Language is flawed

If you’re not perplexed that I, a Catholic, would support marriage equality (translated by many as ’gay marriage’), you can stop reading this post. OK, just kidding, read on please, I’d hate to lose readers.

It’s not exactly marriage equality that I support: I am against banning or regulating lifestyles as long as they don’t harm the life, safety, and liberty of other human beings. As long as the respect for individual human life is held up, the government has no business in interfering. And marriage equality is one of the things where this is true. As the resolution of the US Supreme Court says (Syllabus, (b) 2):

[…] the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy.

I have good reason to support this wholeheartedly. Whenever a government bans something, the rule-breakers will be prosecuted – and the government, depending on their commitment to individual liberty, will sometimes tolerate, maybe even order, violent attacks against them. Their freedom, health and sometimes even their lives will be taken as a result. If they didn’t harm another person (for example, by living in a homosexual relationship), such repercussions can’t be justified.

I might think that, in the end, marriage between woman and man is more beneficial to humankind. But that doesn’t matter. Even if I thought that homosexuality or gay marriage was wrong, it would be light-years more wrong to condemn, prosecute, or attack those I thought were offending.

We know that people don’t choose to become homosexual: a gay person is not made but born. Denying this puts you in the same league with climate change deniers and the anti-vaccination movement. Even worse, when you condemn a homosexual person, you degrade them into something subhuman, reducing them from an emotionally complex person into a sex act.

Probably because their lifestyle was illegal for so many centuries, many still see a pedophile rapist in a homosexual person. (A “Christian democrat” politician once said in my country that liberals bring with them the “bearded uncle” who will spoil all our children.)

Now rape, especially against children, is a terrible crime. No question of that. But this doesn’t come with homosexuality. Sometimes I get the feeling that rape and violence against women is tolerated more than anything gay people do.

As Christians, we are first and foremost commanded to love God and God’s creation, and especially ourselves and fellow humans because we believe that “God created humankind in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). Read: there’s God in the other person, whatever they think or do. We believe God loves them, so we don’t have reason not to.

This is why I think it’s imperative to respect the freedom to love and the freedom to marry. This is why it’s imperative to respect refugees, uninvited visitors who fly for dear life. This is why it’s imperative to respect people of other colors, languages, and customs.

I’m not even sure the Church is right to say that the homosexual way of life is a sin. I don’t think it is. Officially, the Church says it’s against God’s will because ’God created humankind in his own image, […] male and female he created them’ (again, Genesis 1:27). [The argumentation is a lot more complex, but this is what it comes down to in the end.] To be sure, God created sexuality to consummate love and to make procreation possible. That also means that everyone will have a drive to reach the most intimate stage in love, and everyone will try to achieve that in the way they can. I can’t imagine God punishing them for that. (I can’t imagine God punishing people, period. But I do believe that hatred will eventually make you reject love altogether, and that’s punishment enough.) There’s one thing we aren’t entitled to know: how God loves gay people. We can be sure he does, and that he will use their capacity to love to the good of themselves and all humankind.

Christian groups and Christian apologists often say that we are commanded to warn others of their sins (Matthew 18:15 and Ezekiel 3:18). True, but aren’t we also warned against judgment (Matthew 7:1)? And isn’t our language flawed? Can we talk about wrongdoing without condemning the wrongdoer? Can we warn against sin without degrading the sinner? And if we can’t: won’t such warnings always end in unjust discrimination and prosecution?

As a language professional, I strongly disagree with staunch defenders of the purity of language, and say that a specific language cannot be corrupted. On the other hand, I also believe that language as such is morally flawed, and has always been. What we say is often so far from our thoughts. What we hear is often less than half of the meaning of the other person. We get involved in misunderstanding so many times. Legal language looks so sinister because it is crafted to avoid loopholes coming from such misunderstandings.

Linguistics acknowledges that there is no perfect communication between people. The study of communication models, practically every model, hints that the thing we speak is never the thing the other person understands. What we say will be different from what we think; and what the other person will understand is again different from what we intend to say. Sometimes the difference is minuscule, but it’s always there.

If I speak out against homosexuality, even without calling for prosecution or violence against gay people, trust me: there will be others who will interpret this as an invitation to act against them. This is why we must be extremely careful about the things we say – because it is infinitely more important to love people than to warn them of the wrong we think they’re doing. To put the term ’love’ in a less Biblical context, let’s translate it as ’respect the life, safety, and freedom’ of the other person.

Most of us find it easy to love the ones who are close to us, or at least live a life we are familiar with. But this is not the task God gave us: we must love (respect) those we dislike or whose lifestyle we disagree with. That’s what, on the most superficial level, ’love your enemy’ (Matthew 5:44) is about.

So, if you disagree with something that’s otherwise harmless, don’t judge the ‘offenders’ about it, unless you are absolutely certain that it won’t whip up hatred in others. And always look out for the hatred in yourself (I daresay it’s there in everyone): if it makes you say or do things, you succumb to the dark side.

There is a firm line, though. When a person or a group of people causes harm to others, we have a moral obligation to stand up against them. And the harm doesn’t need to be physical: hate speech will eventually cause hate acts, real, physical harm. I think this makes it morally wrong to judge people for their homosexuality, and that same thing makes it morally right to take a very firm stance against those who abuse, prosecute, or harm gay people.

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