The fatuous foolishness of the Manhattan Declaration

I had meant to conclude with a final post on this subject reserved simply for laughing at the Manhattan Declaration and the comical preening of its pompous prose.

 It provides a hilarious, real-world example of the kind of wince-inducing misplaced self-importance and lack of perspective that I've always enjoyed when it's performed by people like Ricky Gervais or Rowan Atkinson or Steve Coogan. The document begins with the authors comparing themselves to those who defended Christendom against the onslaught of "barbarian tribes." Then they declare themselves the heirs of John Wesley and William Wilberforce and compare themselves to all those who suffered injustice during the long struggle for civil rights. And they're still just warming up on their primary subject — their righteous courage and courageous righteousness. By the end of the document, they're presenting themselves, without qualification or perspective, as a combination of Augustine, Aquinas and Martin Luther King Jr. and comparing their document to King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" — blissfully disregarding the ways in which a "Press Release from the National Press Club" isn't quite the same thing.

20090911-EggPan Their own awesomeness is a topic the authors address with relentless relish. Everything else in the document is merely a foil for this central subject. The threat of The Gay is grave, ominous and potentially world-altering, they warn, repeatedly, before reassuring us that their heroic resolve and moral superiority will save the day. Even the passages in which they luxuriate in their own massive humility are saturated with this swaggering self-regard.

This all-consuming self-absorption coupled with an utter lack of self-awareness plays like something from a Christopher Guest movie. I'm only half-convinced at this point that Robert George is even a real person and not a Fred Willard improv run amok. The authors possess that same remarkable knack for straight-faced seriousness while making uproariously ridiculous assertions.

And at one level it's impossible to view these pretentious peacocks, these Malvolios grimacing and strutting in their yellow stockings, without succumbing to the derisive laughter they deserve. Such self-inflation demands deflation. And anyway it can't be helped. I mean, just listen to them:

We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence.

The whole thing is like that — like a bad parody of the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V. Except of course that Henry was outnumbered. Here instead we have a group of powerful elites, men at the center of political, cultural, academic and ecclesiastical privilege bemoaning their oppression at the hands of the homosexuals and religious minorities they claim run the world. They are overlords posing as underdogs. (It's hard out there for a pope.)

And while that's ridiculous, it's not really funny. The claim of oppression is laughably bogus, but the blood on their hands is all too real. A parody of the St. Crispin's Day speech has comic potential, but a parody of the St. Crispin's Day speech as delivered by the pilot of the Enola Gay is too bitterly callous even for my bleak taste in comedy.

So ultimately, even though we're being treated to grand examples of the Blowhard Fool — a comic type that dates back before Plautus — this isn't funny. And formally, structurally, we're dealing with tragedy. There is no resolution, no reconciliation, no marriage. (Shakespearean shorthand: Tragedy means everyone dies; comedy means everyone gets married.) Indeed, the whole production here is an explicit rejection of the possibility of reconciliation and an adamant denial of marriage. So this isn't comedy. We can't help but laugh at these tragic clowns, but the laughter has a bitter aftertaste.

The important thing here, though, is to recognize why these buffoons have embraced this buffoonery. Their silliness is not a sideshow. The pompousness is the purpose. The fatuousness is the function. This is, as the kids on the Internets like to say, a feature, not a bug.

The anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-religious minority Manhattan Declaration is not primarily about opposing any of those things. That's all just collateral damage. The primary purpose of the Manhattan Declaration, its raison d'etre, is to help the authors and signatories convince themselves that they're better than everyone else. The ridiculous, overweening pride is what it's for.

Chuck Colson, Robert George and Timothy George are blitzed out of their minds on the drug of smug. They're hard-core umbrage junkies, snorting offendedness, mainlining grievance, freebasing uncut self-righteousness.

This is your brain on smug. Just say no.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/syfr syfr

    NRH, the Episcopal Church has open communion, so they shouldn’t mind you receiving (if I did my research right). And the official position on transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or remembrance, is “We have no official position on that.” I find this amazing, and happy-making.
    I drifted out of the Catholic church over about 5 years, and when I moved and started looking for a new church, ended up in the local Episcopalian church. If you’d like to talk or email with me, you can reach me at syfr 0 AT juno DDOOTT com, minus the anti-spam features.

  • truth is life

    syfr: Indeed, Episcopals have open communion (I’ve gone to one irregularly for the last ~6 years, so I should know). As long as you’re baptized, no problem (and even if you weren’t, I’ve never seen anyone *ask*)

  • Michael Cule

    “Semolina Pilchard” I believe. Semolina is the stuff that they make pasta out of but was probably better known to Brits of Lennon’s generation as the base for a form of milk pudding.
    I agree that it does sound like a name now you mention it though to me it means a sea monster made out of a pasty-powdery substance… (I mean it would have to be a GIANT pilchard if it were going to have any chance of climbing the Eiffel Tower…)

  • Not Really Here (who needs finish writing posts before she posts them)

    @syfr- NRH, the Episcopal Church has open communion, so they shouldn’t mind you receiving (if I did my research right).
    Yes, I know, I was talking about the Catholic Church. I’ll put your e-mail in my contacts. Thanks.

  • Dash

    NRH: I’m not really changing my religion, I’m just changing the organization I practice it with.
    Well said! And, as others have said, very best wishes as you make the change.
    Rebecca: Likewise, while JKR never mentions this and it is therefore not canon, it’s in my head (personal canon) that Harry sees his cousin Dudley bringing his kid to Platform 9 3/4.
    Perfect!

  • Leum

    Likewise, while JKR never mentions this and it is therefore not canon, it’s in my head (personal canon) that Harry sees his cousin Dudley bringing his kid to Platform 9 3/4.

    She’s nixed the idea in interviews/answering fan questions. But she also makes the ludicrous claim that Neville and Luna don’t get married, so I’d take what she says with a grain of salt.

  • Rebecca

    Oh, she nixed it? I was not aware. Ah well, still headcanon.

  • http://mikailborg.livejournal.com/ MikhailBorg

    Head canon is frequently preferable to official canon. After all, we know there was no fifth Trek movie, and certainly not a second or third Matrix movie. And as has been noted before, whatever Lucas is claiming these days, Han Shot First.
    As far as the auditor is confirmed: others have touched on this, but I’ll choose to think that I’ve had enough effect on other people’s lives that retconning me out would involve a lot more work than just changing my life story. Without hubristically claiming that my effect was always good, I feel I can justifiably state that I’ve had a major effect on the lives of my parents, my sister, my first wife, NurseCat, multiple people I’ve held deep, long-lasting romantic or friendly relationships with, the members of Starfleet role-play chapter USS Yeager – I could go on. NurseCat insists that I have saved lives through her, as she says I kept her from coming apart and failing nursing school.
    And that’s one of the reasons there’s not much I’d change about myself. Oh, I wouldn’t mind being better looking or wealthier, but most people wouldn’t. I’d love the Extreme Cosplay power of being able to switch out to other bodies for the duration of the convention masquerade, but the Auditor wasn’t offering that :)

  • Ryan

    I’d make two exact duplicates of Earth–one with nobody who identified as “conservative”, and one with nobody who identified as “liberal”. Let ‘em run for a hundred years or so, then come back and see how they look.
    That sounds like the Global Change Game experiment: http://www.asap-spssi.org/pdf/asap43.pdf
    (This project has obvious ethical problems–for one thing, what did all those poor moderates do to deserve being cooped up with only one side’s worth of True Believers?)
    Why not just put them all on a third Earth, as a control group?

  • http://mikailborg.livejournal.com/ MikhailBorg

    Well, if we put them on Third Earth, they’ll have to deal with Mumm-Ra. But maybe the Thundercats would be willing to help out.

  • LoneWolf

    Lee Ratner: I want to start be preemptively asking people to please not compare Christian fundamentalists to the Pharisees, who were very honorable scholars.
    I can’t tell if this is sarcasm, but I’ll just state the obvious and say that Pharisees were the only class of people Jesus went out of His way to insult. He obviously didn’t consider them very honorable…

  • MadGastronomer

    LoneWolf, I somehow doubt that Lee cares very much about the opinion of Jesus, and indeed I suspect that his whole point was to disagree with the view of the Pharisees presented in the New Testament.

  • truth is life

    @MadGastronomer: Isn’t Lee Jewish? I seem to recall there being at least one regular Jewish poster, but I can’t remember who it is.

  • MadGastronomer

    @truth is life: That’s my understanding, yes.

  • chris y

    If I was Jewish, I wouldn’t take kindly to somebody dissing the intellectual tradition (Pharisaism) which was foundational to my tradition either. I think Jesus’ relationship with the Pharisees was fairly complex. Some people suggest he was a dissident Pharisee himself; Paul almost certainly was. The point is that for most of Jesus’ ministry outside Jerusalem, the Pharisees were about the only coherent opponents he was likely to encounter, so the gospels do go on about them a bit. But my reading is that he was always arguing with individuals who in his view took their legalistic approach too far, not writing off the whole tradition as bankrupt.

  • http://lyorn.livejournal.com/ inge

    Jason: My friend started going to my Episcopal church with me and just the fact that he’s attending a Prostestant church is causing friction in his family.
    I don’t think that would have caused anything less than flying dishes, yelling, screaming, cursing and someone getting kicked to the curb in most catholic families I knew. Not least because the priest would have gone on about it in his next sermon, and the family would have wanted to appear as having done their best to stop this abomination from occuring.
    I hope the “friction” for your friend stays below that!

  • http://www.mockwriting.com/ Michael Mock, Sensei of the Slacktidojo and self-appointed member of the Cabal of Antichrists

    @ Mikhailborg – ::laughs:: Well, they’re moderates, right? Put ‘em on Middle Earth instead!

  • Jason

    @inge-
    I don’t think that would have caused anything less than flying dishes, yelling, screaming, cursing and someone getting kicked to the curb in most catholic families I knew. Not least because the priest would have gone on about it in his next sermon, and the family would have wanted to appear as having done their best to stop this abomination from occuring.
    I hope the “friction” for your friend stays below that!

    Yes, there has been no violence or abuse or anything like that and he is still in good standing with the family. His mom is pretty understanding but his dad is just not at all supportive. He told me that he had a few conversations with his dad on the Catholic church’s position on various issues asking “Where in the Bible is this idea supported?” and his dad just kind of hemmed and hawed and didn’t have a good answer other than “It’s in there somewhere” and “Taking the Eucharist at a Protestant church is not the same as doing it at a Catholic one.”
    His dad does strike me as someone whose bad side you don’t really want to be on. I am one of his friends that his dad likes, so I try to be as polite as possible to keep it that way.

  • Not Really Here (who is actually a fictional character, and therefore cannot really be posting here)

    Jason- your friend’s father would do well to get Karl Keating’s book, “Catholicism and Fundamentalism”, if he wants to do the arguing right. And also pie. Pie is the fuel and lubricant of reasoned debate, particularly of the theological variety.
    No, really. I once faced down a pair of JW “pioneers”, I think that’s what they call them (one was a good friend, and she didn’t tell me she was bringing her partner along, so I was double-teamed) armed only with a Bible, some notes I made from an apologetics manual, and pie*. And the Bible I used was a NWT. A good time was had by all.
    *I have found Key Lime pie to be particularly efficacious when debating Jehovah’s Witnesses. Peach or sweet potato would probably be best for Southern Baptists. I would use cherry for anyone north of the Mason-Dixon line. Apple is a good general-purpose debating pie, but apple is my least favorite pie. I welcome any input regarding debating over blueberry, blackberry, raspberry or lemon meringue.

  • Tricksterson, Commander of the Evil Clown Brigade, Keeper of the Death Sheep and Minion of MG

    Michael Cule: Sort of a piscine version of the Stay Puff Marshmellow Man.
    NRH: Any position on pecan? I suspect that would be a good Southern pie as well.

  • Jeff

    [[Isn't Lee Jewish? I seem to recall there being at least one regular Jewish poster, but I can't remember who it is.]]
    Lee is certainly Jewish, as is aunursa, who posts sporadically.

  • Not Really Here (shuddering in terror at the thought of being forced to eat pecan pie)

    Tricksterson- I’m deathly allergic to tree nuts, so pecan would be out of the question AFIC.

  • KellyK

    I love blackberry pie and will debate anything at all with you if I can have some.

  • Aaron

    “Suppose you are approached by an auditor of reality, who informs you that due to a clerical error you were born with the wrong race/gender/sexual orientation/etc. The auditor has no choice but to correct this error immediately, but by way of compensation will offer you a one-time lump sum payment. Knowing that from now on, people will deal with you as if you are and always have been your new race/gender/sexual orientation/etc, but that you will retain all your current skills and capabilities, how much do you feel would be a sufficent compensation?”
    The auditor’s corpse.

  • http://xaonon.dyndns.org Jim

    And whoever said that socio-economic class was more important than any of the above factors has understood the British mindset perfectly…
    Ironically, I’m American. ;)

  • http://1morefilmblog.com Kenneth R. Morefield

    For some reason I’ve been humming Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers all day…maybe it could be a Manhattan theme song?
    Well I won’t back down
    No I won’t back down
    You can stand me up at the gates of hell
    But I won’t back down
    No I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around
    And I’ll keep this world from draggin me down
    gonna stand my ground
    … and I won’t back down
    Chorus:
    (I won’t back down…)
    Hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out
    (and I won’t back down…)
    hey I will stand my ground
    and I won’t back down

  • Rebecca

    Lee is certainly Jewish, as is aunursa, who posts sporadically.
    So’m I. :)

  • hapax

    “Taking the Eucharist at a Protestant church is not the same as doing it at a Catholic one.”
    I once read an essay about whether Episcopalians should be permitted to participate in the Eucharist at a church with whom the Episcopalians were not in communion (assuming, of course, that said church was open to non-members receiving).
    The conclusion was that such was not required, but permissible, “if performed as an expression of devotion to the unity of the Church as the Body of Christ.”
    Your friend might wish to try that lovely phrase on his father.

  • Tricksterson, Who’s now very sorry he ever brought up the subject of pecan pies to NRH

    The granting of pretty much any pie but rhubarb wil get me to agree with your position.

  • Chris

    “That reminds me–whatever happened to all those aggrieved Irreplaceable Pillars of Society and Industry(tm) who were going to bring America to its knees by “Going Galt”? Did they leave quietly and we just failed to notice the unstoppable collapse of civilization?”
    They realized that they have to build their fancy cities and clean their own houses if they don’t have poor people, so they came back.

  • Tonio

    I think Jesus’ relationship with the Pharisees was fairly complex. Some people suggest he was a dissident Pharisee himself; Paul almost certainly was. The point is that for most of Jesus’ ministry outside Jerusalem, the Pharisees were about the only coherent opponents he was likely to encounter, so the gospels do go on about them a bit. But my reading is that he was always arguing with individuals who in his view took their legalistic approach too far, not writing off the whole tradition as bankrupt.
    I have another theory. The New Testament was first written in Greek, and perhaps those authors had little or no knowledge of Jewish intellectual traditions. They could have run across a reference to the Pharisees in a contemporary Jewish account and not understood the context. The group that Jesus was criticizing may not have been Pharisees in general but an extremist subset or a breakaway faction. Sort of how Americans use “Yankee” to refer to New Englanders but people in other nations assume that the term refers to all US residents.
    I want to start be preemptively asking people to please not compare Christian fundamentalists to the Pharisees, who were very honorable scholars.
    Valid point. I suspect that the motive for the comparison is simply to emphasize the dramatic difference between what Jesus taught and what fundamentalism seems to teach.

  • Tricksterson, Who hasn’t been able to come up with anything clever to put here

    Kenneth R. Morefield: I suspect that Tom Petty is not on the framers of the Declaration’s list of approved music. I suspect even more strongly that Mr. Petty would have objections to his work being used by them.

  • The Right Hon’ Mouse

    So, thought experiment….
    Race: I hope this doesn’t sound horribly racist and shallow (and please, knock me on the head if it does, because I am committed to checking my privilege), but I always secretly wished I could be Asian. (Whitey McWhiteboy here.) Just because Asian boys have the cute androgynous thing going so well, and I really aspire to that image. I wanna be a bishounen, dammit. I’ve never been keen on secondary sexual characteristics being particularly prominent. For the same reason, I’d probably be uncomfortable being a black guy, unless I could be a skinny nerdy-looking one; in my experience, black people pass as androgynous less well. Soyeah.
    Also, if it involves a change of culture as well– there are some cultures I’d just instinctively feel a lot happier in than others (always liked being part of a more village-y/rural culture like the one I grew up in and wouldn’t have minded being raised as some kind of Icelandic fisherman or nomadic warrior-boy or something*; inner cities creep me out on a qualia-based level), so that would really depend on the race.
    I’d lose a chunk of privilege for changing race because, like I said, white boy, but the only people I care to hang out with in meatspace are a bunch of genderqueer polyamorous nerds who wouldn’t care, and I stand out anyway because I choose to (I wear cat-ear hats and rainbow clothing in public), so what I’d mainly worry about would be my ability to live a cushy life. Which I’d be able to guarantee, with the money, so no big.
    Sex: I’d rather not be female because I would hate hate hate the disrespect and rape threats and “little-woman” talking down I’d get from random guys at cons.
    Sexual orientation: I’m bi, and I like it that way. I really would not want to be limited in my ability to appreciate half the human race.
    Fact is, though, I’d put myself through just about anything (short-term) for enough money to live on comfortably, and support my SO on, for the rest of our natural lives.
    *Yes, I realise this isn’t as romantic as it sounds, but if you’d been raised that way, you wouldn’t find it nearly so tough, I’d imagine. And I wouldn’t mind having been raised with the expectation that I’d be useful; I was kind of coddled as a kid, and I think it’s made me lazy.

  • Lori

    Some non-gay focused Christians have gotten together and come up with a response to the Manhattan Declaration—The Affirmation Declaration.
    http://www.affirmationdeclaration.org/

  • Timotheus

    Gays want to get married and I want Hydrogen to be Helium.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Lee Ratner: I agree with Topher, most of the rank and file evangelicals and fundamentalists consider themselves to really be persecuted.
    …And when they can’t find enough scary humans to believe are persecuting them, some of them start insisting that the Legions of Hell are physically manifesting on Earth to harass them.
    — Consumer Unit 5012
    So you’ve encountered some of the weirder “Spiritual Warfare” fanboy interpretations, CU5012?
    It’s just a supernatural version of Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory, which seems to infect a LOT of Christians these days.
    Actually, somebody on the Web (maybe long ago on this very blog) put it this way:
    “They feel Persecuted because they’re not being allowed to Persecute everyone else.”

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Wait, “finite but unlimited” ? How does that work? — Bugmaster
    Probably along the same lines as “Fake but accurate.”
    There’s a reason my burned-out preacher of a writing partner has to do his “DON’T GO STUPID ON ME!” sermon a LOT these days…

  • hf, Supreme High Lamb-y Dragon-y Person of Christians for the Antichrist

    Gays want to get married and I want Hydrogen to be Helium.
    You can see that daily. (rimshot)

  • hapax

    A day without fusion is like a day without sunshine!

  • http://www.trans-cendence.blogspot.com Joann Prinzivalli

    I have drafted a Christian response to the Manhattan Declaration, which I uploaded to my blog at http://www.trans-cendence.blogspot.com
    I am disappointed that so many have been duped by the insidious yet seductive writing of Princeton professor Robert P. George, who, among other things, is the board chair of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a group whose objective is to deny legal recognition of civil rights to minority groups.
    The entire structure of the Manhattan Declaration fails. It is not Christian but is Christianist. It ignores the beautiful scripture-based doctrine that we are ensouled at birth when we take our first breath, the doctrine on which the symbolism of the Sacrament of Baptism is based. It completely ignores the culture of death represented by capital punishment and war, while elevating the status of the blueprint and the foundation to the status of the competed and inhabited house.
    It ignores the messages of 1 Samuel 18, Isaiah 56, Matthew 19:12, and Acts 8.
    It ignores the religious freedom of anyone other than those whose beliefs coincide with those of the author, or are fully compatible in the areas addressed by the document. While it acknowledges the sincerity of those who disagree, it is clear that we disagree at our peril, since the author makes it clear that the persecution will continue.

  • http://www.zvv91.nl/Members/MassageTherapySchools Abner

    Hey. The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it. Help me! I find sites on the topic: Local massage therapy schools. I found only this – halifax. Massage therapy schools, if any of these have caused your town, include your illness, usually that your capacity eases with one of these same private exercises. Connecting the salon for discipline of suitable copy disorders was the way of the us national center for complementary and alternative medicine, massage therapy schools. Thanks :-). Abner from Chile.

  • http://www.lgl.lu/LGL/Members/Mephisto Haldis

    Hi guys. Never be a cynic, even a gentle one. Never help out a sneer, even at the devil. Help me! Looking for sites on: Mephisto inserts. I found only this – mephisto debbie. Mary jane described to need after her kind, but was ordered by her dangerous level, jonathan caesar, mephisto. Mephisto, since liszt well began three or four tons a tights in income, it could be original to kill that he gave in colleague somehow over a thousand friendships during this popular assassination. With love :-), Haldis from Estonia.

  • citizen kane

    the constitution is under attach and so are the rights of the very religious people and their beliefs and that of our forefathers. The very people who came to America for religious freedom of expression. The religious belief that gives the gay community the love and patience of true christianity is the religion that has become the one NOT tolerated at all!!, and if indeed there is a “new world religion” i assure you it will not resemble Christianity at all. It is not arrogance but faith that gives the Christian assurance. ” Vengence is Mine says the Lord”, the job of the Christian is to love the enemy. As a citizen however it is the job of an American to make sure the freedom to worship in not infringed. If the Goverment has anything to do with it no one will have any freedom including the gays we will all be fair game to a Marxist “NEW WORLD ORDER” be careful what you wish for you just might get it!!

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    man what
    …Okay, after re-reading Citizen Kane there a few times, I _think_ I get what they’re trying to say, which is something like “Gays will Destroy Christianity!!!@!one!”.
    And if he,she, or it seriously thinks the Communist US Government is going to outlaw Real True Christianity, s/h/it has just recently escaped from a cryogenic chamber built in 1956.

  • Launcifer

    CU5012: I’m still trying to work out when the Marxists hijacked Bush Snr’s New World Order. Did they do so from its very inception? Was Bush Snr secretly a Trott? And anyway, Citizen Kane clearly states that the constitution is under attach. Perhaps the poster in question has thoughtfully included a copy either on the reverse of the post or below the fold, as it were?

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Let’s see if I can still do this…
    Well, a lot of Bush’s advisers (the group later known as the “Neo-Cons” when they advised Bush the Lesser) were in fact “former” Trotskyites, therefore the Marxism was woven into the DNA of our Hideously Oppressive Government(tm) as far back as Bush-1′s term as Reagan’s VP, where despite Blessed Saint Ronnie’s devotion to the Free Market(tm), obviously the seeds of the oppressive One World Government were already being planted at the behest of their shadowy puppetmasters, the American Milk Solids Council.
    (I used to be a big fan of conspiracy theories, before BushCo. Discovering that there really is a small cabal of rich, powerful evildoers who control everything–and that they’re a bunch of IDIOTS–kind of sucked the fun out of it.)

  • http://www.shoxshoes.cc/ Nike Shox Rivalry

    The weather is changeable, invariable forever forever love, let light wind is brushed, warm sunshine exhaustion of you pass my sincere blessings every day happy, concomitant! Through the happiness!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X