one fact remains true, the secular world will affirm that Dan cannot love a homosexual man, cannot even be friends with him. Because Dan does not toleratehomosexuality, he cannot truly befriend someone who engages in it, who identifies himself as a homosexual. Because Dan believes homosexuality sinful, any appearance of friendship or respect towards Shane is false, deceitful, and manipulative, using Shane as no more than a pawn.
This is because the world sees love and tolerance as one and the same thing. This is obviously false, however, and everyone, even the angriest HP commentator, can see the difference in day-to-day life. If a friend has a broken arm, it is tolerant of me to leave him be: However, it is loving of me to insist that he see a doctor, even if he doesn’t want to. If my grandmother has a mental disorder, it is tolerant of me to affirm her when she says she doesn’t need medication, that nothing’s wrong: But it is loving for me to see that she gets help. Now, love entails a lot more than just that, clearly: it entails care and compassion, a real, personal, and selfless investment in the beloved by the lover. My point is merely that in these cases, and countless others, love is not only distinct from tolerance, but actually diametrically opposed to it. The difference is obvious: Tolerance is apathetic and passive, willing to leave things be, while love is urgent and active, seeking always the good of the beloved.Tolerance is merely the world’s straight-to-VHS rip-off of love: The picture on the cover might be similar, but the content couldn’t be more different–or more disappointing.
The same holds for this situation. There is no doubt in my mind that Dan Cathy loves Shane Windmeyer. And his love is revealed exactly where the HP community sees it as ending: In affirming that Shane’s life is not right, and offering to show him what is. We Christians believe that sin–all sin–harms the sinner. We believe that homosexuality is a sin, and that it harms the one who engages in it. Dan Cathy’s love for Shane shows in the fact that he respects Shane as a person, values his friendship, and still does not tolerate his homosexuality–not out of fear, or bigotry, or hate, but out of love.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Grace in Television

Why is it that there are certain television shows that, despite sharing common themes, could hardly be more different:? How I Met Your Mother and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, for example, initially struck me as being, on the surface, quite similar. A group of friends in the big city, focusing on their entanglements, romantic and otherwise, with a heavy emphasis on bar life… At first glance, they’re practically the same show! And yet my wife Anna and I just finished watchingHIMYM’s entire run for the second time, whereas I’ve only ever watched 5 episodes of Philadelphia, and each one left me feeling kinda sad.
Dr. Who and Torchwood is another, even more striking example.Torchwood is actually a spin-off of Dr. Who, and the content and setting is, in many cases, very similar. But Dr. Who takes place in a universe full of wonder, where the utter impossibility of a happy ending only makes that inevitable happy ending more marvelous… whereas Torchwood, despite taking place in the same universe, ended its run by taking an unwilling child from the arms of his screaming mother and literally torturing him to death in order to save the planet from aliens.
Finally, the story of the recent film adaptation of Les Miserables has a great deal in common with the 1967 classic Cool Hand Luke. A man is put in prison for a frivolous crime, punished far beyond reason, under the control of a cruel taskmaster, trying again and again to escape but each escape only makes things worse and worse, until finally the main character dies with a smile on his face. Despite these similarities of plot, the tone and atmosphere of the films could hardly be more different.Luke declares the doctrine of a pointless, cruel world, the best response to which is unflagging coolness; the world will kill you eventually, but best to mock it till the very end. Les Miserables, however, despite death and hopelessness on a scale far exceeding the plights of a single man, reminds us again and again that suffering is not meaningless, that our actions can shape the world, and that death is not the end.
But what is the cause of such division? Why does Ted’s (seemingly endless) adventure of meeting his wife enthrall me and Anna, whereas we can hardly make it through an episode of Philadelphia? Why is the Doctor so very happy, and Jack so very sad? Why is Luke left with only a legacy of mocking coolness, and why does Jean Valjean sing triumphantly of the light awaiting the wretched of the earth?
The answer, I think, is a sense of hope. Philadelphia recognizes the essential sadness of existence; Torchwood, the horror and cruelty; andLuke, the essential unfairness and futility. But the others dare to go further. There is deep sadness in HIMYM, but the very title and premise of the show promises that at the end, all of this sadness is redeemed. There is horror and cruelty in Dr. Who, but it is always overcome. And life is unfair to the wretched and downtrodden of France… but to call their struggle futile is to entirely miss the point.
This is, of course, why some prefer shows like Philadelphia. A show about broken, tired people, doing the best they can in their broken, tired lives; sometimes it’s enough, often it’s not. There is no hope for happiness: Not real happiness, anyway, nothing beyond the momentary pleasure that sex and alcohol can provide. And to those who feel that this hopelessness, this futility, accurately reflects reality, thenPhiladelphia is doubtless to be preferred to naive, childish shows likeHIMYM.
They have a point: this is, indeed, how life used to be. The bar life ofPhiladelphia is eerily reminiscent of another, much older account of the hopelessness and futility of life.
But no more, as of 2,000-odd years ago. Because that’s when Love Himself came into the world to give us hope again, to heal our wounds and redeem our souls. We now live in a world that, though broken, will be fixed; though sorrow is real, it will be wiped away; though pain is all around us, it will be ended. That is the world that HIMYM, Dr. Who, andLes Miserables portray, and for that, I love them.
They recognize hope. A hope of redemption, of an undeserved and unexpected happiness waiting for those who only need to reach out their hand and accept it. A hope, at bottom, of a grace that goes beyond the cold, hard, “facts” of existence, that defies the “realism” and cynicism that so attracts our culture today. These shows remind me that Christ came that we might have life, have it to the full, and that we might celebrate in living. And God bless us, he even brought the drinks.