Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Failure of Dialogue

Last week gay activist Dan Savage and conservative Catholic activist Brian Brown sat down to debate gay rights and religion in America. The setting was as convivial as possible, over an excellent dinner in a charming home. Journalist Mark Oppenheimer moderated, then wrote an account of the event for the Times:
But even if I was no longer sober by the end of the meal, I still managed to exert enough discipline to hold the debate to an hour. It was dispiriting, but in an instructive way. Here were two Catholics — Mr. Savage born to the faith, Chicago Irish, the lapsed son of parochial schools; Mr. Brown of Quaker ancestry, but a Catholic since college, with a convert’s zeal — who could agree on nothing and could effect no change of heart in each other. . . .

I probably should not have expected anything else. Mr. Savage thinks religion is at best pointless, at worst malevolent. Mr. Brown believes that the truth of Catholicism should be apparent to anyone capable of reason. These are not compatible ways of seeing. And the homey setting did little to raise the level of the discourse.
Savage's husband, Terry Miller, said,
Brian’s heartless readings of the Bible, then his turns to ‘natural law’ when the Bible fails, don’t hide his bigotry and cruelty. In the end, that’s what he is. Cruel.
Brian Brown, unmoved, said,
There’s this myth that folks like me, we don’t know any gay people, and if we just met them, we would change our views. But the notion that if you have us into your house, that all that faith and reason that we have on our side, we will chuck it out and change our views — that’s not the real world.
No, indeed.

Sometimes, people can sit down together and come to an understanding. But sometimes there is no common understanding to be had, and all we can do in a democracy is try to keep these fundamental disagreements from tearing the state apart.

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