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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Some thoughts about Phil Robertson and freedom of speech

I am assuming that, if you are reading this, you are aware of the controversy regarding Phil Robertson (of A&E's "Duck Dynasty".  If not, try reading this article (or this one) or go to almost any news site and you'll probably find an article about it there.  Before I express my views, I wanted to provide a link to a blog post that, I think, sums things up pretty neatly.

Basically, Mr. Robertson gave an interview to GQ magazine where he talks about his show, homosexuals, African-Americans (in the pre-civil rights era), and other things.  I have never seen the show (nor in all honesty do I care to), so I have no idea who this man is nor, prior to this article, did I have any feelings about him one way or the other.  His comments were, well, let's just say they were not too kind nor were they terribly surprising.

Before I say anything else, it must be noted that, as a private company, A&E is not bound by the limits of the Constitution.  The Constitution, which sets up the government and gives us freedom of speech, does *NOT* apply to private companies.  *PERIOD!*  But, let's set that aside for now because otherwise this would be an incredibly short blog post.

Just as I cannot say that I was surprised at his comments, neither was I particularly shocked at the protests to his suspension by A&E.  You are getting the standard cants about "freedom of speech" and how conservatives are being bullied and what not.  There's even a petition and a Facebook page to bring him back.  My personal favorite is this blog post which says that he was suspended "for agreeing with the Bible".  Please note the utterly deceptive wording.  This wording suggests that he agreed with the Bible and was suspended for that reason, as opposed to being suspended for publicly stating beliefs that are considered offensive to a great many people and which were utterly ignorant.  Two very different things.  The problem is that the second one does not fit into the far right's story about how Christians are being persecuted for their beliefs by the evil homosexuals and their ally, the equally evil liberal media.

First, I want to note that any linking of the suspension and "freedom of speech" is specious at best and downright dishonest at worst.  No one, repeat *NO ONE*, is denying Mr. Robertson his freedom to say what he wants to say or believe what he wants to believe.  One very important fact being lost here is that freedom of speech is in no way, shape, or form equivalent with forcing people to listen or to provide you with a podium from which to state your beliefs.  Also, Mr. Robertson is an employee of A&E and as such what he says reflects on the company.  So, when he spouts off with ignorant remarks that reflect poorly on the company, they have every right to suspend him.

Second, freedom of speech and association (also granted by the first amendment) runs both ways.  Just as each person has the right to express themselves, other people have the right to refuse to listen or to refuse to associate with you.  The fact of the matter is that, as a corporate entity and hence legally a person, A&E has the right to disassociate itself from Mr. Robertson or anyone else who spouts off with ignorant views (or any other ones for that matter).

Third, freedom of speech is not absolute and does not protect people from the consequences of their actions.  If you say something that is controversial (like the Dixie Chicks about President Bush), you will experience backlash.  People protesting what you say is *NOT* abridging your freedom of speech, just as a company suspending you for publicly saying ignorant things is not abridging your freedom of speech.

Finally, I have to say that the more I hear from the far right and the more of their fulminations I read, the further away I am driven, as I suspect are other people.  I do not know about anyone else, but I get very tired of all of the whining and complaining that is constantly being heard from that corner of the world.  Not everything is a conspiracy against their narrow-minded views of God or the world.  Sometimes, people say stupid things and get punished for them.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Some thoughts on the polygamy decision

I assume you've heard about the decision from a court ruling parts of the Utah law banning polygamy as unconstitutional.  I recently saw this article on Facebook and was reading the comments, some of which seemed pretty weird.  I want to address the decision briefly and then talk about some of the comments.

First off, rationally speaking, there is no reason for the government to recognize same-sex marriages and not polyamorous or polygamous marriages.  Most of what I would say about the decision I said in this post, so I won't repeat it here.  I think it suffices to say that I think the decision was the right one.

I know there are a lot of people out there (including many of my friends) who are going to insist that marriage is solely between a man and a woman.  I understand the assertion, however I cannot see a rational reason to limit marriage to solely heterosexual relationships.  I am sure that someone would bring up the Bible, however that argument will not fly with me.  It is not that I am rejecting the Bible, rather I am trying to say that since we do not live in a theocracy, no religious text or teaching can or should be used as the sole basis for a law.  Show me, using non-religious arguments, why marriage should be limited and if I agree, I will change my mind.  I am sure that this stance will outrage some people, but it is the only stance that makes sense to me.

In some of the comments, people were saying that they knew that the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage decisions from last year would inevitably lead to this sort of decision.  I would totally agree.  A court decision opening up civil marriage to same-sex couples would logically (and rightly) lead to this sort of decision.  Most of the other comments were religious inspired objections, which are invalid when applied to civil laws.  While I am not arguing that religion has no place in public life, since we do have a separation of church and state, religious laws *CANNOT* be the sole basis for civil laws.  Period.  Now, I am sure someone would point out that the Bible forbids murder and other crimes, however these crimes have also been crimes in areas which were not affected by the Judeo-Christian tradition and therefore the Bible is *NOT* the sole basis for these laws, hence my argument still holds.

The remainder of the comments were from someone who is a libertarian, but sure sounds like a social conservative.  Basically the comments said that once same-sex marriages became legal, the homosexual community would then persecute those who disagree with them.  Given the events with the baker in Colorado saying that he must make cakes, I can see the concern being warranted.  I am of two minds about this decision.  On the one hand, forcing someone to serve something that goes against their deeply held religious beliefs is wrong.  There are other bakeries who could have served the couple if needed.  On the other hand, the bakery owner's decision was discriminatory and could be seen as akin to refusing to serve an interracial couple or people in a similar situation and as such is illegal.  This is a question where my mind and my feelings are evenly split, so I have trouble making a decision.

The last of the libertarian's comments said that the decision was liberal, not libertarian and that libertarians, while believing that what you do in the privacy of your own home is your business, do not support same-sex marriage (or polygamous unions) because they are a push for special rights.  First, most libertarians I know support same-sex marriage.  In fact, if you go to the Libertarian Party's homepage and do a search for "marriage", the press releases support marriage equality.  Second, I am baffled at how anyone can argue that a push for *CIVIL* marriage equality is a "push for special rights".  There are no "special rights" being asked for.  All that is being sought is for same-sex couples to be on the same plane as different-sex couples.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Some thoughts on Evangelli Gaudium and Rush Limbaugh

On November 26, Pope Francis released a apostolic exhortation entitled Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospelread it here) which was received by some as a radical document.  In fact, Rush Limbaugh devoted a portion (not sure how much off hand) of his November 27, 2013 show to the document.  He (laughably) called the Pope a Marxist and said other things. I'll get back to this a little later.  I did want to post this link which is a reply to Limbaugh before I gave my thoughts about the exhortation and Mr. Limbaugh.

First off, nothing in this document was particularly radical if you are in the least bit acquainted with the social teaching of the Catholic Church.  The Church has always taught, in line with what both the Old and New Testaments teach, that one obligation of all Christians is to care for the poor and weak among us.  In the Old Testament, the Israelites were commanded to care for the poor and widowed (see the book of Ruth). In the New Testament, Jesus often speaks about the need for the care for those who are not as well off (see the parable of the rich man and Lazarus for one example).

Second, Evangelii Gaudium does not deal exclusively with social teaching.  The Pope also deals with church organization, evangelization, enculturation, preaching, ecumenism, and inter-religious dialogue as well.  The document (which is approximately 50,000 words or 224 pages) is nothing new in any regard.  Rather, it is a restatement of old teachings and ideas by a pope who is very focused on social justice and equality.

I had a chance to read the exhortation over the past week and wanted to offer up my own thoughts on the controversial portions.  I am deliberately not going to quote directly from the exhortation, but will instead write a little bit of what I thought about what Pope Francis had to say.  After that, I will compose a short reply to Mr. Limbaugh's laughably pathetic attempt to critique what the pope had to say.

The most quoted parts of the exhortation are from the section entitled "The Social Dimension of Evangelization" (paragraphs 176-258). With a total of 288 paragraphs, this is approximately 28.5% of the total document.  In this section, Pope Francis expounds upon the reasons why we should care for the poor, downtrodden, and powerless.  There are some practical reasons (potential radicalization of the poor) but mostly he talks about how Christians are called to care for everyone among us.  He condemns unrestrained capitalism because it reduces people to commodities and things, thereby diminishing their individual dignity.  This section is the only one Mr. Linbaugh talks about, so I will discuss him at this point.

Mr. Limbaugh says, "If it weren't for capitalism, I don't know where the Catholic Church would be.  Now, as I mentioned before, I'm not Catholic. I admire it profoundly, and I've been tempted a number of times to delve deeper into it. But the pope here has now gone beyond Catholicism here, and this is pure political."  If the first point weren't so sad, I would be laughing really hard right now.  To say that the Church would be no where without capitalism is a statement that is beyond ridiculous.  The Church depends as much on capitalism as I depend on a gynecologist; in other words, not at all.  The Church predates capitalism and has opposed capitalism's excesses for over a century.  As for the last part about the pope going political, the statements that the pope made are (as noted before) a retread of older Catholic social teaching and there is nothing political about it.  As far as the American political spectrum is concerned, the Church lands on different sides of the fence depending on the issue.

Mr. Limbaugh's main problem is that he has a simplistic black and white view of the world.  You are either for the free market, conservative, and "godly" (these quotation marks are mine, not his) policies that he espouses or else you are a socialist/communist/Marxist.  There is no in between for him.  If you think I am exaggerating, please read this:

                                  Now, by the way, in fairness to the pope and in
                                  fairness to the Catholic Church, I will admit that
                                  communism years ago was much easier to see and
                                  identify than it is today. And the obvious evil that was
                                  communism was easy to see. Soviet-sponsored
                                  communism, the gulags, the First World military with
                                  the Third World economy, the blustery behavior of
                                  Soviet Communist Party bosses, the constant Soviet
                                  expansionism into Cuba and Sandinista land and
                                  Nicaragua and everywhere.

                                  Communism today is much more disguised.

                                  Communism today, in large part, is the Democrat Party.
                                  Communism today is in large part the feminist movement.
                                  Communism today is found in most of the AFL-CIO-type
                                  unions. As such, it seems just a political point of view. It's
                                  just an alternative political point of view. It's just the
                                  Democrats, and it's a much tougher thing to identify and
                                  target, because it can be your neighbor. It's not some foreign
                                  country easily identified as "the Evil Empire." Communism
                                  has a much different face today.

                                  Identifying it is, I think, much more difficult today and takes
                                  much more guts to identify it today than in the past.

I don't know about you, but this really scares me.  I don't think I am exaggerating much when I say that this is on the verge of McCarthyism.  In this blog entry, I talked about the danger posed by this sort of uncompromising, myopic point of view.  The sort of thinker who requires a Great Evil in order to validate themselves as part of a Great Good is not someone who is amenable to logical arguments.  Rather, Mr. Limbaugh expounds his ideas with great fervency and expects people to simply follow along with them.  In answer to this, let me provide this link to an article about distributism, which is based on Catholic social teaching and stands in opposition to both capitalism and socialism.

Mr. Limbaugh other main problem is that he has no grasp of Catholic social teaching.  Rather, he simply views this through a political prism without grasping the idea that the Catholic Church cannot be defined by modern political ideologies.  It predates them, and to a large extent, actually transcends them.  To try and analyze the writings of the pope in a political manner is guaranteed to cause problems for the translator.  This has been a part of the problem that many people (myself included) have with the American bishops.  They seem (stress *SEEM*) to want to yoke the Church to the Republican Party or to a conservative ideology which does not work at all.