I can honestly say that the last thing I wanted to write about on the Sunday before Christmas was “Duck Dynasty.”
Nonetheless, as I read about the continuing controversy over the comments made by “Dynasty” star Phil Robertson regarding homosexuality, I started to feel like it might be a topic worth exploring.
Let me say first off that I have never watched an episode of “Duck Dynasty,” and don’t plan to start now, despite the considerable publicity garnered for the A&E show in recent days. Why would I? Do I really — does anyone really — have any need to know about the private lives of a bunch of Louisiana longbeards who got rich by selling duck-hunting gear? Does anything better qualify as a waste of time?
OK, maybe I’m being a bit hard on a show I have never watched. Maybe these backwoods Louisiana entrepreneurs are every bit as enlightening as the residents of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County across the Big Muddy in Mississippi. I’m pretty sure they have a lot more to offer than something called Honey Boo Boo or an East Coast disaster area known as Hurricane Snooki.
But that’s all irrelevant. Like I said, I don’t watch the show, but just like you, I got caught up in the tsunami of news stories about how this “Duck Dynasty” patriarch named Phil had spoken some harsh words about his distaste for one of the acts engaged in by male homosexuals, and subsequently had been “suspended” from his show, creating a firestorm backlash by fans and fellow Christians who objected to A&E punishing Phil for expressing what are essentially mainstream biblical views, albeit in a vulgar backwoods manner befitting a Louisiana longbeard.
OK, that’s it for background. Anyone who wants to know more can read any number of accounts of the initial interview that got Phil in trouble, or the gay community’s campaign against him or A&E’s response, or the mass movement that erupted in support of Phil and the rest of the “Duck Dynasty” family. In my opinion, it is obvious that Phil Robertson can say anything he wants, but it is also obvious that A&E has a right to tell him to take a hike. Most liberals don’t agree with the first premise, and most conservatives don’t agree with the second premise, but hopefully there are some libertarians out there who will agree with both.
My interest is not the substance of what Phil Robertson said, nor even the reaction to it, but what the entire imbroglio tells us about the state of America. I will do that by proposing what I consider to be 10 self-evident truths, each of which builds on the previous ones, in order to demonstrate that the controversy over Robertson’s comments is both overblown and potentially nation-changing at the same time.
One: Homosexuality is either moral or immoral; it can’t be both.
Two: All people are never going to agree about whether it is moral or immoral.
Three: We ought to therefore assume that from time to time we will meet or hear from people who don’t share our personal opinion about whether homosexuality is moral or immoral. This should neither shock us, nor outrage us. It is a fact of life in a diverse society where people are free to express their opinion without fear of being shot or beheaded.
Four: In spite of the previous principle, it is safe to assume that every opinion carries with it the risk of both shocking and outraging someone, especially when it is an opinion about morality.
Five: If your opinion outrages members of the general public, they have a right to distance themselves from you and your opinion by not patronizing you or your business.
Six: If your opinion outrages your employer, he or she has a right to fire you or otherwise discipline you.
Seven: If your employer’s decision to take action against you outrages the general public, they have the right to boycott or otherwise punish the employer through their market decisions.
Eight: Neither your opinion nor your employer’s opinion has anything to do with the First Amendment, which in the relevant portions only guarantees that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishing or religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” So far as anyone knows, A&E is not the government, and therefore they do indeed have the right to abridge Robertson’s freedom of speech as long as he works for them.
Nine: A significant portion of the advocates on both sides of this issue are hypocrites. Conservatives who this week say that A&E should not discipline Phil Robertson just two weeks ago were demanding that MSNBC fire Martin Bashir for vilely insulting Sarah Palin. And liberals who are defending A&E’s right to discipline Robertson for his outspoken views would be mortified if MSNBC held the Rev. Al Sharpton accountable for his frequent inflammatory remarks.
The only consistent approach for any of us is to support all free speech no matter how vile or opposed it is to your own; or to concede in all cases that employers who cater to the public have a right to respond to market forces in ways they find appropriate.
Ten: Forget the first nine principles, because in the long run they don’t matter. All that really matters is that America is at war with itself. The fight between A&E and Robertson is actually a fight between traditional values and secular humanism, and what it reveals is the deep divide that exists between those two world views that inhabit the same political body.
It should be understood that only in a free country such as America — perhaps only in modern America and its post-modern spawn — can we even have such a polite conversation about what is right and what is wrong as is implied in the first nine principles. What we need to remember is that almost every society which has existed, including 18th-century America, has had a set of shared rules and mores which are taught from a very early age so that every new member of society is indoctrinated to believe without question the truth of that society’s values, morals and customs.
The lack of such shared values in modern America is neither practical nor sustainable. As a result, the United States of America is poised to test the Bible’s dictum that a “house divided against itself shall not stand.” In the past 20 years, the gay-rights lobby has achieved a considerable victory in persuading courts and legislators to codify homosexuality as moral behavior. They are even on the verge of declaring that preaching against homosexuality is a hate crime. But that does not mean traditional, Bible-believing Christians such as Phil Robertson are going to willingly surrender their beliefs.
In my opinion, that means a significant change is going to happen. Either we are going to become a society where secular humanism will prevail and where preaching from the Bible is going to land you in jail, or we are going to become a society where people with traditional values will fight back against their marginalization and re-establish the so-called moral majority, possibly at the expense of certain liberties which we now take for granted.
This has nothing at all to do with whether A&E gives Phil Robertson and his family a TV show, which is why the controversy over “Duck Dynasty” is overblown.
But it has everything to do with Phil Robertson’s belief system, and that is why the controversy could be just the start of a larger backlash against those forces that want to criminalize Christianity.
We already know the people who hate Phil Robertson hate him because of what he stands for; now we are waiting to find out whether the people who support Robertson like him because he has a long beard and talks funny or because they identify with his values.
If it is the latter, then Robertson may turn out to be more than just a reality TV star; he may be an unlikely culture hero whose plainspoken words reveal the growing rift in American society and force it to be addressed.
No wonder A&E is scared. That may be just a bit too much reality for reality TV.