The Art of Debate

WeddingAs a theology major turned nun-in-training turned director of religious education, I’ve gotten into more than my fair share of debates.  Whenever people hear that I studied theology, or that I was in the convent for a little while, or that I work for the Church, they automatically assume that I will want to debate whatever element of the Catholic faith that they happen to disagree with.  “Oh, you studied theology?  So can you tell me why your religion is against women’s reproductive rights?  That just seems really archaic.”  “So you were in the convent?  Don’t you think it’s unfair that the Church is made up of a bunch of misogynist men who refuse to allow women to become priests?”  “Oh, you work for the Church?  Do you still teach that all gay people are all going to hell?  You still against gay marriage?  Because that’s pretty messed up.”  And, no, I’m not making this stuff up.  On more than one occasion, I have been asked these questions. It’s amazing what people feel comfortable saying when they think that you’re willing to be their own personal scapegoat for all of their qualms with the Catholic Church.

And before I go on, if you’re wondering, no, I’m not against women’s rights; I just don’t think women (or anyone for that matter) have the right to kill their children.  And, no, even though I was in formation to become a religious sister, I was not joining some liberal order full of disgruntled women vying for their “right” to become a priest.  In fact, I never have had any desire to become a priest, even if I could.  Which I can’t.  It’s not a matter of my religion not letting me; the Catholic Church can’t exactly let me do something that’s impossible.  That would be like saying that the Church is unfair because it doesn’t let us sprout wings and fly.  We can’t do it because it’s not possible, not because the Church won’t let us.

Wedding BandsAnd that brings me to my last point, and the focus on this blog post.  Just so that there are no misunderstandings- no, the Church does not say that all homosexual people are going to hell.  If there are some Catholics who believe that, I assure you, they’re not doing it because the Church is forcing them.  That being said, while the Catholic Church really does not teach that all homosexual people are going to hell, it does teach that gay marriage is wrong.  In fact, it doesn’t just teach that it’s wrong; it teaches that it’s impossible.  I do not believe in gay marriage not because the Church won’t let me, but because it’s not possible.  Marriage is a union between a man and a woman that is both unitive and procreative, and any union that does not fully satisfy these defining factors can only be at most a shadow of what marriage is truly meant to be.  And at the worst, it’s not really a marriage.  There is no perfect marriage, but imperfect marriages are still marriages.  However, there are also unions out there that might be called marriages, but really aren’t.  Even I’m guilty of feeding this facade.  I call it gay marriage, but it’s not really a marriage.  It might sound harsh, but all emotions aside, that’s the reality of the situation.  Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, which is intended to be both unitive and procreative, and gay marriage just doesn’t satisfy that definition.  And if it doesn’t meet the requirements, it’s not a marriage.  You can’t call yourself a baseball player when you show up ready to play hockey.  And you can’t say that you’re married when you’re really not.

If marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and you’ve united yourself to a person of the same sex, you’re not really married.  It might not sound compassionate, and it might not seem fair, but I can’t change the truth.  I can’t change what marriage fundamentally is just like I can’t sprout wings and fly.  And it has nothing to do with the fact that “the Church won’t let me.”  The Catholic Church won’t let gays and lesbians get married because they can’t.  It’s just impossible.  It’s a facade, a shadow of the real thing.  It might be something, but it’s not a marriage.  I might be aiming for the real thing, but settling for this facade, this shadow, is dangerous.  It’s like pasting a pair of wings on my back and trying to fly. Regardless of my intentions, I won’t be doing much flying, and I might get a little banged up when I try.

TMarriage Cartoonhe Catholic Church has to defend the real thing, even when it means seeming “backwards,” “prejudiced,” and “bigoted.”  Because if we lose the real thing and all that’s left are the shadows, we will lose sight of the beauty of marriage.  If we settle for a weakened version of marriage, where some fluffy, undefinable definition of love is used to justify these contracts, we will lose marriage.  Period.  Without a proper definition and set parameters, marriage can become whatever you want it to be.  Inevitably, no one will know what marriage is supposed to be, and then we’ll throw out the idea of marriage altogether.  And that’s one of the many reasons that I’m against gay marriage.  Once we change the definition of marriage, there’s no turning back.  If it can be changed once, it can be changed again.  And again.  And if it can be changed according to our whims, why bother having a definition at all?  It’s kind of pointless when we can change it whenever we want.

Now that you’ve listened to my soapbox rant, not only do you know my opinion of gay marriage, but you also know at least part of my argument against it.  But, contrary to what you might be thinking right now, this wasn’t primarily meant to be a post about gay marriage.  It’s really supposed to be a post about the art of debate.  Because contrary to popular opinion, debate really is an art.  In fact, in most ancient cultures, it was studied along with the other subjects.  In addition to learning how to read, write, and do math, children were often taught how to debate.  Unfortunately, it seems to be a lost art form.

Bad DebateMost of the time when I find myself defending some doctrine of the Catholic faith, I’m arguing with people who ground their argument in emotions, devoid of logic, or who are more concerned with preserving some ridiculous concept of tolerance, where every viewpoint should be respected, unless of course it’s the Christian one.  There are just so many people who argue in the name of tolerance, but who also seem incredibly intolerant of anyone who doesn’t see the world the same way they do.  To be honest, I generally hate debating with people about gay marriage or abortion.  More often than not, these debates very quickly deteriorate into name-calling and demeaning comments about my intelligence.  Since obviously only an imbecile could really believe that unborn children are humans, or that gays and lesbians shouldn’t be allowed to marry.  And that’s why I generally don’t debate.  Normally, it’s just a waste of time.

On occasion, I am lucky enough to come across a person (and even more rarely, a handful of people) who is actually capable of carrying on a logical debate that is devoid of unnecessary emotion and tactless name-calling.  A few nights ago, I had the opportunity to debate gay marriage with a few people with whom I did not see eye to eye.  I’ve had the pleasure of debating with some of them before, and though we very rarely agree, I have a great deal of respect for them.  They believe their position just as strongly as I believe mine, but they very rarely allow their emotions to get in the way of logic.  Even if I believe that their logic is flawed.  And it’s okay for me to say that since, as far as I know, they think that my logic is flawed as well.  But at least there is an attempt to use some sort of logic.  Arguments aren’t made in the name of tolerance, or some fluffy idea of “love.”  They are often rooted in some sort of personal passion for the topic at hand- they are fighting for their “right” to marry even as I am fighting to preserve marriage as it has always been understood- but ultimately their arguments follow a certain logic, even if I don’t necessarily agree.

Good DebateEven though they will never convince me to support gay marriage, and I will probably never convince them that such a thing is not in fact possible (though I can hope), I am grateful for these debates.  They help me to better understand my opponents in an atmosphere of mutual respect, and I can see the weaknesses in my argument just as they might be able to see the weaknesses in theirs.  Understanding their point of view helps me to become more compassionate, without ever compromising my dedication to the truth.  Chances are that those people will never read this post, but if they do, thank you for reminding me that debate doesn’t necessarily have to devolve into useless name-calling and attacks of one another’s intelligence.  I really enjoyed the debate, and it was comforting to know that not all gay marriage advocates  prefer name-calling to logical debate.  You fought well, even if you did not win me over.  You certainly won my respect, and that’s quite the feat to accomplish.  Thank you for the respect that you showed me, because it is not every day that you find yourself truly experiencing the art of debate.  That being said, I hope that one day we will come to see the world, and particularly marriage, in the same light.

Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!

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