In my last blog post I was critical of Rebecca Watson for what I believed to be hypocrisy in her willingness to blasepheme the most holy of Christian symbols, the Holy Spirit, while at the same time condemning a site where visitors can burn a virtual Quran.
One reader of my post took exception with my conclusion, arguing that Watson had simply expressed disbelief. I would like to publicly thank Scott Forschler for engaging me on this issue. Were is not for his contacting me 4–5 times over the past week via Facebook, this blog, and my personal email account, I probably would have nothing more to say on the matter. I must say I find Scott’s level of interest in this matter intruiging. That a PhD with a teaching position would have the time or interest to engage me, one who has merely studied political and theological ethics as a masters student, is surprising. That he was so aggressive (frankly, obnoxious) in his communication with me and resorted to calling me a liar (??) is fascinating. So, with that I would like to apologize to Scott for my delayed response. I am truly sorry that things such as work, family time, and similar activities, consumed much of my time over the past week and so, while it is certainly no excuse, this is really the first chance I’ve had a chance to sit down and offer a substantive reply.
My position on Watson is fairly simple. To openly and unashamedly blaspheme the Christian Holy Spirit (all to get a free DVD), while simultenously condemning the burning of virtual Quran’s as bigoted and racist is clearly hypocritical and logically inconsistent.
I told Scott that if Watson had publicly mocked Allah, the Quran, or Mohammed, I would retract my claim that Watson is a hypocrite. Well, Scott didn’t dissapoint. He found a video of Watson speaking on camera about the incredibly effective Muslim outreach program: “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.”
You will notice that in the video Watson does not equate Mohammed to unicorns, Santa Clause, etc… as she did with the Christian Holy Spirit in her “Blaspheme Challenge. I am assuming that Watson, herself, participates in this Muslim outreach program each year. So, I retract my claim that Watson has not blasphemed Islam. She has, albeit cautiously (even alluding to the fact that by so doing she may be putting her life at risk but that she has the courage to sand up for her principles).
Yet, I am not sure that the video Scott found makes the situation more clear. If anything, I’m left more confused about Watson’s sense of propriety than I was before. So we’ve seen Watson blaspheme both Islam and Christianity. She did not, as Scott originally suggested, simply express disbelief. She deliberately chose to blaspheme some of the most sacred and holy concepts in each religion.
What leaves me confused, then, is the fact that Watson condemns virtual Quran burning as bigoted and racist but supports offending Muslims by drawing images of Mohammed. Interestingly, both “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” and the website on which to burn virtual Qurans have remarkably similar stated goals. Each seeks to promote the free expression of ideas. So what is Watson’s objection to Quran burning? Again quoting Watson:
If you have at least part of a working human brain at your disposal and you’ve not been living in a cave the past several decades, you already know how stupid and counterproductive this is. You already know that burning books is the legendary method by which freedom of expression is impinged, and you also already know that the most famous case of Quran-burning was when fundamentalist Christian bigot Terry Jones first threatened to do so in 2010 and then actually did so the following year. Angry Islamists responded in both cases, by murdering a total of 50 people and injuring hundreds more. Apparently, at least one atheist then thought, “I need to get in on that!”
So Quran burning is bad. But drawing Mohammed is good. What is the distinction to Watson? Note how Watson makes reference to how “burning books is the legendary method by which freedom of expression is impinged.” Obviously, and rightfully, Watson opposes book burning as all rational people should. But it seems that Watson’s outrage at burning Qurans — even while explicitly referencing how such activities have lead to real-world violence, just like drawing Mohammed has done — is borne of her own sensibilities. Does Watson oppose burning Quran’s because burning books (generally) is wrong or, as she states in her post, because it is a racist and bigoted thing to do? Given Watson’s own words I don’t believe it is possible to outline Watson’s position as her views seem to drift pretty freely.
So at best, Watson is grossly inconistent. On one hand, she approves of blaspheme in an effort to protect free expression — even in the fact of violent reprecussions. On the other hand, Watson opposes burning Qurans because such actions induce violence. Does this make Watson a hypocrite? I don’t know because I can’t parse Watson’s position given her varying, and contradictory, statements and actions. I would hate to think that Watson believes Quran burning is wrong simply because it offends her own sensibilities about book burning; an odd position indeed to claim racism and bigotry against others when your own sensibilities have been tweaked (blaspheme??).
So again, a big thank you Scott Forshler. Without his consistent, aggressive, and obnoxious communication with me over the past 7 days, this blog post would not have been possible. I have noticed that one of Scott’s areas of expertise is the ethics of belief — an area I too find very interesting. As time allows, I hope to watch a few of Scott’s talks on Youtube to better understand his positions.
While religion is an important part of my life, I consider myself a skeptic. Not a skeptic in the sense of the “New Atheism” but rather, I simply hold to the belief that claims of truth should be supported by evidence. If these claims are not supported by evidence, then this should be made clear by the person(s) promoting such beliefs. For example, a person can state their belief in God but it is important to acknowledge that this is a belief largely, if not wholly, unsupported by empirical evidence. I don’t think there is anything wrong with such beliefs necessarily, but I do believe it is important to combat the promotion of beliefs and ideas that can be dangerous. Radical fundamentalism that leads to violence, for example.
In a recent post on Skepchick, Rebecca Watson bemoans the existence of a site where one can virtually burn a Quran. She rightly states that such a site is not only bigoted (and probably racist), but also counterproductive. She argues:
If you have at least part of a working human brain at your disposal and you’ve not been living in a cave the past several decades, you already know how stupid and counterproductive this is. You already know that burning books is the legendary method by which freedom of expression is impinged, and you also already know that the most famous case of Quran-burning was when fundamentalist Christian bigot Terry Jonesfirst threatened to do so in 2010 and then actually did so the following year. Angry Islamists responded in both cases, by murdering a total of 50 people and injuring hundreds more. Apparently, at least one atheist then thought, “I need to get in on that!”
I fully agree with Watson. Such a site is as stupid as it is counterproductive. However, I find the hypocrisy demonstrated by Watson to be a little rich. Just a few years ago Watson proudly participated in “The Blasphemy Challenge” wherein participants publicly denied the existence of the Christian Holy Spirit.
Watson seems to fully support the goals and aims of The Blaspheme Challenge. One such goal is to promote the notion that the historical Jesus didn’t exist; a position that is, quite frankly, absurd. Taking issue with the Jesus of the Gospel narratives is one thing but to call into question the very existence of the person of Jesus simply demonstrates a desire to reinforce what these folks obviously wish were true. For anyone who seriously doubts the existence of the historical Jesus I have a suggested reading list (from actual scholars of ancient Rome and Hellenized Judea as opposed to biologists and neuroscientists).
- A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus
- The Life of Jesus Critically Examined
- Myth of a Gentile Galilee
- Any basic primer on text-criticism of the New Testament
- And many many more …..
What these folks want us to believe is that Jesus was a completely made up person surrounded by known historical persons (Peter, John, etc..) and that these known historical persons conspired together to create the Jesus myth. If you believe that, you may also believe that George W. Bush was at the center of a conspiracy behind 9/11.
(Yes, I know the reference to Jesus by Josephus are problematic and that Christian apologetics in the first and second centuries turned Christianity into something akin to other religious myths common in Hellenized Judea. Yet, even the most cursory and basic text-critical examination of the New Testament reveals the historical Jesus while simultaneously casting doubt on claims of divinity, etc..)
Back to Watson. It is inconceivable that Watson is unaware that defamation of the Holy Spirit is as offensive and degrading to Christianity and Christians as burning a Quran is to Islam and Muslims. So what could explain Watson’s inconsistent outrage? Perhaps it is because in modern times, Christians do not react to such offenses with violence. In most cases, Christians simply follow the admonition of Jesus to “turn the other cheek.”
Hypocrisy, thy name is Rebecca Watson.
It is unfortunate that in today’s political climate, discourse often focusses solely on consequences, or supposed consequences, to evaluate the merit of any given political position. This is not to say that weighing and considering the outcomes of social policy is not vitally important. It is. However, it seems political bickering wherein both sides quote pet studies and throw out statistics in favor of their favored position, often masks the shared moral values that underpin these disagreements.
Such is the case with contemporary debates surrounding guns and gay marriage. Broadly speaking these issues draw clear ideological lines with urban liberals supporting tight gun control and suburban and rural conservatives opposing gay marriage. In truth, support for both guns and gay marriage is rooted in the same moral and political principle: In a free and pluralistic society, individuals should be at liberty to pursue their own conception of the “best life” without paternalistic governmental intrusion by beauracratic moralists, be they religious or secular.
Gay marriage is about liberty. The US constitution offers equal protection under the law for the simple reason that unequal treatment is inherently unjust. Equal protection is not sacrosanct because of of the outcomes it produces. Rather, equal protection is a moral principle; something that if violated, represents an affront to justice itself. We do not argue about equality under the law in terms of consequences — although they are often part of a the wider discussion.
Private firearm ownership is also about liberty — both individual and collective. Before continuing, allow me to say that no rational person believes that the United States is on the brink of a tyrannical oppression. However, Ronald Reagan was correct when he said:
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
Those who, during the Bush administration, raised concerns about portions of the Patriot Act were doing their part to ensure that the United States remain true to its founding principles of liberty — even in the face of new and emerging outside threats to national security. Similarly, and broadly speaking, advocates of the 2nd amendment are doing the same thing. Reasonable people can, and do, disagree as to the original intent of the 2nd amendment — whether it applies to a private right or a collective right of the people to band together to form state militias. Even the framers of the Bill of Rights debated this point. Regardless, the Supreme Court has consistently affirmed the right of individual citizens to keep and bear arms completely separate from the formation of state militias.
There must be an open and civil dialogue regarding both gay marriage and private gun ownership. Gay marriage represents a new paradigm in the modern era that will result in unforeseen and perhaps unintended consequences. Yet, we cannot let a fear of the unknown or the potential for negative social outcomes (whatever they may be) prevent us from removing the existing chains of oppressions from gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans.
The social costs of ubiquitous gun ownership are well known and must be addressed holistically. Countries like Switzerland, with similar levels of private gun ownership, do not experience gun violence as seen in the US. What is is about the US that leads to such violence? I don’t know. But it is an issue that must be thoroughly studied and we must act. The 2nd amendment, as interpreted by the courts, does not mean firearms are to be unregulated. The must be regulated to ensure that those who have forfeited their right (felons) and others incapable of owning firearms responsibly cannot — through legal means — obtain firearms.
Again, I support both guns and gay marriage. At their root, both issues are about liberty and individual rights; American values that must never be abandoned.