Home Invasion? Defensive Gun Use? Or Creative Headline?

Davie shooting

While I was visiting Florida recently, this news headline caught my eye:

Man fatally shot during Davie home invasion, police say

This piqued my curiosity, because I’d already written a post discussing how the frequency of home invasions is very greatly overestimated. Additionally, this appeared to be the kind of incident that would probably be classified as a defensive gun use (DGU), which, as I’ve discussed, is also vastly inflated.

So I read the story, which includes this statement:

The resident of the apartment had some company over and they tried to rob him, Capt. Dale Engle said.

Huh??? The resident of the apartment had some company over? How exactly is it a “home invasion” if you willingly let people into your home? This is a strong indication that the alleged defender has been hanging out with the wrong company; and while it doesn’t automatically negate the claim that he acted in self-defense, it certainly does place a big question  mark next to it.  And reading a little farther, we see this:

The man who was shot was found about 8 p.m. outside the front door of the apartment in the 6100 block of Southwest 48th Street.

Now it’s possible that he might have been shot inside the apartment and then stumbled outside to die. But in the absence of solid facts, we have to allow for the possibility that he already might have been outside when the resident grabbed his gun, then came out and shot him. Very defensive, no?

Finally, there’s this:

The names of those involved haven’t been released, and no charges have been filed in the case. An AK-47 assault rifle found in the grass of a nearby home Friday morning was being examined, Engle said.

An AK-47? Hey, just the perfect thing to defend yourself against home invasion. Especially by some of your buds that you’ve invited inside.  Again, owning an AK-47 doesn’t automatically mean that you’re trigger-happy. But it certainly would seem to increase the odds dramatically.

Despite frequent wild claims of millions, the “confirmed” DGUs number no more than about 1000 per year. And a great many of those “confirmed” DGUs, on closer inspection, turn out to be not so confirmed after all because, as in the Davie shooting, the circumstances are fishier than Chicken of the Sea. Meanwhile, there are at least 400,000 crimes committed with a gun in the U.S. every year, and between 15,000 and 20,000 accidental shootings; altogether there are at least 100,000 gun injuries and/or deaths annually. All in all, it doesn’t add up to a very compelling argument that guns make us safer.

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Gay Activism and the Christian Persecution Complex: Ducking Responsibility

Duck Dynasty - A&E

By now you’ve surely heard more than you ever, ever wanted to hear about the whole Duck Dynasty flap (if you live in The United States). But chances are you haven’t heard anything at all about the important lessons to be learned from it. So here are a few observations for your consideration.

1. Disapproval is NOT censorship.

It’s become an automatic response of anyone on the receiving end of a backlash for expressing bigotry or general idiocy to say, “Hey, you’re trying to censor me”. Or “you’re trying to suppress my First Amendment rights.”  Poppycock, horsefeathers, balderdash and codswallop.

Duck Dynasty’s head  mallard, Phil Robertson, expressed his mind (such as it is) and nobody tried to stop him. GLAAD and A&E expressed their disapproval. All were perfectly within their constitutional rights.  So was the network’s decision to suspend Robertson temporarily while they reassessed their relationship with him.

The constitutional protection of the right to free speech was never intended as a shield against fallout if your speech is cloddish. If you call a guy a rotten sonofabitch and say his mother is a whore, he just might punch you in the nose. It’s not censorship. It’s not unconstitutional. It’s not intolerance. It’s Newton’s third law.

2. Overreaction has become the standard American reaction.

Let’s face it, we live in the Golden Age of the tempest in the teapot, an age in which any dumb joke or offhand whimsical remark triggers a hoopla of seismic proportions. The formerly innocuous neologistic verb Tweet has become a synonym for “invite an avalanche of distortion and negative publicity”.

So did people overreact to Robertson’s crass self-righteousness? Maybe. After all, there was far less outcry to his comments in the same interview to the effect that he thought African-Americans had been perfectly content with their social status in the pre-civil rights South, and that a non-Christian outlook leads to Nazism and genocide.  (Hey, nobody ever accused him of being a history scholar.) And his remarks about homosexuality in the interview were really rather tame in comparison to his past sage utterances on the topic that also flew mostly under the radar.

But if the gay community and A&E were overreacting, their overreaction was blown to smithereens by the overreaction to that overreaction on the part of Robertson’s defenders.

Here’s GLAAD’s statement:

“Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe. He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans – and Americans – who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples. Phil’s decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.”

As you can see, it’s much more elegant and civil than Robertson’s. As is the statement issued by A&E:

“We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series ‘Duck Dynasty.’ His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. “

And it’s certainly far more elegant and civil than the over-the-top reaction from Duck-lings, as typified by Fox “News”:

“A&E is apparently run by a bunch of anti-Christian, bigots. Duck Dynasty worships God. A&E worships GLAAD. If Phil had been twerking with a duck the network probably would’ve given him a contract extension. But because he espoused beliefs held by many Christians, he’s been silenced. Perhaps A&E could provide the nation with a list of what they believe is politically correct speech.  Maybe they could tell us what Americans can say, think and do. Should the U.S. Constitution be amended to prevent Americans from holding personal beliefs that others might not agree with?… It’s not about capitalism. It’s about driving an agenda and shoving it down the throats of the American public. And Hollywood is beholden to an agenda that is anti-Christian and anti-family. “

Good grief. They forgot to mention the  “Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids”.

You’ll notice that GLAAD and A&E (and most other people who objected to Robertson’s clueless crackerdom) limited their remarks to complaints about specific comments by a specific individual. They didn’t attack, insult, accuse or belittle him or anyone else. Not the rest of his family. Not duck hunters in general. Not Louisianans. Not guys who look like ZZ Top posing as GI Joe. And most certainly not Christians. But…

3. Americans desperately crave a narrative.

Have you noticed that people seem to find it increasingly difficult to view an incident as merely an incident? Everything has to be part of a trend, a movement, a plot, a conspiracy. Of course, the media do all they can to feed this attitude, and we could have an interesting chicken-and-egg debate about whether it’s more a matter of the media dictating or catering to the mindset; but in any case it’s pretty hard to deny that the mindset does exist.

In this instance, the overreaction to the overreaction tended to follow what has become a very popular narrative: that rejection of intolerance is more intolerant than intolerance itself. There was an explosion of rants about the oppressiveness of “political correctness”, whatever that is, on the part of the “Hollywood elites”. And always, such narratives absolutely and inevitably MUST lead to a scathing indictment of them librulz. This, the official spin goes, was another shining example of that ever-sought chimera, liberal intolerance. And oh yeah, it was a “war on Christian values”, as if all Christians were homophobic. (Quick, what did Jesus have to say about homosexuality?) But in fact some of them are actually too busy trying to improve the world to go around proclaiming that God is going to punish people for being the way He made them. And then there are the others…

4. Many Christians desperately want to feel persecuted.

They want it so much that they’re more than willing to pick a fight as often as possible in order to justify the paranoia.  One group they love to pick a fight with is gays. (See previous posts on Gay Activism and the Christian Persecution Complex: “Playing Chikin“, “A Tale of Two Legal Judgments” and “The Kirk Cameron/ Anita Bryant Delusion“.) But they’ll settle for other groups as well.

Not long before the GQ story broke, another Internet narrative began circulating about Phil Robertson, to the effect that Duck Dynasty producers had asked him not to pray on the show, at the insistence of “atheists and liberals” — a claim which turns out to be quite unfounded . In another interview, he specifically mentioned that they frowned on his ending prayers with “in Jesus’ name”,  possibly because it could offend Muslims. There’s no substantiation of this claim either, nor any reason to believe that in fact Muslims would be offended by such a thing.

It’s also interesting to note that this controversy erupted at time of year when the Christian persecution complex was already operating at full throttle. Every winter, one of the most inane of narratives, the “war on Christmas”, is as predictably conspicuous as eggnog and candy canes. Whenever someone says “happy holidays” or anything else except “Merry Christmas”, it’s taken as a sure sign that they’re out to eradicate the holiday altogether and ship all Christians off to a gulag in Siberia.

At about the same time the Duck Dynasty brouhaha was brewing, a woman in Phoenix who was collecting donations for The Salvation Army (which, lest we forget, is itself a Christian organization) was allegedly assaulted for expressing good will in an unauthorized fashion to a Good Christian. Is that censorship? Persecution? Political correctness? We don’t know, because The Indignant Guardians Of Liberty And Tolerance tend to become eerily silent about occurrences of this type. But maybe if Christians really are at war with the rest of the world, it’s because they’ve fired the first 5000 shots.

5. Many Christians try to duck responsibility for their own beliefs.

As we discussed in the previous post, they try to blame God for their bigoted and unenlightened doctrines, and quote cherry-picked biblical passages to buttress those beliefs. But this doesn’t work because (1) it’s very difficult to know exactly what the Bible says or intends; (2) the Bible often seems to contradict itself, and (3) you can find something in the Bible to justify anything you choose to believe.

One scriptural snippet the gay-bashing fundamentalists love to dredge up is Leviticus 18:22. What they fail to mention, however, is that the same book also states some other laws issued by the Almighty that most Christians wouldn’t want to live by. (At least let’s hope not.) And the Bible devotes even more wordage instructing you to sell your daughters into slavery, for instance. It’s the believers themselves who pick some biblical passages to live by and ignore others. And if there is a Guy Upstairs, he’s probably getting mighty annoyed at taking the rap for so long.

6. Americans love the lowbrow.

Duck Dynasty Clean

The above photo depicts the Robertson family in its pre-DD days. Chances are they wouldn’t have created such a media buzz if they’d continued grooming themselves like this. But fortunately for them, they underwent a savvy PR makeover, relinquishing an image that suggested the stereotype of the Homogenized Yuppie for one that suggests the stereotype of the Inbred Goober. And subsequently, their popularity has taken off like a skeet.

Americans have a fondness for, an infatuation for, an obsession with, the severely unsophisticated personality — not just the non-intellectual, but the anti-intellectual. Most people (hopefully) recognize that pop culture icons like Homer Simpson and Archie Bunker are meant to be satirical rather than exemplary. But there are real-life characters who are almost equally satirical, and they often end up in positions of power and influence: e.g., Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, and Dan Quayle. And did we mention Sarah Palin?

Phil Robertson was hired to be a buffoon, so nobody should be surprised by his comments in GQ. Or comments like this:

“Look, you wait ’til they (women) get to be 20 years old, the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket. You got to marry these girls when they are about 15 or 16. They’ll pick your ducks.”

Really, Christians? You feel morally superior for standing behind someone like this?

It’s also no surprise that he was reinstated on the Arts and Entertainment network, though he is neither very artful nor, for may of us, very entertaining. His supporters rallied to his defense, and he probably picked up quite a few more troops along the way — which is one reason why it’s probably not a good idea to make such a fuss about his comments in the first place. In fact, it wouldn’t be a big surprise to learn that the whole thing was a publicity stunt cooked up by the Robertsons and the network.

But the real question is, why do so many people even give a shit at all about what someone like Phil says? That they do surely reveals something significant about contemporary American “culture” — something that, like the Robertson clan decked out in its waterfowl-slaughtering regalia, ain’t very pretty.

 

The “Quoting Scripture” Defense

preacher on obama

Whenever Americans of the fundamentalist Christian flavor get caught saying something that is bigoted, judgmental, or ill-informed, they usually offer the standard defense that God made them do it. “I’m just following scripture”, they say, and then quite often quote the Bible to prove it. Or do they? Actually, this defense falls flat because it ignores three very important facts about the Bible.

Fact # 1: It’s often impossible to know exactly what the Bible says or intends.

If it were always possible, then there wouldn’t be much variation in Christian dogma. Instead, there are as many as 41,000 denominations and sects. Some believe they’ll be whisked up somewhere past Deep Space 9 at the end of time. Others believe that paradise will be established here on earth.  Some handle snakes, speak in tongues, sprinkle water on each other or dunk each other in it. Others think that any or all of these things are a bit wackadoo. All believe that their own doctrines are right and all the others are wrong. And all believe they get their authority straight from God — as funneled through the Holy Bible.

Trouble is, the book known as the Bible isn’t just a book. It’s an entire library of books, written by many authors in many genres over many centuries. Some of it is very poetic. Some of it is anchored in obsolete or even unknown cultural references. (How many Christians believe that “spare the rod and spoil the child” — which isn’t even a biblical quotation — means to spank children?  Or that “take God’s name in vain” means to swear?) Some of it is obscure and even deliberately cryptic. All of it is written in a dead language — at least three of them altogether. And all of it has been heavily filtered through many centuries of translation, translation of translation, conjecture, textual corruption, copyist’s error, and editorial tampering.

The end result is that we have an approximation of an approximation of the original, but we really have no idea how approximate. The exact interpretation of the text is questionable at almost every turn. Need an illustration? Well okay, let’s look at, er, um… how about the very first sentence? Traditionally quoted as “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”, the original text is probably more accurately rendered as “When God began creating the heavens and the earth…” What seems at first blush to be a slight grammatical/ syntactical variation actually could have a tremendous impact on whether believers subscribe to the anti-science mindset known as creationism.

Many versions of the Bible — including many editions of the notoriously staid King James Version — run a sidebar column of alternate interpretations like this in fine print throughout. How many “alternate” readings are really the true ones? How many times do alternate and accepted interpretations both miss the mark? We have no way of knowing. Anyone who claims to know exactly what the Bible says is practicing self-delusion.

Fact # 2: The Bible is full of apparent contradictions.

There are many lists of such contradictions, sometimes numbering several hundred. Some of them can be resolved by context, but many can not. There is definitely a textual inconsistency, for instance, about the content of the so-called Ten Commandments, and even about their exact number.

Some Christian apologists have attempted to address these discrepancies, and sometimes their explanations sound logical. But a great many other times, their arguments are nothing more than speculation, presumption and interpolation. Sometimes they can’t even offer that, and instead have to resort to declaring the problem an obvious copyist’s error.

Ouch.

They don’t seem to realize that if they admit of even one such error, they are opening the door to the possibility of many others. And when they open that door, out flies the notion of the Bible’s supposed infallibility.  Moreover, the  average Christian does not have the kind of erudite background that would enable him or her to untangle such problems in like manner; so naturally, you can expect Christians to entertain many contradictory beliefs. Which brings us to the big enchilada…

Fact # 3: It’s possible to find something in the Bible to support anything you choose to believe.

Absolutely anything. Wanna believe the center of the earth is a creme-filled chocolate coated cherry? There must be something somewhere in the deliberately vague and ambiguous Book Of Revelation to back you up.

Some Christians believe that  musical instruments should not be used in religious services. Others wouldn’t dream of conducting services without them. Some believe alcohol and/ or caffeine are wrong. Others serve them at church functions. Some believe that gays are evil; others are themselves gay. Growing up in a Southern fundamentalist sect, I heard preachers quote “scripture” to support their own convictions that it was a “sin” to play checkers, go bowling, listen to pop music, wear makeup or jewelry (even a wedding ring) and even — I kid you not — wear glasses. While quoting passages to support segregation, patriarchy, and other things that seemed to serve their own interests at the time.

In the words of Susan B. Anthony:

“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”

So in light of these three facts, and particularly this third one, we have to ask…

The Million Dollar Question…

Why do Christians so often zero in on biblical passages that seem to condemn entire groups of people — most of whom they know nothing about?

Aren’t there also passages about loving your neighbor and judging not and doing unto others? Why not focus on those instead? Why are so many Christians obsessed with biblical injunctions against homosexuality, but totally willing to ignore biblical injunctions against shellfish and pork? Or the endorsement of slavery, or the death penalty for homosexuality, “blasphemy”, adultery, rebellious kids, or working on Saturday? The only explanation they can offer is that some parts of the Bible have become obsolete. Fair enough. So why not the rest of it? Who gets (self-) appointed to make that determination?

The logical conclusion is that instead of believing what they find in the Bible, fundamentalists first believe, and then find it in the Bible. As you’ve surely noticed, when you challenge the beliefs of dogmatic individuals (of which there are quite a few), you’re likely to be met with defensiveness, hostility, and abject loathing. That’s because their beliefs aren’t just things they’ve adopted after examining the evidence; they’re things that have grown into their bones over a lifetime. When fundamentalists thump the Bible, they’re not probing for truth; they’re sounding out an echo chamber.

So sorry, thumpers, but you don’t get to hide forever behind God or questionable quotations lifted from an Iron Age literary artifact. You ultimately are responsible for your own beliefs. If you hate gays or Muslims or gays or atheists or  gays or “liberals” or gays or homosexuals or gays, it’s not because God told you to. It’s because you’ve decided to hate gays or Muslims or atheists or gays or “liberals” or gays or homosexuals or gays. (And if there’s a God as vengeful as you maintain, you’re probably really pissing Him off.)  And no, it’s really no less arrogant or judgmental to offer the popular defense that you “hate the sin but not the sinner”. It’s no easy task to separate (in the words of Yeats) “the dancer from the dance”. And besides you’re still the one deciding that someone else’s life is “sinful”, no matter how many Bible verses you stack up behind you. Or in front of you.