maureenjohnsonbooks has written an excellent essay on homosexuality and Phil Robertson (of Duck Dynasty fame)’s statements about it. Among many other points, I read this one:
But who am I even talking to here? I worry that I simply preach to a choir.
Going against my better judgement, I’m going to self-identify as not part of the choir. That’s not to say I’m at the opposite end of the issue ideologically; I imagine myself to be moderate on issues of sexuality. Of course I agree with you that one’s feelings about sex should never be a matter for criminal law. It is blatantly clear that homosexuals lack rights in many respects solely because there is a thoughtless social bias against them (in America, I especially object to the difficulty of adoptions by same-sex couples). I’ve never seen Duck Dynasty and I know very little of what Phil Robertson has said apart from what was quoted in the essay, but I can say with some confidence that, dear Tumblr essayist, I agree with you more than him.
But, though I fear the repercussions of saying so in front of your choir, I don’t accept all of your logic nor agree with all of your conclusions. You were heard beyond the choir. Even as I offer the following (hopefully unoffensive) critique, I hope you will take it at least in part as a positive thing — you are talking to those on the margins, who might be persuaded by your words.
On to the critique.
In the particular statement he made that you quoted, Robertson lists off a laundry-list of attributes he deems to be sins, from bestiality to adultery to drunkenness to (most bizarrely) idolatry and many others. Obviously, the groups who have these attributes are not identical groups of people and are barely (if at all) correlated. More heterosexuals commit adultery and drink than homosexuals do; why would we imagine that one causes the other? It’s a rather bizarre generalization, and you rightly critiqued it.
What concerns me is that you then went on to generalize in a similar manner, saying:
Gays and lesbians and transfolk and people all along the spectrum of normal human sexuality are literally being put to death around the world today. […] So when you throw down your lot with the “gays are the root of sin!” people, you are throwing wood on a fire that burns high and bright and literally kills people.
Obviously you’re right that many real, human lives are being lost to these horrible injustices around the world. But why do you imagine that Robertson’s claim that homosexuals “won’t inherit the kingdom of God” constitutes throwing down his lot with violence as a criminal punishment and murder as an extrajudicial one? There is surely more than zero overlap between those who opine about what cosmic justice they imagine awaits us after our lives end and those that think they have a right to dish out brutal physical punishments here in this world. I seem to recall some of the Chick-fil-a CEO’s anti-gay “family values” donations made it’s way into the pockets of an anti-gay hate group from such a nation. It happens. But do you have any reason to believe that overlap is standard or typical? Or that Robertson specifically did so, or endorses such things?
There may be no more overlap between those two groups than between homosexuals and alcoholics or between homosexuals and any other trait on Robertson’s list. If so, what difference is there between the logic of your generalization and the logic of his?
FBI statistics reflect that a couple dozen hate crimes are committed against heterosexuals people each year (26 in 2012); ought I imply that you endorse or contribute to those crimes the same way you imply that American “conservative and casual bigots” endorse or contribute to crimes (or unjust criminal laws) against homosexuals? I’d say obviously not.
Of course, the injustice against homosexuals far, far exceeds the injustice against heterosexuals, both in the USA specifically and in the world in general. I’m not claiming there is any similarity in scale, because there is none. I am only claiming a similarity in abstract reasoning. Is that unfair?
Of course you’re right that the “tolerance goes both ways” argument doesn’t apply when one side is not being tolerant. There’s a fascinating debate to be had as to how one ought to act when the other is intolerant. I’d say the high road is to be tolerant anyway as an example and the low road is to be intolerant of intolerance. But if you take the high road and I take the low road, I’ll be in Scotland before ye.
My final complaint, which I offer timidly because I don’t know all of what Robertson has said on the topic which might cast his quote in a different light, is that I don’t see from the quote you provide that Robertson imagines sexual orientation is the root of sin. Certainly, the quote never contains the phrase “root of sin” or the word “root” at all. He does instruct the listener to “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there,” but what specifically is being morphed? I don’t think he is saying that sexuality morphs out from homosexuality to become these other things; how can idolatry, greed, or slander can be called types of sexuality?
He could be imagining a slippery slope resulting from the alteration of social norms to be more accepting. Certainly none of us want a society where all behaviors, no matter how unjust, are tolerated by society. However, I’m sure everyone reading this doubts that’s ever going to happen or, even if it somehow did, that treating homosexuals with respect could possibly cause it. If that is what he meant, he deserves criticism for his slippery slope fallacy, but that’s rather a milder criticism than the accusation that he believes the absurdity that homosexuality is the root of sin.
The impression I personally got from his words is that he, without really having the intellectualism to phrase it clearly, imagines a gradual changing of the mindsets in the abstract. If you take this mindset and give it a human body to control, these kinds of actions will result. And if you change that mindset a little here and there, these different kinds of actions will result. Though he quickly exaggerated it into a laundry list of behaviors he personally opposes, that intellectual concept isn’t all wrong. After all, how many polyamorous people oppose homosexuality? He ignores the line sexual diversity advocates draw between responsible, consensual sex between adults and complete sexual hedonism without rules, limits, or consideration for consequences. For that he needs correction. But before he crosses that line he is describing (with disdain) the same similarities that advocates for those behaviors describe; if we’re all consenting adults, who is it hurting?
Even with all the benefit of the doubt I can possibly give him, he’s still wrong in several important ways. And if I had given you the same benefit of the doubt, I would have almost nothing critical to say about your essay. I recognize that. My point is not to claim he’s more right than you (he’s not), or even (as is usually my intent) to treat both of your arguments equally and see which best endures critical analysis. My goal is to, as much as possible, present an articulate and reasonable argument from outside of your choir. I’d like to see understanding to cross back and forth across the chasm that divides America, and you seemed to want the same. I hope this post, written from my perspective somewhere between yours and his, has helped a little with that.
If not, if I’ve only managed to offend or irritate, I apologize for that.