Tuesday, May 13, 2008

While I was away ...

... there was a controversy over American TV's sponsorship of an appearance by Bill Maher at the Riverside. Should pressure be placed on American to withdraw their sponsorship? Of course, everyone involved - Maher and those who oppose him - are exercising their free speech rights. Folks have a right to pressure American to withdraw support for Maher, but should they? If we lived in a world in which media outlets and private sponsors had to avoid anyone who might strongly upset a significant number of folks, we'd have pretty thin public gruel. So there ought to be a presumption against this type of thing.

But what about Maher? He's not funny, being the type of guy who thinks that adolescent rebellion is profound. His insights seemed witty and meaningful when I was 17. He obviously wasn't the guy making them. Maher takes the kind of dumbed down apologetics for atheism engaged in by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett and tries to render them in a way that would have went over at the cool kids table in 4th hour study hall.

But there are those who like it, so what is American to do? We tend to understand efforts to ostracize those who make fun of - or express contempt for - others based on immutable and generally irrelevant characteristics such as race (gender is more complicated). The idea is that we ought not to make fun of people for what they cannot change and what does not normally matter in assessing their character and value as human beings.

But we routinely poke fun at people for what they believe or do. It is fair game, we think, because they can choose these things.

Religion fits uncomfortably between these poles. Most of us do not actively choose our faith and, even if we do, it is a part of who we are and not easily discarded. Yet what we believe about God can have profound consequences for others.

As a consequence, some people argue that religion deserves a certain presumption of respect - something that Maher, who out of malevolence or ignorance, routinely mischaracterizes the nature of Roman Catholicism and other faiths does not observe.

I think a presumption of respect makes sense, but a rule of respect does not. Because drawing that line is difficult, I am generally not in favor of secondary boycotts (i.e., those aimed at those who host or sponsor them) of speakers and writers and entertainers. I wouldn't pressure American to drop its sponsorship of Maher.

But I wouldn't pay a nickel to see him either.


Anonymous said...

Arthiest are a bunch of hypocrits. They fervantly attack anything they don't believe in while at the same time attempting to monopolize what people think about free speech and human origin. I don't know if it's because they are power hungry, mean spirited or insecure.

I chose to be a Christian, although I was taught all the mumbo jumbo of evolution and secular humanism in school. It doesn't bother me when someone attacks my faith, but what gets me is that the attackers never want equal footing because their beliefs really don't stand up when fairly discussed or compared.

I also wouldn't spend a dime to see the show, but I guess in a way we can thank American for the sponsorship so we can refresh our feelings about the folly of liberal thought or, lack thereof.

John McAdams said...

I respect your opinion, but how would you respond if American had sponsored a Klan rally?

The notion that people should be protected for "immutable characteristics" but not for "opinions," (although I know you didn't endorse it in full) is terribly convenient for the politically correct.

In the first place, are males and whites protected?

Of course you know they aren't.

But religion is part of "who I am," just as much as being a white male.

Further, while people can change their opinions, being demeaned and berated is either not an effective way of getting them to change, or when it is effective, not a moral way to do so.

And I'm sure you understand that nobody is wanting government to censor Maher, nor is anybody suggesting disrupting his talk.

And I'm sure you recognize that anybody has a right to stop buying at any store they want.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with John here. If you are willing to protect some, but not all immutable characteristics, you have already lost the neutrality you were trying to create.

Look at Obama's 'angry white male' speech. When the protected attacks the unprotected it becomes especially offensive and self-fulfilled itself. I became an angry white male when I heard it. The biggest reason for my anger was because it wasn't even meant as an attack. It is just what liberal elite has come to believe as fact.
White males are either liberal thinkers or racist gun toting religious fanatics. (All the while showing respect for non-white gun toting religious fanatics who would be perfectly willing to use the guns on them in the Middle East.) But fearing a minority walking quickly up behind me with a bulge in his pocket is racial profiling and offensive.
3 ideas there:
Non-liberal white males are gun-toting religious fanatics.
Non-white gun toting religious fanatics proud of their willingness to kill others for their faith or lack of faith.
Gun toting minority youth perfectly willing to kill rival gangs or most anyone for enough bucks.
To liberal thought, one of these statements is just the way it is and 2 are offensive... sickening.