Friday, January 28, 2005

You need to define your terms

So this whole SpongeBob/Dobson thing has been a raging topic at liberal blogs of late. As one would expect, terms like "intolerance", "bigotry", and "hate" are found in abundance. (E.g. this and this.) Unfortunately, all too often there is no initial definition of these terms offered as a starting point for the discussion or rant. Now, if the goal is simply to preach to the choir... to rouse the troops for battle... to stoke the flames of one's like-minded fellows, then such definitions are not necessary.

However, if one really wants to offer a serious intellectual argument, then the definition of terms is an absolute must. It's easy to brand people with whom one disagrees as hateful and/or bigoted... it's another thing to explain exactly why and how those "others" are haters and bigots.

In this case, it seems that to posit that "homosexual lifestyles are harmful to the individuals involved as well as the society in which they live" (Assertion) is sufficient to be labeled hateful or bigoted. Now, as I've stated before, there are definitely people out there who hate gays; the thing is, there are very few of them, while there are plenty of people who make the above Assertion and don't hate gays.

So what about the terms? According to Merriam-Webster, hate (as a verb) means
    1 : to feel extreme enmity toward <hates his country's enemies>
    2 : to have a strong aversion to : find very distasteful <hated to have to meet strangers> <hate hypocrisy>
The fact is, there is no intrinsic link between the Assertion above and these definitions... it is completely possible to view a particular behavior as destructive without hating those who engage in such behavior. In prior conversations, I've found that some liberals simply do not believe that it's possible to "hate the sin and love the sinner"... they so identify the essence of the person with their behavior (in this case, their sexual behavior) that they deny you can separate the two, let alone treat them differently.

What about a bigot? M-W says this:
    a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices
Again, it is possible to hold the Assertion above as a bigot, but it is not necessarily so. Like it or not, there are plenty of thoughtful people who have articulated, reasoned explanations for the Assertion. To simply label all who hold the Assertion as bigots is to be uniformed.

If liberals want to preach to the choir, that's fine... I do it plenty myself. But if they want to make separate efforts to actually convince, they'll need to define their terms.

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