After all of those Catechism classes I sat through and after absorbing all of the things the nuns and priests taught me, I suddenly realized that there should be an 11th Commandment. It would read something like this “Thou shalt not be intolerant of thy neighbor’s beliefs”. This occurred to me after watching and reading about Phil Robertson’s interview with GQ magazine and the ensuing firestorm. You’ve all read the interview, or at least parts of it, by now, along with the fact that Phil was indefinitely suspended by A&E from future filming of Duck Dynasty. I read the entire interview, then read it again, to see if I could figure out which of his statements were being construed as homophobic or racist or bigoted – and, in my opinion, what he said wasn’t any of those things. His remarks may have been somewhat ignorant or politically incorrect but I didn’t read anything intentionally hateful. Ignorance may be a poor excuse, but intent matters.
What Phil said was an opinion based on his beliefs – a Christian value viewpoint, based not on logic but on the teachings of The Bible. The Bible is open to interpretation, of course, and much of what Phil had to say can be disputed among various Christian groups. But he stated what he understood from it and in the way in which he was raised. Pillorying him for it doesn’t sound like the type of country I thought we were. Maybe I’m just not grasping how it’s okay for his critics to call him a stupid hillbilly for putting his faith in God, while choosing to ignore that he also stated that he just doesn’t understand how gays or blacks or Asians go about their lives, but that he, like God, loves them, too. Maybe I’m not getting the part where someone can criticize another for their words but not be held accountable for calling someone a racist, homophobe and bigot without first taking the time to see the others perspective.
It really doesn’t matter what I or millions of other Duck Dynasty fans think, though. A&E made their decision based on complaints from people who have probably never watched a single episode of the show. Those folks got it into their heads that they knew all they needed to know about Phil and the entire Robertson family from that one interview. They charged him, in the court of public opinion, with hate crimes, judged him and demanded that A&E sentence him faster than Nicholas Brody was hanged on Homeland. So, if I have this right, the people who were upset by Phil’s generalizations and stereotypes, did the very same thing he did. They jumped to conclusions and never took the time to understand his point of view.
It’s a funny society we live in these days. It’s hard to say or write or show anything that isn’t going to offend someone, somehow, some way. We tiptoe around our words as if we’re in a field of IEDs, hoping that what we choose to say or write isn’t the politically incorrect thing. Even then, given the thin skins we’ve developed, we make mistakes, unintentionally, perhaps, but sure to raise the hackles of somebody. Then we either defend what we didn’t realize we did or we retreat with an apology – an empty, meaningless apology, but some sort of mea culpa must be issued to quell the outrage. From where I’m sitting, it sounds as if we just don’t know how to talk to each other anymore. You can’t talk if you’re constantly wary of your words and afraid of offending the person you’re trying to have a discussion with. We might as well just stop talking, turn on Fox News or MSNBC and isolate each other even more. What the hell, the MSM helped drive this story into a nearly international incident, anyway.
Now before you come after me with torches or tar and feathers, I’ll just say that I’m not condoning or supporting Phil Robertson’s view, any more than I think Wilson Cruz of GLAAD had the best and final word. They’re both a little wrong and a little right. I also don’t expect them to apologize to one another. They believe what they believe and they shouldn’t have to say they’re sorry for that. What I would like to see, and I’m not sure it will never happen in my lifetime, is that all of these very disparate groups of people take the time to sit down and listen to one another – just listen, without prejudice or preconceived notions.
As for A&E, well, I think they jumped the gun. Yes, they’re well within their rights to suspend anyone on their payroll, but I think they overreacted. At the very least, they don’t understand their demographic. The Duck Dynasty audience is, for the most part, made up of people who agree with Phil’s statements and beliefs. You can judge them all you want, but it is what it is. These are the people about whom then-Senator Obama said “are clinging to their guns and religion”. Not a very tolerant or enlightened choice of words, to be sure, but he was talking about the millions of Americans who have the right to do just that – and they deserve the same respect and understanding as any of us. A little more tolerance and a lot more listening can go a long way.