God, Some People

by Peter Blair | 10/9/08 1:49am

Recently, "To Be Straight With You," a live dance show about "tolerance, intolerance, religion, and sexuality," was performed at the Hopkins Center ("'Straight with You' explores sexuality, religion, intolerance," Sept. 24). This show did the Dartmouth community a great favor by raising awareness about the level of abuse and even violence that is directed towards homosexuals in the Western world. These civil-rights abuses are of the utmost severity, and they demand our attention. The show was also commendable for its restraint: It did not directly argue that intolerance is the necessary result of religious belief.

But the performance, which again and again relays the words of intolerant believers, did imply a link between, for instance, orthodox Christianity and intolerance to homosexuals.

Conversations I had with audience members confirmed that people had inferred such a connection. The dance group isn't exactly to blame: They set out to create a show about the intersection of religion and intolerance, and that is what they did. But if you go looking for religious intolerance, the one thing that you won't find is religious tolerance. It's hard to find something you're not searching for. So there is a perspective on the issue that was left out of the case entirely, namely the view that I believe is held by many orthodox Christians in the western world: Homosexuality is sinful, but homosexuals are to be granted the same protection and civil rights as everyone else.

This view raises two questions. First, will our society allow people to hold and express this opinion? That is, will our society be tolerant of a belief that orthodox Christians are obliged to hold? If the answer is no, then our Western tradition of free thought and free speech is essentially dead. If you don't allow free speech for beliefs with which you disagree, you aren't really allowing free speech at all.

Second, do the beliefs of orthodox Christianity -- including the belief that homosexuality is sinful -- cause the instances of hate so well documented in "To Be Straight With You"? I do not think so. People who say or suggest that orthodox Christianity demands violent intolerance -- including this dance company and some Christians themselves -- are mistaken.

Orthodox Christianity teaches that homosexuality is sinful, but it also teaches non-violence, love and tolerance. Therefore, Christians who hurt homosexuals do so in spite of, not because of, their religion. If we want to understand the motivation for these despicable acts, I believe we should look elsewhere than at a faith that holds we should judge actions but not people.

Perhaps, as William Golding argued in his novel "Lord of the Flies," we should look into ourselves and see there "mankind's essential illness." Perhaps we should look to the fundamental capacity for evil that we all share. I would argue that far from being the cause of abuse and violence, orthodox Christianity is the best solution to it (and the only answer to that "essential illness"). If you want to end aggressive intolerance from Christians, what better way than to point out to them that God opposes aggressive intolerance?

Before the show, the Hop and the Tucker Foundation co-sponsored a panel discussion on the issues raised by "To Be Straight With You." The problem with this panel was its complete lack of diversity. You would think that a panel sponsored by Tucker would include at least one person of orthodox faith. Instead, the three speakers were all homosexuals who expressed hostility, contempt and even some intolerance towards orthodox faith. There is nothing wrong with that, except that it does nothing to promote discussion and the free flow of ideas. The comments by the panel were what you would expect of such a group -- one panelist, for example, made a cursory side note that religion is "of course" completely irrational. Since that statement is highly debatable, it would have been nice to see some debate on it. The discussion would certainly have been much richer if some diverse perspectives were included in it.

In the end, the Dartmouth community should thank the Hopkins Center for bringing an important and thought-provoking show to Hanover. I only hope it serves to promote tolerance for all people -- homosexuals and Christians alike -- and that Dartmouth students do not come away from the show with the opinion that orthodox Christian faith inspires belligerent intolerance towards homosexuals. Nothing could be further from the truth.