This week we witnessed the very sudden decline and fall of Milo Yiannopoulos as an interview he gave in which he praised pederasty came to light, and the curious spectacle of pro-life/pro-family leaders standing up to defend him in public.
I want to open by saying that I actually have sympathy for Milo. My reasons for this are very simple: he is a human being. As my sister put it, “nobody should stand outside the circle of sympathy.” So long as a person is living, we should always strive to see what is good in them – not by ignoring or condoning what is evil, but by remembering that we are called to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Christ is pretty clear about what He means by this: when the Pharisee asks Him “Who is my neighbour,” He tells a story about a Good Samaritan. The Samaritans were people of an Abrahamic faith that diverged from mainstream Judaic tradition; as such they were despised by the Jews in Christ’s time. It would be rather as if someone today asked “Who is my neighbour?” and in response they were told a story about Muslims helping to rebuild a Christian church. Christ’s point, which He makes explicit elsewhere, is that your neighbour is everyone, including your enemy. (cf. Matt 5:44)
So Milo is my neighbour, and I have to look on his faults the way that I would look on my own. Have I ever thought it was funny to be cruel to another person? Yes. Have I ever behaved rudely towards people who I saw as ideological enemies? Well, yeah. Have I ever acted out of internalized homophobia? I have. Have I taken delight in causing scandal? Uh huh. Have I ever hated others because I could not accept myself? Yeah, that too.
Can I sympathize with Milo Yiannapolous? I would be kidding myself if I said no.
So there is something potentially noble about pro-life leaders pointing out that actually, yes, Milo is a beloved child of God and not an avatar of pure evil, and we should pray for him and hope that one day he will join us in the pews.
The problem is, it comes across as a little…shall we say, hypocritical when the people in question are willing to give a right-wing provacateur all the benefit of the doubt in the world, while at the same time visibly relishing the discomfiture that he and his ilk cause to those on the left. It just doesn’t quite seem like a consistent standard of “love of neighbour” so much as it seems like tribalism.
This inconsistency outs itself in the types of defense that are offered. For example, Austin Ruse takes the very familiar “tu quoque” approach, deflecting criticism of Milo by asking why the Left is “suddenly” concerned about pederasty (as if we were previously totally fine with it) when “intergenerational” relationships are common in the gay community.Ruse writes, “We bracket and disapprove of his private life, but recognize that on issues important to Christian conservatives, Milo is practically one of us.”
Why the willingness to overlook Milo’s faults? Ruse isn’t even subtle about it: “Christian conservatives like Milo for a whole host of reasons. Chief among them is that he fights back and does not play by the Marquess of Queensbury rules, something hitherto required of the right but not the left. The hideous left has captured college campuses and shouted down any voices opposing them. Milo does not put up with that. He punches back.”
In other words, Milo is given a pass not because the right recognizes a universal right to love and compassion, but rather because he socks it to the left. Those who suffer from Milo’s bullying, like the women who he attacked during the GamerGate controversy, or the trans woman who he personally mocked at UW Milwaukee, are left outside the circle of sympathy. Milo is allowed in not because he is a human being, but because he is “practically one of us.”
This kind of double-standard makes the defense of Milo into a scandal. Instead of being an edifying reminder that we all stand in need of mercy and compassion, it becomes a stinging revelation of just how deeply culture war loyalties can deform the witness of the traditional pro-family movement.
Addendum: This piece as originally published included a reference to Janet Smith. On further consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that Smith’s position is much more in line with genuine compassion than with factionalist rhetoric and my decision to reference her was prompted, at least in part, by the kind of tribalist impulses that I’m trying to push back against. My apologies.
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