Sunday, February 25, 2007

Preview: Focus on the Thinking


The IUSB Vision was looking for a liberal columnist and though I have some viewpoints that are so-called "conservative" and others which are so-called "liberal", I've volunteered to pen one that would somewhat fit the bill. In meeting one Matthew Lopez, I was reminded that the real challenge was that in serving that purpose, to still be true to me.

The following is a preview of the article, and as always, your comments are welcome.

Recently, there was a media bonanza over Vice President Cheney’s refusal to respond to Focus on the Family’s opposition to the pregnancy of his openly lesbian daughter. While strong arguments have been made on both sides of this issue, one crucial element seems to have gone under the radar: not what but how that initial opposition was made. While the general public can spend their time debating on the Vice President, a student community could do well to consider how we create arguments and how we justify them. It’s not about conception. It’s about conceptualization.

On December 12, Time Magazine printed an article by Dr James Dobson, the founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, titled "Two Mommies Is One Too Many" (,9171,1568485-1,00.html). In it, it is stated that "Mary Cheney is starting a family. Let’s hope she doesn’t start a trend."

The article starts off with careful footing, politely trying to distance the issue from politics, and then quotes "30 years of social-science evidence", an educational psychologist, and a book by a faculty member of the Yale Medical School. The research goes in support of the necessity of both mother and father in a healthy family environment.

At this point, the article seems to be well-supported, and most importantly seems to place the welfare of children at the forefront. If one is truly open-minded, whether one is straight or gay, it does at least give the common ground that this is an issue worth further study. I personally have considered one day being a single parent by way of adoption, and it would be selfish of me to not consider opinions that single-parenthood might not be the best for the child.

So far it merits a pause for thought. But within ten seconds from that moment, Dobson effectively sabotaged his own position. Apparently, three-quarters of a page is giving someone just enough rope.

In a switch to fourth gear, Dobson says, "Traditional marriage is God’s design for the family and is rooted in biblical truth." Take that, Congress with your less-than-100 word resolution. That’s Focus on the Family with less than 15. For someone who once enjoyed listening to short, warm, carefully-selected weekly radio segments by Dobson back in Malaysia, this was a disappointing development.

If it isn’t already obvious, one cannot base an argument on one’s personal religious beliefs, especially not when it openly aims to change public policy. It sets a remarkably dangerous precedent of discrimination. If there is one thing Christian about the issue, it is to do onto others as you would want others to do onto you, and I doubt that anyone would want someone else to dictate choices based on his/her religious beliefs.

There will be those who say that, well, this is a democratic country and if the majority decides to employ biblical values into public policy, that is their choice and their right. The response is simple: that a democracy can not only be about pleasing majorities, but the protection of minorities as well. That is a stance that has been made against other countries, most obviously those under fundamentalist Islam. You cannot argue if adherents wish to practice any fundamentalist religion. But you can say quite a bit if they force it upon the minorities, or against other people. As psychologist Wafa Sultan once said, "Brother, you can believe in stones, as long as you don’t throw them at me."

Dobson’s base on "that divine plan" placed all the points raised by previously referenced research down the drain. Even if that research was valid, it showed that Focus on the Family just doesn’t have the credibility to view research without bias, nor that they could separate the issue of welfare of children from an individual religious perspective. As it turns out, two of the researchers later voiced their opinion that their research was skewed in Dobson’s assertions.

The real "untested and far-reaching social experiment" is not Mary Cheney's pregnancy. Nor is it her father’s choice to not speak on the issue. What it is, is the way, the mental process in which we form arguments, and the minorities we trudge on when we do so. In less one week, CNN brought up the plight of two of these: first, the homosexual community whom hip-hop artist Deadlee said that "it's the one group of people that still it’s ok for people to hate". Actually, that’s unfortunately not entirely accurate – as CNN later reported on the second discriminated minority group: atheists. The real virtue of democracy must be that citizens do not all have to belong to either of these minorities - and by definition they do not - in order to believe in the protection of minorities.

CNN did it in one week. James Dobson did the opposite in the space of ten seconds. Five if you speed read.

Religion can be a remarkable thing, and the Bible can be an effective personal guide for Christians, just as the Torah, Quran and the various Buddhist texts are for the faithful of other religions. It is only a fringe of any religion that indeed does throw stones, as it were, but they often have the most visibility.

In my opinion, James Dobson’s article is one such example. To use the Bible as an instrument of concept enforcement tends to preach to the choir, alienate the rest, give a misunderstanding of the acceptance in Christianity, and invite others to find ways to skew the Bible in backlash. I met one such person recently who said that, "They call me a heathen, so I find ways to use their book against them." An unfortunate position, and an unhealthy perspective, but one borne not of a vacuum, but out of discrimination. On the other hand, it has been rightly pointed out to me that the challenge for those on the other side is not to brand Christianity simply because of any individual, like James Dobson. Or for that matter, any religion based on any individual voice.
The challenge for religious moderates is to distance themselves from the "heathen"-branders and by doing so, help to heal rifts.

Should there be a focus on the children? Sure. That's what public policy is for. Should there be biblical discussions? Absolutely. That’s what churches are for.

But when in the public arena of social issues, let there be a focus on thinking about how we form our assertions, and whether we can do so without unfairly marginalizing others. And that should be what universities are for.

It makes me sigh when I recall that James Dobson has a doctorate. I never thought I'd miss Malaysian radio.

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