I’m sure I’m not the only one who has observed the phenomena of all or nothing approaches to discourse. To put it another way, if we disagree in just one small part, then you’re just as bad as my polar opposite. Take, for example, the marriage equality debate. One position many people took (before it became moot) was that civil unions are okay, but marriage is out. The reaction I’ve often seen to such a position is something akin to, “you’re anti-marriage equality? You’re a homophobic bigot. Plain and simple.”
But is it plain and simple? No. Calling for civil unions falls short, but is a hell of a lot more caring than calling for nothing at all or, worse, completely dehumanizing LGBT people. So, why must these people all be thrown into the same pool? What is gained from such conflation?
Nothing. The result is only more division, more anger, more easy hate, and further polarization. Instead of writing a pro-civil union person off whole cloth, we can instead recognize an opportunity. It often just takes a small pivot to change perspective. Instead of focusing on the fact that this person is not pro-marriage equality, recognize that there is some level of LGBT rights that they are supporting. There is caring there.
Let’s recognize that a very many civil union people are coming from communities where homosexuality is a grave sin. They grew up hearing from their parents, teachers, ministers, and friends that LGBT people are essentially evil people who choose evil no-less. Coming from this climate, landing on civil unions is a big deal. That should be recognized.
What does calling them bigots accomplish? It likely sends them back to the open arms of their fully homophobic community where they dig in. An opportunity for growth is squashed just as it emerges from the soil. Not only is this unhelpful, it’s wholly detrimental to the cause.
Since I spend so much time in atheist and interfaith circles, that is where I see this dynamic play out the most. And I have to say, interfaith people commonly have the higher ground here. The very heart of interfaith work requires taking into account an interfaith partner’s background, education, and community in looking for locations of connection. For example, it is true that among the Abrahamic faiths there is an eternal disagreement about the divinity of Jesus. But it is also true that all three have a robust tradition, both theologically and practically, of aiding the poor. There is absolutely no reason why they cannot work together on this issue, unless someone writes off the other claiming that some differences means no commonality.
Many atheists (obviously, not all) are quick to dismiss any person with any supernatural beliefs as not worth their time. This approach solves nothing. This reaction does not help atheists live equally in society. Even if your goal is conversion (which I am not advocating) this does not help. So why does so much public discourse consist of “with us or against us” rhetoric?
More to the point, there are caring religious people and caring atheists. And there a lot of issues plaguing humanity. When caring people come together solutions can happen. Progress can happen. But as long as we automatically ridicule or dismiss anyone who doesn’t agree with us completely, we’re stuck.