(Content note: Rape, Duck Dynasty nastiness.)
I keep wondering when right-wing conservative Christians will finally figure out that the Duck Dynasty stars are anything but role models. The men especially are curious exhibits, perhaps, in just how far a fairly normal-looking and -acting family will go to craft a whole new image for themselves to get onto television. Despite constant pretenses about how very, very pious they are, their behavior puts the lie to the idea that “Jesus” has totally cured them of their worldly ways, making me wonder how they ever landed so high up the ladder of esteem among evangelical Christians.
Phil Robertson, the fauxbillies’ patriarch, seems like a highly unlikely prophet to be sure; he gives the impression that he is teetering about 1″ away from a violent rage explosion at all times. If he were a movie character, he would definitely not be one of the good guys, let’s put it that way. He certainly has had some recent legal troubles of his own with his temper, though that in itself wouldn’t disqualify him in an age when evangelicals are known more for their chest-thumping, overreach, hypocrisy, and threats than anything else. When evangelicals’ Jesus carries a machine gun, then a simple barroom brawl shouldn’t bother them.
Even so, I thought his time as the darling of the Religious Right was over when his speeches came to light about how fifteen-year-old girls make the best brides and should be selected on the basis of their domestic skills, piety, and docility. His self-serving disclaimer that men seeking child-brides should “check with mom and dad about that, of course” (I wonder if he did that with his own wife?) was doubtless was meant to pander to ultra-conservative Quiverfull-type Christians, and also to similarly misogynistic men who would agree with him about his stereotyping of women. Not content merely to suggest statutory rape, he went on to insist that 20 years old was really too late for a woman to marry because after that age women who were no longer able to be properly trained by a
master husband; it sounded so incredibly sexist, regressive, and vile that I couldn’t believe that not a single Christian spoke out about it. As that link points out, 15 is actually below the legal age of consent for marriage in his state, so it’s beyond shocking that he even went there, though he may have been campaigning of late to lower the age of consent there to fourteen.
Those speeches came from a few years ago in 2009 from a speech he gave to a Christian group, but they surfaced only days after he got caught (again) on camera making similarly thoughtless, ignorant, and nasty-minded comments about LGBTQ people. He’s way more famous for those; sometimes he gets in trouble for his bigoted, inflammatory remarks, but rarely permanently. Not content to lash out against LGBTQ people and set women’s rights back 50 years, he’s also known for deeply racist remarks; in his opinion, black people were better off before gaining civil rights because none of them actually said anything to him about being unhappy at the time.
Any time any pushback starts to look serious, he can count on his legions of Christian fans to scream about PERSECUTION to keep him atop his soapbox–and even moreso, he can count on them to never find out the shocking truth: nobody cares if they pray. It’s a TV show, and if someone doesn’t like a reality show on TV, there’s this neat device we’ve invented called a remote control to fix that problem. It’s when Phil Robertson and his clan start believing their own press and push themselves into real life that we’ve got a problem with him and his sanctimonious posturing.
There was a time when Duck Dynasty seemed like it was absolutely everywhere, but Christians might finally have collectively realized in the most hilarious way possible that Phil Robertson is doing a great impression of a complete lunatic when he gave a speech at a big Republican convention (CPAC) this year that sounded like the disjointed ramblings of every furiously racist, sexist old great-uncle at every Southern family reunion ever held, all joined into one person. Nonetheless, sometimes he manages to top himself.
A couple of days ago, he done did it again, but in quite possibly the most perverse and disgusting way yet. This time the subject of his ignorant, misdirected ire was atheism. Specifically, he totally doesn’t understand how morality works (emphasis mine):
I’ll make a bet with you. Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, “Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?” Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, “Wouldn’t it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head, have a nice day.” If it happened to them, they probably would say, “Something about this just ain’t right.”
This is quite possibly the most lurid, shocking, lewd, appalling, repellent rape fantasy I have ever heard from a Christian, and you may rest assured I’ve heard some doozies from them. Rape fantasies are one of the weird outgrowths of, well, Rape Culture, itself an offshoot of the Religious Right’s obsession with policing women’s sexuality with demands for “modesty” in dress and behavior. The threat of it is used to control people, especially women, and as women range further and further out of Christianist control, rape threats seem like they are growing more common. Creationists openly wonder why rape is bad if evolution is true; Christianists openly demand the right to rape women if abortion access is unrestricted (and he’s not the only one I’ve personally heard specifically equating freedom to rape with freely-accessible abortion); and on a personal level, I’ve been threatened with demonic rape more times than I can count by weirdly-imaginative Christian men trying to terrorize me into compliance when nothing else they were trying seemed to be working. It’s one of those big guns, the gears we talked about last time, and it’s painfully obvious when it’s used as a manipulation tool.
I bolded the bit about Phil Robertson’s bizarre fantasy castration because of two things: first, it takes a decidedly creepy personal turn there–notice the shift from third-person to second-person? He’s putting himself into the aggressor’s role with that shift and speaking directly to his victims. He’s no longer speaking about some abstract bit of horrific violence; he’s talking about a very intimate abuse, one that he identifies with very closely. It takes someone “sick in the head” to come up with this kind of fantasy with which to illustrate a standard-issue Pascal’s Wager or to make the tired old point about there supposedly being no atheists in foxholes; he sounds downright giddy as he describes a fantasy that he has doubtless recited many times. Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting when a Christian’s shitty analogy-turd has been well-polished, but I’ve never had audio to go along with the text before now; I shuddered at the eager tone clearly present in his voice in that clip. That CNN just put up a profile of an atheist family only adds to the utter creepiness of his fantasy.
Second, this story illustrates the enormous narcissism of his worldview. He asks at the beginning of the clip, “I–I–I don’t know, this conscience thing, I mean, we just–we just dreamed it up!” He sounds all wide-eyed and wondering, all gee-golly-shucks woodja lookitthat, but it’s a ruse and a sham, of course. He offers no evidence for that assertion, which he knows won’t be challenged, but if he’d spent 20 seconds on Google like I just did, he’d know that it isn’t actually true. The human conscience is well-accepted as a product of our evolution as a species. The idea that it can’t have evolved is just something Christianists like him say to justify their constant attempts to control other people’s lives, and it definitely plays well to that crowd; it must be quite flattering to imagine oneself the moral gatekeeper of an entire country. Phil Robertson himself is living proof that Christianity is no guarantee of someone’s goodness, so I don’t know why he thinks that atheists can’t possibly be moral people. As I’ve said before, Christianity itself is completely superfluous to that greater question. Perhaps because he can barely restrain himself from violence and predatory behavior under the threat of eternal torture as it is, he can’t imagine anybody else doing better. And he projects that weakness across to all other men.
For some reason, rape is one of those go-to threats that Christian men reach for, and they all talk like it’s right there under the surface of all men’s minds, held back only by the civilizing touch of Jesus Christ, like if society as a whole loses its faith in “God,” then we can expect to see rape, rape, everywhere as men rampage through the streets raping everything in sight. It’s a logical fallacy called the argument from adverse consequences, meaning that the Christian isn’t actually demonstrating the truth of the religion’s claims but rather making threats about what will happen if disbelief persists. But you can’t force someone to believe something without evidence, and frankly this is one threat we can actually test by looking at crime statistics for secular versus religious states and countries (like this overview does).
Phil Robertson definitely falls into that category of Christian men who use the threat of rape as a weapon. You can see him asking in his own mind the question that he implies in his sickening monologue: If a magic invisible person in the sky doesn’t exist to tell people that rape is bad, then why is it bad? He is just baffled by this question. He just can’t understand why non-Christians don’t rape everything in sight, since nobody is around to tell them by fiat that rape is bad and to threaten them with eternal torture if they do it–except of course when it’s Midianite girls, of course, or slave-women taken in battle or purchased, or child brides handed to husbands in arranged marriages exactly like the one he himself wants to see legalized. (But remember, kids: subjective morality is bad.)
So I thought I’d give him an answer, though he’ll never see my flailing-around through his piles of gullible Christians’ money. I realize I can’t speak for all atheists, let alone all atheist men, but I think I’m on pretty solid ground with this:
Atheist non-rapist men don’t rape everything in sight because they value consent and autonomy, and so they do the right thing by those concepts because it’s the right thing to do, because as a species we’re moving closer and closer to a world where consent and autonomy are valued.
Men in general who do not rape avoid it not because they were ordered thusly by a magic invisible person in the sky but because they have arrived at the realization that it’s wrong to rob others of their consent and autonomy. And Christian men are just as likely to feel that way because good people don’t need to be told by a religion that rape is bad. Decent people don’t even need to be threatened in any way–with prison or with Hell–to keep them from raping anybody. Phil Robertson’s implication that rape becomes totes acceptable in an atheist society is hugely insulting to both atheists as a group and men as a whole, and given his other assertions regarding underaged marriage it’s easy to guess that he doesn’t exactly care about consent and autonomy much. It’s also very weird for him to assert that atheist societies would engender the scenario he’s outlined given Christianity’s recent–and constant–scandals around sex abuse and rape.
But we can learn from his outburst. There is every indication that atheists and religious people alike may not be all that different in how they behave, only in how they conceptualize morality. But we also know that a parenting model based around physical punishment (and the threat of it) produces kids and adults with serious challenges emotionally and even mentally. I can tell you that about all that model did for me was to teach me to be extra-sneaky when disobeying; it didn’t actually make me more self-sufficient in adulthood, nor better able to regulate myself. Those were skills I had to pick up at great cost much later after leaving home. So I’m going to say that religion is superfluous–there are evil Christians and very good atheists aplenty–but a punitive mindset trained to expect and dole out punishment–one that internalizes and normalizes violence and threats–might have much more to do with how truly good a person is.
If you let people tell you who they are, they will.
The trick is listening to them when they do, and then heeding the warnings they might be giving.
I’m bringing all this unpleasantness up today because Phil Robertson is the current chosen hero of the Religious Right, the person (and family, by extension) they think embodies their values and expresses their core beliefs. He may be the perfect mascot for that type of Christianity, but he’s also one of the most malignant symptoms of its disease. I wonder how many more of these rants this violent, sad, angry bigot will need to issue before his adoring fanbase starts to understand what damage he is doing to their entire religion’s credibility. As it is, he is the perfect mascot for the worst type of Christianity, and it’s strange to me that more Christians don’t realize what they’re saying about their religion when they’ve created a culture and ideology that nurtures and produces people like him. I’m very glad to have escaped that whole horrible environment.
PS: I didn’t know the Duck Dynasty business was selling special bird whistles for hunters to use to try to convince ducks to want to have sex with them, so for the longest time I thought Phil Robertson was sucking his thumb in all of his promotional photos. I mean, whatever, if he’s happy, right? But it was still very weird to see this guy giving a sour, nasty, tough-dude, mad-dog 1000-yard glare while he was sucking his thumb.