On Political Correctness, its Abuse, and the Modern University

Legendary English comedian John Cleese recently recorded a BigThink.com video where he discusses the role of political correctness in society. (The YouTube version is here). I agree with John Cleese. Political correctness is a good idea when it discourages people from being mean or nasty to those who cannot necessarily change their condition or status, be it race, gender, ethnicity, body size and shape, mental or physical disability, etc.

But when it comes to ideas, that is, thoughts that are conceived and then spoken aloud, I think that these are appropriate to consider, debate, critique, and at times, mock. Of course, I want to hear all ideas, as there might be something new that I haven’t considered that might be useful to me or humanity. I should never be so stubborn or foolish to think that I am the sole proprietor of truth, or that my thoughts and beliefs have somehow achieved a privileged exemption from criticism based on the fact that they, for instance, are religious or traditional.

But when an idea is harmful to society, or when the idea is easily and has been repeatedly debunked with facts and evidence and logic and numbers, and when an idea has been shown to marginalize certain individuals or groups, then these ideas can and should be critiqued. If the one espousing the defunct, harmful idea continues to espouse the idea, then that is his or her right, but it is also our right as responsible citizens to continue to assail the idea (not the person, but the idea) with logic, reason, and even mockery, as public humiliation is often the only thing that persuades one espousing a defunct idea to cease its propagation. This goes for all ideas, including political, philosophical, economic, ideological, and religious claims–no idea is exempt from critique! And while the debate over some ideas will continue for millennia–fate vs. free will, which economic or political system is superior, how to handle certain ethical issues, etc.–many other ideas should be retired from mainstream discourse with the understanding that there will always be someone or some group that will continue to cling to outdated, debunked ideas.

Political correctness is a good idea when it is limited to the physical characteristics or status of an individual or society. But when political correctness seeks to prohibit the critique of ideas, and attempts to characterize any critical analysis of an idea as “offensive”, then political correctness has gone too far. This is true especially for university campuses, which exist, in part, to expose students to new ideas, foreign concepts, and different ways of thinking that are often unfamiliar or even exotic, and with which a particular student may disagree, and where all of this is done in a safe, creative, developmental, experimental environment where students can learn and try out new ideas and concepts, arguing for and against several newly introduced issues without paying the social penalty for nonconformity to the societal majority’s opinion.

Universities are the practice fields of the world’s future players. Like professional athletes, citizens of the world’s communities should be exposed to every possible scenario on the practice field, so that they can learn and plan to respond effectively as professionals when it’s game time. And part of being a responsible professional is learning how to behave professionally when interacting with others. Political correctness aids individuals in treating other individuals and communities with respect and dignity. In this regard, political correctness is a good thing.

However, to hide behind the shield of political correctness when one’s idea is criticized and when its flaws are laid bare is to misuse political correctness. And of course, it is this abuse of political correctness by the far left that those on the far right criticize and then use to mischaracterize all political correctness as the censorship of free speech in an effort to dismiss professionalism and common courtesy during civil discourse so that they can continue to espouse harmful beliefs, make false accusations, promote detrimental policies, and prop up discredited ideas.

There is a place for political correctness, but that place is not the censorship or critique of ideas.

If you are so sensitive that you characterize any idea, any thought, any different way of thinking, or any critique of your own thoughts, claims, or firmly held beliefs as “offensive”, then you have failed in your development as a responsible citizen. I recommend that you enroll in a university, even if only for a short time, so that you can at least be exposed to different ideas in a safe, inclusive environment. And I hope that you do not choose a university that actively seeks to shield its own students from critiques of ideas and beliefs in the name of political correctness, but rather one that encourages the free exchange, debate, and critique of ideas, for this is the only way one learns to handle the wild, crazy, bigoted, unsubstantiated, false, intentionally harmful, nonsensical, illogical, debunked, and irresponsible claims that are made every day in society.

It is the exposure to, consideration of, and the espousal or dismissal of–and not the shielding from–bad ideas that makes individuals smarter, our society better, and allows civilization to progress beyond a censorial tyranny that constantly invents new ways of being offended to mask the fact that the discredited claims they are perpetuating can no longer be defended with evidence, reason, or logic.

 

The Disingenuous Nature of the Christian Right Summed Up on a Texas Billboard

A billboard with a biblical scripture on it has popped up on a Victoria, TX billboard, and the Secret Service has been called in to investigate.

Pray for Obama Billboard w/ Psalm 109:8

A billboard in Victoria, TX asks people to “Pray for Obama”, and then disingenuously cites Psalm 109:8, which reads, “May his days be few; may another take his office.”

The billboard asks people to “Pray for Obama”, and then disingenuously cites “Psalms [plural sic!] 109:8″, which reads:

“May his days be few; may another take his office.”

At first glance, the “speech” is not hateful. In fact, the billboard appears to be anything but – a call for all people to pray for President Obama, complete with an image of hands gently folded in prayer, a portrait of the president, and a Bible verse.

However, it is the verse that is cited (Psalm 109:8) that is causing the stir. The single verse (8) simply calls for the removal of someone (King David in the original context) from “office”.

However, the Secret Service was probably called in because the full text of Psalm 109:8-15 reads:

(8) May his days be few; may another take his office. (9) May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow. (10) May his children wander about and beg; may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit. (11) May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil. (12) May there be no one to do him a kindness, nor anyone to pity his orphaned children. (13) May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation. (14) May the iniquity of his father be remembered before the LORD, and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out. (15) Let them be before the LORD continually, and may his memory be cut off from the earth.

(The Bible is pleasant, huh?)

The fact that the context of Psalm 109 is actually recounting the words of a righteous King David, who is complaining about the lies and threats his enemies are making against him is apparently lost on the individual who placed this ad.

The beginning of the Psalm (109:1-7) reads:

(1) Do not be silent, O God of my praise. (2) For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. (3) They beset me with words of hate, and attack me without cause. (4) In return for my love they accuse me, even while I make prayer for them. (5) So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love. (6) They say, “Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand on his right. (7) When he is tried, let him be found guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin. (and then Psa. 109:8) May his days be few; may another take his office…

Like most fundamentalist prooftexting and exegesis, the self-indicting context is completely ignored. The fact that the one proclaiming the words “May his days be few; may another take his office” is said to be a wicked man is completely ignored. Likewise, the fact that David is appealing to God about the lies and threats his enemies are making against him is a contextual fact completely overlooked by the one who created this disingenuous billboard.

I say the billboard is “disingenuous” because Christianity does preserve a tradition that Christians should “pray for” those in authority. It is found in 1 Timothy 2:1-3:

(1) I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people, (2) for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (3) This is good, and pleases God our Savior…

However, despite this clear Christian command to pray for (not against) those in power, the Victoria, TX billboard prays for President Obama’s demise:

“May his days be few; may another take his office” (followed by all those pleasant verses calling for the death and demise of his family).

It is not so much that the billboard is “hate speech”, unless you want to argue (as many do) that the Bible is filled with what can be described as hate speech, like the prayer at the end of Psalm 137:9 where the author begs for revenge against his enemies and proclaims:

“Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!

(because celebrating the murder of innocent children always plays well in religious circles.)

Rather, for me this billboard exposes the sheer duplicity and disingenuous nature of many conservative Christians, who seek to pick and choose scriptures that serve their preconceived political desires, and who use the Bible to heap hate and wishes of demise upon their perceived political enemies. It looks bad for all people of faith, and only adds to the ever growing body of evidence supporting the claim that the deliberate infusion of religion into politics in this country is approaching the downright toxic levels that we find in Islamic republics around the world. Conservative Christians rightfully denounce the religious oppression of these fundamentalist Islamic regimes, but then call for the very same Christian version of sharia law in America. Go figure!

Of course, this isn’t the first time that conservative Christians have used Psalm 109 to deride their political opponents. Joel Watts has chronicled several instances of the abuse of this particular scripture in politics.

But given that Christians are commanded to pray for their leaders, this billboard is nothing more than disingenuous religious prooftexting.

Then again, what more should we expect from the Christian right these days?

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