A lot of people have asked me why I care so much about this “Duck Dynasty” nonsense. This video clip is a good explanation.
In it, Matt Lewis explains his concern that ganging up on someone who expresses an unpopular opinion, especially one based on his religious belief, will lead to a chilling effect on speech.
Clearly, I could just as easily claim that being told not to criticize someone whose speech offends me could also lead to a chilling effect. But I think there’s a larger point to be made here.
A long time ago, some Christians used religious belief to defend the notion that blacks were inferior to whites. Much more recently, some Christians believed that Jews were Christ-killers and/or that they were doomed to the fires of Hell. While very few still believe the former, a fair number likely still believe the latter. But they generally don’t say it to interviewers for major national publications.
Is that because something changed in their belief system or because of a chilling effect based on liberal indignation? I tend to think it’s a combination of those things. Some Christians might still believe that Jews are going to Hell, and they might talk about this belief with their friends and family, but they generally don’t say it publicly because it’s simply not acceptable to do so.
Make no mistake: This isn’t an infringement on belief or on speech; people are still free to believe what they want to believe about Jews. It’s just no longer acceptable to make hurtful or hateful statements about Jews in public. Over time, I like to think people will just stop believing these things about Jews just as they stopped believing that racial inequality was religiously sanctioned.
Is something lost when people stop believing these things? Lewis seems to think so, since he casts himself as a staunch and unapologetic defender of unpopular speech based on religious belief. So what is it that’s lost? For my perspective, what we’re losing is mostly just the sort of other-ing that leads to intolerance, hatred, conflict, and violence. Can one still be a good Christian without believing that Jews are going to Hell or that homosexuals ”are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil”? I suspect one can, given how many Christians don’t believe this sort of thing.
When I criticize people who launch attacks against gays and lesbians using religious language, I’m very mindful of the chilling effect my criticism might have. I’m actually hoping that, by discouraging the public expression of hurtful, other-ing language, we’ll be able to make progress toward become more accepting of those who look differently, act differently, or hold different beliefs from our own.
At this point, homosexuals are a minority group that it’s still acceptable for conservatives to target under the guise of religious belief and Jews are not. When I criticize this language of exclusion, I do it because I’m looking forward to a time when religious belief no longer justifies the poor treatment of any minority group.