Selective Hearing

It seems as though an outburst on Facebook inspired by his fundamentalist Christian beliefs might have ended the international rugby career of Israel Folau. Folau reportedly posted on his Facebook page an admonitory warning that “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars and fornicators” are headed to hell unless they repent. It was nice of him to be concerned for the welfare of these transgressors, but only one subset of this group seem to have heard this message, viz. the homosexuals and those that opt to speak on their behalf. It pains me greatly that nobody has jumped in to promote the case for the offence of the drunks, adulterers, liars and fornicators. Surely it could not be the case that having minority gender preference somehow renders a person more sensitive to such perceived slights?

Is it going too far to suggest that the propensity to take offence is a learnt characteristic to promote the perceived victimhood of those at the forefront of identity politics?

Now from my point of view Folau’s statement didn’t actually hurt anybody. Any perceived hurt derived from his words was self-inflicted suffering designed to solicit sympathy and have the self-identified victims cocooned in a way that removes them from having to confront the ideas of those that differ from them.

I haven’t heard any such protests from the drunks, adulterers, liars and fornicators. They seem happy enough to shrug off the slights from antiquated belief systems.

It would be easy enough to mount an argument that Folau spoke out as he did because he was concerned about the salvation of these transgressors. It may well have been, shaped by his fundamentalist faith, an act of love reflecting his concern that these unfortunates were allegedly doomed to eternal damnation.

As usual our responses are often shaped by our assumptions of a person’s intent rather than the act itself. So if we had made the assumption that Folau’s outburst was motivated by his concern for these people rather than their vilification, might we not have responded differently?

But we cannot expect any such rationality in the debate. We are now wallowing in the mire of diversity and identity politics. This sphere is dominated by the notion that human beings are defined by their skin colour, sex and sexual preferences and other peripheral differences. It is predicated on the notion that white, heterosexual males are complicit in denying opportunity to everyone else in our society. It is dominated by the idea that a growing number of identity groups are experiencing ongoing bigotry and that this is so problematic that we need to shut down the opportunity for dissenters to be able to express their point of view and that the so-called oppressed are so fragile they need to be provided shelter from hearing points of view that might cause them to question their basic assumptions. (The advent of “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” come readily to mind as subterfuges to avoid questioning.)

We seem to be very selective in the views people can express without being pilloried. It can’t be the irrationality of a particular viewpoint that causes the outrage. A number of irrational arguments seem to be accepted into the public domain without the backlash that transgressing political correctness associated with gender politics causes. Advocates for the cessation of immunisation and the fluoridation of potable water, for example, don’t attract the same vehement response. Nor do those who argue that reducing Australia’s CO2 emission levels will have any discernible impact on global warming.

There also seems to be a general imbalance about religious criticism. It is far more likely that progressives will criticise Christianity than Islam. As I have stated many times before, I am not a Christian and I am certainly not a Muslim. But many of the fundamentalist beliefs of both religions are similar, which is not surprising since they share the same antecedent history. Yet when someone like Folau, an advocate of fundamentalist Christian theology, quotes his scripture, he is pilloried. At the same time fundamentalist Imams quote their Koran supporting Sharia law, subjugating women and promoting all sorts of violence, and hardly a word of criticism is heard.

In his book Identity, Francis Fukuyama wrote:

According to Hegel, human history is driven by a struggle for recognition. He argued that the only rational solution to the desire for recognition was universal recognition, in which the dignity of every human being was recognised. Universal recognition has been challenged ever since by other partial forms of recognition based on nation, religion, sect, race ethnicity or gender by individuals wanting to be recognised as superior The rise of identity politics in modern liberal democracies is one the chief threats that they face, and unless we can work our way back to more universal understandings of human dignity, we will doom ourselves to continuing conflict.

The good Dr Phil told me many years ago that nobody was special. In his response to my last blog he elaborated thus:

It has long seemed to me that it is very dangerous to personally identify with any bounded group, religion or philosophy — such as “I am a …” that place some inside and some outside the boundary. Not only does a boundary indicate that “I am better than those outside the boundary” but it also places me in a position where I am obliged to more or less agree with all that goes with the label and in so doing shuts down the intuitive capacity of the mind that must alway be ‘unbounded’ if it is to remain free to alternative ideas. It reminds me of the allegorical story of the Pharisee and the Tax collector. The Pharisee comes into the Temple and proclaims loudly “I thank you Lord that I am not as other men” especially this tax collector …. and went away deluded. The despised tax collector goes into a corner and says words to the effect, “forgive me for I am just the same as anybody else” …. and went away enlightened.”

Israel Folau belongs to such a bounded group as do his critics from the LGBTQI community. Consequently they cannot hear the messages from other such “tribes” because those messages (as Fukuyama implies) threaten their sense of identity. Folau’s religion (as do most) relies on guilt and fear for its propagation. It is inconceivable to me that a loving God would condemn homosexuals, liars, drunks etc. to eternal suffering in hell. But I believe Folau should be able to make statements to that effect. He is not fomenting violence and has stated he has nothing but love for these so-called “sinners”. To forbid him from doing so, in my belief, unduly impinges on his freedom of speech.

If we were to take this to its logical conclusion, if Folau’s quoting of his gospel is offensive that must mean the gospel is offensive. Is it then appropriate that we should perhaps censor or ban the bible? I suspect there are some that might take this position. But I also suspect that there would not be the same fervour to ban the Koran, even though it has the same censorious approach to homosexuals. And why would this be so? There are perhaps two reasons. Firstly the left has begun to vilify Western culture and because Western culture has been built on a foundation of Christian belief, Christianity is a target of their vitriol. Secondly, Islam is much more vigorous in its own defence than Christianity has been and its defence has often been violent and relentless. This has caused many to shy away from criticising Islam.

“But,” our progressives might argue in vilifying  Folau, ”he has caused offence!”

This is a fallacy. As the good Dr Phil argues, “Offence is never given it is only taken.” And it is taken to exacerbate the sense of victimhood which these groups hold to justify their separateness without having to intellectually defend their ideas.

It is time to eschew the intolerance of identity politics and allow without censoring (but not without debate) the disparate views of all groups into the public domain to be heard provided they are not fomenting violence. In order to advance the appropriate contest of ideas we need to enhance the resilience of the population at large and discourage the easy avoidance of confronting ideas by resorting to the cowardly device of “taking offence”!

3 Replies to “Selective Hearing”

  1. The greatest evidence that I am personally comfortable with my beliefs is that I don’t need to defend them against those who either disagree with them or mock them. The stronger my need to defend my beliefs and have them socially recognised the greater the evidence that, at the subconscious level of my mind, I am actually unsure or uncomfortable with those beliefs.

    All beliefs can be divided into two categories (i) matters of fact, and (ii) relations of ideas. We rarely feel insecure if someone challenges us on those ‘matter of fact’ that can be empirically validated. However, for most of those other, more personal, beliefs that fall into the category of ‘relations of ideas’ and by definition cannot be validated empirically, we seek ‘social validation’. Social validation is fine, in and of itself, and most of our social validation is gained from the ‘membership group’ to which we personally ‘belong’ or to the ‘reference group’ comprised of those individuals who hold views that are the same or similar to those of our own and with whom we identify as our ‘reference group’.

    However, the problem comes when I demand that those who are not part of either my ‘membership group’ or ‘reference group’ that they should also validate our beliefs and preferences by affirming them or remaining silent. It is this need for ‘out group’ validation that gives the clearest indication of my own personal insecurity with my views or beliefs. This personal insecurity is particularly clear when I demand that you validate my arbitrary preferences, or at least don’t invalidate them openly in the same social arena within which I feel free to openly display those personal preferences.

    I recently observed a highly emotional attack upon Professor Jordan Peterson–even with the threat of violence to him–by some members of a minority group who called him a ‘transphobe’. I thought he may have responded with, “How dare you identify me as a transphobe. I don’t personally identify as a transphobe and need to recognise my personal preference in this matter.” Needless to say, perhaps, Professor Peterson did not feel to need to adopt the same demand for validation of his views from his attackers and remained focussed on simply giving expression to the larger issues at stake.

  2. Ted,
    1. This may seem simplistic, but to me the answer is quite straight-forward.
    Drunks, adulterers, liars and fornicators have a choice in how they behave. Homosexuals in general are born that way and are sick of being persecuted for something over which they have no control to change, only suppress.
    2. Sure, Folau claims freedom of speech, but he does not have freedom from consequences. His employer laid down specific rules on public utterances, as is normal in most workplaces. He broke those rules.
    3. When Islamic extremists threaten the lives of critics, it naturally tends to suppress criticism of Islam. Therefore criticism of other religions becomes relatively higher. Accordingly, you cannot blame people for supposedly criticising Christianity more than Islam. They just don’t want to get their heads blown off. (As an atheist, I will readily criticise all religions as being the biggest load codswollop ever, but hopefully not too many extremists will read this.)
    4. As for “Offence is never given it is only taken.” I disagree. If I were to call you a xxxxxx old yyyyy who has lost zzzzzzz and can’t even xxxxx anymore, you would be quite right to offended. Offence would have both given and taken. Sure there is the other situation that you refer to, but that is sepaate.

    Cheers Ian Herbert

  3. Ian, I will only respond to one of your assertions, and that is about the notion of taking offense. I have had a pretty robust life and I believe that I am happy in my own skin. I have been insulted in many of the ways that you allude to. I am not a saint but I find no need to take offence at even the vilest of slights. If I have come to realise that my state of mind is largely my responsibility I become reasonable impervious to the slights of others. I know a number of people who have achieved this state of equanimity. It is not usual but also it is not uncommon. Those that easily take offense have not yet conquered their ego and unfortunately are unaware of how an enduring sense of well-being might be attained.

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