A case study in bad argumentation
I am teaching a class on argument to first-year students, and one of my rules that particularly irks them is that they cannot evaluate arguments in their papers. They can only dissect them and explain how they work. Criticism is an advanced technique. The simile I use: You cannot become a doctor and recommend medical methods of healing until you know exactly how the body works. I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to call myself a doctor of argument, but I think based on my experience as a critic, teacher, and scholar, I can safely refer to myself as a nurse practitioner of argument. And a case presented to me is in some serious need of medical attention. The case is the argument(s) for California’s Proposition 8, which, if the voters pass it in November, would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in the state. Sadly for Prop 8′s backers, there’s no cure for their shallow, dishonest, and fear-mongering logic. Basically, their arguments — from dishonest descriptions of the goal of the proposition to paranoid visions of future changes in tax and education laws — all have rhetorical mad cow disease. To simplify matters, I’ll mostly examine their official FAQ, and then look at their biggest backers’ views as filtered through a supporter’s popular blog, which include ideas and assertions that the campaign decided the voting public doesn’t need to hear.
First, however, let’s have a theory of argument around which Prop 8′s rhetoric can be analyzed. How does an argument work? In my class (and in many classes on argument), we use the classic “Toulmin Model,” which is nicely summarized in various places on the web, but I think ChangingMinds.org’s is the clearest. I’ve pasted it below. If you’re familiar with Toulmin, click here to skip the quote.
A claim is a statement that you are asking the other person to accept. This includes information you are asking them to accept as true or actions you want them to accept and enact.
The grounds (or data) is the basis of real persuasion and is made up of data and hard facts, plus the reasoning behind the claim. It is the ‘truth’ on which the claim is based. Grounds may also include proof of expertise and the basic premises on which the rest of the argument is built.
The actual truth of the data may be less that 100%, as all data is based on perception and hence has some element of assumption about it.
It is critical to the argument that the grounds are not challenged, because if they are, they may become a claim, which you will need to prove with even deeper information and further argument.
Over 70% of all people over 65 years have a hearing difficulty.
Data is usually a very powerful element of persuasion, although it does affect people differently. Those who are dogmatic, logical or rational will more likely to be persuaded by data. Those who argue emotionally and who are highly invested in their own position will challenge it or otherwise try to ignore it. It is often a useful test to give something factual to the other person that disproves their argument, and watch how they handle it. Some will accept it without question. Some will dismiss it out of hand. Others will dig deeper, requiring more explanation. This is where the warrant comes into its own.
A warrant links data and other grounds to a claim, legitimizing the claim by showing the grounds to be relevant. The warrant may be explicit or unspoken and implicit. It answers the question ‘Why does that data mean your claim is true?’
A hearing aid helps most people to hear better.
The warrant may be simple and it may also be a longer argument with additional sub-elements, including those described below.
Warrants may be based on logos, ethos or pathos, or values that are assumed to be shared with the listener.
In many arguments, warrants are often implicit and hence unstated. This gives space for the other person to question and expose the warrant, perhaps to show it is weak or unfounded.
Most of Prop 8′s supporters have very clear claims about why same-sex marriage should not be legal. However, their support tends to be weak, mostly because their warrants (and backing) are problematic. They also avoid any qualifiers; they tend to have absolute views that are rarely if ever softened by “except when.” In fact, when they deal with counter-arguments, the backers of Prop 8 tend rely on worse — often circular or illogical — evidence than what they use to attempt prove their claims. [UPDATE: For instance, check out this attempted refutation of the post you're now reading. Talk about bad argumentation.]
The official argument
In their FAQ, the backers of Prop 8 claim that the change in California constitution is needed because the state’s Supreme Court made a bad decision. “Because four activist judges in San Francisco wrongly overturned the people’s vote,” it reads, “we need to pass this measure as a constitutional amendment to restore the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.” In this statement, there are several buzzwords loaded with problematic meanings agreed upon by conservatives.
First, there’s “activist.” The conservative movement’s leaders have used this term to describe any judge that makes a decision that they do not like, though it’s supposed to be used to describe a jurist who interprets the letter of the law beyond the actual words of that law — which is, of course, what judges do for a living. In this case, the judges decided that gays and lesbians were not being treated equally based on the state constitution’s definition of equality; for them to be treated equal, they should have the right to marry. The only way this was “wrongly” decided is that it is a decision that the backers of Prop 8 do not like. Being an activist is only bad when the activist is a liberal.
Second, there’s “San Francisco.” If the seat of the court was in, say, San Jose or San Diego or Fresno, the backers of Prop 8 would not mention the city. The city is mentioned because it implies that the judges are either gay or political radicals or hippies or all three. The conservative movement uses “San Francisco” as a stand-in for “the place where immoral people live.” Interestingly, the only gay judge on the Supreme Court voted against legalizing same-sex marriage. And all of the judges who voted to legalize same-sex marriage were appointed by Republican governors.
Third, there’s “restore the definition of marriage as between a man and woman.” This is the mantra of anti-marriage equality activists, and it has little meaning beyond the words themselves. In the minds of the backers of Prop 8, definitions are more important than anything. Definitions are absolute and infallible, it seems. To them, changing a definition is criminal — it is nakedly immoral. This is probably based in the absolutism of the Mormons and fundamentalist Christians who comprise the vast, vast majority of Prop 8′s supporters. To them, there is only one way to think — their way — and anyone who thinks differently is wrong. Absolutism is key to their argument against same-sex marriage and it is key to their worldviews. Absolutism, however, also leads to hypocrisy. Mormons, for instance, are obsessed with preventing any shift in the definition of marriage from “a man and woman,” yet they had no problem with changing their own definition of marriage from monogamy to polygamy and back to monogamy again, with the last shift only made for political purposes. Similarly, the fundamentalists constantly use the Bible to bash gay marriage, but they ignore the part about how divorce is a grave sin. And the percentage of Evangelical Christians who or will be divorced is just as high as the regular population, if not higher. But, of course, neither the Mormons nor the Evangelicals are trying to pass laws banning divorce.
The backers follow up their initial, or “main” claim, with three subclaims, or “three simple things,” about what Prop 8 does.
- It restores the definition of marriage to what the vast majority of California voters already approved and human history has understood marriage to be.
This is a reference to a previous ballot initiative, which passed in 2000 with 61% of the vote. It was this law that the California Supreme Court declared unconstitutional. As an argument, however, this particular sub-claim is easily discounted. Many times courts have reversed decisions of voters, and many times voters have changed their opinions. Simply saying, “we voted on this already” isn’t compelling; if it was, we’d still have Prohibition, slavery, and we would never have passed a Bill of Rights. The “human history” argument is similarly weak. Human history is full of terrible traditions that lasted centuries that should have been stopped — that even religious zealots would encourage be done away with. For instance: slavery, capital punishment for adultery, capital punishment for disagreeing with the Catholic Church, and so on and so forth. And according to multiple scholars, same-sex unions have existed for millennia, and they were legal in numerous societies before the the California Supreme Court recognized them.
- It overturns the outrageous decision of four activist Supreme Court judges who ignored the will of the people.
The problematic “activist” insult is used again, this time to claim that the “will of the people” was ignored, and that this is “outrageous.” It is clear from the decision as written that the court did anything but ignore the will of the people. The court references the vote of the people numerous times, but they point out the law that was voted for was unconstitutional. Again, it is the job of the court to interpret the constitution of the state, sometimes that means the will of the people must be disagreed with. We do not live in a democracy; we live in a democratic constitutional republic, which means that the will of the people is not the final word in the law. The decisions was no more outrageous than any other decision except that the backers of Prop 8 disagreed with this decision, so it is termed “outrageous” in order to persuade voters ignorant of the law and role of the courts in American government that such a decisions is out of the ordinary, arbitrary, or without merit — none of which it was.
- It protects our children from being taught in public schools that “same-sex marriage” is the same as traditional marriage.
This an odd sub-claim because it’s simply not true (as opposed to the two previous, which are simply weak arguments). Prop 8 doesn’t mention education, just as the court’s decision didn’t mention education. Nothing about Prop 8 will prevent the teaching children about gay couples, and nothing about the current state law forces children to learn about gay couples, let alone marriage equality. In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times, state law requires “districts that offer sex education “‘teach respect for marriage and committed relationships’” (emphasis mine.) And state law already states that parents can refuse to allow their children to learn anything involving sexuality and the family. (The current Prop 8 cause célèbre , in which school kids went to a gay wedding, is a perfect example; the parents of two kids opted out, but the backers of Prop 8 are still angry. And lying.) And better: Even if gay couple cannot marry, their “committed relationships,” whether in the form of domestic partnerships or religiously but not governmentally sanctioned marriages, will still be included under the law. Since the backers of Prop 8 emphasize that nothing will happen to domestic partnerships and they claim that they are “NOT” attacking gay people, they really have no standing to say that Prop 8 will change anything about how education is performed in California.
The backers of Prop 8 delight in referencing the Massachusetts court decision that said that a teacher was allowed to read to her class a children’s book about two princes who married each other. This video pretty much sums up how silly it is to be afraid of a children’s book. However, Prop 8′s backers bring up this case because, they claim, it shows how children are being forced to hear about gay marriage. In California, as I mentioned, state law allows parents to remove their children from such discussions. And according to the parents who sued, that choice is what their case was all about: “This case is fundamentally about freedom of choice for parents to raise their children in the interest of their well being, health, happiness, growth and development as productive members of society.” According to the Times, the parents in this case are campaigning for Prop 8, despite the law on the books. If their desire for choice has been met in California, I wonder why they are working with Prop 8, especially since they say that they “oppose hatred and the abuse of any human being because of their beliefs, lifestyles, sexual proclivities, or perceived gender.”
So, why risk this lie? The backers of Prop 8 are trying to reach a population that agrees on a particular warrant: Children should not know anything about sexuality, and if they do learn about sexuality, they will undoubtedly be corrupted. This particular stance has led to all sorts of trouble, as children and teens who do not receive sex ed are more likely to become pregnant and contract STDs. Of course, Prop 8 has raised $25 million to deluge television with advertisements about gay marriage, so their children are going to learn about it. They may not learn that it is “equal,” but they’ll learn about it, and much to their parents chagrin, they will eventually make up their own minds.
Following their initial claims of what voting Yes on Prop will do, the backers of Prop 8 explain what they think voting No will do. Their predictions are hyperbolic and apocalyptic and not based on any evidence; they are to the marriage debate as “Obama is a Muslim terrorist coke addict” is the presidential campaign. The support for their assertions exist only in the language and the belief that the writers are not lying or exaggerating. Every sentence in the paragraph is false.
If Proposition 8 is defeated, the sanctity of marriage will be destroyed and its powerful influence on the betterment of society will be lost.
This is another of the mantras of the anti-gay marriage forces, and on its face, it is absurd. Extending marriage to more people will mean more people will be married, and therefore marriage will become more influential. In fact, through numerous discussion with gay couples, I know that the legality of marriage is the single factor encouraging them to marry. As Massachusetts has shown, legalizing gay marriage and encouraging gay marriage had made the gay community more sedentary, more traditional, and less focused on pleasure. Since this is what tradition-minded Christians want for everyone, and since backers of Prop 8 think gay culture is focused only on sex and hedonism, it would make sense to encourage marriage for gays and lesbians, not to ban it. While not mentioned in the FAQ, the backers of Prop 8 claim that a Dutch study showed that “same-sex ‘partnerships’ for young men are temporal at best, and men in ‘steady partnerships’ have an average of eight partners per year aside from their ‘main’ partner.” The problem with that study, among other things, is that it excluded monogamous men from the sample. So, gee, what do you think the results are going to look like? The use of that study has been thoroughly debunked by Timothy Kincaid. Nevertheless, like the bogus claim that children will be forced to learn about gay marriage against the will of their parents, the backers of Prop 8 still use the study as evidence despite knowing that it does not support their claims or causes.
The defeat of Prop. 8 would result in the very meaning of marriage being transformed into nothing more than a contractual relationship between adults.
The notion that gay weddings are simply contract-signing parties is, I think, based on either ignorance or bigotry. I’ve witnessed a good number of weddings, straight and gay. At both, there’s a great deal of crying and talk of eternity and God and the meaning of marriage for the community and the family. In fact, I think it is fair to say that the gay weddings have been more emotional and more spiritual, probably because of how hard it has been for these couples to stay strong in the face of opposition from so many people. The warrant to this “nothing more than” statement is that gays and lesbians are not capable of love or emotional commitment, and that no religions support their unions. This is a false warrant, and it contradicts the statements of the backers of Prop 8 who claim not to be attacking gays and lesbians.
No longer will the interests of children and families even be a consideration.
I am at a loss to explain this statement because it seems unsupportable, even with my powers of empathy and research. How banning marriage for gays and lesbians helps children and families — when domestic partnerships will still exist and religious same-sex wedding will still happen and the law of the state will still allow gay and lesbian couples to adopt, foster, and bear children — is unclear. However, allowing children of gay and lesbians to have parents who are married (instead of, ha, “living in sin”) would encourage them to value marriage and its power. Similarly, as many married gay and lesbians will tell you, few things integrated them into their families more than their marriages. Marriage provides rituals and structures for the inclusion of their relationships — and their partners — into their families, something that domestic partnerships do not.
We will no longer celebrate marriage as a union of husband and wife, but rather a relationship between ‘Party A’ and ‘Party B.’
“We”? I’m pretty sure that the backers of Prop 8 can, and will always be able to, celebrate anything they want, so claiming otherwise is a little odd. And making the vague language of clerical documents a reason for voting to ban same-sex marriage would seem to be particularly silly. And in my mind — and for the vast majority of people — it is. But for Mormons and Evangelical Christians, the family has very particular gender roles, with male headship and women who are supposed to focus on household and child-rearing work. Families, in their eyes, do not work without a man and a woman. Fine. For them. But forcing every family to function as they wish theirs did is not a very nice thing to do. If the backers of Prop 8 were to campaign bluntly for rigid gender roles of husbands and wives, they would be ignored and laughed off as nuts. But that is exactly what they are doing, and they are hiding behind , which, it should be mentioned, have no relevance to the ways that families function.
The marriage of a man and a woman has been at the heart of society since the beginning of time. It promotes the ideal opportunity for children to be raised by a mother and father in a family held together by the legal, communal and spiritual bonds of marriage. And while divorce and death too frequently disrupt the ideal, as a society we should put the best interests of children first, and that is traditional marriage.
I do not think there is much to argue with in these three sentences, except for the unspoken implications of the words. First, there’s the seeming error in claiming that heterosexual marriage has been around “since the beginning of time,” which is not an error, of course, if you believe that the universe was created in six days 6000 years ago. Since Creationists are roundly considered to be unreasonable religious zealots by most Americans, the backers of Prop 8 probably decided to leave the question of error vs. the literality of Genesis up in the air. Second, the backers of Prop 8 use of the word “ideal” to stand in for “best,” though it can more clearly means “archetypal.” This is true: Heterosexual marriage is archetypal. Nothing will stop that when 95% of the world, at least, is heterosexual. But “best” is very debatable. There is no evidence that straight marriages are better — more healthy, better for children, longer lasting, etc. — than gay marriages. In fact, some studies have shown the same-sex marriages are more stable, and other studies have shown that there is no difference in the mental health of children raised by straight or gay parents. Admittedly, there is inconclusive evidence on gay parenting. But since Prop 8 will do nothing to stop the state of California from allowing gay couples to adopt, foster, or bear children, studies about gay parenting are moot here. And in fact, Prop 8′s entire argument concerning children is moot for the same reason.
Voting No on Proposition 8 would destroy marriage as we know it and cause profound harm to society.
There isn’t a shred of evidence that this is the case. Gay marriage is now fully legal in six countries, and marriages performed elsewhere are recognized in many more. The Rapture has not started (though that would be a good thing, in the minds of some people). Gay marriage has not harmed society in any way, and no one’s marriage has been harmed, and no one has decided that marriage has lost its power or meaning. Claiming otherwise is simply dishonest. But, from what I have pointed out, honesty and coherent argument is not of much concern to the backers of Prop 8.
After proclaiming their paranoid fear that gay marriage will turn the United States into a soon-to-be-burn modern day Sodom, the backers of Prop 8 then try to qualify their claims, claiming that they are not anti-gay.
Will Proposition 8 take away any rights for gay and lesbian domestic partners?
No. Proposition 8 is about preserving marriage; it’s not an attack on the gay lifestyle. Proposition 8 doesn’t take away any rights or benefits from gays or lesbians in domestic partnerships. Under California law, “domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections and benefits” as married spouses. (Family Code §297.5.) There are no exceptions. Proposition 8 will not change this.
This is rich. First, they claim that taking marriage away from gay people “preserves” it, which, as I made clear above, it does not. Then, they have the nerve to claim that Prop 8 is “not an attack on the gay lifestyle.” If they had no problems with the “gay lifestyle” (a stupid phrase, as we all should know by now), they would not want to prevent us from getting married. If they had no problems with the “gay lifestyle,” they wouldn’t be terrified that children might find out it existed. If they had no problems with the “gay lifestyle,” they wouldn’t use the “Dutch study” to demonize us. Yes: The backers of Prop 8 are liars. And they are hair splitters. “Proposition 8 doesn’t take away any rights or benefits from gays or lesbians in domestic partnerships,” they say. But Prop 8 will take away from rights and benefits from gays and lesbians who are married. Duh. The No on Prop 8 folks sum it up quite nicely, saying, “Domestic Partnerships are NOT the same as marriage. Domestic partnerships are just legal documents. They don’t provide the same dignity, respect, and commitment as a marriage.” See what this means? The backers of Prop 8 do not want gays and lesbians to have the same dignity and respect that straight people enjoy. Prop 8 is a blatant attack on gays and lesbians. As Coretta Scott King said, “”Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages.”
The second qualifier in the FAQ answers the question, “What about the marriages we’ve been reading about for the last three months?” The backers of Prop 8 make it clear that they want those marriages annulled — “the validity and recognition of all marriage in California would be limited to a man and a woman, including past and future marriages” — but they admit that it will be “up to the Courts to decide.” My burning question is, if the courts refuse to annul the 12,000 same sex marriages that have happened since June 17, will the backers of Prop 8 spend another $25 million dollars so that the voters can forcibly divorce them?
Oddly, following that question, the backers of Prop 8 return to the issue of education, this time with a more blatant lie:
If Proposition 8 does not pass, will my children be forced to learn about gay marriage at school?
Yes. In health education classes, state law requires teachers to instruct children as young as kindergarteners about marriage. (Education Code §51890.) If the same-sex marriage ruling is not overturned, teachers will be required to teach young children that there is no difference between gay marriage and traditional marriage.
They cannot be forced, as I pointed out above. And the state law says that throughout their education, from kindergarten to grade 12, students must at some point learn about “Family health and child development, including the legal and financial aspects and responsibilities of marriage and parenthood.” That’s all it says about marriage. There is no language about gay marriage, and the language makes it clear that the students are to learn about the “legal and financial aspects and responsibilities of marriage” in general. And teaching a kindergartener about this would be absurd. Do you think a five-year-old would understand joint tax returns? Also, as mentioned repeatedly, if Prop 8 passes or fails, this law will still be on the books, and if Prop 8 passes, teachers will still be able to discuss the “legal and financial aspects and responsibilities” of domestic partnerships. Well, until the backers of Prop 8 try to pass a law banning teachers from discussing current history, civil rights, state law, Ellen Degeneres, or Ted Haggard.
The rest of the FAQ repeats some of their previous points — including the one about how nothing about the domestic partnership law will change — and point readers to their website to find out how to help and who is supporting Prop 8. Check out their list here. It’s basically a list of Mormon, Evangelical Christian, and Republican organizations. No on 8′s endorsement list includes every major newspaper in California, as well as just about every important union and professional and civic organizations. The “jump on the bandwagon” argument won’t work very well for the backers of Prop 8.
The unofficial message
As you may have noticed, the backers of Prop 8 never mention religion in their FAQ, and the only mentions of religion on their website is in their list of “Churches and Ministries” that support their efforts and in their list of resources that churches can use to help them beat up anti-gay sentiment in their congregations. (My favorite is the detailed instructions on how to subvert tax law to raise money for the Yes on Prop 8 campaign.) The resources have some minor scriptural references, but nowhere does the official campaign make overt statement about homosexuality and the Bible. This is because Prop 8 needs to appeal to non-fundamentalist Christians in order to win, and if they state what they really believe, they will alienate the voters. The pastors leading the Christian soldiers against gay marriage, on the other hand, are perfectly willing to use and abuse the Bible and their pulpits to condemn gay marriage and support Prop 8. I have written about the lame arguments of San Diego’s three major anti-gay religious leaders, but I have never gone into detail about their exact words. I will have to dissect some of their sermons listed here another time. But for now, I’ll just say that like most Christians who demonize gay people and gay marriage, their arguments are distinctly un-Christian, offering neither love nor truth.
Instead, for now, I will offer a little case study in how these ministers’ arguments are externalized by their followers. A few months ago, in a throw-away post about Donnie Davies, I linked to a blog that had a video of San Diego’s gay-basher-in-chief Miles McPherson’s at the Republican National Convention. The owner of the blog — aptly named Christocentric, though it would be more aptly named Christianist — took exception to my characterization of her pastor, and we had a little comment fight. Then she asked me to come over to her blog and comment about the nature of gay bashing. And then she banned me from commenting on her blog because I violated the her comment policy for writing this:
Carlotta will not think about our rights when she votes. She doesn’t care about our rights, our families, our dignity. And she certainly is not interested in learning the truth. If anything can be learned from these silly comment debates — that Carlotta asked for when she came to our blogs to challenge us — it’s that she ignores all evidence that contradicts her position, ignores all counter-arguments, and has no problems with being an obvious hypocrite. Anyone who willingly admits that they chose which parts of the Bible work for her and which can be left for the Jews has no place making moral judgments based solely on scripture.
Apparently, it’s against the rules of Carlotta’s blog to attack personally any of the other commenters or bloggers. (I didn’t know of my punishment until last week, when I went back to see what sort of tomatoes she was lobbing at the gays, what with the new ads from the bigots arriving and the new poll numbers showing that their lies have been convincing some of the stupider people in the electorate.) That policy is pretty hypocritical, because her main subjects over the last few months have been how gay people should be denied civil rights, that they are going to Hell, and that anyone who disagrees with her is willfully immoral and ignorant, and so on and so forth. Of course, I didn’t tell her that she was going to Hell or the like; I said she was a hypocrite. Which, considering she thinks its okay to damn me to Hell but not okay for me to say that she “acts in contradiction to … her stated beliefs or feelings,” is pretty good description of her.
But apparently it was snide and nasty of me to say that she was a hypocrite. This is how I determined that she was a hypocrite: In what follows, the first paragraph is what she said, and the second is my response.
The only way your conclusions can make sense is if the bible is completely rejected, because otherwise, we have a very powerful, reliable source as a guidebook for the human being.
This is preposterous. Unless you’ve given up shellfish and poly-cotton blends, don’t try that all-or-nothing stuff. Except for the Hasidim, there isn’t a single Judeo-Christian denomination that follows all the Bible (and the Hasidim are only down with the Old Testament). You know this. And you have chosen a denomination, an interpretation, that focuses on specific passages and ignores others. Why aren’t you going after the money-lenders or caring for the sick and rejected?
In her response, she wrote:
I am able to distinguish which commandments are to be followed and which are to be left strictly to the Jewish believers. Most of us (Christians) can easily decipher the things that God wants us to know.
This is on-its-face hypocritical. She says that the only way for me to believe that I am a moral person is if I reject the Bible completely. I cannot pick and choose. But, apparently, Carlotta can pick and choose. According to Carlotta, God wants Christians to follow the gays-are-an-abomination stuff from the Old Testament, but not the stuff about mixing cotton and wool and stoning adulterous women and eating shellfish. According to Carlotta, it’s easy to figure out what God wants Christians to do. However, if you figure out something Carlotta didn’t — like say, Levitical laws may have made sense 3000 years ago but certainly don’t now, that Sodom was destroyed for oppressing foreigners and not for anal sex, and that Paul’s letters didn’t really talk about homosexuality whatsoever — you’re just wrong, wrong, wrong. Of course, many, many, many Christians believe and have believed differently from Carlotta, folks like Desmond Tutu, Coretta Scott King, and millions upon millions of faithful believers around the world. I guess they’re not real Christians; they’re stupid; they’re possessed by the Devil.
It’s one thing to think that you know the way to salvation and everyone else is going to Hell. It’s another thing entirely to force your method of salvation on the rest of the world. That is exactly what Carlotta wants: the U.S. government should only follow her Christian doctrine when making laws. That’s what the Catholic Church did during the Inquisition, and it’s what the Taliban did in Afghanistan, and it’s what Bin Laden would like to do for the entire world. Carlotta, in her infinite wisdom, claims that a vote for Prop 8 is a vote for religious freedom. That’s like saying that a vote for McCain is a vote for peace, a vote for Putin is a vote for democracy, a vote for Nixon is a vote for ethics in government, a vote for Bush is a vote for habeas corpus.
The really sad thing about Miles McPherson’s cultish, exclusionary brand of Christianity is that it works. His followers actually think they are doing the right thing. They are so blinded by McPherson’s flashing lights and call-and-response method of oratory that do not — or cannot — see the that his arguments are based on lies, paranoia, warped theology, and bigotry. Or they are so freaked out by the inconsistencies and outright intellectual dishonesty of their pastor and the Prop 8 campaign that they have no choice but to hide behind the Bible and extremist, nutty visions of the future to prevent their heads from exploding. Or, worst of all, they are just as bad as their pastor and the rest of the thugs behind Prop 8, who are roundly dishonest and, well, not very smart.
Hypocrisy is all too common among religious zealots. This is because it is impossible to live a life of absolutes, even if you believe in absolutes. Ignorance is also common among religious zealots. This is because if you are educated about the way the world works, if you learn about the law and about differences in cultures and about history, it’s difficult to hold extreme, absolute beliefs. And once you learn that people live moral lives outside your own religion, it’s pretty hard to justify jamming yours down their throats. Though if you hold extreme, absolute beliefs, it tends to be second nature to ignore any information that runs counter to what you hold to be true. Carlotta, like so many of the Prop 8 activists, believes in absolutes and embraces paranoia, and she ignores history, ignores logic and reason, ignores science, and she holds on to her Bible (except for the parts that she left for the Jews) and the utterly unloving, un-Christian views of her pastor, hoping that salvation will come from ruining the lives of gay people, instead of following the model of Christ and caring for the sick, the poor, the rejected, and the ignorant.
If the supporters of Prop 8 had to take my class, they would fail. This is not because I’m gay and they don’t want gay people to have civil rights. I disagree with many of my students. They would fail because they cannot make coherent arguments. In their official literature, the backers of Prop 8 are willfully dishonest and they use buzzwords and warrants that are decidedly at odds with their stated tolerance. They are relying on their ability to deceive foolish voters in order to win. In their un-official, Christianist arguments, they make it very clear that it is theocracy that they are fighting for, not the preservation of traditional marriage. They care about the latter, but their true goal is the former.
And they say people like me are un-American.
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