14 May 2009

Ventriloquists for free speech

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Is it just me, or are we flooded by political speech that tells the audiences what so-and-so intended to say or should have said or must have meant to say (thereby, presumably, deserving derision and oblivion)?

One of the most precious disciplines we Friends offer the world is "plain speech." Unfortunately, that seems to rule out a lot of what passes for rhetoric among many popular commentators--heavy irony, sarcasm, imputing and impugning motives, and scare tactics. Among the specimens from the last few days:
  • Ross Douthat, "Faking Left," New York Times. He writes, "Among their many aspirations for his presidency, Barack Obama’s admirers nurse a persistent hope that he might be able to end the culture wars. And by end, they generally mean win. The real hope is a final victory for cultural liberalism, and social conservatism’s permanent eclipse." That's right, we all shudder to think that there might be a diversity of views, an ongoing dialogue among those who differ passionately but care about our societies' future with equal passion; we view all social conservatives as useless. (Sorry, sarcasm.) There's more: "They [gay marriage opponents] can argue from tradition, custom and Christianity — as Obama himself does, albeit with dubious sincerity, to explain why he backs civil unions but not full-fledged marriage." (My italics--just to point out that Douthat himself uniquely writes with utter sincerity about the unstated motives of others. Oh, sorry.)

  • Again from the New York Times, "On His Tour, Pope Runs Into Politics of Middle East and Holocaust." Whatever else the Pope is, he's an intelligent adult. His audience includes millions of other intelligent adults. So why are so many people telling him what he should say, should have said, and should not have said? Would a symbolic message imposed on him by his hosts under some reasoning of political necessity really be taking by those intelligent audiences as something he actually believes and urges upon them? He is who he is, with all his complex German and Catholic history--why aren't we trusted to grapple with all that ourselves? Instead, his every line is analyzed for signs of sufficient shame, sufficient evenhandedness, sufficient innocuousness. Here are his dirty little secrets: he believes Catholic Christianity has a better understanding of God's will than some other spiritualities; he is very willing and able to be courteous and respectful to others, but probably unwilling to pander; he believes Christianity is a vital element in the cultures of Europe and the Middle East; he even seems to believe that Palestinian Christians deserve a word of encouragement. My friends and I emphatically don't agree with him on everything, but how would we know what we disagree with (and agree with) if he didn't have the freedom to say it?

  • Guarding Christian turf at the BBC: With the appointment of a Muslim producer as new head of the BBC's religion and ethics programming, some Christians are worried. Apparently, they're not worried about what it looks like to secular audiences to see Christians arguing, sometimes in alarmist and ethnocentric terms, that they ought to have an institutional head start over the competition. (Thanks to Simon Barrow for starting these thoughts.)

  • Two Pew Forum items side by side--I'll present them without comment, since (unlike the Pope, BBC programmers, Obama, etc.) they are probably capable of speaking for themselves: (1) "National Day of Prayer gets a political makeover"--"'I am sad to say this morning that this is the first time since the year 2000 that there has not been a prayer service in the White House,' said Shirley Dobson, leader of the National Day of Prayer Task Force and wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, at the Cannon House Office Building." (2) "Torture debate prompts evangelical soul-searching." Instead of making sarcastic remarks, I'll simply invite supporters of the Dobsons to express themselves on the subject of torture, specifically torture that is paid for and even approved by Christians.

  • Meanwhile, "Every Day is Doomsday in Washington."
(Related: Plain language.)

More links:

Salvation and Christian community: Thanks to InternetMonk for linking to and commenting on a thoughtful post by Scot Mcknight. ~~ The Mike Foster and Anne Jackson Porn Show, addressing an addiction (and not just a male addiction) with rare candor. ~~ What's up with the Hubble Space Telescope? (Background video: history of the Hubble project.) ~~ Christian Peacemakers announce the theme of their tenth congress, "Restoring Balance: Peace through Right Relationships." ~~ May 17 is almost here!

"When the Lord gets ready, you got to move"--Delta Moon's version:

1 comment:

Karen Street said...

I don't quite understand Douthat's argument about the link between childbearing and marriage in that gay couples I know either adopt or go through contortions to have children of their own, similar to those used by many straight couples I know. Do people who oppose gay marriage oppose all medical interventions used by all couples? I personally haven't seen as many gay singles having children out of wedlock as straight singles.

What are the current arguments against gay marriage? Pretty much everyone seems to accept that gay people are gay, that they can't change that part of themselves. So the question is whether they join society in traditional ways, or like the extra Chinese bachelors, remain a group that is forever kept out.

I'm curious. I don't have the energy to get into a discussion, but would like to hear what people say.