Thursday, December 19, 2013

How Homophobic Was Phil Robertson, Anyway?

Phil Robertson, patriarch of Duck Dynasty's Robertson family and co-owner of the Duck Commander empire with his son Willie, is in deep trouble for remarks he made during an interview with GQ correspondent Drew Margary.  During the interview, Phil Robertson shockingly said that as a heterosexual man, he found vaginas more attractive than a man's anus.  I for one am stunned. I had no idea that heterosexual men had such a preference.  

Phil went on to call the preference for a man's anus a sin, and to paraphrase the Bible's admonition that liars, fornicators, and male prostitutes would not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The specific verses in question, from the biblical passage 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, read as follows: 

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous2 will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: xneither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,3 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And ysuch were some of you. But zyou were washed, ayou were sanctified, byou were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.


There is some debate as to what the original Greek terms in 1 Cor. 6:9-11 actually mean, asmalakoi was used to refer to a man who remarried his wife by Philo, a peer of the Apostle Paul.  It's translated as soft, and meant to apply to effeminate men, or connote weakness.  Really, the term reflects a deeply misogynistic view of gender, which is still present in our culture today. After all, if you want to let someone know they're being weak or unreasonably sensitive, you call them a pussy, because even though a vagina can dilate many centimeters and sustain itself from the onslaught of ejecting an eight to ten pound human being, it's weak.  Seriously, I've heard guys on the toilet whimpering after a bad episode with Chinese food.  

Maybe we should call weak people assholes, but we wouldn't be connoting weakness with the female gender via genitalia if we did.  

The next term is arsenokoitai , which combines the Greek for male with the term for lying or sleeping with, or bed. You may recognize kotai as a cognate of coitus. Arseno is the Greek word for man, if you proceed from elimination.  It was used to refer to temple prostitution, quite common in the fertility cults of Paul's day, and it has been used to refer to incest and pederasty as well. One thing is clear: outside of contemporary translations, the term was never used to refer to homosexuals as exclusively as today's fundamentalists would have you believe. In fact, the word is rare: there are only 77 instances of its use in extant Greek manuscripts.  In none of those instances was the word taken to apply to homosexuality specifically.  

Did it encompass homosexual behavior in the form of temple prostitution? Undoubtedly. It likely also encompassed heterosexual behavior in that context as well.  

Phil Robertson is not a linguist, nor is he a man whose Southern Baptist minister father gave him an early inheritance of lexicons, concordances, and encyclopedias chock full of information on Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. I happen to be just such a man of the latter type.  

I'd like to congratulate everyone reading this on their certain destination: hell.  If you had sex outside of wedlock, or if you are having sex outside of wedlock, you are a fornicator.  If you have looked upon a woman with lust in your heart, you are an adulterer.  In point of fact, there are so many ways to go to hell that the only way to go to heaven is to be an asexual, if you believe the literal letter of the Bible. 

I do not, because it would be absurdly impossible for someone like me to achieve any kind of redemption or grace, and my experience in life leads to me to fervently believe that God is gracious. In fact, it's the rest of you who are severe.  I have never been totally abandoned by God; former friends, loved ones, and associates have turned their backs on me throughout my life. To the extent that they have resembled God, they've turned back around to face me and forgive me.  

The Bible was written by men, men like Phil Robertson.  You see, Phil was a violent man, as was the apostle Paul. Paul made his bones murdering Christians as a Jewish authority.  The rock upon which Christ founded the Church, his disciple Peter, sliced the ear off of a Roman soldier.  He also denied Christ three times and managed to come back into the fold without much issue. Phil Robertson was asked about the beating he inflicted on an Arkansas bar owner and his wife years ago in the same GQ interview in which he expounded on his views towards homosexuals. That beating was so severe it cost the Robertsons their life savings to keep the owner and his wife from filing charges, but Phil feels no burden today because he's been forgiven for all sins by Christ.  

Forgiveness is possible. It is the essence of Christianity, and to the extent that Christians resemble Christ, they forgive. To the extent that anybody on this planet is transcendent in their goodness, they forgive.  The great hope of humanity is that we won't get what we most assuredly deserve. Every single outraged fundamentalist who ever had sex out of wedlock, and who looks at porn on the Internet or at Hump Day on The Chive, has the hope of forgiveness.  Without it, they're no better than the homosexuals they condemn as a matter of routine.  

Phil Robertson feels something besides grace; he feels certitude.  That's what I object to, all in all. It's the most damaging quality religion imparts to its adherents, because it imbues them with a certainty that they are right and everyone who isn't like them is wrong.  While I believe in objective right and wrong, I also believe in context. If you come into a room and ask me for the whereabouts of a mutual associate, for the purposes of locating and killing that mutually associate, I would be morally right to lie to you.  Fundamentalism only says "Thou shalt not lie."   

I'd have to repent for the sin of saving a person's life by lying to a would be murderer under the view of fundamentalists.  The great impact Christianity had on me, perhaps the only impact that made me a better human being, was the gnawing uncertainty I gained.  Maybe I wasn't always right.  Ironically, that lack of certainty led me to a more gracious view of homosexuality.  It gave me an inner peace, and afforded me the opportunity to have some very rich friendships with lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendereds.   It afforded me the ability to look beyond labels and see people.  

Homosexuals are people, and people are never more frequently wounded than they are by words.  Words hurt more people every day than bullets, bombs, missiles, disease and illness, or anything else.  Words are unique in that they can be instruments of healing, or vehicles of violence.  What angers me about Phil Robertson isn't his supposed homophobia, because his brand of homophobia isn't all that virulent.  Phil never outright said that homosexuals should be stoned or subjected to violence.  He said homosexuality was morally wrong, and called for a state-mandated return to values of the sort that condemn homosexuality via state power.  Implicit in this is a call for violence of some sort, either through state punishment of consensual sexual acts between adults or state regulation of sexual conduct between consenting adults.  

No, what Phil Robertson did that angered me on a personal level was simple: he took his opportunity to articulate the role of grace and forgiveness in his own life, and squandered it by speaking on the one issue he had to have known would be emphasized to the detriment of everything else.  He handed his enemy a shotgun, after loading it with buckshot, and then helped a liberal writer from GQ pull the trigger.  If there were justice in this world, as opposed to mercy, Phil Robertson would be an ex-convict who went to jail for beating a man and his wife to a pulp. He'd be a convicted wife-beater.  He'd be considered the lowest of the low for kicking his own wife and three children out of the house and into the street.  

He'd be white trash, and nothing more.  

Phil Robertson isn't white trash with a criminal record because of grace.  He's been extremely fortunate to catch the breaks he caught, because if any of those cited examples of his conduct had led to an arrest and a conviction, the likelihood that Phil Robertson would be a millionaire with his own business empire would be drastically reduced.  In fact, it would likely be near impossible.  

Phil Robertson was delivered through his own terrible decisionmaking, and his own violent conduct towards others, to a destiny of grace. He could have spoken on that, and reached any number of the suffering homosexual teenagers who feel alienated and alone.  It's a universal message with transcendent appeal, and it is the balm to human suffering.  It is a message that can reach those who, in spite of their present circumstances, can look to someone like Phil Robertson and think that not all hope is lost.  

If a whoremongering drunkard with a sociopathic capacity for violent behavior like Phil Robertson can be delivered to grace and a better life, so can you.  It doesn't matter what you've done, or what you're feeling right now, things can get better if you trust in God's mercy.  I know what homosexuals feel, and they go through some pretty awful shit.  In college, one of my closest personal friends was outed when our mutual friend found his diary on a floppy disk and read it after stumbling across his gay porn stash on the same disk.  His agony in a Microsoft Word document was horrendous to see, as words relayed his certainty that he would always be alone and unable to express his attraction without violent rejection.  

For you heterosexual men out there, imagine coming of age in a women's locker room, with all the temptations thereof flashed in front of you during your formative years, but because of societal condemnation and bigotry, you can never express how you feel or what your attraction is without worrying about getting your ass kicked.  It's who you are, but you can't give it a voice.  Imagine if your sexual attractions were dismissed as unnatural, and imagine being unable to go out on a date or hold hands in public.  Imagine the best possible outcome in terms of sex being a rest stop or a public restroom where anonymous sexual encounters take place.  

That's what gay men have had to deal with.  They can't bring their boyfriends home for the holidays. Their culture is so battered, so assailed, and so marginalized, that they really haven't been able to have boyfriends until recently. They can lose their families. Forget a monogamous relationship; they can be fired or denied housing for being who they are.  In certain parts of the country, that is still the case.  This is why gay men and women are depressed, and angry, and upset.  It's why they have reacted with militancy over time, because when you're pushed into a corner, you have two choices: annihilation or fighting back with everything you've got.  

Today, the freedom to express the view that homosexuality is morally wrong is under assault, because gay men and women understand that freedom of expression is the first step towards the freedom to implement courses of action that would push them back into a corner.  That corner is a place they are desperate to avoid returning to, because they're enjoying the freedoms they've won with hard fights over the past few decades.  They are tired of tolerating speech that inevitably leads to state action, and state sponsored individual bigotry whereby an employer can strip them of their livelihood, or a landlord can evict them at a moment's notice, because of who they are sexually attracted to in life.  

They're enjoying a taste of the permanence that heterosexuals take for granted in their long term relationships. They're getting married, and living life just as you would.  They're finding their forever at long last.  They are consenting adults realizing a long-held goal: the ability to be treated like other consenting adults who happen to be in opposite sex relationships.  In other words, equality.  

Years ago, people who held Phil Robertson's viewpoints could evict heterosexual tenants from their housing for out of wedlock relationships.  That's been largely eliminated as a prospect in today's society.  Local zoning laws that attempt to accomplish this forced implementation of morality via state definitions of family are largely uneforced these days.  The issue of sex among consenting adults is seen as a deeply personal matter, one the state is unfit to regulate.  It is seen as an issue whereby the individual defines himself or herself, a zone where the state's power may not intrude.  

That is becoming the reality for gay couples throughout this country as well.  What Phil Robertson objects to is a country that doesn't resemble his personal moral code, and the only way this country can resemble that moral code going forward is through state coercion.  That's what this argument is about, because Phil Robertson's opinion isn't just his opinion for Phil Robertson: it's his opinion for you, for me, for everyone else, mandated with the force of legislative writ.  

Phil Robertson's expressed views were relatively benign, all in all.  His desired outcomes are anything but benign, and that is why people are upset.  In a free market for values, Phil doesn't believe his values can win. The greatest fear someone like Phil Robertson has is that gay men and women will have the freedoms he possesses as a heterosexual, and the world will not come to an end if they do.  If that happens, it serves to debunk his entire hypothesis.  Of course, Phil and his supporters will point to every bit of corruption or wrongdoing that occurs alongside equal rights for gays as somehow causally related to equality for gays, because that's just what they do. 

How homophobic were Phil Robertson's views in GQ? That homophobic.  

The Cynical Brilliance of Phil Robertson

Phil Robertson, the patriarch of Duck Dynasty's Robertson clan and the co-owner of Duck Commander, is under fire for comments he made during an interview with GQ correspondent Drew Magary.  Robertson condemned homosexuality as a sin, and noted that he didn't see the appeal in a man's anus relative to a woman's vagina.  Such an inability to see the appeal is at the root of Robertson's own orientation, which undermines the notion that sexuality is chosen rather than innate.  

Robertson also called for a return to values, and mentioned homosexuality and bestiality and heterosexual immorality in the same sentence. According to the liberal media, this is the same as equivocating homosexuality to bestiality, but in Robertson's case, he went a step beyond: he equated sleeping around with women to bestiality as well.  

Phil Robertson is anything but stupid, and he knew exactly what he was doing. After the interview was published, A&E suspended Robertson indefinitely, and the Internet went into an uproar.  On the one side, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin decried the assault on free speech; on the other, GLAAD commended A&E for their swift reaction in suspending Phil Robertson.  

The first thing to understand is that A&E's decision does not implicate the First Amendment in any way, shape, fashion, or form.  A&E is a private actor, and the First Amendment protects individuals from state infringement on speech. As such, A&E's decision was not an attack on Phil Robertson's rights. Phil Robertson is an employee of A&E, or a party to a contract with A&E.  Employers can fire employees for their opinions, which is why conservatives who object to Phil Robertson's treatment while acclaiming business owners who terminate employees for having Obama bumper stickers in the parking lot are idiots.

Lost in all of this is any intelligent discourse about why Phil Robertson did what he did. It's a fact that Robertson expressed increasing disillusion with A&E's editing of his prayer, and A&E's attempts to edit Duck Dynasty in a way that made it appear as if the Robertson's were cursing.  Phil Robertson sits atop an empire as an icon. He is the most recognizable and popular member of Duck Dynasty, and he knows it.

In making the remarks that he made, Robertson ensured that his legacy with Christian evangelicals would be cemented.  That's the only constituency he gives a damn about anyway, and he'll sell a ton of duck calls and merchandise before all is said and done.  Duck Dynasty is mortared into pop culture forever now, as a dividing line between the secular godless heathens and God's people, which is exactly what Phil Robertson wanted.  

In all likelihood, Duck Dynasty is done. It is virtually impossible to imagine the rest of the Robertson clan continuing the show without Phil under these circumstances.  As a show on A&E, Duck Dynasty is over. There's nothing to stop the Robertsons from taking their show to CMT, or to TBN, and setting new ratings records for those networks.  It's doubtful either one of those networks would try to censor the Duck Commander and his brood in their proselytizing, a fact that Phil Robertson is acutely aware of as a calculating man.  

Phil Robertson wants to evangelize on his own terms; that's his right as an individual.  He knew what he was doing when he signed with A&E, and re-upped.  He took the money, and he knew what was involved with taking the money. He could be safely Christian, and his show would continue with the aggravation of edits that excised "...in Jesus's name" from prayers.  What Phil Robertson did here was no act of conscience or conviction; it was a business decision.  There is nothing in the Bible that condones breaking a contract, or acting in a dishonest way to force the other party into impossibility.  

Put simply, Phil Robertson's actions weren't Christian.  Duck Dynasty was reaching millions of Americans who tuned in for the kitsch, and got the values.  It made traditional values mainstream in an oasis of entertainment that routinely derides traditional values.  That wasn't enough for Phil Robertson. He had to go and do an interview, one that will likely lead to Duck Dynasty's exit to another network for as much or more money.  In doing so, Robertson will limit his audience to the already converted.  

That's a shame.  

Cynical brilliance, or pandering as an art form, doesn't do much to expand the Kingdom of God. It does, however, harden the fault lines between the Kingdom of God and the alternative, and it hardens hearts as well.  As an evangelist, Phil Robertson failed terribly.  As a businessman and an opportunist making a merchandise of his faith to those who already believe what he believes, Phil Robertson will likely succeed beyond his wildest hopes.