Freedom of Speech is Not Freedom From Consequences: the Ignorance of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and the People Who Defend Him

Phil Robertson, star of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty,” has been suspended after going on an anti-gay rant in GQ magazine.  Calling homosexuality a sin, not logical, and equating it with bestiality, his comments have led to a great deal of debate about his punishment.  And, predictably, a whole lot of dumb arguments are being made by a whole lot of dumb people in support of his bigotry.

Let’s quickly examine a few of the major points being made in his favor and explain why they are ridiculous.

“He’s just speaking his mind.  Those are his beliefs.”

Yes, they are, and he’s entitled to them.  A&E also has a responsibility to their brand, sponsors, and viewers to do what they feel is best when a star of one of their programs offends a large segment of the population.  You can disagree with the punishment they have chosen, if you would like, but you can’t pretend that a response is unjustified.

photo courtesy of christianpost.com

photo courtesy of christianpost.com

“Whatever happened to freedom of speech?  Phil Robertson is being oppressed!”

He has freedom of speech.  He doesn’t, however, have freedom from criticism.  Or freedom from repercussions for his speech.  Sometimes your words have consequences.  Phil Robertson is not in a concentration camp today for speaking his mind.  He has been suspended from filming for “Duck Dynasty,” which is a privilege he has been afforded by A&E.  Filming this television show is not his constitutional right.

“You are being intolerant for not tolerating Phil Robertson’s intolerance.”

I reject the notion that the intolerant among us get to define what tolerance is.  But isn’t intolerance tolerated, at least to a certain degree, in our society as it is?  I’m not suggesting that Robertson not be allowed to believe what he wants or speak his mind.  I’m only asking for the same right. 

Karl Popper put it best when he said, “If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

“His comments aren’t bigotry.  He is a Christian who is just spreading the Word of God as found in the Bible.”

I’m sick of people hiding their bigotry behind a book written in the Bronze Age.  Bigotry is bigotry, whether it is in your holy text of choice or not.  The Bible is largely a work of fiction that, at one point or another, is anti-gay, supports the subjugation of women, is pro-slavery, pro-human sacrifice, and pro-infanticide, among other horrible things.  It has been used time and time again throughout history to support the beliefs of homophobes, male chauvinists, slaveholders, murderers, and racists.  The Bible, and a large amount of its content, is antiquated.  We rightly reject those that used it in support of owning slaves, and we reject it now for those who use it to shield themselves from criticism of their comments about gay people.

Lest you think Phil Robertson’s particular backwoods brand of stupidity begins and ends with his views on gay people, you’re in luck.  He also said that Nazis didn’t have Jesus in their lives, which is wrong.  Hitler referred to Jesus Christ as his “Lord and Savior,” and the Christianity of Germany in the early 20th century was anti-Semetic and nationalistic.  Plus, Robertson claims that, in pre-Civil Rights-era Louisiana, he never saw a black person mistreated.  In fact, he says, black people were happy!  No word yet if Phil is legally blind.

I partially understand the sentiment of those who say that Robertson is just a backwoods idiot and his words shouldn’t even register as noteworthy.   But I also believe strongly that ignorant beliefs cause harm, and as such should be engaged with and properly rejected with logic and facts.  Hopefully he takes a lesson from the backlash.

Now, to be fair, Phil Robertson did release a statement Wednesday after his comments were broadcast.  It read, in part, “I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me.  We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity.”  Sorry, but telling people they are sinners equivalent to those that commit bestiality is not loving and respectful.

Perhaps his lesson can begin there.

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Did Jesus Really Exist?

I’m not shy about being an atheist anymore.  At one point in my life, when I was much younger, just hearing someone say out loud that they didn’t believe in god made my stomach feel weird.  It was just this sensation of, “Stop!  How can you possibly say that?”  It was very uncomfortable.

Nowadays, not so much.  I’m an open atheist.  I don’t see any good evidence that there is a god and arguments for the existence of a god seem to be logically invalid to me.  So, I don’t believe.  But that being said, I’m not in anyone’s face about it.  I don’t go around shouting it from the rooftops and I’m not about to go out of my way to make people feel like shit for believing.  When I say I’m an open atheist, I simply mean that, should the topic of religion or who believes what comes up, I’m not ashamed or afraid to say “I’m an atheist” out loud.

Though I don’t believe in god, up until about 6 months ago I was pretty sure that Jesus had at least existed.  Sure, I may not have believed he performed miracles, rose from the dead or ascended bodily to heaven, but I figured there probably was a religious teacher named Jesus who the Biblical stories were based on.  But lately I’ve read a lot and heard from several educated people who have convinced me that it probably isn’t true.

For one thing, I’ve learned that the Bible, particularly the Gospels, were not written by eyewitnesses.  Mark, the first Gospel, was written decades after Jesus was said to have lived.  Furthermore, there are so many contradictions in the Gospels and throughout the Bible that it’s tough to know what the hell happened, if anything at all, during the events being written about.

But forget the Gospels.  There is not a single reference to Jesus at all while he was alive!  No contemporary historian, statesman, or even scribe seems to have heard of him.  That is pretty damning when you consider how influential Jesus is said to have been.  Again, this is a guy whose birth and death brought on long periods of darkness and earthquakes through the land.  He turned water into wine.  He walked on water.  He rose the dead.  He himself rose from the dead!  He ascended bodily to heaven and caused Christianity to spread like wildfire throughout the lands.  And no one seems to have noticed?  No corroborating record of earthquakes or eclipses?  No historians or scribes had anything to say?  No one even wrote a letter to their friend about him?  This is guy who, one could argue, is the most important person in history.  So why didn’t anyone write anything about him in the midst of his life?

I’ve heard it argued that historical records weren’t as well-kept in those days.  But that’s not true.  Consider the case of Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, for instance.  Caesar lived prior to Jesus, but not only do we have his own writings, but a variety of contemporary sources of his life and travels.  Why nothing for Jesus?

I’ve also had people tell me that the people of the time and place were illiterate, so it is expected that there would be no mention of Jesus.  But that’s not true either.  Seneca the Younger and Nicolaus of Demascus lived and traveled in areas which intersected that of Jesus.  But they apparently never heard of him since they never saw fit to mention him.  And what about Philo of Alexandria?  Not only a statesman and scholar, but he wrote a great deal about religious movements and literally was in the same places as Jesus while he is said to have lived.  His family was close to the royalty of Judea.  There’s no way he wouldn’t have at least heard of Jesus!  But he mentions nothing.  He writes nothing.  This doesn’t make any sense!  Unless, of course, maybe there was no Jesus to notice…

But Paul!  What about Paul?  He was basically responsible for the spreading of Christianity, people say.  He knew Jesus, right?  Nope.  Never met him.  Paul had what would now be called “a vision” in the desert long after Jesus would have been crucified.  It’s true he helped spread Christianity, but certainly not true he met Jesus in person.  His reports of his “vision” are what many people nowadays refer to as a story about a “batshit crazy person.”  I don’t know if he was insane or not.  But the historical record is clear:  he didn’t know Jesus.  And half of his known letters, also known as “epistles,” are known forgeries.  Even the epistles historians do recognize as legitimately Paul’s have been tampered with and edited over the years.  Not exactly a strong case to build your faith around.

It has taken me some time, but I’m now prepared to say that I no longer believe Jesus really existed.  I guess it doesn’t really matter anyway.  I’m not a Christian and I don’t think Jesus was magic.  But if I’m going to proportion my beliefs to the evidence, I don’t believe in god and I don’t believe in Jesus for the same reason.  The evidence is just not there.

NOTES:

I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post that I had been learning a lot about this topic from a few different people.  Well, I’ve been lucky enough to talk to those people on Strange Frequencies Radio.  Their names are Richard Carrier, Robert M. Price and David Fitzgerald.  Please check out their websites, or feel free to listen to the interviews we did with them at the links below.

Thanks!

Dr. Richard Carrier and Dr. Robert M. Price on Strange Frequencies Radio

David Fitzgerald on Strange Frequencies Radio