Thursday, April 14, 2016

On Objecting Celebrities, Hypocrisy, and Charges of Intolerance

In recent days, we’ve seen Bruce Springsteen, Brian Adams and Ringo Starr cancel concerts in states which have religious freedom laws. The argument used is that they object to intolerance (or a similar descriptor) in the law and will not give concerts there so long as these laws exist. Putting aside any questions of sincerity [*] some have raised, what we have is a moral argument. These musicians believe that something is morally wrong and refuse to play where people could misinterpret their actions as supporting something they believe is morally wrong.

But their action is ironic. The laws they protest are laws aimed at blocking legal action targeting Christians for refusing to take part in something they think morally wrong. In other words, sincere or not, to oppose religious freedom laws they appeal to the same moral argument that these laws protect. That leads us to the problem: Why are these laws seen as necessary? Because recent laws and judicial activism refuse to accept the right of religion to conscientious objection. Activist judges and lawmakers claim moral obligation in religion is discrimination against people who reject moral obligation in religion. Such actions result in governments dictating to the Church what religious beliefs they can hold.

Performers rights

Activists justify their actions through false accusations and misrepresentation, accusing Christians of bias and hatred against individuals committing acts their religion teaches is wrong. They invoke the infamous segregation laws in American History, conjuring up images of “Whites only” businesses. The problem is, nobody asks whether Christian businesses want segregation type “rights.” Activists assume this link exists and accuse Christians of “bigotry.” But if bigotry is not our motive, then the charge is false. Yes, I am sure activists can come up with examples like the Westboro Baptists and Christians who think that Christian teaching justifies mistreatment. But it does not follow that all Christians support the actions of extremists. 

People need to investigate why Christians believe certain actions are wrong, not assume that bad will is the only possible motive for their beliefs. Assuming bad will on the basis of a few extremists is just as bigoted as assuming all Muslims are terrorists or all African Americans are felons—it assumes that the worst behavior by some proves guilt by the whole. Only when one proves that a repugnant practice follows directly from Church teaching can one accuse the Church of bigotry.

I won’t talk on the teaching of non-Catholics here. That would be speaking outside of my area of knowledge. My concern is for defending the Catholic understanding of moral responsibility, under attack from a number of opponents—generally revolving around sexual morality. The Catholic teaching on sexual morality starts with a proper understanding of what sexuality is for. We believe God designed the sexual act as part of a lifelong relationship between one man and one woman, open to the possibility of the transmission of life. Actions which violate this design are a misuse of the sexual act.

When the government tries to coerce Catholic institutions and businesses into providing services or hiring people that go against their moral obligation to pursue good and oppose evil, the government is violating our religious freedom by trying to dictate which of our beliefs are allowed or forbidden. But since the Constitution technically forbids government interference in this way, they accuse us of intolerance, claiming we discriminate against women or people with same sex attraction. Since certain forms of discrimination are forbidden and repellant, the tactic is to use the Guilt By Association fallacy—arguing that our religious beliefs are the same as racial prejudice.

Proving our “guilt” (which we deny) means the government has to prove prejudice exists. Accusing us of prejudice is an unproven charge. Believing an action is morally wrong is nothing like hatred of a member of an ethnic group because of his skin color. Believing objective truth exists and believing people must live according to it is not bigotry. If activists believe we are wrong, then let them prove it and offer proof for their own beliefs of right and wrong. If anybody looks, they can find explanations for what we believe and why we believe it. But people who oppose us think it is enough to say “You’re wrong!” to us, while demonstrating they have no idea what we believe or why.

If we are angry, if we dispute you in Facebook or on forums, we act because we resent people telling lies about us and our beliefs. We do not hate women or people with same sex attraction. We do not discriminate against them. We believe certain actions are wrong and try to live according to those beliefs. We oppose mistreatment of people who do wrong. Pointing to how law worked in the Middle Ages and Renaissance indicts the whole world, not just Christians of the time, and has nothing to do with what is good or evil. Elites certainly cannot equate our behavior with religious intolerance in the Middle East.

Denying our right to do as we ought before God (remember, we deny that the “But what about…?” accusations apply to us) is not defending civil rights. It violates our civil rights as Americans. When celebrities and businesses institute boycotts trying to force us to change, they are the ones guilty of what they accuse us of doing. They literally saw off the branch they sit on, invoking the freedom they attack.

They should consider this well. Once they attack the laws designed to protect the right to refuse doing something morally wrong, they’ve removed the laws that protect their own moral concerns. Then they’re at the mercy of a government with no sympathy for their objections. Think about it.



[*] For example, these musicians gave concerts in countries where homosexuality is illegal. Questions about why they didn’t take a stand there go unanswered.

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