Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Come, Let Us Reason Together

I'm starting to notice a certain pattern in Conor Friedersdorf's writings on gay issues.  To his credit, he does broaden somewhat the "national conversation" on "gay rights" (two phrases that set my teeth on edge), by giving a forum to people with opinions that ordinarily might not be published by the Atlantic, like that closeted young gay Christian who opposed same-sex marriage.  Friedersdorf does this in the name of reminding his readers that there are arguments against same-sex marriage that aren't rooted in bigotry, but so far he hasn't succeeded in finding any.  So the pattern I'm noticing is a reluctance to call bigotry by its name unless it's really virulent and overtly expressed.

Last Friday Friedersdorf wrote about an antigay "college football analyst" from whom "Fox Sports Southwest has withdrawn a job offer" because of his expressed opinions:
The arguments against gay marriage have never persuaded me. Christianity's insistence on treating homosexuality as a sin strikes me as a tragic, historic mistake. When I read that college-football analyst Craig James, formerly an SMU player, believes homosexuality is "a choice," that homosexuals will "have to answer to the Lord for their actions," and that even civil unions ought to be opposed, all positions he took during a 2012 U.S. Senate run, I couldn't disagree more. My belief is that homosexuality is both natural and inborn; that God, in whom I believe, looks upon gays and lesbians no more or less favorably than heterosexuals; and that opposing even civil unions is a morally objectionable position.
Just for context, Friedersdorf also thinks that Andrew Sullivan is "eloquent."  Well, we'll have to agree to disagree on that, though I hope it's not an article of Friedersdorf's faith.

I'm inclined to agree with Friedersdorf that James's antigay opinions needn't be relevant to a job as a sportscaster.  But I stress needn't, because as more GLBT athletes come out, it's going to be hard for a sports analyst to avoid weighing in on the subject.  (One commenter on Friedersdorf's article asked: "Would you, or anyone be comfortable with Fox Sports hiring an outspoken virulent racist as a broadcaster, even said broadcaster had never said anything racist during a broadcast? I don't see how this is different."  Maybe it's not, but sports broadcasting is full of racist commentators, as the Jeremy Lin brouhaha reminded us.)

But I have some quibbles with the rest of what Friedersdorf said in that paragraph.  He is free to believe that homosexuality is inborn, just as he's free to believe that Yahweh created the world in six days if he wants.  (Disclaimer: I have no reason to think he does believe the latter.)  But both beliefs are highly dubious.  Whether homosexuality is inborn is also irrelevant to the moral status of homosexuality -- and also, as I've argued before, to its legal status: choices are not trivial, and many important ones, like religious affiliation, are protected by civil rights laws.  Suppose scientists definitively proved that homosexuality was a "choice" (whatever that means): would Friedersdorf withdraw his opinion that it is "natural" and looked on indulgently by his god?  And how does he know that his god "looks on gays and lesbians no more or less favorably than heterosexuals?  Wait, let me amend that, since many pro-gay Christians I've challenged on this pretend that they don't claim to know what their god thinks; so let me ask, what makes him believe that his god looks on gays and lesbians no more or less favorably than heterosexuals?  Given the Christian god's dim view of any sexuality, according to the New Testament, maybe Friedersdorf isn't making such a grand claim.  Maybe he, like Jesus, thinks that gay people no less than straight people should become eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven; or, like Paul, that the married man -- straight or gay -- cares for what will please his wife, while the single man cares for what will please the Lord.  In any case, Friedersdorf chose to marry, not to burn.

Friedersdorf is critical of Christians who are "willing to dismiss large parts of the Old Testament, but not the parts about homosexuality. They treat boycotting a gay wedding as if their faith compels it, but don't think twice about attending the nuptials of serial divorcees."  I first misread this as an assertion that the Old Testament forbids divorce, but while it's ambiguous I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on that point.  (The Hebrew Bible, aka the Old Testament, permits and regulates heterosexual divorce; in the gospels, Jesus explicitly rejects that teaching.)  But he also seems to imply that only the "Old Testament" deals with homosexuality; the New Testament also does, and though Jesus never explicitly mentions eroticism between persons of the same sex, he is not a sexual liberal according to the gospels.

Friedersdorf goes on:
Twenty years ago, when gay equality was an outlying position and prejudice against gays was the norm, I would've regarded it as imprudent and unjust to fire a college football analyst because he favored gay marriage or declared homosexuality not sinful. Today, I am every bit as convinced that it's imprudent and unjust to fire someone for calling gay marriage unwise and homosexuality sinful. These aren't remarks that he made on air, while doing his job.
 And concludes:
As much as I disagree with James' particular thoughts, I prefer to live in a country where the consequences of expressing them is a persuasive rebuttal, not an effort to stigmatize and coerce. For those saying that Fox Sports should have known about these statements before hiring him, do we really want a country where employment is predicated on an investigation of one's political and religious beliefs to make sure that, on matters totally unrelated to the job, you've never said anything deemed unacceptable? In that sort of society, the weak and marginalized, whose views are generally least protected, would be hardest hit, and we would all be hurt.
I want to agree with this, and I have uttered similar thoughts myself in the past.  But statements made during a campaign for national political office, just a year ago, are hardly obscure or trivial.  It's not as if private remarks James made decades ago at a college fraternity party were being dredged up.  Of course, it's possible that James was merely pandering to his prospective constituents, as some notable white Southern politicians did on racial issues back in the day.  But that doesn't mean he shouldn't be held responsible for his pandering.  And "the weak and marginalized" are already vulnerable in their lives and have trouble finding corporate-media venues to express their opinions and plead their case.  If only as a devil's advocate, I can see a point to letting the Right feel some of that pain.

I also wonder what difference it makes to Friedersdorf, if we're going to talk about what's just and prudent, if a sportscaster or other commentator makes bigoted remarks on the job.  Does he believe that such people check their freedom of speech at the studio door?  Evidently he doesn't:
A network would be justified in firing a sports broadcaster for expressing controversial moral or political views during an entertainment telecast that had nothing to do with the subject. But to not hire someone for prior remarks made amid civic debate, and that are indistinguishable from the position taken by almost half of all Americans at the time?
Why does Friedersdorf think this?  As I've already noted, gay issues do not have "nothing to do with the subject" of sports, especially with more and more athletes coming out, and the controversy over the upcoming Winter Olympics in Russia.  His willingness to dispose of sportscasters for expressing "controversial moral or political views" seems to me to be at odds with his argument that "the consequences of expressing them" should be "a persuasive rebuttal," not termination.  So, which is it?  After all, quite a few Americans (and even more people elsewhere in the world) disapprove of homosexuality; the issues Friedersdorf sees as settled are not settled.  He also seems to think that Craig James is entitled to a job offer, to a job he doesn't yet in fact have.  No one,  however qualified, is entitled by right to that. 

I too would like to see more "persuasive rebuttal."  But I'm not sure I believe that Friedersdorf really is committed to that, since he's willing to toss out commentators who express views he considers too controversial, in what he considers the wrong context ("during an entertainment telecast that had nothing to do with the subject").  Why not have someone rebut them?  Because the corporate media aren't interested in that kind of debate, of course.  Nor are most Americans, I believe, including those who call for national conversations and more use of critical-thinking skills.

I'll go halfway with Friedersdorf in disavowing an "effort to stigmatize and coerce."  I'm against coercion in matters of controversy; I'm not against stigmatizing.  I feel the same way about people with views I more-or-less share -- atheists, gay people, and the like -- but also with views I don't -- people who don't want to be called feminists or liberals or Muslims, for example.  People have the right to be bigots and to express bigoted views, but they don't have the right to demand that they not be called bigots.  They can avoid the stigma by changing their bigoted views.  They're also welcome to try to engage in some persuasive rebuttal, but their record in that area isn't encouraging.