Wednesday, August 1, 2012

"Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day" is an ideological embarrassment

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (also famous for once stating that all Americans should be forced to read Christian historical-revisionist David Barton "at gunpoint") dubbed today, August 1, 2012, to be "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day" in what has become one of the biggest national embarrassments I've had the displeasure of living through in more than three decades. After creating the event to support the business today and writing long-winded posts on his Facebook about how this isn't about religion or politics, Huckabee has helped to propel this issue to the front of the national stage--with over 600,000 people expressing support of the event to be held at any Chick-Fil-A establishment in the country today. In response, partly due to a protest by those supporting LBGT rights, Chick-Fil-A restaurants across the nation, especially in the South, experienced booming business with near-constant long lines, even in dangerous summer heat or other adverse weather conditions. Traffic was disrupted from cars trying to get chicken sandwiches "for freedom," and police had to be called in to direct traffic in some location (no irony here, whatsoever, felt by the no-government-influencing-business crowd).

We all should be stepping back for moment and thinking about this pretty seriously. Why did all of this go down? Religious and political forces, of course.


The religious forces

Christianity has branches that are still vehemently against homosexuality. This is a problem. They try to deny it and cover it up by saying that they're "not against anything or anyone," that they "love the sinner but hate the sin," or that they are "pro-traditional values/marriage." It's all fluff for the reality of the matter: they are uncomfortable with gays. Why?

Although you'll see it quoted a lot, this isn't about Leviticus so much as it is about Romans, if we want to talk Bible. The first chapter of Paul's letter to "the Romans" is one of the most disgusting invectives against gays ever written, and it has been canonized into the center of the Christian religion (Romans 1 is given "pride of place" by the Catholic Church). This is why Christians feel perfectly at ease with the hypocrisy of throwing out the comments from Leviticus about gay sex being an abomination while wearing tattoos and eating bacon (both also banned by Leviticus). They like to believe Jesus changed the rules for them, seemingly to a new set that allows them to go on hating whatever they want to hate and liking whatever they want to like (e.g. bacon) as long as those things don't deviate too much from the prevailing attitudes of the people that raised them.

There are two central reasons that these Christians have a problem with gays, though, and neither is as trivial as "they gross me out," which is often true enough, or as scathing as Christopher Hitchens's suggestion that they have repressed homosexual interests, which is also often true enough (and repeatedly proved to great embarrassment). Hitchens's suggestion is probably at the root cause of the prohibition of homosexuality in the scripture, but for many people, the root of their motivation on this matter comes down to one or both of two central religious facts (there is a political one as well) that make them want to legislate their conception of morality.
  1. If the Bible is wrong, say in Romans 1, about homosexuality, then the Bible might be wrong about other things. That is absolutely forbidden for them because the Bible is the source of the information that they have that allows them to pretend to escape their fear of death, which is enormous and not dealt with.
  2. God, throughout the Bible, wrecks havoc upon nations that do not accord their laws with His laws. 
The first of these problems is deep, mostly silent, and pervasive, erupting as a defense-mechanism against a profound fear. It is very difficult to deal with specifically because of how difficult it is to honestly face death and accept the reality of our ultimate annihilation (a gift, when you see it).

The second is why we see all of these pronouncements in the news that God is sending hurricanes or other destruction because of gay sex. Even Dan Cathy, the COO of Chick-Fil-A, hinted at this, indicating that we're "arrogant" and that God won't be happy with our legal structure. God doesn't really wreck nations for having morals more advanced than those in the Bronze-Age Middle East, though.

There is also believing in belief, as Dan Dennett sometimes calls it. There are people out there, most of whom are religious, who are standing up for Chick-Fil-A because they are a company that is willing to "stand up for what it believes in." This is ridiculous, though; they're a fast-food chicken restaurant. These people want to stand up for the idea of believing in something, which has some merits, but they also need to take a moment to reflect upon what they are standing up for here. Not all beliefs are created equally, nor are all of them on a moral level. Standing up for Chick-Fil-A's willingness to stick to its guns is admirable and all, or it would be if it weren't for the ugly and inconvenient truth that Chick-Fil-A's guns are morally repugnant in this case.


The (socio)political forces

First worth mentioning here is the one that applies specifically to the Christians that want to legislate their conception of morality--traditional values. These people are almost universally socially conservative, which essentially means that they favor sociopolitical stances that match as nearly as possible those present during the idealization of their childhoods (or, occasionally, some other fanciful time, e.g. a perfect, though fictional, Libertarian Golden Age either in the idyllic past or an Ayn Rand novel). Since gay marriage was not legal when they were kids, it shouldn't be legal now. This simplistic never-do-anything-for-the-first-time attitude is astonishingly common, often rationalized via "...and we turned out just fine." Except you didn't. You turned out as a bigot.

Most of the other political forces are all about "freedom." In my previous post about Chick-Fil-A, I noted that the "freedom" here is not actually the "freedom of speech" that many claim it is (often rendered as the "freedom to hold one's own opinions"--which is totally fine, if you don't act on them when they are oppressive, hateful, or violent). It is instead the freedom for those with privilege to tyrannize those without it. Of course, this is one part traditional values and two parts misunderstanding Liberty (the demigod of the so-called freedom-lovers). There are at least two major camps involved here.
  1. Those who feel like this is an issue about freedom for people to do what they want without social coercion, i.e. those I just dealt with above; and
  2. Those who are afraid of an unwelcome intrusion of government into private business.
Say what? I admit, I had to stop and really think about that second group too. The government involvement seemed hard to find, but essentially the direct targets here are the mayors of Chicago and Boston who both made it clear that they were very unhappy with Dan Cathy's opinions and donations and would not welcome his business in their cities. Fair enough--those mayors do not technically possess the legal authority to block Cathy on those grounds, and both have recognized that fact and stepped back from the implied legal force of their original statements. It probably has something to do with the fact that the Democratic National Convention has added a plank to its 2012 platform to support same-sex marriage, although that literally has nothing direct to do with Chick-Fil-A except in the minds of fanatical conservatives who see every action by the Democrats as a liberal takeover straight to "socialist-communist-fascism" (even with the contradiction in those terms).

The "government intrusion" thing, of course, is a fantasy as well--it's just not happening, nor is it what this is about. This is about defending religious privilege and sacrificing liberty to Liberty.


Then there's the "liberals" thing....

If ideologues are good at anything, they're good at demonizing their opposition. With the Chick-Fil-A thing, CNN reports that some people are supporting the chicken chain specifically because "it's an uber-successful privately held [sic] corporation who happened to take a public stand against a topic that the liberal media chooses to champion." (emphasis mine, and n.b.: the person who said this is a self-reported agnostic, indicating that it is not purely a religious thing operating on behalf of Chick-Fil-A). Here we see a fellow paying homage to the political icon of the "privately-held corporation" while playing upon the myth of the "liberal media," a portrayal of romanticized forces of good and evil for the simple and easily-angered conservative mind.

Conservative ideologues have been outrageously successful over the last few decades at demonizing the term "liberal" and then at using the manufactured pejorative connotation to wield considerable power in a realm that operates fully outsides of the universe of facts and reason. The testimony and support for Chick-Fil-A shown above, with its attached intention, shows the power that such imagery can have over people. If nothing more, it illustrates the thoroughness with which some people can have their moral compasses realigned toward favoring a fast-food chain over the struggle for equal rights--and attached suffering--of millions of people.


This is embarrassing to us as a nation, not a moment of national pride. Look at the list of nations that would support the United States in this endeavor, places like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Uganda, all of which are known for killing gays (in fact, some of the donations made by Chick-Fil-A to anti-gay organizations were spent lobbying not to condemn Uganda's "Kill the Gays" bill). I think it's fair to assume that those are not exactly the company that these "freedom"-lovers would like to keep, but so long as they make a fuss like "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day," they'll use their ideology to put us right there with them.

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