Duck Dynasty, Bestiality and Ultimate Reality

We have now been informed of the rationale of the “inside decision” to suspend Phil Robertson from his TV show.  The rock of offense, the big line that was crossed, was his alleged comparison of homosexuality to bestiality.

So here is the big question: what moral standards required this decision?

It is important to note that Robertson’s comments were made in response to the question of what he considered sinful.  Here was his answer: “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there—bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and that man.”

Exactly what he meant by this “morphing” is not clear, nor exactly is the nature of the comparison.   Moreover, he also mentioned heterosexual promiscuity as part of the morphing.  All that is clear is that he listed some examples of things he believes are sinful.

There is however, one undeniable comparison that can be drawn between the things he listed, and this I suspect is the real rock of offense.   All of these practices are condemned in the Scriptures, and that is the foremost reason Robertson finds them sinful.

And this is where reality TV bumps up against hard Reality.

What is truly shocking is that Robertson has very vivid views of reality that are sharply at odds with contemporary secular culture.  He believes there really is a God.  He believes God has revealed the ultimate truth about Himself in Jesus, and we have access to this truth in the Scriptures.  He believes that what is right and wrong depends on God.  He believes God has a Kingdom and that God has specified the terms under which we can enter His Kingdom.  He believes in final judgment and in heaven and hell.

The deep shock of his claims does not come from the fact that he used some crude language in expressing his views.  Crude language, after all, is par for the course today.  No, the real affront of what he said emerges from this picture of reality.

It is the suggestion that all the things Robertson listed are not only wrong, but ultimately wrong for the same jarring reason: they go against the will of a personal God and His design for human sexuality and human flourishing.  We are, moreover, accountable to Him, and to persist in resisting His will is to exclude ourselves from His kingdom and our ultimate true fulfillment.

If this is what Robertson was saying, he was merely stating core beliefs shared by all orthodox Christians.

Note: in saying this, I do NOT mean to equate all these behaviors he listed, or to say they all fall short of God’s will for us in the same way or in the same degree.  But it is to say that all of them are ultimately wrong for the reason that none of them conforms to God’s intentions for us.

This picture of reality is radically and profoundly at odds with the picture that says there is no God.  Or if there is, there is no objective truth about him that we can know.  Jesus represents one account of God, but hardly one that is true for all people.  Right and wrong have not been definitively revealed to us in Scripture.  Rather, right and wrong have no transcendent or supernatural ground, but are “human, all too human” as Nietzsche put it. Contemporary people have no obligation to accept traditional morality.   We ultimately decide what is right and wrong.

Now in light of this radical clash about the nature of ultimate reality, I do find it most interesting that the alleged comparison with bestiality is cited as the rock of offense that required Robertson’s suspension.    No offense was apparently taken at the comparison with “sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman.”  Indeed, our culture is hardly offended by sexual promiscuity.  Bestiality, however, is another matter it seems.  A+E apparently finds it a highly offensive practice or they would not find an implied comparison with homosexuality such an outrage.   But why?

Dostoevsky famously declared that “if God is dead, everything is permitted.”   Lurking here obviously, is a slippery slope argument.  And that is a famous informal fallacy, and of course, I like to avoid fallacies when I can.  So I do not mean to claim that if we depart from Christian morality at one point, then anything goes.

Still, what is sometimes alleged to be a slippery slope fallacy may not in fact be one.  There may be reason to think there is a connection between one idea and another, and one may lead to another in a weaker sense than a logical entailment.

So let’s put the question this way.  Assuming morality does not have a transcendent source, and we are not obligated to live by traditional morality, is there a good reason to condemn bestiality as wrong?  The question is particularly worth asking when we consider why traditional morality is typically rejected with respect to the other items on Robertson’s list.  The general reason is the claim that we have the right to do with our bodies as we choose.  Adults accordingly can determine for themselves what is right for them in the realm of sexual morality.

So why is bestiality such an outrage on this criterion?  I suppose that it might be suggested that animals are mere passive victims so it would be a version of animal abuse.  But it is pretty hard to make a case on these grounds since we kill and eat animals without their permission, and the vast majority of people have no problem with that, including me.  Granted, most of us find bestiality a distasteful practice, maybe even repulsive.   However, such emotional or visceral reactions are hardly sufficient to create moral obligations for others.

So I am left wondering why bestiality is thought to be so far outside the pale that Robertson’s alleged comparison required his suspension, as A+E insisted.  The answer is not apparent.  But perhaps it provides them their best available option for claiming the moral high ground against those who affirm traditional morality in ways they find objectionable.

6 responses

  1. Thanks for the post. Obviously without a transcendent source of ethics then there is no objective basis for making moral decisions. In such a culture power quickly becomes the source of ethics. We can see this at work already in the racism that masquerades as abortion and the rise in euthanasia. It is also apparent in the devaluing of women in our culture. Note for example the quick and decisive reaction to the objection raised against homosexuality but the slow, nearly reluctant reaction to the barbaric comments about Sarah Palin. If we don’t make a cultural course correction soon we will see a rapid and decisive rise of Nietzschian will to power setting the stage for the welcome of another Übermensch.

  2. Slippery slope arguments are not fallacious They come true when there’s nothing to stop them coming true. When used correctly, a slippery slope argument can be both logically sound and reliably true in experience.

  3. Note: in saying this, I do NOT mean to equate all these behaviors he listed, or to say they all fall short of God’s will for us in the same way or in the same degree. But it is to say that all of them are ultimately wrong for the reason that none of them conforms to God’s intentions for us. OK……….why is it that some Christians try to candy coat sin? Why are we afraid to call sin a sin? Are we afraid that it would single someone out? as far as I remember, Jesus did just that. Is this to say one sin is worse or more wrong than others? Sin is sin, there are no varying degrees of it, and should be called as such.

  4. I agree that slippery slope arguments are not inherently fallacious, rather they are reflective of human nature. Just as the drug abuser is likely to start with a “gateway drug”, criminals progress from minor to more serious crimes if nothing stops them. Any parent struggling with enforcing limits knows this problem. In fact there are countless stories of burglars being caught after settling into the house they invaded, making dinner and falling asleep in front of the TV until the owner arrives and calls the poice. the burglar has become so comfortable with what he is doing that he forgets it is illegal; while knowing it intellectually his emotions are telling him another story, and as Ovid put it,”Men do more from habit than from reason.”

  5. Pingback: Duck Dynasty and “True Christians” | The Discerning Christian

  6. I take issue with your claim that homosexuality is forbidden in scripture – not because it (certainly appears that it) is forbidden in scripture, but rather because of all of the other behaviors that are forbidden in scripture that most Christians find perfectly acceptable.

    We wear clothes with mixed threads (forbidden in Leviticus 19:19). Anyone who’s a business owner doesn’t pay their employees every day as is (very) clearly commanded in Leviticus 19:13. My dad tried it once, but he’s the only Christian business owner I’ve ever heard of doing it. Slander happens all the time.

    Of course this is all fine because it’s Old Testament and God doesn’t expect us to keep those rules. What Jesus said is what’s actually important. Except that in Matthew 5:32, Jesus explicitly forbids divorce. Churches are filled with divorcees. In Matthew 5:22, Jesus commands us against being angry with a brother or sister. It happens all. the. time. And how many of us are walking around with only one eye because we lusted after a woman? Steven Arterburn seems to think that’s “every man’s battle,” and if he’s right, and if we’re taking the Bible seriously, there should be an awful lot of blind Christians.

    “It’s unnatural,” says Paul. If we’re taking Paul on that, we have to remember that Paul also says that long hair on men is unnatural. Most of us don’t have issues with long hair on men, though some fundamentalists do.

    I’m going to have to push back against your claim that Robertson’s beliefs are held by all orthodox Christians – first because they’re not, and second because the capital-O Orthodox Christians have a very different view of heaven and hell than you do: If your view of “orthodoxy” comes from the creeds, the ancient creeds say nothing about absolute truth. They say nothing about the Bible being the word of God, mostly because the Bible in its current form didn’t even exist at the time that they were written!

    As regards absolute truth, there are a number of very (small-o) orthodox Christians who believe that absolute truth exists but also believe that just because they have a Bible doesn’t mean that they have absolute truth. Claims of absolute truth are inherently very dangerous because (a) Bible-worshipping Christians don’t agree on what that absolute truth is, though they agree that it’s in the Bible, and (b) it is exceedingly arrogant (implicitly forbidden by Paul in Romans 12:3). Do I believe in absolute truth? Of course I do! I just don’t believe that I have it, or that you do. Maybe sometimes I do, and maybe sometimes you do, and maybe by working together as the church we can come to a better idea of it, but history should educate us on the fallibility of our notions of absolute truth. Certainly we should all act in the light of the truth as best it has been revealed to us, but let us be gentle with others and follow Christ’s most supreme command to love our neighbors as ourselves.

    Certainly Robertson’s claims were inflamatory, and he certainly had the right to make them, but as my brother-in-law noted, A&E also has the right to suspend him for them. They’re a corporate entity, not the US Government.

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