In my podcast episode “A Response to Bill Maher on Religion and Free Speech” I criticized Bill Maher for invoking prejudicial attitudes against religion generally and Islam in particular in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack. In the podcast I argued that while Maher purports to be defending free speech, in fact his inflammatory rhetoric undermines free speech by breeding intolerance, ignorance and fear. This kind of rhetoric instigates further prejudice against outgroups (in this case minority Muslims in France) which is expressed in various ways including acts of violence (e.g. firebombing of mosques) and the growth of neo-fascist movements. In turn, governments are all too keen to exploit this fear with the militarization of police forces and the passing of legislation that, ironically enough, restricts free speech.
A frequent commenter on my blog named Dave responded with this comment in which he bypassed all these concerns, choosing to focus instead on Christians who express prejudice against gays. He begins: “Are you aware of the amount of hate speech just within Christianity today?” After enumerating some examples, Dave then takes the moral high ground by suggesting that I am being morally inconsistent:
“It is fine to expect respect and tolerance for religion but religion also has to show the same level of respect and tolerance towards others. It is not, and cannot be, a one-way street.
“When do you think the CHristian hate speech will stop?”
Note how Dave refuses to confront the inflammatory, prejudicial nature of Maher’s comments. Instead, he chooses to criticize Christians in a thinly veiled attempt to draw attention away from Maher. Dave would have much more credibility if he first acknowledged the problems with Maher’s comments in an honest and forthright manner. His refusal to do so reflects the all-too-common circle the wagons mentality, a trigger response that serves only to indemnify the problems with one’s own camp from critical scrutiny.
Next, let me address Dave’s thinly veiled accusation that I am inconsistent. This is manifestly false, and any honest reader of this blog will acknowledge as much. I consistently criticize Christians whether it be in popular defenses of biblical violence, or prejudicial treatments of atheists (a topic on which I have an entire book coming out this August), or homosexuality. Yes indeed, I have criticized Christian prejudice against homosexuals on many occasions. Here are some of the articles I have written on the topic:
Let’s underscore that last title which encapsulates a theme in these articles: “Christians and the sin of hating homosexuals.” With that in mind, how extraordinary that an anonymous commenter like Dave should have the audacity to suggest I don’t speak out against anti-homosexual prejudice within my own community. And how sad that he would use that baseless charge in a shameless attempt to deflect criticism from Bill Maher’s prejudicial, inflammatory rhetoric.
I am willing to bet that Dave has never written articles in defense of Christians. Not only have I written several articles in defense of homosexuals, but as a result I have endured attack from some Christians (certain angry Calvinists) who retaliated against my stand in some of these articles by contacting the leadership at my church and attempting to get them to “discipline” me! (They declined to do so.) And that is only part of the criticism I have endured. The stands I have taken have impacted me in professional and personal ways. But that shall not deter me from taking a moral stand on issues that I believe are important.
What Dave’s comment here does illustrate is just how thankless moral consistency can be. When you speak out against problems within your own belief community you will almost surely endure blowback as I have frequently experienced. At the same time, you will tend to find that the response from folks outside your belief community is disappointingly muted at best. And at worst you get to look forward to hypocritical moral indictments from folks like Dave.
Mark Twain once quipped: “Everybody’s private motto: It’s better to be popular than right.” Personally, I’d rather be right than popular. But that doesn’t make it easy.