So. The Slacktivist moved to Patheos. He was very excited about this move, for reasons he tried to express but I didn’t really quite understand, and also for reasons he only explained laterProtip: If you ever find yourself wondering, “Why did this seemingly savvy person do this seemingly dumb thing?” and you guess, “It’s the money, stupid,” you will hardly ever be wrong.. He assured us that he didn’t want this to destroy the almost unimaginably rich and wonderful community that had sprung up in the comments section of his blog posts in doing this, but that he thought Patheos would be a good place for him.
As soon as he announced, I found myself irrationally worried. Things on the new site looked different; they were harder to read; the new comment engine was all javascripty and third party and blocked to some people by popular workplace content filters. And the comment engine didn’t seem very us: it was threaded, and reverse-chronological, and it had a “like” button. In all, it was designed with the assumption that the point of commenting was to talk to the host, not to each other; we weren’t really expected to read each other’s comments, and if we did, we were to go off on little threads. By default, you receive an email notification of responses to your comments — something that’s really intended for a place where your typical comment thread is in the 10-20 comments range, not a place like Slacktivist, where your average thread has several hundred comments.
But my concerns were mostly technical. It didn’t occur to me to be upset about the site itself. I mean, Patheos is just some kind of religious-themed portal, right? No problem there. But others were worried. They saw some things from other Patheos columnists that bothered them. I still wasn’t too upset. Patheos wasn’t Slacktivist, and even if Slacktivist lived at Patheos, that wasn’t an endorsement of everything his new neighborsApt metaphor. If you happen to move next door to a meth lab, that may not reflect badly on your moral character, and it may not be my place to tell you to move. But I think I’d be justified if I preferred we started hanging out at my house said.
And then someone posted a comment under the name of “Patheos AdminI have absolutely no doubt this person was a Patheos Admin. In the time since, however, a number of people have forwarded the possibility that it was just a troll with no official affiliation. I see absolutely no evidence for this, and consider it wishful thinking“, and then It Got Real.
The Patheos Admin made a long post about tolerance and inclusiveness, asserting that they wanted to be the kind of truly inclusive place where people were free to express their own opinion, be it “Athiests are okay” or “Athiests are amoral monsters who should be rounded up and shot,” or “Gays are okay” or “Gays are subhumans who should be denied civil rights.” Inclusiveness, they figure, requires that we treat all viewpoints equally, as Fox News does: report “Some say the earth is roughly spherical. Others disagree” withholding any judgment as to whether one view or the other is, say, obviously false. Also, he assured us, he was not a homophobe because he totally has a gay friend.
This is when I Finally Got It.
See, I’ve been called “intolerant” before. In fact, I’ve been told that the entire republican party, Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck are “infinitely more tolerant than” me, because I said that the GOP has a party policy that supports bigotry, misogyny and homophobia, and how dare I be so intolerant as to say “If you vote for a party which wants to take the rights away from a group of people, then you are a bigot.” It used to shut me up, because “everybody knows” intolerance is bad, and it’s hypocritical for a liberal like me to say “Minorities, women, and gays should be allowed to enjoy life, liberty, and the purfuit of happiness,” while denying that bigots should be allowed to speak their mind without condemnation.
But I get it now. And here is what I told Patheos Admin:

If there’s a blog post arguing against atheism, some immediately assume the entire site is “unwelcoming to nonbelievers.” If there’s an article arguing against same-sex marriage, some will immediately cry “Patheos is homophobic!”

Yeah, no.

If there’s an article arguing against gay marriage, then Patheos is homophobic.

Because arguing against gay marriage isn’t an opinion. It’s not a belief. It’s an attempt to curtail the rights of a group.

And if you choose for Patheos to be a place where someone can post an article arguing against same-sex marriage, then you are choosing for Patheos to be a place where it is okay to attempt to curtail the rights of a group.

And it doesn’t matter how inclusive you want to be. It doesn’t matter how much you respect others. If you’re allowing someone to attempt to curtain the rights of gays, then you are homophobic.

I’m straight, white, american, nominally christian, upper middle class and male. So I can sit back and have an abstract discussion of civil rights and marriage equality and whether or not women are people. But, hey, not everyone has that kind of privilege. So I try very hard to imagine: If I were gay, if I lived my whole life in a society that tells me I’m not quite human, that tells me that I can’t marry the person I love, that told me for 31 years of my life that I wasn’t considered morally competant to go and kill people for my country, that told me I could be fired from most any job because of who I fall in love with, that might just look the other way if I were beaten to death in the street, exactly how hypocrtical would I find it if someone told me that they wanted to be inclusive and welcoming to me while they considered the question of whether or not I should be considered worthy of fundamental civil rights afforded to all humanity something worthy of debate, something where we need to look at all the sides of the issue?

You’re not being inclusive when one party’s very humanity is up for debate. It doesn’t even make sense to talk about inclusiveness when you’re still on the fence about one party’s basic humanity.

Because if we don’t all agree on the fact that all parties involved are human beings, worthy of fill dignity and respect, and endowed with certain inalienable rights, then what the hell kind of discussion can you have? What kind of discussion can you have when it is perfectly logically valid to smack down your hypothetical QUILTBAG’s argument with “Well, okay, but as we’re not 100% sure you ‘re actually a human being, we can disregard what you have to say.” (Oh, I’m sure you wouldn’t phrase it that way. You’d phrase it as “I think you’re too close to the issue to look at it objectively” or “You’re being irrational”.)

I don’t per se object to the existence of places where a bunch of priveleged white christian men can discuss whether or not women and gays are people. I think they might even be valuable places for white chrisitan men to go to help them start learning the answer to that question (It’s “yes”, by the way). But such a place can not by definition be a safe place for the excluded groups.

Because if your humanity or your rights are open for debate, a place is not safe for you. Ask yourself: how would you feel if the front page post was “A Case For Barring All Practicing Christians From Public Office”? I mean, it’s just an opinion, right? Maybe they have a point. We should give it due consideration.

There will come a time in your life when you have to make a choice: when one group wants to be acknowledged as people, endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and another group thinks that the first group’s rights are up for debate, you can’t accommodate both. You just can’t. Sorry. When someone’s rights are up for debate, those rights are not inalienable. If you find yourself saying “We need to have a grand debate and discus whether or not Group A are human beings, deserving of the full rights granted all human beings,” you have already answered the question: you have already decided that, no, their rights are not guaranteed them as mine are to me, because my rights are not up for debate. You’ve already decided that they aren’t quite people — they’re conditional people; people who may or may not count, depending on how this debate goes.
And then you’re a bigot.
I’m sorry. I really am. I’m not trying to hurt your feelings. I know that it feels bad. I bet it doesn’t feel as bad as not being legally permitted to marry anyone you might possibly fall in love with, and I’m sure it doesn’t feel as bad as being beaten to death in the street for holding hands with a member of your own gender. But it’s just plain unavoidable. It’s a definitional thing. You’re not the worst person in the world, you’re not a Nazi or a member of the Klan, or holding up signs with Fred Phelps. But here’s the definition of “Not a bigot”:

Not A Bigot (n): A person who believes that the rights or basic humanity of another person is inalienable, beyond question or debate on the basis of traits such as race, religion, gender, sex, handicap, sexual orientation, country of origin, political ideology, philosophy, color, or other similar category.

And, again, sorry, if you think that it’s okay to treat the question of, say, gay marriage, as something where both the for- and agin- side should both be heard out and considered carefully, then you don’t meet the basic requirement. There is no amount of civility, no amount of politeness, no amount of being reasonable and rational and avoiding hate speech which changes the fact that you’re putting the basic humanity of a group up for debate based on sexual orientation. That’s not a neutral position, because “your humanity is debatable” is the opposite position of the oppressed group. That you accept the terms of the debate as valid puts you on the opposite side of it from the people who claim their humanity is inalienable. You’re a bigot.
So like I was saying, there will come a time in your life when you will have to choose: Am I going to support homophobes, or am I going to support non-heterosexuals? Am I going to support misogynists, or am I going to support women? Am I going to support religious zealots, or am I going to support atheists? You won’t have the luxury of saying “Oh, I don’t want to take sides, I think both sides have something valuable to say!”, because when you say that, you are siding with the oppressors. So when it comes down to it, who do you want to throw your lot in with?

4 thoughts on “Path(e)os.

  1. storiteller

    I didn’t say this over on the other site because so many other people did, but thank you for what you stated on the Patheos board. Even though I’m a woman, I’ve never felt oppressed the way others have so eloquently stated. But knowing that there are allies like you out there, no matter what your lot in life, is reassuring and hope-inspiring.

  2. scyllacat

    Good good. I can use this, so thank you for writing it down. A touchstone, or a litmus test, if you like. “If this person’s argument is legitimate, does it delegitimize (?) someone else?”

  3. Lila

    You go, brother. This is one of the several bright spots that have come out of the Patheos/Slacktivist debacle.

  4. Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    Ross, thank you. You’ve very convincingly punched a hole in the argument that liberals must “tolerate intolerance,” and you’ve managed to eloquently state what I’ve had trouble putting into words: why there’s something weasely about saying “I’m not a bigot, but I think homophobes should be allowed their opinion too.”
    I’m going to be memorizing parts of this so I can have to to quote on demand.
    Also, thank you for explaining equally convincingly what’s wrong with threaded, newest-first comments! It’s the lesser problem, but it’s still a problem; but because it’s the lesser problem, those of us who feel it get told we’re being bratty or something.

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