If I recall, Hegel somewhere states that commonplace things are often not clearly understood -- precisely because they are so common. That is, he points out the irony that our familiarity with something can lead us into assuming we understand it, when we really do not.
I was reminded of that today because it has rather suddenly occurred to me that I do not -- genuinely do not -- understand why so many fundamentalists cannot accept homosexuals and homosexuality. Or, more precisely, I do not understand why they have the attitude that they have towards homosexuals and homosexuality.
That realization has caught me off guard. I always assumed I understood their attitude. But I see now that what I really understood was merely the attitude itself and not the reasons for it.
Of course, I am familiar with a number of more or less popular explanations for their attitude. But those explanations fail to satisfy me now. I'm not sure they ever really did. Consider this: Suppose you and I were to suddenly wake up tomorrow and, instead of finding fundamentalists upset with homosexuality, we were to discover they were upset -- hugely upset -- with eating shellfish.
Further suppose that, as the days, weeks, and months went by, there was no let up in their animosity towards eating shellfish. Suppose they began publishing books about it, making films decrying it, preaching from the pulpits against it, and lobbying for laws to abolish it.
What would you think when you saw politicians come out against eating shellfish, calling the practice an "abomination" that, if unchecked, will inevitably lead to the corruption of youth, the destruction of families, and the decline of civilization? Would you simply say, "Well, their attitude is understandable because the Bible prohibits the practice"? Or would you be more likely to experience shock and wonder?
I think I would have just as hard of a time grasping why so many fundamentalists were so vehemently opposed to eating shellfish as I have had grasping why so many fundamentalists are opposed to homosexuals and homosexuality. What would seem most striking to me is how out of proportion their response to eating shellfish is to any possible offense it might reasonably give. In brief, I would think an irrational madness had overcome them -- and I would wonder why -- why?
As I hinted before, I have heard many explanations for why so many fundamentalists "respond negatively" to homosexuality. But that phrase, "respond negatively", doesn't begin to capture the depths of their apparent fear and animosity. Fundamentalists commonly speak of homosexuality as a plague that will destroy churches, families, communities, and civilizations. That is not the language of mere "negativity".
Nor is it mere "negativity" when millions of dollars are spent opposing homosexuality. Or when missionaries travel abroad dedicated to spreading the opposition to homosexuality in places like Uganda.
The response of fundamentalists to homosexuality seems to me out of all proportion to the offense. That is, I can imagine myself having negative feelings towards homosexuals and homosexuality. My imagination takes me that far, but no further. It cannot conceive of my putting so much effort, so many of my resources, into opposing homosexuality even if I did have negative feelings towards it.
Suppose I had an allergic reaction to shellfish. Suppose I became sick after eating a meal of shrimp. Would I then become obsessed with abolishing shellfish from the world's menus? Would I come to think of shellfish as dangerous to youth, families, churches, communities, and even whole civilizations? I cannot -- simply cannot -- believe I would. But to me, the fundamentalist activism against homosexuals and homosexuality makes no more sense than that.
The closest I can come at this moment to understanding why so many fundamentalists actively oppose homosexuality is to look at it like this: Perhaps it all started out in some small way as, more or less, a mere distaste for homosexuals and homosexuality. Or perhaps it has it's deepest roots in the so called, "ick factor" -- the visceral feelings of embarrassment and so forth that so many of us have when thinking about -- or witnessing -- someone else displaying sexual affection. Maybe it all began in some such relatively mild way.
And then what? Could it have snowballed from such slight beginnings? Could it have progressed from mere distaste for homosexuality and homosexuals into animosity? Thence to active opposition? Until, at some point, it became institutionalized, traditional? Put differently, is the fundamentalist attitude to be grasped as a cultural trait?
Our culture is something that most of us do not in the main examine deeply enough to question. And yet, we mindlessly act in accord with it. Sometime ago, I was discussing that with an online friend of mine, who is an Egyptian. He was telling me of his difficulty in coming to grips with the fact that his maternal grandfather, who is an educated and humane man, had blindly followed the local tradition of allowing his daughter to be circumcised. That is, my friend simply could not grasp how his grandfather -- for all his education, for all his humanity, for all his love of his daughter -- had allowed such a tragedy to occur. But that, you see, is the power that culture can -- and often does -- have over us. Even the best of us.
So I am left wondering this evening whether culture in some significant sense explains the disproportionate response of many fundamentalists to homosexuals and homosexuality?
What do you think? I would greatly appreciate your help and insights.