Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dan Merchant vs. Jury Of Your Fears: Exhibit B

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In Exhibit A, Dan told the Jury about the response to his film, agreed about the common misinterpretation of "sanctity," agreed that people can be "good without god," and commented on the importance of the "conversation" vs. the "bumper sticker" mentality.  Today we give you Exhibit B of our interview with filmmaker Dan Merchant.  Exhibit A can be found here

JOYF - Is it possible to be a Christian and support gay marriage, abortion, social health care, Palestine (like Mubarak Awad), etc?  

DANYes...(pause)...Okay, I’m not really trying to duck (this), but you did throw the whole kitchen sink in.  I believe being a Christian means following Jesus.  And by that I mean, the things that are important to Jesus are things that ought to be important to you.  Jesus is pretty clear in Scripture, if these guys got anything written down correctly, about how we are to treat one another.  This standard, “love others as I have loved you” can be applied across the board, but it’s a bit more challenging and nuanced than saying, “Jesus is against abortion or against Palestine.”  Don’t think it works that way.  Jesus is with the hurting and the disenfranchised and that’s where we need to be.  As an American who is attempting to follow Jesus, I have the luxury of voting however I choose.  But, regardless of public policy, I am still commanded to love my neighbor – even if she chooses to have an abortion or if a dude wants to marry another dude.  I still have to be there, regardless.  We must be personally invested in others.  Our success and happiness must be linked to that of my neighbor.  Just getting mine and wishing you “good luck suckers” isn’t going to measure up to the high standard Christ has set for me.  So I’d argue it’s a mistake to try and reduce self-sacrificial love for others into a political platform.  I guess I’m also tired of believers who claim they “know” the mind of God and understand how He’d vote – but can’t be bothered to love anyone who disagrees with them.

JOYF - Gay rights are all over the news these days.  Do you believe that people's freedoms should be subject to a vote in the first place?"  In other words, if every man is created equal, how can we even justify voting about continuing to limit any person's freedom?  Is that not discrimination? 

Dan - Yeah, the Gay Marriage and Don't Ask Don't Tell issues are certainly hot ones - especially in a mid-year election cycle where the Conservative side is trying to charge the hill and take back the House and Senate.  As you know, I am a filmmaker and not lawyer specializing in Constitutional Law...BUT, yeah, I don't quite understand the legal argument against same sex marriage.  Some judges in California and a dozen or so other states would seem to agree as some version of same sex marriage exists there.  Most of the Christian arguments "against" seem to revolve around "it's always been this way" or some sort of "slippery slope" argument - the worst form of debate - or the arguments forget, outright, we don't live in Jesusland.  And even lawyers in Jesusland would have a pretty good argument against discrimination, based on Jesus' teachings.  But even if I thought gay marriage were the worst thing EVER for America (it's NOT) I don't understand the legal argument against it.  We all know this is one of those issues that evokes a fear response, "You don't want them teaching YOUR first grader do you?" (uh, they already do).  Be suspicious when the hype comes out in an election year.

JOYF - Why do you think it is that some of the most fervent anti-gay voices in this country get 'caught' with their scepters in the honeyhole?   

DANSelf-loathing? I’m guessing here, but often we’re most sensitive to the things we are struggling with in life.  Ever notice how a liar always thinks EVERYONE ELSE is always lying?  So if you’re a conservative politician who has been less than forthcoming about this facet of your private life, perhaps the “Look over there!” strategy seems like the best way to keep people away from your secret.  I think it’s tough for people when we are out of balance.  You know?  When our “inner selves” don’t line up very closely with our outward selves there is a stress or weight that can cause irrational behavior.  But hey, I’m a filmmaker not a psychologist, what do I know?

JOYF - Instead of people constantly excusing religion by claiming that Westboro Baptist, abortion clinic terrorists, violent Muslim jihadists and the like are simply "fundamentalist extremists," rather than the representatives of god that they claim to be, wouldn't it just make more sense to look at the specific scripture that these groups quote and say "this is wrong, and I reject it completely"?   

DANInteresting idea, but then wouldn’t I be committing the same error by just picking and choosing what Scripture I like?  Might as well start my own religion.  Hey, not a bad idea.  Kidding, kidding.  My take is that these extremists are so profoundly off the mark in the interpretations that they could take a 1978 Chevy Vega Owner’s Manual and justify treating people however they want.  I mean, how can this faith that believes God etched “Thou Shalt Not Kill” onto a stone tablet reasonably argue for cold blooded murder – under any circumstances?  (And, yes, Just War is a challenging concept to me.)  People want to do what people want to do and, interestingly, often they feel the need to justify their actions.  The old, “God told me to” or “God is on MY side” argument has, historically, proven effective in confusing critics and/or creating allies.  David Berkowitz’s dog told him to shoot people in NYC one summer, most people didn’t buy that one, but Fred Phelps can say, “God Hates Fags” and some people stop and contemplate that one.  Yikes.  God doesn’t, by the way.  But since many people aren’t putting much effort into knowing God (reading scripture and applying it – a la “Love One Another”) then we often can’t tell the insane heretics from the passionate believers (make up your own mind about which one I am).  Here’s how I tell them apart: look for the fruit of their efforts.  The Bible and Quaran are full of “God is Love” and we will learn about Him through each other and how we treat each other.  Such sacrificial love toward one another begets kindness, grace and all kinds of weirdly beautiful things happening like forgiveness and reconciliation.  If the fruit ends up with anger, hate and dead bodies then I submit said believer is off the rails.

JOYF - Unwillingly, it seems that Insane Clown Posse has illustrated a secular point about the perceived "celebration of ignorance" among believers.  The Creation "Museum" is another terrific example of rejection of accepted science.  Is it really so important to reconcile faith and science?   

DANIt took nine questions but you worked in an Insane Clown Posse reference.  Well done.  I thought I saw you two at the last Gathering of the Juggalos.  I would’ve come over and said “hi” but I’d been in line for the one port-a-potty for an hour and, frankly, it just wasn’t worth it.  Sorry though.  Okay, where were we?  People of faith need to remember God reveals Himself through creation.  I mean, if we really believe God made everything then relax and let’s get on with our lives and trying to observe what He’s made.  For people of science, just remember science is man’s best shot at explaining the universe…so far.  Every few years we discover something new that completely upsets the apple cart – but it was “hard cold facts” just years before.  Settle down.  We’re making this up as we go.  That whole Sun revolving around the Earth?  Fact.  Until it was learned the Earth revolved around the Sun.  Sorry about that we have it straight now.  Fact: the Triceratops is the coolest dinosaur ever.  Ooooops.  New fact: the Triceratops never existed.  Sorry, not sure how we botched that one.  My point is, life is a never ending mystery and science will be forever picking up clues which help explain things.  For me, these clues all help me understand a universe I believe was created by God, so I don’t see a problem between faith and science.  Doesn’t seem like the Earth was created in six literal twenty four hour days – at least not the way I understand a day.  But then, after Mt. St. Helen’s erupted and wiped out the Tutle River Valley scientists thought it would be hundreds of years before the area would come to life again – seems like it took about eight.  Who knew?  Since nobody was here when it all began, seems like a silly argument to double down on.

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