Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Great" Facebook Debates Lead to New Blog

Over the course of the last year I couldn't help but notice a lot of anger being expressed on Facebook regarding politics. Most of this was coming from extremely conservative Christian corners, regarding imminent health care reform policies about to be enacted into law. I won't use this particular post to debate the particulars of the pending legislation and all of its many revisions (maybe later), but I was astounded at how these good Christian folks were so angry about the possibility of this legislation passing. They accurately called it a socialist policy, but that was their very justification for bashing the bill--apparently Jesus would not support equal access to health care for all, regardless of socio-economic circumstances. This nearly left me dumbfounded.

I say nearly, because I attempted to reason out the issue from a biblical perspective for a short while. I am a Christian too, after all, and my interpretation of what Jesus taught is not even in the same universe, apparently, as these other Christians' interpretations. There was no reasoning it out though, because these debates were not debates at all. I would find documented research and facts, post them, and then be told that I couldn't trust what those people said. Why? Well, because the people who were losing the debate said I couldn't, that's why--no facts whatsoever were presented to support the other side of the argument.

It got ugly. At one point I came all unglued over a Fox News story about a survey "proving" that a college education makes you stupid. This new tack in the health care debate just made me mad: "We can't win, so we'll just make stuff up, now." I frothed at the digital mouth on my Facebook page about this, and one of my right-wing friends posted a link to the website with the survey, inviting me to investigate. I did. I even took the survey. The survey is touted to be about civic literacy, but it is really about capitalism and the free market system. (Guess who stands to lose if the health care reform legislation is passed: Insurance companies who operate on a free market system, that's who.) Even though I am not an expert on economics, I scored 85% (the national average was 75%). So, I more than passed their "civic literacy" test by a wide margin, thus disproving (according to their skewed logic) that my college degrees had made me stupid.

My friend who posted the article/survey un-friended me over this, without so much as a "fare thee well." OK. Whatever. That was good information to gain about that "friend."

But the whole unfriendly encounter got me to thinking about what I was really trying to accomplish by engaging in these bogus debates.

According to the International Debate Education Association (IDEA), a debate is "a way for those who hold opposing views to discuss controversial issues without descending to insult, emotional appeals, or personal bias. A key trademark of debate is that it rarely ends in agreement, but rather, allows for a robust analysis of the question at hand."

The IDEA uses the Karl Popper debate format, which begins with an affirmative speech centered around a positive resolution (e.g., "I think Jesus would have supported health care reform because..."). It's called a "positive resolution" because you state it such that you are for it, not against it. Then a negative cross examination ensues (questions designed to shoot holes in the resolution), followed by a negative speech centering around the opposite of the positive resolution (e.g., "I think Jesus would not have supported health care reform because..."). These two items are repeated, and then followed by affirmative closing remarks, and then negative closing remarks. Hopefully you understand that I, nor Karl Popper, are commenting on the merits of the argument with the use of "positive" and "negative"--this means you're either for the resolution (positive) or against it (negative).

The so-called debates that I had been sucked into were conducted more along the lines of this format: . (If you read all the comments to the very bottom of the thread, remember: I'm the one who got blocked--or un-friended, in this case--not the other way around. ;-)

So, what was I trying to accomplish by participating in these debates? Of course, I was trying to participate in "a robust analysis of the question at hand." It wasn't necessary for my "opponents" to agree with me, but I was hoping for a real debate (even though I wasn't the one who started it). I haven't gotten one yet. So far everyone on the "other side of the aisle" on this issue has yet to provide any research or documentation to support their position (not even a quote from the Bible, for heaven's sake--if that's going to be the bedrock of your position, why not quote it?).

What actually happened though was that I stirred up a huge hornet's nest every time I had the audacity to attempt to confuse my opponents with the facts. (I'm not saying I'm right about my particular point of view, but I did provide bona fide documentation to support my position, which is one of the steps in a real debate.) They questioned my faith, called me stupid, and got really, really mad. I got frustrated and a little angry in response. It just felt yucky.

What I Learned From All This

After my so-called friend un-friended me over the so-called civic literacy survey debate, I remembered something my grandmothers used to tell me (they all read from the same book, don't they?): "You'll attract more flies with honey than with vinegar." (I always wondered why I would want to attract flies in the first place, but never mind--I get the moral metaphor.)

I decided my grandmothers were right about this (this is not open for debate--they just are, OK?), and chose to try a new tack. Ever after I will only post good news and positive results that spring from the policies and legislation I support as a way to inform the "other side" of the reasons I support these things. I also do not respond to posts designed to get my dander up. I just let them roll by, because unless I say something in total agreement then I'm just going to be told I'm going to Hell for disagreeing with Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. It's pointless, and it just makes me feel crummy, and doesn't do anything to further my cause.

The extreme right-wing and the extreme left-wing have BOTH forgotten how to do conduct a debate, if they ever knew at all. The extreme left-wing is particularly skilled at insulting the intelligence of the right-wing (which may be why I was so unsettled by the so-called civic literacy test--they used the extreme left's favorite weapon against them). The extreme right-wing has been relying more and more on the "you're going to Hell because only a communist would support Barack Obama!" retort (although since the health care reform passed their latest strategy seems to be to pretend that they are the majority and the government is trampling their rights, which can't be true, because Presidents are elected and legislation is passed by majority vote). Regardless of tactics and strategies, neither side seems to be getting their message across effectively. Both sides seem more interested in being right than in changing the world for the better.

The most disturbing part of all of this is how frequently Jesus' and God's names are thrown around in support of some pretty mean-spirited comments and policies. This makes all of us Christians who are not on either the far left or the far right look just as bad as the Christians mishandling the teachings of Jesus.

What I've Decided to Do

So I started a new blog: Behold the Lilies. Instead of starting up another debate to prove to these folks that they are wrong in the way they've been representing Christianity as Jesus taught it, I've decided to be the change I want to see in the world. (Uh oh! Gandhi said that! He was a Hindu, so I must be going to Hell for quoting him, right? Wrong! Read on...)

It is really disturbing to me to see how the Bible is used as a weapon against the very social progress and policies that Jesus himself tried to make happen 2000+ years ago. Instead of contributing to the negative environment, I'm going to do what Jesus did and tell stories that reflect and radiate the joy and miracles that happen everyday as evidence of the God I see revealed in the world.

Because Jesus is so frequently misrepresented by folks who use his name in defense of their arguments, I'll be using the Bible as documentation to support my observations. As of this writing, I've read the Old Testament over 8 times, the New Testament over 16 times, the Psalms over 16 times, and the Proverbs over 96 times. I know what's in the Bible, what Jesus and everyone else who is in it said, and it is NOT what the people calling health care reform a communist initiative say it is. Jesus taught us that love, compassion and joy are supposed to guide our every move.

Because I live in a world where we are so fortunate to understand so much about how the Universe works, thanks to so many wonderful scientists throughout history, I'll also be using scientific data as documentation to support my observations. Joseph Campbell said that in order for religion to continue to work over time, it must keep up with the Universe as known. Evangelical pastor and writer Michael Dowd, author of "Thank God for Evolution" confirms Campbell's idea in his book, asserting that science confirms the existence of a loving God and a friendly Universe.

Because I know that an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God is big enough to reveal itself to everyone on the planet in a way that they are able to get it, I am grateful for the other great religious traditions of the world that have informed our own Christian religion so greatly. A lot of what Jesus taught is the same as what the Buddha taught 500 years earlier--the central truths of life are universal; how can it be true only when Jesus said it, but not when the Buddha said it?

Though I respect and admire the other great religious traditions of the world, my own cultural orientation is Christian, so that is the viewpoint I will be coming from. I sincerely believe that there is common ground to be gained by listening first, and then seeking to be heard. And that's what I'm attempting to do from here on out.

What About THIS Blog?

This blog has always been about whatever I'm immersed in at the moment, which for the last several years has been Art, Art Education, and Native American Studies. It will continue to be my outlet for sharing what I'm doing in those areas, as well as anything else I find interesting or fun. It is a sad commentary on my workaholism that it has been primarily about my work--I'll try to do better and play more. I'll also try to make more regular posts. I was astounded when I realized I haven't posted anything since last August! Yikes! I'll be back soon, I promise. :-)

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