Whatever one may think of Duck Commander Phil Robertson’s recent remarks (and let’s be honest, his references to human anatomy could have used a more careful nuance), there’s at least one element in this hubbub that’s going underemphasized, but that should be appreciated: Morality.
Morality and calls for a more moral nation seem more resonant of an Eisenhower-era puritanism, which of course, Robertson would have grown up in. Perhaps from a rising libertarian class, calls for morality, even for conservatives, has become taboo; especially for the political class. This is tragic. The best of the Kirkian tradition of conservatism recognized a permanent, moral order that democratic fiat had no jurisdiction over. Humanity’s nature—seen through the prism of male and female—is one of the untouchables.
But there’s a sense in which the moral concern that Robertson speaks of, and in turn, the moral clarity that Robertson is calling for, is entirely right. Everyone intuitively knows that culture today is crass. Often lacking the lexical ability to call a wrong a wrong (and even worse, calling a “wrong” a “right”), a lot of people’s consciences internalize what the prophet Isaiah warned of when he said: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” Robertson thinks America is in a tailspin of moral unrighteousness; and homosexuality is emblematic of culture’s decline.
For Robertson, morality’s plight issues from a biblical Christianity that has, for over 2,000 years, found homosexual behavior (along with drunkenness, thievery, and other vices) wrong and immoral; and to invoke the Christian lexicon—sinful. Sin is an act that, according to Christian theology, represents a disordered desire, intention, or motive against a standard mediated by God’s holiness and purity.
Thus, merely defending the right of Robertson to make these comments without defending the underlying rightness of his comments (leaving aside the comments on race) is to deny the full monty of this story.
A lot of the analysis about Robertson’s comments omits any discussion of the merit of Robertson’s views on human sexuality. Most view and applaud Robertson from the virtue of viewpoint diversity, pluralism, and free speech—all of which are good and celebratory public virtues. In essence, commenters seem to either intentionally or unintentionally bracket the moral reasoning or merit of Robertson’s comments, implicitly cowing to today’s sexual relativism.
While Robertson’s statements were religious claims, they were also, simultaneously, truth claims. Robertson’s attempt at offering a comprehensive view of sexuality based on a certain understanding of human sexuality contradicts the reigning dictatorship of relativism.
Morality matters. America may be reacting against the declaration of moral obligation as much as it may be against the particular action that Robertson condemned.
I interpret hostility to Robertson’s Christianity as part of a larger cultural trend to chafe against a sexual metanarrative, a metanarrative that Christianity assumes is normative for all of humanity. If we focus on his Christianity to the exclusion of the moral aspect of his argument, that Robertson actually believes certain goods about human sexuality, we’re guilty of bowing to a Naked Public Square that conservatives detest.