Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, has been the subject of both adulation and damnation in recent days because of comments he made about homosexuality. All the commentors are focusing on something wrong that someone else has done, without realizing an important truth: everybody is wrong here.
Why Robertson is wrong:
The defense of Robertson holds that he was voicing a traditionally Christian view of homosexuality as sinful. But there’s more to it than that.
Those of us who hold to traditional religious views need to do a better job of making sure it’s clear that we “love the sinner, hate the sin,” and that the sin here is unchaste behavior, not the feelings that prompt them. Maybe we feel that such diplomacy is excessive or unnecessary, but that’s life.
Robertson’s comments–as they’ve been presented publicly by the media, at least–don’t even try to do that.
Worse still, he criticizes homosexuality as “illogical.” A direct quote from the interview in question: “It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
This is stupid. As if sexual preference were the result of a thought process that hadn’t been properly carried out! Perhaps Robertson thinks gay men will read this and say, “Hey! Good point! Now that you’ve pointed that out, I understand. Why, women are more anatomically compatible with men that other men are! By Jove, Mr. Robertson, thank you for showing me the light!”
Robertson made some worthwhile comments about the decline of society’s morality in that interview, but those remarks will never be remembered, because he said this. That’s a shame, and there’s a lesson in that for all of us.
Why Robertson’s conservative defenders are wrong:
The defense of Robertson says that he was expressing his freedom of speech, which is now being abridged. Totally untrue.
His freedom was in full force when he made the statement and the government–somehow, by golly!–did not punish him. That’s what freedom of speech means.
Ironically, every negative consequence Robertson is suffering is a direct result of the free market his defenders likewise defend.
A public audience is using their freedom of speech to protest–peacefully–to a private company, which is exercising its prerogative to handle its staff as it sees fit in order to please its customers.
(Incidentally, I think the A&E network is making a mistake, as this will likely alienate more of its actual customers and sponsors than it stood to lose initially. Unless this is all a stunt to goose viewership when the new season starts, in which case they’re Machiavellian geniuses.)
Freedom of speech means that you get to voice your ideas without fear of physical or legal harm. It does not mean that you are guaranteed a medium or an audience, nor does it mean that you are free from voluntary interactions in the marketplace by others adversely affecting you financially because of them.
Why Robertson’s liberal critics are wrong:
Nietzsche said, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” I think progressives would do well to remember this more often.
Gays have often been bullied, but now, as they ascend ever higher into the ranks of the protected, they need to do better at refraining from inflicting the kind of harm on others that they have suffered.
If it’s ironic that conservatives are complaining that Robertson is a victim of oppression when it’s really just their beloved free market in action, then liberals need to realize that in crusading for the dignity of minorities, they frequently indulge, ironically, in the tempting vices of fascism.
Consider the civil rights movement, to which many pro-gay activists like to compare themselves. For its moral rightness and laudable victories, what exactly have been some of its less-savory legacies among the majority?
Resentment for being endlessly criticized for suspected prejudice. Nervousness about being branded insufficiently tolerant. Zeal from some for scoring brownie points by calling out others for their intolerance.
Much of this is due to the way the racial majority reacted to civil rights, rather than to the movement itself. But the precedent is dangerous.
Would you, if you’re a gay rights supporter, really want to still be living in this environment of resentment, nervousness, and Puritanical witch-hunting 30-40 years from now? If not, then the language and means used to promote your agenda must change, must become less militant and more diplomatic.
Trying to suppress opinions like Robertson’s through stigma will not result in those opinions changing, much less disappearing. In yet another irony, those opinions will fester and deepen. Nobody wants that.
So nobody gets to claim the moral high ground on this one. Not until more of us strive to take the moral high road.