There’s this TV show about rich backwoods hicks with ZZ Top beards. It’s called “Duck Dynasty.” They own a successful hunting-goods company of some kind and they’re rich but they dress and groom themselves like any bunch of rednecks you’d see at any Southern Wal-Mart in the United States. They are, of course, extremely Christian in that ostentatious way that only ignorant white people can possibly be extremely Christian. Like most ignorant white Christians, they are, moreover, super-duper right-wing in their politics as well. They pray a lot in their shows and make a big deal of their religion. Apparently they stomp around the woods a lot trying to convince ducks to have sex with them with special duck calls and they love them some guns. We have just covered every single thing most people knew about this show until the last few days. (UPDATE follows at the end of this piece.)
Christians imagine that this show’s stars’ ostentatious display of Christianity makes non-Christians “persecute” the show and want it censored. I’ve never heard such calls for censorship from non-Christians, but it’s a favorite myth among their fans. Various urban legends abound about how non-Christians are campaigning to get the stars to quit praying on the air or about how infidels and heathens want the Christian message to be toned down. In reality, none of these legends are true. I’ve never heard such a call from non-Christians either–most folks don’t like the show’s premise so (and this is the shocking bit) they don’t watch it.
Embarrassingly for the show’s subjects, the real reason for one of these false stories surfaced fairly quickly: the stars wanted more money, so the show was held up a little while so they could negotiate further. Not that their slavering fans really care much about the truth or reality–the forwards going around even after the shocking revelation of the truth were all about asking fellow Christians to pray that those evil network executives didn’t change the show’s showboating Christian character or take it off the air because clearly demons were assaulting one of the few bastions of Christian values around.
With all that in mind, we can now take a look at what happened recently. One of the main stars of the show, Phil Robertson, gave a really appalling interview to a magazine in which he put homosexuality in the same category as bestiality and adultery and declared that he didn’t think gay people deserved full rights because he didn’t like the mental picture he got from the idea of gay men having sex. Oh, and all sins come from basic homosexuality.
He also went on at length about how slavery and the super-racist Deep South of the Civil Rights Era weren’t that bad at all really–he didn’t remember seeing any black people complaining, so obviously that meant there was nothing for them to complain about–along with a gratuitous implication that all this “entitlement” and “welfare” he thinks minorities get has clearly backfired and made them deeply “ungodly” and unhappy:
I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field. … They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ — not a word! Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.
But we kind of expect this kind of shocking racism from somebody who is this deeply entrenched in the right-wing fundagelical mindset–remember, we’ve talked recently about the rather surprising links between ultra-right-wing Christianity and white supremacist thinking. People are concentrating more on the anti-gay bigotry than the racism, though to me both things are expressions of the same outraged sense of diminished privilege that roils all through evangelicalism’s muddy waters.
To nobody’s real surprise, the network’s owner, A&E, removed this particular person from the show’s roster of stars: “We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty,” the network said in a statement Wednesday. “His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”
And then the games began.
To right-wing Christians, any impediment to their expression of hatred and bigotry counts as “persecution.” No, this twit didn’t go to jail. He did not face physical torment. He was not tortured for his repressive, backwards views. All that happened was that the private company that owns his show decided they didn’t want to give him a free platform upon which to spread his vitriol and hatred. That’s it. He lost the podium someone else had been paying for him to preach hatred from. He said some shockingly misinformed and hateful things, and he got his TV privileges revoked. He can still say those things on his blog or wherever else he finds an audience. All that’s happened is that A&E exercised its own rights and severed his employment.
But to Christians, my goodness, you’d think the guy had been hung on a cross and horsewhipped for saying in a sweet widdle-boy voice that he loved Jesus.
I’m not kidding. I’m not even exaggerating. I wish I were. They’re totally freaked out that he got spanked for saying hugely cruel and horrible things about people who are different from him. He got yanked from his TV show for being bigoted and callous and racist and not even having enough shame to blush about it.
And now that the backlash is in full swing, we’re seeing the full gamut of Christian apologetics responses:
* Aww, what if he’d been a Muslim? Nobody ever gets mad when Muslims badmouth anybody! (Yes, they do, actually, and we noticed the distraction tactic. Hate is wrong regardless of what the religion is of the person spreading the hate.)
* Freedom of speech! (Actually, he has plenty of freedom of speech. What he doesn’t have is a paid platform from which to give his speech. Also, freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from disagreement from private individuals, and it does not mean that those individuals are compelled to listen to the speech or pay to listen to it.)
* Freedom of religion! (… to do what, precisely? To discriminate? “Freedom of religion,” the way evangelical Christians define it nowadays, seems to mean “the legal right to stomp all over everybody else’s freedom if it makes me uncomfortable or unhappy.” Does their religion really require them to discriminate and spread hate? Huh, are they sure they’re worshiping a good god and not the bad guy?)
* “I’m thankful that Phil is standing up for God’s word!” (Really? Please show me anything Jesus is supposed to have said that even touches on same-sex relationships. Do the people saying this nonsense also follow all the other prohibitions of stuff classified as “abomination” too? Oh, it was just the gay sex stuff? Huh, how remarkable.)
* Gay sex is ickie! (Oh? So we can deny people civil rights based on what we think they look like having sex? Good to know, though I don’t think they’ve thought this one through at all. I think the Duck Dynasty men look revolting and the idea of them having sex absolutely repels me–so I’m allowed to vote against them being able to marry who they want or live free of discrimination, right? Also, exactly what sex acts do gay people do that straight people do not do? Does these Christians even realize that anal sex–which is the main problem they’ve got with gay sex–is something many, many straight couples enjoy?)
“Duck Dynasty” speaks to something deep in the soul of the fundagelical heart. Without the least hint of shame, without the slightest bit of blush on its cheeks, the show propagates a variety of myths that right-wing Christians hold dear: that there’s some kind of widespread effort to limit Christians’ religious freedoms, that Christians are persecuted or rare in today’s society, that networks are all demonically influenced. This story is bringing out the very worst in Christian behavior. I’ve heard it all this week. It’s downright sickening.
So I guess my rhetorical question to outraged Christians is this:
When exactly did you guys decide that bigotry was worth defending to the last breath? When did y’all decide that a blatant bigot was your champion and true paladin of the faith? When did expressing your hatred take precedence over doing what your very own savior told you lot to do–to love everybody and to turn the other cheek no matter how many times you felt insulted or hurt? Why is it more important to inflict your hate on people and to dehumanize and oppress those you don’t approve of than it is to show the world a good witness? Why are you more outraged that this guy lost his podium than you are that he is expressing hatred of people not like himself and doing it under the shadow of the Cross he claims to worship and love?
This is revolting stuff. It’s sickening to see so many people stand up for someone who has said such vile and awful things. It’s horrifying to see how many otherwise “nice” Christians are turning hatred and bigotry into virtues and making spreading hate into a near-sexual fetish. The comments I’ve read–and let’s be clear here, I’ve read a truly absurd number of comments on various sites–are just gleeful in how hate-filled they are, just giddy in how supportive they are toward someone who does not even in the slightest way exemplify love or even kindness toward others. This guy is Christian like Ayn Rand is revered by Christians–which is to say, he is perfect for modern Christianity as a poster boy just like she was, and for the exact same reasons, even though his brand of Christianity looks absolutely nothing like the Bible’s vision of it and she wasn’t even halfway Christian. He is the perfect mouthpiece for the ultra-hypocritical “screw all y’all, I’ma get mine” gun-totin’ Republican Jesus. He gives Christians license to hate and dehumanize. He gives them permission to spread lies and misinformation. He brings them to the same poisoned well he calls his religion and sickens them from the same toxic waters.
Evangelicals seem to be under the very mistaken delusion that society requires their approval to function or that they deserve the privilege they are losing fast. No. It does not at all and they do not. In fact nobody really cares what they do or don’t like or want other people to do or be–which is as it should be. Don’t think I don’t realize it drives them nuts that their input is no longer required or even actually desired. But what they don’t seem to realize is that they should not be demanding the authority to approve or disapprove of other people’s lives, but rather they should be begging forgiveness for getting things so drastically wrong on their social stances.
Until you can fix this situation, Christians, don’t expect things to get better. Until you are known not for what you oppose or who you hate and fear but rather for how well you love and how much love you show, your religion will be obvious as a sham and a scam to the rest of us.
But I will warn you, Cassandra-like, here, and hope you listen: Continue in this manner, and only those who need to hate and fear those who are different will come to your banner. Like attracts like. The truly loving and moral people are already leaving your ranks. Your current bedmates are the Duck Dynasty clan and those like them. Are these people really who you want to be in bed with? Are these purveyors of hate really your saviors and mouthpieces? Are these scumbags really who you want speaking for your religion and your people? If you are one of the people defending this intolerant cad and his actions under the guise of “freedom of speech” or demanding he be allowed to stay on that dumb TV show because of “freedom of religion,” then you are part of your religion’s problem. It’s that simple.
But like anybody in Christianity will listen to an outsider. They don’t even listen to their own voices of reason. I don’t expect them to listen to me–not right away, anyway, not till my voice is added to many other voices and those voices become a mighty rushing wind that is impossible for even people with stoppered ears to ignore. That’s why we speak–not because we expect instant improvements, but because we have to speak or else nobody will realize there’s a problem–as the Duck Dynasty guy didn’t regarding racism in his hometown. (Seriously, remember: he thinks that his hometown wasn’t racist because he never heard black people complaining. I have no words for how beyond-crazy that is.)
I am glad I live in a country where even assholes like this guy are allowed to speak their mind without worrying they’ll be thrown in jail. I’m even more glad that I live in a country that refuses to allow someone this thoroughly reprehensible to dictate how other people will be allowed to conduct their private lives. I fully support his right to be a bigoted homophobic racist on his own time. But I also fully support the network pulling him. Even if Christians themselves do not realize exactly how bad of a spokesperson he is for their faith, the network at least realized how bad he was for their channel.
So no, I’d advise Megyn Kelly if I only could, there isn’t going to be a “debate” about whether or not this guy deserves to keep his job. It’s not up for debate. It’s not her call. She does not own A&E. Her side thinks that companies should be able to unilaterally deny health coverage to certain people or decide what human rights and civil liberties different groups will get, but when it comes down to a private company exercising its capitalistic freedom to sever a business relationship with a toxic employee, suddenly she wants a “debate.”
Is this like the “debate” she had about Santa Claus being white, wherein she declared by fiat that Santa’s just white, forget it, he just is, right as the “debate” was starting? Like that kind of a debate? Because if so, I’m not sure she really understands what a debate actually is. This is starting to sound a lot like whining about lost privilege to me, the same as the Santa-is-white “debate” she tried to have.
Christians who think this is something up for “debate” don’t realize something very important: this isn’t some “well, maybe” kind of situation where there is a perfectly valid pair of sides that are hard to choose from, a situation where a debate is useful in helping people differentiate between mindsets. Bigotry and homophobia and racism are just wrong. They are always wrong, like rape and genocide are always wrong, and they will never be okay. There is never any “debate” around these things. There’s not some valid pro-bigotry side to “balance” the anti-bigotry side. A&E rightfully decided to sever this guy’s employment because they don’t want to employ bigoted spokespeople who can’t behave themselves in public. It seems pretty simple to me. Fox would do the same to Ms. Kelly if she acted in a way they didn’t like. She’d probably even do the same to an employee of her own who acted in a way she didn’t like. Most of us would, and we have the right to do so.
Any “debate” has the whiff of existing only to try to strong-arm A&E into keeping this guy on the air even after he’s embarrassed their company and said things that were outrageously out of keeping with their company philosophy–cuz we both know, right, you and I, we know that this wouldn’t be the only time he ever said something ignorant and offensive. People like that need to spread hate. It’s what they do. They’ve always been ostentatious Christians on that show, from what I’m able to tell, and they play to the sort of Christian who likes those sorts of showboating displays and sanctimonious piety. When this guy gave his interview, he was channeling all the rage and anger and disgust of the modern evangelical Christian.
I’ve no doubt he’d do it again almost immediately if allowed to keep his podium at A&E–hell, I’ve heard Christians like that become emboldened after acting out and not facing consequences, thinking that their god must obviously approve of this behavior! Like those friends of mine who went to that cult at Waco and became convinced that “God” approved of the cult because he’d allowed the raid of David Koresh’s compound but not theirs, which had way more guns and way worse abuse, and both the gun acquisitions and abuse escalated afterward. Biff, too, figured he was doing great with his god when his superiors didn’t catch on to his lies–and the lies got worse. Abusers and predators get bold when they perceive they’re not being penalized for their offenses. That is why it is important that we challenge these abuses when we see them, and why it is important that people who say hateful or abusive things see that good moral people don’t want to give them time, attention, or paid soapboxes to stand on. It’s important that hate speech and terrible ideas have repercussions–but those repercussions need to come in the form of challenges to the hate and examination of the ideas–and of course refusal to reward those who issue the hate and bad ideas.
I’ll end by saying this: freedom of speech does not mean freedom from the investigation of one’s opinions and ideas. It does not mean freedom from the examination of one’s claims. It does not mean immunity from challenges. Christians are under the vastly mistaken impression that it means that they’re allowed to say whatever horrible thing they want and spread whatever diseased, hateful crap they want to shovel out, and nobody can say boo about it. They incorrectly think that freedom of speech means their delicate little feewings will never, ever be bruised or damaged by the slightest opposition to their views.
And that attitude, too, is part of why Christianity is failing and why I don’t think it’s a valid religion. There’s just too much privilege and dominance up in the system. And there’s just too much squawking and outrage about losing those privilege and dominance for it to be the real deal. And it’s okay that they are in an invalid and harmful system; they’re adults, so they’re allowed to do whatever they want (though it’s sad that the children have little choice). The real problem comes in when they try to wield that invalid and harmful religion like a bludgeon to try to reclaim their lost dominance.
Until Christians stop championing bigots and racists as their heroes, until they figure out that opposition to their ideas and having their undeserved privilege peeled back does not constitute “persecution,” until they learn that not getting their way all the damn time does not mean there’s some kind of endtimes war on Christianity, they’re not going to be able to maturely and wisely participate in the public forum or actually dialogue or communicate with anybody whose views differ from their own.
Either they will grow up and join the rest of the adults at the big table, or else they will fade away into total irrelevance.
And I reckon humanity wins either way.
Next up: Virgin births — they’re not just for Christmas anymore. Hope to see you here, as we slog through the backlog of stories on our way to Christmas.
UPDATE: Many thanks to our friend and commenter davewarnock who alerted me to this little tidbit: Westboro Baptist Church has come out in support of Phil Robertson, as has Terry Jones (that hate-flecked fundie narcissist and all-around shameless attention whore who decided the best way to show the world the love of Jesus–and get a load of attention, WHEE!–was to burn some Korans a while ago, which sparked a violent backlash in the Middle East that led to a number of deaths and injuries). I couldn’t word my reaction better than Dave did: “That tells you all you need to know.”