Condoms on Bananas, or, Why Culture Warriors Aren’t Funny

Parks and Rec’s Leslie Knope Sheaths the Banana

I disagree with Russell Moore on many things.  But I do agree with the heart of Moore’s recent argument in the pages of Christianity Today.

Moore commented on a recent episode of the sitcom Parks and Recreation.  I didn’t see the show.  But according to Moore, the plotline concerned an outbreak of sexually transmitted infections among residents at a small-town nursing home.  Moore argued that the show engaged in the worst kind of smug culture-war preaching.

Moore’s accusations ring true.  Many self-professed “liberals” engage in the kind of liberal fundamentalism that Moore describes on the show.  In Moore’s words,

“the show intended to reinforce a view already held by the people to whom they were talking. Those who already deride abstinence education could nod their heads in affirmation, ridicule the morons who oppose good common sense, and feel much better about their moral and intellectual superiority to the Neanderthals out there.”

I support comprehensive sex education in public schools.  But as Moore points out, lots of people disagree.  And lots of those people are smart, caring, informed, and engaged.  At best, the kind of self-satisfied mockery that he describes on Parks and Rec sounds ineffective.  As Moore charges, “few people are going to have minds changed by seeing their viewpoints caricatured.”  At worst, this kind of preaching to the choir deepens our culture-war divisions and leaves us all more bitter, angry, and, in the end, ignorant about the real conflict.

As we battle over issues such as sex ed, prayer in schools, and creationism, we need to keep in mind that those with whom we disagree may have legitimate reasons for their positions.  Moore takes conservative evangelicals to task for often forgetting this message.  As Moore argues,

“Sexual liberation ideology is deadly, but we aren’t preaching to those in bondage to it if we simply repeat slogans. In order to see the true wickedness of sexual liberation, we must ask why it’s appealing, and why deceptive arguments can seem plausible. Only when we speak to the conscience can we get to where people are, as we all once were, hiding from God.

“Darwinism can’t explain the meaning and purpose of the universe or of humanity. But when we simply laugh and say, “My grandpa wasn’t a chimpanzee,” we aren’t taking seriously the claims of our opponents. In fact, we’re not speaking to them at all, just to ourselves.

“When unbelievers hear a canned, caricatured argument, they recognize exactly what I recognized when I listened to the moralizing of the Parks and Rec script: They’re not trying to convince me, or even to talk to me. They just want to soothe the psychologies of their partisans.”

Moore’s central point remains powerful even if we don’t agree about the nature of Darwinism or sex ed.  When we talk about the cultural truths at the heart of our education system, we need to remember that those with whom we disagree deserve respect.  True liberalism is not the pat preachiness of Leslie Knope.  Rather, it requires a much more difficult cultural argument that disagrees without deriding its opponents.

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5 Comments

  1. When I worked for a website that had open forums for people to debate politics and religion I saw this same dynamic play out time and time again. In fact, I came to understand that neither side was debating at all, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. Rather, each side made caricatures of the other and proceeded to use well worn arguments against imagined positions. In this way, both sides managed to talk past one another and, of course, resolved nothing in the exchange.

    Reply
    • @Yasha, Right on. I was talking about this with a zombie the other night at a Halloween party. He (or she? It was a good costume) said that this kind of thing was nothing more or less than simple politics. It was the same impulse that Governor Romney expressed with his “47%” comment. The goal of politics–at least one goal–is to mobilize the faithful while pulling in the few undecideds. Mocking a caricature of your opposition does both of those things. What bums me out is that neither Parks and Rec nor the commenters on your website were really party politicians in this sense. It seems as if many culture-war partisans only want to satisfy themselves by belittling their own clownish parodies of their opposition. This is why folks such as Ken Ham and Richard Dawkins become so popular. They offer BOTH sides a simple vision of morality in these inherently complex issues.

      Reply
      • Well, there’s a lot of deep psychology at play in all this, too. I’m reminded of all the studies, for instance, that have shown that when people receive even legitimate refutation of their position they’re more likely to double down on their existing views rather than revise them to accommodate new facts.

        But now, thanks to this exchange, my mind is racing with an idea for a new research project. Just what I needed!

  2. Pro-family Christian

     /  February 13, 2013

    It is good to see someone who takes a strong left-wing position on education without calling right wingers “bigots”, “-phobic”, “anti-choicers” and “ignorant”, no matter how much you disagree with us; I have became used to such terms being used. I am myself a hard-core religious right activist currently in college [a secular one, where not many people think my way]; I believe children deserve a Christian education, that truth and morality is absolute and that the position holding them to be relative social constructs is part of the anti-family agenda. In line with Karl Priest and Exodus Mandate, I do not see any chance of this happening in public schools during my lifetime because of the sad change in social norms away from God’s Holy Word.

    I believe the state has zero moral right to force acceptance of homosexuals in Christian schools no matter what laws it may pass; I am for parental rights, exclusively for the man/woman family, and a Personhood Amendment. Should I have children,they will be in private school or homeschooled so I can feel confident in passing my values on (not the increasingly dominant liberal set of values you advocate for or “values clarification”.)

    Still, when I hear advocates of my position- such as Dr Bob Simonds, Dr Onalee McGraw and Pat Robertson- use extreme language around “communism”, “satanism”, “new age” and “end-times” to deride the state of the public schools since the 1960s anti-God Supreme Court rulings and cultural decline, it makes me see how the majority are turned off by their rhetoric. I can only see past it because I already agree with them.

    Pro-family Christian [Keeping Schlafly & Falwell’s tradition alive]

    Reply
  1. Comedy & Conservatism | I Love You but You're Going to Hell

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