Get ready for the angry Duck Dynasty boycotts to shift over to the market share A&E couldn’t care less about. Entertainment Weekly is reporting that, as expected, the network will begin airing season four of its hugely popular show about inexplicably wealthy Deep South duck-callers in January, and every one of those already-in-the-can episodes features show and family patriarch Phil Robertson. I’ve been saying for some time now that in the age of 140-character attention spans and quickfire social media outrage, scandal doesn’t last anymore, and not only do A&E execs know this, they’re counting on it. Did you really think the network would risk the wrath of the entire Robertson clan, which could potentially scuttle its biggest cash cow? Not a chance. That phony righteous indignation we saw in the immediate aftermath of Phil Robertson’s paleoconservative interview with GQ — the one in which he lumped homosexuality in with bestiality and claimed that black people were happier in the pre-civil-rights South — was just that: phony. It was a lot of cynical smoke-and-mirrors designed to ensure that in the end the network could have it both ways. It could look like it was appalled by Robertson’s comments while not actually torpedoing its most monumental money-maker in the name of something as ephemeral as morals.
But that’s reality. You honestly could’ve seen it coming from a mile away simply because there are no surprises when the cash to be made from airing, marketing, and licensing a reality TV phenomenon is on the line. It’s also probably not worth trying to assail the place from which Phil Robertson drew the inspiration for his ignorant, antiquated views, which also happens to be the same thing his defenders use to excuse his behavior. But that doesn’t mean something shouldn’t be said about it, so here goes: Neither Phil Robertson nor anybody else should be able to get away with citing the Bible as a reason for their discrimination against any flesh-and-blood human being. They can do it, of course — but it shouldn’t fly, ever. The fact that they’re merely “expressing their faith” shouldn’t make it okay for the simple reason that faith — the intractable belief in ancient tales written by people who thought the Earth was flat and that eating pork would send you to hell — should never be allowed to supersede the needs of those not informed by that superstition to live without fear of persecution.
A huge number of Phil Robertson’s champions have claimed that this fight isn’t just a First Amendment free-speech issue but also a First Amendment freedom-of-religion issue. They’re wrong on both counts. The Constitutionally protected speech argument has already been put in its place, so I’m not going to retread that. But the fact remains that while Robertson’s entitled to cling to whatever backwater bullshit myths he wants, what he shouldn’t be allowed to do — and what others shouldn’t either — is let those myths dictate the terms of how people are treated or mistreated in a supposedly enlightened culture. We’re not, I realize this, but America should be well past the point where falling back on a very specific interpretation of the Bible makes it acceptable to claim moral and spiritual dominion over someone and to essentially persecute that person. Robertson isn’t a policy-maker or someone in a position of mass cultural authority; I realize this and certainly I’ve defended the rights of average people to say what they want many times before. But he’s still preaching to a group of people who themselves excuse their dislike and fear of the LGBT community by citing 2,000-year-old scripture. And as a large voting bloc they do hold sway over millions who don’t think like them.
At some point, this has to stop. No, it’s not acceptable in a civilized society to claim that God says it’s okay for you to be a stupid bigot. And it doesn’t matter how many people believe it is. They’re wrong. Period.
You know how I feel about faith-based religion because I’ve written about it so many times before. The fact is that when you peel away the culturally sanctioned rationale for believing that homosexuality is wrong — or for refusing to eat meat on a Friday, or for sitting on a box and covering the mirrors after someone dies, or for making sure that a woman’s body is clothed almost completely — what you’re left with is just plain old-fashioned crazy. And what’s worse is that, as the Robertson story proves, the rules and restrictions adhered to by the faithful all too often negatively impact people who should be well beyond the jurisdiction of any one particular religion. It would be one thing if Robertson merely believed that gay people were an affront to God, but those beliefs inform his actions. No belief is benign. It’s one thing for someone to, let’s say, make a personal decision not to work on Sunday because he thinks his god demands it — it’s another thing entirely for a pharmacist not to dispense the morning-after pill for the same reason.
I quite frankly don’t give a damn what someone’s god wants; the rights, privileges, and even whims of living, breathing human beings take precedence over the requirement they’ve imposed upon themselves not to offend the imaginary friend they talk to before they go to bed every night. The rights of a gay person to live without persecution and to be afforded equal marriage opportunity should at no point be considered equal to the “rights” of the faithful to adhere to the regulations imposed by Jesus (or Yahweh, or Muhammad and so on). Yes, you’re allowed to believe what you want, but when that belief collides with reality, reality shouldn’t be the one forced to submit. In the game of chicken between what’s proven and what can’t be, guess which one has to veer off?
Phil Robertson believes in the God of the Bible. He believes that this god doesn’t approve of the behavior of gay people and that that makes it okay for him to call them “ruthless” and “full of murder.” Fine. He can think whatever nonsense he wants. But he doesn’t get to throw up his hands and grant himself immunity from the outraged response of people whose beliefs adhere to logic, reason, and live-and-let-live compassion by “shifting the blame” over to his Christian faith. And neither do any of those defending him. Sorry, you don’t get to hide behind faith. And the entire ridiculous concept of faith shouldn’t be protected when it informs and perpetuates intolerance.