Changing the Subject– When Principles are Caricatured as Prejudice

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One of the classic ways to either change the subject or stop a conversation is by labeling something mere prejudice. The conversation then changes if the speaker believes they are being shamed into being quiet. Indeed, often the conversation just stops. For example, when someone objects to some aspects of gay or lesbian or transgender sexual behavior, which for thousands of years has been critiqued as forms of sexual immorality by all sorts of intelligent people (doctors, lawyers, ministers, scientists, teachers in all sorts of cultures in all sorts of countries), the modern way to stop such a critique is to ridicule it, or call it mere bigotry or prejudice on a par with racism or chauvinism of various sorts. Never mind that sexual behavior is one issue, discrimination on the basis of a person’s mere skin color another, and these two issues are not commensurate. Whatever one’s views on this subject of sexual morality, this whole approach of using labeling and shaming is the opposite of reasoned discussion or meaningful dialogue. And of course if the critiques continue, then the next step is labeling something a hate crime and then prosecuting people. Again, this reflects the death of real dialogue, never mind the death of freedom of speech, even within reasonable bounds. But there is another way to stop a conversation that we see all too often— by calling something ‘unAmerican’ or against the rights given us by our Founding Fathers, and thus an anti-American prejudice.

Take the issue of gun control. If you are an advocate of reasonable gun control laws (e.g. against private citizens owning military grade weapons, munitions, tanks, bazookas etc.) you are simply labelled someone who is trying to take away other people’s Constitutional or Bill of Rights privileges. But in fact, if you are a student of our history you will know that the discussion on the topic of what the phrase ‘a well ordered militia’ meant went through some evolution during the life time of our first Presidents. It was one thing to talk about the colonists being legally warranted to arm themselves against the tyranny of a foreign power that wanted taxation without representation, it was another thing, once the revolutionary war was well behind us to hear, for example, what Thomas Jefferson says on the matter. For example, consider this quote from a letter he wrote in 1822—-

“Private associations… whose magnitude may rival… and jeopardize the march of regular government [may become] necessary [in] the case where the regular authorities of the government [combine] against the rights of the people, and no means of correction [remains] to them but to organize a collateral power which, with their support, might rescue and secure their violated rights. But such is not the case with our government. We need hazard no collateral power which, by a change of its original views and assumption of others we know not how virtuous or how mischievous, would be ready organized and in force sufficient to shake the established foundations of society and endanger its peace and the principles on which it is based.” –Thomas Jefferson to J. Morse, 1822. (emphasis added by me).

In other words, the current claims by either vigilante militia groups (for example like the one that took over a statement wildlife refuge in Oregon recently), or by conspiracy theorists concerned about our current government, or by gun owners binging on fear and believing the Constitution or Bill of Rights endorses their possession of any and all kinds of firearms to protect themselves, have badly misread the intentions of Jefferson and others who wrote our founding documents. We are not in a situation that is analogous to the period of and immediately after the Revolutionary War. We don’t really need to form a new well-order militia to fight off our governing powers. Indeed, our governing powers are often so inept, that they pose no threat at all. And in any case, an isolated individual with a beef with the government does not constitute a group called ‘a well order militia’. Most sensible Americans recognize that what Jefferson and others was talking about is not what the N.R.A is advocating these days when it comes to gun control laws. It just isn’t.

There is no evidence at all that the government is trying to take away our ‘first amendment rights’ when it comes to this issue. There is also no evidence that the N.R.A represents the majority of Americans when it comes to gun control or has the support of that majority of Americans to take the stand that they have continually taken, even in the wake of recent massacres at schools and movie theaters. The polls are pretty clear. Most U.S. citizens are in favor of more gun control….. as is also overwhelmingly the case of law enforcement officials.

The point of this post is this—- reasonable people can disagree on what constitutes moral sexual activity and what counts as reasonable gun control. If we want to actually act intelligently about such matters we should have meaningful discussions, not posturing, not using pejorative language like ‘prejudice’ or ‘unAmerican’, or the like. Come, let us reason together. Maybe we’ve misunderstood what our Founding Fathers had in mind. Maybe we’ve even equivocated on what the Bible says about sexual immorality. In any case, it is the truth about these matters that needs to be discerned, and that cannot happen if all we are doing is shouting at each other, or foreclosing meaningful discussion. The truth, may be inconvenient, but I’m reliably told it will set us free— eventually.

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