No one can escape one’s experiential base

David was 7 years old and hoping to become a farmer like his dad.  Lisa was 12 and hoping to become a teacher like her mom.  A few years back, I was giving David and Lisa a tour of my garden.  Then, I lifted up a rock and, underneath, five pill bugs[i] came to life and began to flee.  I picked up one and placed it in the palm of my hand, and I showed them how the bug immediately curled up into a perfect little sphere.  “That’s why it’s called a pill bug.”

David came closer and attentively watched as the pill bug gradually felt safe enough to abandon its pill-shape [left side of pic] and to turn into a scaled bug crawling over my hand.  When this unexpected transformation took place, David was fascinated and came closer while Lisa backed away in fright.

I took the pill bug and placed it gently in David’s hand.  It immediately rolled itself into its pill-shaped defense.  Then David watched it attentively until it came out of hiding and began to crawl forward on his open hand.  He touched it briefly, and again the bug rolled itself into a “pill.”

I asked Lisa if she wanted to try this for herself.  “No way,” was her reply.  “I don’t want to be bitten by a nasty bug.”

Lessons learned from the pill bugs

I’m telling you this story to illustrate how, in the face of the pill bug, David and Lisa have massively different reactions.   Neither David nor Lisa had ever experienced pill bugs before.  David was attracted by the bugs and interested in their activity.  Lisa was repulsed by the bugs and drew back because she was afraid of being bitten.  She wanted to keep as far away from the bug as possible.  In her experience of bugs, they were almost always nasty and prone to bite her.  She wanted nothing to do with pill bugs.

For the purposes of our discussion here, let’s assume that the entire population can be divided into three subsets:

  1. DRs = those with David-like responses;
  2. LRs = those with Lisa-like responses;
  3. BiRs = those with a mixture of mild fascination and mild repulsion.

Imagine for a moment that you, the reader, have the opportunity to visit my garden in Cincinnati, Ohio, and that I, as part of your garden tour, would pick up a pill bug and set it in the palm of my hand. . . .  Just imagining this usually has the effect of letting you instinctively feel and know in advance whether you would be among the DRs who came forward to explore the pill bugs because they were experiencing a spontaneous fascination.  Likewise, my picture and story might be enough to persuade you that you were among the LRs who instinctively pulled back because they were experiencing an undeniable disgust.   Alternatively, perhaps you could say in advance that you would expect to find yourself among the small number of persons who are BiRs.

Now I want to invite you to do some speculation

Consider what it would take to convert a DR to a LR?  I imagine that this sort of conversion would be rare but not entirely impossible.  Once a positive attraction is rewarded and reinforced through repeated positive experiences, it is difficult to revert back to a frightened repulsion of pill bugs.  Only something very traumatic could wipe out the historical sequence of positive experiences.  I could imagine, for example, that a DR could read a medical report that proves that pill bugs are the carriers of a deadly disease.  Fear of contacting this disease would be sufficiently traumatic to cause a DR to pull back when spotting a pill bug.

Now, consider what it would take to convert a LR to a DR?  I imagine that this sort of conversion would be rare but moderately possible.  One would have to gain the trust of the LR and to gradually expose him/her to acknowledge some positive aspects of pill bugs.  Along the way, the LR would have to discover, vicariously, that the pill bug did not sting or bite.  Then, under the guidance of a trusted mentor, to cautiously come forward and to allow pill bugs to rest and foam on one’s hand.  Thus, with slow and gradual steps, the spontaneous negative repulsion could be gradually recognized for what it truly is, namely, as a fear and flight response based upon the irrational prejudice that the pill bug had a nasty bite.

I refer to the LR fear and flight response as based upon an irrational prejudice.  The pill bug does not, in fact, have a nasty bite.  Lisa’s repulsion was based upon her projection of a character trait that was never actually experienced.  Lisa’s fear of the unknown cannot compete with David’s delight in what is known.  David’s appreciation of pill bugs is not based upon an irrational projection.  It is based upon first-hand positive experiences.  In an open society where free and open judgments are arrived at freely, one could expect that the conversion rate to the DR position would, over a period of time, slowly overcome the conversion rate to the LR position.

Applying the pill bug experience with the homophobic experience

This is exactly what is happening in our society when it comes to responses to gays and lesbians.  At any given time, only a small portion (5 to 8 %) of men and women experience a same-sex attraction.  The majority of the population, meanwhile, is heterosexual and instinctively feels bewildered, perplexed, and repulsed by those who claim to have this attraction.  This homophobic reaction is an  instinctive response that operates very much like the LR.  As a result, LRs pull back in horror and are prone to amplify their fear and flight response.  When feeling attacked, LRs use their negative emotional energies to manufacture irrational projections.

Here is an example from a Christian website of how negative emotional energies are being creatively used to manufacture irrational projections.

As witnessed in the Bible in Genesis 19:1-11 [the story of why God decided to destroy Sodom], homosexuals are predatory, continually on the search for their next sexual experience. Homosexuals are characterized by morbid, unhealthy, sexual desire (which the Bible calls lasciviousness). Homosexuals are prone to multiple sex partners, because homosexuality is rooted in sex-addiction. I heard a homosexual say that “sex is sex, whether male or female.” May I say [in response], sex with the same sex is a horrible sin, and a form of mental illness[ii] caused by spiritual rebellion against God and His holy Word.

The author defines all homosexuals as “predatory,” as “characterized by morbid, unhealthy sexual desire,” and as “rooted in sex-addiction.”  These characteristics would better apply to pediphiliacs or nymphomaniacs.  The latter might indeed say, “sex is sex, whether male or female.” Only in the last line does the author touch on homosexuality as such and here is labeled as “a horrible sin” and a “mental illness”[ii] caused by “spiritual rebellion against God.”  So this brings up back to Gen 19:1-11 where the men in town (seemingly all homosexuals) rape the virgin daughters of Lot.  The author does not seem to notice that the crime here is that “gang rape” is being used to send the message to Lot that “visitors [angels actually] are not welcome here in Sodom.”  Gang violence has nothing to do with any of the two dozen homosexual lovers that I know personally.  This author clearly has had a different experience.  Of this, we learn nothing. The author alludes to Gen 19:1-11 but forgets to label homosexuals as “prone to gang violence.”

God inspired the prophet Ezekiel to say why He brought those cities to ruin. “Now this was the sin of … Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen” (Ezekiel 16:49–50, NIV).

Here is another example where work-place experiences are in the forefront:

The secular workplace is hell-on-earth for many Christians, because of constant harassment in a hostile work environment being around the wicked. God-fearing Christians and the unrepentant wicked don’t mix! Gays are disrespecting Christians every time that they wave their filthy lifestyle in our faces. There’s no way that sexually deviate, left-wing, liberal, homosexuals can co-exist with conservative, Bible-minded, Christians.[iii]

The author here fails to say precisely what is meant by waving “their filthy lifestyle in our faces.”  Does a female worker with a 5×7 pic of her female spouse and two daughters on her desk fit this definition?  Maybe so.  Think about it.  In a world of LRs, it would be downright insensitive and repulsive to have a framed pic of pill bugs on your desk.  Is this what the author means by “constant harassment in a hostile work environment being around the wicked.”  Clearly the business world is “uncomfortable” hearing about gay and lesbian marriages unless it is buffered by the smoldering hostility of “jokes.”

  • Nearly two-thirds (62%) of LGBT employees heard lesbian and gay jokes at work, while 43% heard bisexual jokes and 40% heard transgender jokes.26
  • Nearly three quarters (70%) of non-LGBT employees believe it is “unprofessional” to discuss sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace.  [“Don’t ask; don’t tell?”] 27
  • LGBT people often cover or downplay aspects of their authentic selves (e.g., hiding personal relationships, changing the way they dress or speak) in order to avoid discrimination.28
  • When applying for jobs, LGBT people often conceal information about their sexual orientation or gender identity from their résumés in order to avoid bias or discrimination—especially people of color (12%), people with disabilities (15.5%), and young people between 18 and 24 years old (18.7%).29

Despite this persistence of old values, the Pew Research Report of 2013 indicates tremendous strides forward when it come to the social acceptance of LGBTQ persons.  Here is why this is so:

In the eyes of LGBT adults, greater social acceptance has come as a result of more Americans knowing someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender as well as the efforts of high-profile public figures. A large majority (70%) says individuals simply knowing someone who is LGBT has helped a lot in terms of making society as a whole more accepting. Similar-sized majorities say well-known public figures—both LGBT (67%) and non-LGBT (66%)—have helped change societal views.

In an open society where free and open judgments are arrived at through open discussion, one could expect that the conversion rate to the DR position would outmatch the conversion rate to the LR position.  This is exactly what has happened in the past fifty years.  As heterosexuals have personal contacts with gays and lesbians living among them as neighbors, as co-workers, and as dedicated Christians, they quickly realize that the fear and flight of their earlier years were based upon irrational projections.  As a result, based upon studies such as the Pew Research Center, all sectors of society are gradually gravitating toward becoming DRs because this position is based upon first-hand positive experiences that are not distorted by false projections and irrational fears.

Respondents were asked about the various factors that may have contributed to increased acceptance of people who are LGBT. Individual relationships and the role of well-known public figures are viewed as being the most helpful things in terms of fostering acceptance. Fully seven-in-ten LGBT adults say people knowing someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender helps a lot, and 24% say this helps a little.



How do these conversions take place?  To understand them, one has to recognize that everyone undergoing a conversion has a personal story to tell.  With this in mind, I want to share a few of my own conversion stories and then to draw some general conclusions.

My conversion away from being a Jew-hater

My early religious training within Catholic schools and my early cultural training in an ethnic suburb of Cleveland at the outbreak of World War II made it quite natural for me to pity, to blame, and to despise Jews.[iv]  Had I been bombarded by Hitler’s speeches blaming and shaming Jews, I would undoubtedly have cheered him on.  The greater part of my family and neighbors would have done the same.  In point of fact, however, I never had contact with a single living Jew. But, then, in an unexpected moment, a real flesh and blood Jew, Mr. Martin, made his way into my life.

Mr. Martin agreed to employ me part‑time as a stock‑boy in his dry goods store on East 185th Street in Cleveland, Ohio.  I had just turned 16, and I desperately needed a larger income than my Cleveland Plain Dealer route had been able to afford me; hence, I felt lucky to have landed this new job.  On the other hand, I was anxious upon learning that Mr. Martin was “a Jew”. Would he exploit me?  Could he treat a Christian fairly?  Would he want me to work on Sundays[v] or on other religious holidays?

Over the months I was testing Mr. Martin and, unbeknownst to me, he was testing me as well.  One evening, after closing, I was sweeping the floors when I found a crumpled twenty-dollar bill under a counter.  My starting salary was fifty cents per hour, and twenty dollars represented a lot of money for a teenager in 1955.  Yet, without thinking twice, my Christian instincts took hold, and I turned the money over to Mr. Martin “lest someone come asking whether anyone has found it.”  It didn’t even enter my mind that the money might become mine if no one claimed it or that I might receive a reward if someone did.

As for my tests, Mr. Martin passed with flying colors.  He was genuinely sensitive to my religious convictions and school obligations when it came to scheduling my work hours.  He treated me fairly, at times even generously, and this disarmed all my earlier reservations.  In fact, I gradually came to admire Mr. Martin, and this admiration presented me with a new problem–a theological problem.  I knew that God had slated all Jews for eternal damnation because of what they did to Jesus.  I also knew that Jews couldn’t go to confession to obtain pardon for such a grievous sin.  On the other hand, it seemed unfair, somehow, that God should hold Mr. Martin guilty for such a crime.  If Mr. Martin did not harm me, even in little ways, how could he have ever consented to handing an innocent man over to Roman torturers two thousand years ago?  Thus began my soul-searching journey to try and find a way to rescue just one Jew from the fires of hell.



What do you learn from my story?  You might want to stop reading here and write down a few of your thoughts before continuing.  When finished, click on this endnote to see what I wrote.[vi]



[i] The pill bug is the only crustacean that can spend its entire life on land. Their shells look like armor and they are known for their ability to roll into a ball. Sometimes children call them rollie-pollies. Most pill bugs live for up to two years. They are most active at night.  They do not carry diseases or contaminate food.

[ii] Before 1973, homosexuality was considered as a “mental illness”, at least by the psychiatrists that authored edition 2 of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II).  In edition 3, it was reclassified as normal

[iii] I leave it to my reader to discover the multiple layers of suspicion and misinformation that have been brought together in this example.  Source=

[iv] Since I attended Catholic schools from kindergarden on up, religious training was very significant for me and for my parents as well.  From the Gospels, I learned that the Pharisees were Jews that stubbornly opposed Jesus and his teaching.  I pitied Jews because of this.  They had locked themselves within a false religion and would be judged by God on the Last Day for their bad judgment.  When bad things happened to Jews, therefore, it seemed to me that they were getting what they justly deserved.  No one ever told me that most contemporary Jews were not like the Pharisees and that Judaism had been changing for two thousand years after the death of Jesus.  As a result, when I heard the Gospel stories of how Jesus clashed with the Pharisees, I thought that I was discovering how living Jews were mindless hypocrites who opposed the moderation in Jesus’ message.  When I interacted with Jews, therefore, I was projecting upon them the mindset found in the Gospels.  As a result, I was highly critical of Judaism for a long time before I actually met my first Jew.

[v] In 1955, my family and I attended Holy Cross Catholic Church. I remember that the Sunday sermons often contained admonitions not to violate the 3rd Commandment by doing unnecessary work on the “Lord’s Day” (known as “the day of rest”).  Our sermons distinguished between necessary and unnecessary work.  Necessary work included mom’s preparing family meals and children washing the dishes.  Some dads had to work as firemen or policemen.  Unnecessary work consisted of activities like “mowing the lawn” or “painting the house” or “shopping for food”—things that could easily be taken care of on Saturdays.  At this point of time, most stores and shopping malls were closed on Sundays.   Happily Mr. Martin’s Dry Goods Store was among them.

I have not heard from the pulpit an admonition to refrain from unnecessary work on Sundays for the past forty years.  It reveals something about myself when I say that I kept this practice faithfully into the 1990s when members of my own family began to playfully chide me for maintaining a “rigorist mindset.”

[vi] Here is what I learn from my story:

  • While I was growing up as a good, practicing Catholic, I could not be relied upon to correctly understand Judaism and Jews because my pious upbringing was shot-through with misinformation and prejudices.
  • The conviction that I belonged to the “true religion” is not a protection against the “toxic errors” hidden within the fabric of my tradition.
  • When I encountered my first Jew, Mr. Martin, I doubted that he would be able to treat me and my religious obligations fairly.  Mr. Martin, on the other hand, was uncertain whether I could be trusted in money matters.
  • My spontaneous honesty when turning in the $20 without expecting a reward changed the way that Mr. Martin regarded me. Martin also passed my tests with flying colors.

Only when I began to admire Mr. Martin did I, for the first time, feel concerned about his financial and eternal welfare. The breakdown of my anti-Jewish prejudices came only because I had met one Jew that did not deserve eternal hellfire.

Those who want to interact with this blog are invited to “Leave a Reply” below.  A solid way to begin doing this is to offer “readback lines.”  To do this, quickly glace back over the entire blog and pick out the one or two lines that have made a deep impression upon you.  Copy them [CTRL-C] and then paste them [CTRL-V] into an empty comment box below.  If you wish, signal the emotion that you feel when reading your readback lines.  The primary emotions are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise.   No need to further explain yourself.  It is enough to identify the text important to you and to name the emotion(s) that it evokes.  All of this normally takes less than a few minutes.

I and others will “thank you” for your contribution.  If you are tempted to say more, I urge you to hold back.  Your sense of safety and the safety of others is best protected by not getting overly wordy in the beginning.  This will come after a few days or weeks.

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