I had another article up at The Federalist the other day—this time about the threat to religious liberty posed by a rainbow mob and the foolish attempts by moderates to try and make peace with that mob by accommodating it. If you haven’t read it yet, you can do so now. I’ll wait.
So you might have noticed some provocative language in there. I bring it up because of a comment the article received. It was suggested that the provocative language actually hurts the cause of religious liberty because it offends. How can the faithful prove that they aren’t bigots to the opposition if they openly offend them?
I’m sympathetic to the comment because a few years ago, I would have told myself exactly the same thing. But that was because I didn’t really understand the situation. That lack of understanding is precisely why I wrote the piece and precisely why I chose to use offensive language in it.
When you’re in grade school, and a bully comes up to you and calls you a loser, simply explaining to him logically why you’re not technically a loser does not stop the bullying; it makes it worse. This is because the bully isn’t making an argument or an assertion when he calls you a loser, he is just trying to provoke an emotional response—both in you and the other kids. Getting defensive merely plays into that. And yet, this is precisely how conservatives have been responding to bullying from the left for years—and the results are rather dismal.
To put it in adult terms, one does not answer rhetoric with pure dialectic. Conservatives usually realize that dialectic is superior, which is why we respond this way—we think that we’re bringing a gun to a knife fight. Unfortunately, the reality is that we’re now bringing a gun to a cooking competition. While there are a few reasonable leftists out there with whom we can actually debate, the mob and their sycophants in the middle that are driving recent changes aren’t interested in debating whether or not we are bigots. When they call us bigots, they aren’t making an argument or an assertion; they’re trying to provoke an emotional response—both in us and in the wider audience.
If you are religious and your goal is to disprove the mob’s charge that religious people are bigots, then I have bad news for you: They will call you a bigot if you disagree with them nicely. They will call you a bigot if you disagree with them intelligently. They will call you a bigot if you disagree with them lovingly. They will call you a bigot if you disagree with them reasonably. They will call you a bigot even if you seek to compromise with them. Your only way out of being called a bigot by them is through a brief stint doing penance as a reformed bigot once you finally relent and stop disagreeing.
But if all it means when they call you a bigot is that you disagree with them and are therefore double-plus-ungood… why should any of us care whether they call us bigots or not? And if the right can openly provoke that and shrug it off, then some of that attitude might rub off on the cowards in the middle who know we’re right but are more worried about hurt feelings than persecution.
When then of dialectic? Did I simply sinking to the mob’s level out of rank pragmatism—giving up reasonable arguments for cheap rhetorical points? Not at all. Even the offensive rhetoric is there to reframe the actual arguments of the debate. Every offensive phrase in the original piece was simply a reframing of the terms of the issue to make them more accurate.
For example, when conservatives engage in a fight over whether homosexuals are allowed to marry, they’ve already given up their footing. The reality is that “homosexual marriage” is a contradiction in terms, like “a married bachelor.” We believe that marriage has a natural form—not just a legal one. It precedes the government, and so government does not make it (even if it does regulate it in various ways.) If marriage is written into the law, it is only so that our government can legally recognize a marriage when it sees one. Accordingly, whatever its laws say, the government cannot make two men married to each other any more than it can make a square circle. “Legalizing gay marriage” has always and only been about forcing somebody—whether government officials, businesses, or private citizens—to act as though this contradiction is real. In other words, its all about forcing people to pretend two men or two women are married to each other, as I (offensively) wrote in the article.
The same is true of the bit about patting lovers on the head and telling them how wonderful they are. Homosexuals who are actually interested in lifelong fidelity don’t need the government’s permission, and the legal benefits to marriage are rather trivial when it comes to sterile relationships. They seek the label of marriage purely because it is a mark of social esteem—a way of affirming their own relationships as being just as morally and socially acceptable as a marital relationship. To put it in old-fashioned language, it means their partners can appear to finally make an honest man/woman out of them. But even if they can finagle the a government seal of approval, that’s not enough because on some level, even they realize that government does not make marriages. They need social approval to help maintain their illusion, and so those who refuse to play along must be made to play along.
One does not simply make such arguments in an inoffensive manner. No amount of sugar is going to cover up what a bitter pill that is to swallow for someone to whom this is personally important, and it would be patronizing to try. But what of the moderates? Won’t pleasant and inoffensive language win over the middle? It is instructive that the moderate who made that original comment eventually went on to comment that the very term “sinner” is inherently derogatory—even in the context of “God loves sinners.” With standards like that, by the time the content of our arguments cease to be offensive, we will no longer have any. If someone won’t stand up for freedom of offensive religion, they won’t stand up for freedom of religion at all.
There is therefore no reason to walk on eggshells, and no reason to cast pearls before swine. There is every reason for boldness. By-and-large, American moderates are not in the middle because of their principles or strong beliefs. They are there because they don’t want to be bothered. Accordingly, one does not gain their support by being nice and not bothering them—it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease because that’s the one whose noise they want to stop. One gains their support by standing up and confidently leading them. The left has been doing that very effectively for decades. It’s time for the right to stop chasing the middle ever further leftward and start forging our own path.