Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Webcomic Artist Adam Ford Doesn't Hate You, Either...

So, I'm back to looking at this webcomic again. If you haven't seen it before, you should probably go give it a once-over; it's instructive, I think, even if you disagree with it. Maybe especially if you disagree with it. Last week, I wrote an extended criticism of a single panel in the comic; I didn't say much about the rest of it, or the overall message, because I'd already read some very good general responses here and here.

This week, I want to write a partial, limited defense of Adam Ford's comic. This is because, while I think the argument he's making with his comic is basically a giant load of bollocks wrapped in a sack full of three-day-old manure, I do think that on one level, he kind of has a point. He says:
I am a Christian who believe the Bible is the word of God, any homosexual practice is sinful, and marriage will only ever be the life-long union between one man and one woman.

But I promise you, I don't hate you.
And I believe him. I don't think Adam Ford hates gay people. Though, as I mentioned in last week's response, I don't think he loves gay people, either. I don't believe he knows any gay people well enough for either love or hate them. And I think that this is a common (and disruptive) problem in trying to talk to people who believe that homosexuality is inherently sinful about why we think they're wrong, and what it is that they're doing.

The problem, at least I see it, is that both hate and love (as they are commonly perceived and understood) have an emotional component. They aren't just a matter of policy; they're a matter of personal feeling. And so, if I try to tell Adam Ford (or any number of people who share his views, including some of my extended family) that their views are "hateful", they're going to blow me off. They're going to discount what I'm trying to say, and (from their perspective) rightly so: I'm accusing them of feeling a certain way towards gay people, and they know from their own experience that they don't feel that way at all. Saying that their views are "hateful" comes across as an attempt at gaslighting.

In some ways, I think this would be less of a problem if they would apply the same standard to the concept of love. I say this because I had a conversation with a Christian not two days ago, in which she stated unequivocally that she "loved everybody" because she was "commanded to do so". Now, that's not "love" in any sense that I would ordinarily use the term; love is a personal relationship, whereas that seems to be using the term as a shorthand for "behave in a loving fashion towards", which (as a matter of moral or theological policy) is not the same thing. Loving someone is a feeling and an experience. Loving everyone is more of a political stance -- it's general and theoretical, rather than concrete and specific. And that's precisely the problem.

The heart of the problem with Adam Ford's (and his ilk's) view of homosexuality isn't that it's hateful. It's that it's harmful. It may be working from a place of love -- love as policy, theoretical love, hypothetical love -- but in real, concrete terms with actual people in specific situations, it does clear, measurable harm. And the problem with their "love" for gay people is that it fails to offer help, hope, or comfort to real people in actual situations (and, very often, far-too-real pain).

That kind of love is only loving in the abstract. It doesn't do any actual good. And that's why I refer to it as "useless". If you're a Christian, and you're serious about loving your neighbor as yourself, then you're going to have to get to know your neighbor as yourself. That's what loves requires; that's what love means.

It takes work; it takes humility; it takes what the poet Keats called "negative capability" -- the capacity to embrace doubt, uncertainty, and ambiguity. It doesn't mean abandoning your principles, but it does mean accepting that some things you thought were carved in stone might actually have been written in sand instead. It means examining the actual situation first, and only looking to see what moral rule might fit afterwards. (This is not, in my experience, the way people normally operate.)

Hate and Love don't make for a terribly good framework to discuss all that. They're too easily misleading, too easily distracting. It's far, far too easy to get lost in theories and abstractions. Take a breath, and let that go. Talk to people. Hear their stories. If they'll tell you honestly what has hurt them (and, far more importantly, what is hurting them still) then listen. Don't just follow the map; stop and take a good, hard look at the terrain.

Then, then, do your best to go forth in love.


  1. "Love" is a loaded word among Christians. Means like four different things. I don't speak for Adam Ford, but there's a decent chance that the definition he's using is along the lines of "value the person as an end in themself." (This is what utilitarians like to call a really low bar.)

    Under that definition, it makes perfect sense to add "because of the divine command;" taking what harms other peoples into account is exactly the kind of thing people can be commanded to do. It does get really ambiguous, because this has precisely nothing to do with what people mean by "love" in normal conversation. Saying and believing things that harm people is a red flag, but it won't by itself stop anyone from believing it. Might convince them to stop trumpeting it, at least if they're any good at not harming the people they're commanded to care about, but not to stop believing it.


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