Monday, March 03, 2014

Geography lessons

The University of Iowa's basic geography course, back in the 1960s, was a multi-section mess taught largely by televised presenters rather than live and in person. It was looked upon as a "jock" course --- mostly because the multiple-choice exams were a breeze.

That didn't mean the information provided wasn't sound, just that many of those enrolled were pursuing a higher grade point average rather than an education. But it was possible to learn a lot.

Then, as fate and the natural progression of stuff would have it, much of that information became largely irrelevant.

In eastern Europe, for example, Czechoslovakia is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia; Yugoslavia no longer exists; and what we then called "the Ukraine" --- largely overlooked because the principal focus was on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, of which it was one --- is now an independent republic (at the moment) and back in the news.
There has been a coup of sorts in Ukraine and Russia apparently has invaded one of its semi-autonomous regions, Crimea --- sticking out on a peninsula into the Black Sea.

And I've been having a heck of a time trying to sort it all out --- trying to understand some of the ethnic, nationalistic, cultural, religious and geographic factors involved.


I got to thinking over the weekend about similarities between the shifting geography of eastern Europe and the shifting geographies of various social issues --- and about the relevance in both areas of maps drawn in the 1960s and earlier.

The difficulties involved in trying to overlay outdated maps onto today's shifting landscape became evident again last week when many were yelling at each other about the various "religious freedom" laws under consideration in state legislatures that in effect would codify discrimination against gay people --- and many others as a kind of bonus.

The latest geographic shift here involves court decisions that have or, it seems likely, will invalidate state bans on same-sex marriage. Those intent on forcing the overlay of old maps onto new territory are, for the most part, fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, but even within those groups there are a variety of nuances now.


Justin Lee, organizer and executive director of the Gay Christian Network who blogs at Crumbs from the Communion Table, appeared on CNN last week to talk about what happens when old social and cultural maps are applied to new situations.

In this case, the old map involves the contention that LGBT people choose their sexual orientation, an idea largely discounted by science, observation and intuition.

Lee maintains that the outdated map is in large part responsible for the misunderstandings between some heterosexual Christians and their gay counterparts. You can see the news segment here.


Benjamin Moberg, who blogs from Minnesota as Registered Runaway, tackled a couple of related issues in a post headlined "Two Ways to Maybe Not Write About Gay People." These are issues that some evangelical Christians at least feel can be used to shift the church from judgmentalism towards love, perhaps even ease the holy wars a little.

One involves the proposition that to be gay is to be sinful just like other sinners --- adulterers, cheaters, etc. ---- are; loved, as Jesus loved sinners, but (of course) reproved. The old map still in use here, however, includes the understanding that homosexual orientation is sinful in and of itself when the new map, based upon science and observation, illustrates that sexual orientation, gay and straight, is neutral and that what some call "sin" is merely a factor of the human condition, not orientation.

The other proposition, popular among evangelicals on the road to recovery, is that overemphasis on the "sin" of homosexuality distracts the church from more important business --- poverty, care of the environtment, etc., etc.

While it's certainly true that the church's obsession with matters related to sexuality is distracting, it's useful to remember that this isn't a fight that gay people picked, nor are those gay people any more "sinful" than anyone else and that the Big Guy said something rather significant, too, about relations with the "least of these my brethren,"


I ran into another variant of new Christian thinking myself the other day in the form of a commentator on one of the blogs I read. Apparently weary of the debate, he suggested that Christians should just admit that gay folks are the victims of "defective" genes and move along, "live and let live."

I suggested "genetic variation" might be a more accurate way to phrase this, and drew a rather sharp response. I have my say sometimes in comment sections, then almost always move along, so didn't bother to follow up --- few if any hearts and minds ever are changed during online debates.

But that notion reflects nothing more than slight --- but not major --- revision of an old map --- shifting from sin to defect.

And new maps suggest that sexual orientation is, as I wrote, merely a naturally occuring genetic variation and, in the long run, conflated in importance by those who have a vested interest in futile attempts to restore old boundaries and impose false perceptions.

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