20 December 2013

Who's Afraid of Phil Robertson; A Tip of the Hat to Constitutional Sissies

Phil Robertson of the A&E series “Duck Dynasty” gave an interview to GQ, Gentleman’s Quarterly.  He was asked for and gave his opinions on a number of subjects. In that interview, he said that he considers homosexual behavior immoral because it is proscribed by the Bible.

That’s a fairly innocuous formula:  They ask.  He answers.  

This is America.  We do not have laws against sedition.  We do have a First Amendment.  He does.  We do.

And A&E canned him.  

And so we revisit that same old, tired bugaboo, “How dare you say that!”  Or, to quote one of the nitwits, “Americans won’t stand for Phil Robertson’s comments.”  

Some point out that A&E has First Amendment rights, too.  So be it.  The “rights” of the soulless still confuse me.  I suppose you could say that A&E has the right to disrespect the Constitution just like an individual does.

As to the remarks themselves, it is perilous to talk “about” them.  Or to “interpret” them.  Let’s just read them:

Question: What, in your mind, is sinful?

[Note: Ol’ Phil didn’t bust into somebody’s home and start forcing them to listen to as sermon.  He was asked for a statement.]

Answer:   Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there.  Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.
Don’t be deceived. [He’s loosely quoting the Apostle Paul from I Corinthians, now.]  Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers – they won’t inherit the kingdom of God.  Don’t deceive yourself.  It’s not right.

Later, after others interpreted this as personal hatred, he expanded:

However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me.  We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all humanity.  We would be better off if we loved God and loved each other.

This “love all humanity” is consistent with Robertson’s past writings and speeches/sermons.  It's consistent with Christian doctrine and all of those red words in the Bible.

The whole notion that we would be better off if we loved each other surely is acceptable to anyone responsible.  Well, if not, they have First Amendment rights, too.

So here we have a dilemma which has become de rigueur in American society. Someone exercises his/her absolute First Amendment rights and (1) they experience negative consequences such as loss of employment unrelated to the statement or opinion and (2) few people seem smart enough to separate a disagreement of opinion or values from the worth of a person.

Mind you, I disagree with Phil on the merits of the opinion.  And I agree with him about a whole lot of things.  And I disagree with other stuff he says, too.  There’s the “God gave Man dominion” thing.  I’m not a hunter and I regret all to hell that people go out and gun down unarmed birds. I won’t do it. I won’t go along on a hunt.  I’m  not going to write off hunters as evil people or mess with their job because they’re doing something legal with which I don’t agree. [Oh, I’m also a hypocrite - I consume poultry.]

Another aspect of this sort of “debate” is that there is no moderation.  Some of us just can’t stand it when somebody thinks differently. And we have little or no degrees of this agreement, just an on-off switch. If somebody agrees with us, they are good.  If they disagree, they are the spawn of Satan and should be cast into either the literal or secularly metaphorical lakes of fire.

I regret that the (majority?) of the people, centrists, remain so quiet. That silence is understandable since people with big mouths equate disagreement with disloyalty or betrayal of this or that cause. I can understand why centrists don’t want to bother with the noise.  We don’t have to like it.

I wonder if there is room for a “Reality Party” United States. Maybe we could call it the “We Aren't Hotheads Party.”

Here’s a true story of genuine, strong disagreements which don’t become shrill, shrieking, psychotic episodes.

West Virginia, as students of American history should know, was born out of the American Civil War. The counties west of the Blue Ridge were populated mostly by people who felt ignored by the state government in Richmond. In the secession crisis of 1861, there were areas where sentiment was divided. One of these was in Barbour County, West Virginia, where the county seat is Philippi. (Much of my practice is there, and it is a delightful place.)  Philippi was the site of the first  land engagement of that war.

At the beginning of the Civil War, there were only a few lawyers in Philippi.  The general sentiment of public officials was in favor of the Confederacy. From January 1861 until June 1861, the time of that battle, the Confederate flag flew over the courthouse.

Two prominent lawyers practicing in Philippi were Spencer Dayton and Thomas A. Bradford.   Dayton was a very strong supporter of the Union.  Bradford supported the state’s rights view and placed loyalty to Virginia first.  Also, they were good friends.  They ran against one another to become delegates to the Richmond secession convention.  After that convention passed a secession ordinance, Unionists in town had a secret meeting in a shoe store in the middle of the night to select delegates to a Union convention in Wheeling, near the northern tip of then-Virginia. Four delegates were selected and three of those backed out at the last minute because the way out of town – a covered bridge which still stands – was guarded by Southern sympathizers.  Dayton was the fourth.  He left his home quietly in the middle of the night.  As he approached the bridge, he spurred his horse into an all-out run and got past the guards.  He attended the Wheeling convention which repudiated secession and established a “Restored Government of Virginia.”

Bradford, also having the courage of his convictions, was an organizer and Captain of one of the first militia companies to cast its lot with the Confederacy, the “Barbour Greys.”  He left town in the spring of 1861 and fought with the Confederacy until the end of the war.

For most of the balance of the war, Union troops occupied Philippi. Then, as now, occupying forces aren’t always very benevolent. The troops were destroying property of Southern sympathizers.  Dayton went to Bradford’s now-abandoned office and packed up Bradford’s law library and effects.  After the war, Bradford returned and his friend Dayton gave him back the tools to restart his law practice.  Later, as a State Senator, Dayton was one of the “Let-Up Republicans,” who supported blanket reenfranchisement of those who had fought for the Confederacy.  

All Phil Robertson did was state opinions that he cannot enforce on anyone.  He is punished for mere words.  Thomas Bradford was received back by his friend after bearing arms against his beloved Union.

That is the essence of the Constitution in America. That is the essence of mutual respect with which Americans should hold one another. If someone holds opinions contrary to yours, his/her opinions are no less sincerely held than yours nor are they entitled to any less personal respect – no matter how loony you may think the ideas. When we confuse the position with person, the idea with the individual, we are promoting social chaos and resolving precisely nothing.

In the meantime, the world goes on as the chattering birds of wounded feelings peck at their own images in the mirror and ignore very much concrete.  

By the way, a Methodist minister in Pennsylvania, Frank Schaefer, was fired and defrocked last week because he wouldn’t swear to quit doing gay weddings.  One might argue that one a little differently, but really it’s not.  He deserves the same consideration as we should be giving Robertson.  

Maybe we’re all hypocrites?

06 December 2013

Leon Trotsky, Rush Limbaugh, the Pope & Harry Truman Are Adrift in a Lifeboat; What is This, a Marxist Joke?

The Pope recently published a 50,000 word essay or encyclical or the like, Evangelii Gaudium.  As the name suggests (to all three of my Latin scholar friends), the theme is evangelism. In short, evangelism is the assertive spreading of the Gospel, the “good news,” i.e., Christian doctrine.

Among the minor themes is that people in contemporary society go overboard in consuming things, worshiping money, and generally hosing the poor. That theme is hardly a new one in Christian thinking.  “Red Letter Christians” – those who seek first the words of Jesus, which are printed in certain editions of the Bible in red – read prominent warnings against love of money and disdain for the poor.

Rush Limbaugh, sturdy feldwebel of American ideology, boldly penetrated the Pope’s shtick this time.  Rush assures us that the Pope’s ramblings are pure Marxism. He points to the possibility that leftists (hiding in the Curia?) intentionally mistranslated what Il Papa actually said in the original language. (Spanish?) Or, Limbaugh theorizes, the College of Cardinals goofed and elected a guy as the Vicar of Christ who is really the Shade of V.I. Lenin.

Since the English translation is on the Vatican website, that kind of narrows it down to the "goofed" theory.

So is Francis a Commie-Red-Marxist? Is Rush just not too bright? Or is this Rush’s own propaganda flimflam?

I’m voting “C,” the flimflam option.

The length of this post so far proves how effective the flimflam is. And how easily we can be pointed opposite to the clear teachings of Christ or against the clear imperatives of generally accepted moral behavior. Incidentally, the same teachings are found in nearly every religious/ ethical/ moral system – Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Humanism, whatever. I look at the teachings of Jesus but the flimflam is on all people of goodwill.

So why is calling the Pope “Marxist” such an effective slur? This quick characterization is really good propaganda because it is quick and uses already-existing negative images – and, most importantly, it takes reasoned argument to dispel the fraud.  In our sound-bite-Tweet era, if you can’t say it in 10 seconds or 140 characters, 80% of your listeners will lose interest and their minds will wander away. 

We Americans don’t like Commies, even now that the “old” Cold War is ended. Without the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, good opinion manipulators are moving the appearance or name tag of Marxism to the American so-called political left. Mind you, that has nothing to do with actual Marxist doctrine.

[Oh, yes it does!, whined someone in Tater Junction, South Elbonia just now. Fine, get out your Classics Illustrated Comic Book on Political/Economic Doctrine and fondle yourself quietly.]

Rush has merely borrowed a term with a high negative index – “Marxist” – and slapped it on someone who mentions money, the poor and, by inference, class. And the tag sticks. But like a pile of manure with icing, it's still not a birthday cake.  The beauty of this technique is that the user need not explain or even have the first clue about what the tagline means.  Nobody likes Commies, he’s a Commie, q.e.d.

Propaganda is a fascinating subject about which there is a lack of understanding. Propaganda is a toolbox which contains methods of persuasion.  Period.  The doctrines promoted are not the propaganda. As such, true propaganda is neither inherently good nor bad, moral nor immoral. The subject may be. 

Nor does calling something “propaganda” make it so.

If anybody asks, “Who’s the best propagandist ever?,” most people say Goebbels.


The guy couldn’t use 3 words where 73 would do.  Goebbels' information campaigns were successful in that the targeted population kept their opinions consistent with the “party line,” even in the face of eventual good reasons to the contrary. But let’s face it, he started with a very soft target (people in a depression & quasi-anarchy) and had huge resources devoted to “public information.”  Eva Braun - a noted Teutonic dim bulb - might  have pulled that off.

A few really skilled propagandists immediately pop to mind. There is Reagan (and his writers) – “Evil Empire.” “Tear down this wall!”  

Bush II – “… Cowardly [9/11] terrorists.”   

Ayatollah Anybody – “Great Satan.”

And with good propaganda, it becomes absolutely offensive to resort to logical reason to disagree:  The terrorists were craven cowards!

No they were ideological zealots, morally bankrupt and bat shit crazy. But flying an aircraft into a building – especially when you’re sitting in front – isn’t cowardly.

Right, tell it to the True American.

To refute the sharp tang of propaganda when it is applied randomly and illogically. “What the hell are you talking about?” is an acceptable and reasonable response, but is not very persuasive.

Even Rush has had illogical propaganda used (poorly) against him. Al Franken wrote the quirky book Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, where a lot of footnoted facts and reasoning were buried in hysteria. (We have heard little from Franken lately. He became a United States Senator, where he is indistinguishable from the other 99 straight-faced comedians.)

With the response to Rush’s latest, I have to ask: “Rush, what the hell are you talking about?” I don’t think you can warp Marxism out of Frances’ nice (if wordy) exposition of Christian doctrine even if you borrow that other guy’s comic book.

Marxism is a doctrine of materialism which posits predetermined historical forces which supposedly develop in a predictable manner. A primary focus is the relationship of different economic groups to the means of production and how that changes. Bending that into a moral warning against worship of money and consumption and respect for “the least of these” is the non sequitur game-of-the-week touchdown.

Yet some significant part of the American public – 1%? 5%? – will have a reduced respect for this Pope and for a part of Christian/moral doctrine by virtue of this little episode.

Rush’s fault?

Surprise.  No.

To paraphrase both our Lord and Savior and Harry Truman, “Nitwit’s will be with us always.” And we need to expect that.

The fault lies squarely with an intellectually and morally lazy and scared American people. Control and naked power used push us around will become more and more heavy-handed until and unless Americans generally develop a habit of thinking and then find the guts to speak up.

Rush, I liked you when you were a nonpolitical and funny DJ on WIXZ in Pittsburgh. These days, you and whoever writes your stuff are poor excuses for citizens.