Saturday, December 21, 2013

Revisiting the Duck Dynasty Kerfuffle: The Real Point for Me in All This...

I posted earlier in the week my first reactions to the dust-up over Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson's remarks and the subsequent reaction by A&E executives, the media, and supporters of the Robertson family.

I'm not backing down from those statements, but I want to make a few observations about how things have proceeded since then.

First of all, I want to alert reader's to this fantastic piece by Mark Shea that says so much of what I think, better than I'll manage to say it. Read it.

I'll add this observation which I think is implicit in Mark's observations: as a Catholic, from the very beginning of all this, I've been wrestling with the Phil Robertson situation particularly in light of the examples and the words of Pope Francis on how we need as Christians to be more cogent and compelling in our work of evangelization, specifically as regards sexual issues. Anyone not wrestling with the implicit tension here ought to be. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

Moving on, here's another couple of thoughts. Since A&E announced Phil's dismissal, many in the media have pointed to the other remarks Phil made respecting his experience growing up in the pre-Civil Rights era South. Again, Mark says about this much of what I would say. But I want to also observe a very simple fact about how charity in logic and argument should work.

The statement by A&E executives could be read broadly to be an indictment about all of Phil's remarks in the G.Q. interview. But I think that's a bit too generous. Let's review that statement again:
We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson's comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty. His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.
The first sentence, I'll grant, could be taken to be inclusive. But the second sentence refers back to it: "His personal views," the qualifier in the first sentence, becomes a subject of elaboration in the second sentence, where it is specifically noted that these views are distinguished from A&E precisely because the networks "have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community." In other words, it was A&E who made the primary debate about the "homophobic" remarks and not about the allegedly "racist" remarks.

Thus, I can agree that the remarks regarding the place of blacks in the 40s and 50s in Louisiana are myopic, tone-deaf, and frankly stupid. [Yet again, c.f. Shea.]

But my initial concern in this debate was the increasing extent to which a simple proclamation of Christian values and beliefs, including merely quoting from the plain words of Scripture, has become inadmissible in public debate, and is fast on its way to becoming the cultural and possibly even legal equivalent of "hate speech."

Are Phil's other remarks pertinent to the judgment of his character, to an individual's decision whether or not to patronize his company, and possibly to the matter of whether the decision by A&E is a solid business move and ethically sound? Sure. But bringing it up post hoc and trying to impose it as the reasoning behind his decision when we have an express statement of that reasoning from A&E that indicates otherwise is simply unjust in argument and tries to change the parameters of the debate. The logical fallacy involved here is what's often called "moving the goalposts." I try not to do this when arguing with others about any subject, and all I ask is that they act in kind when arguing with me.

And now to return to that original debate, about whether Phil's views have a place in the public discourse...

Chances are, dear reader, that you are, like me, a "kreashunist." You might not even know that you are: it came as a surprise to me. But that's the breaks: that's what "they're" calling you.

This is not a non sequitur. In this context, this observation carries significant meaning and weight. If you engage in a debate on topics similar to this (or, say, debate over the biblical meaning and definition of marriage) on the internet (and especially social networks like Twitter or Reddit) it will not be long before a pejorative sleight against "kreashunists" makes its way into the debate.

"Kreashunist" is, of course, meant to be an insulting way of ridiculing the views of those who believe in the Biblical creation narrative. You can feel about that however you want: personally, I think it'd be uncharitable even if it were directed solely to literalist interpreters of that narrative and "young earth" folks, etc. But the point is it isn't limited to those people.

I believe in a process of long term evolution. I have been given the right to reconcile evolutionary theories with my Catholic belief based on (1) the Church's articulated teachings on methodologies of Biblical interpretation and (2) the explicit statements of non-contradiction made by Bl. Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and other magisterial authorities.

But nonetheless, I will be called a "kreashunist." See, the point is it isn't denial of evolution that makes me stupid in the perception of my interlocutors: it's my belief in a "Purple Spaghetti Monster in the Sky" (to reference one disparagement of theism by the doyen of the New Atheists, Richard Dawkins).

So, this is, as much as anything else, why I continue to Stand with Phil. The trend of intolerance and, frankly, meanness on the part of agnostics, New Atheists, and others, directed toward people of faith - any faith - is a troubling trend and one against which I will continue to fight. I want to point out that it is precisely the sloppy over-extension of clever insinuations like "kreashunist" that makes militant atheism and secularism (as manifested by, for example, the Freedom from Religion Foundation) just as dogmatic and fundamentalist as any system of theistic faith around nowadays. Materialistic philosophy is held on to with all the religious fervor with which Biblical fundamentalists clutch and cling to their Bibles. It's unseemly hypocrisy and small-minded bigotry, plain and simple.

This, then, is what the Phil Robertson situation ultimately represents, in my view. It represents whether I'm content to submit myself to being called a "kreashunist" and not call foul or protest against the illogicality of it. And that is simply something I will not do.

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