Fundamentalist Ducks

Okay, okay, I admit it.  I’ve been itching to write something about the recent Duck Dynasty culture-war imbroglio.  But until now there didn’t seem to be much worth saying.  One sentence said it all: Famous redneck shows ugly blind spot in racial issues and homosexual identities.  Didn’t seem like much more needed talking about.

For those of you who live in caves, bearded patriarch Phil Robertson ruffled feathers with recent ignorant and hateful comments about homosexuals and racial history.  In all his Louisiana life, he told a GQ reporter, he never saw an African American who seemed upset about lacking basic civil rights.  And homosexuals, he opined, should learn to prefer vaginas to men’s anuses.  After all, as Robertson concluded with invincible logic, “I mean, come on, dudes!  You know what I’m saying?”

Until today, everything I’d read about the scandal either defended Robertson’s right to his theology or attacked him for his hate.  But this morning I came across the comments of the brainy conservative Rod Dreher in the pages of Time.com.  For those not familiar with Dreher’s story, he moved back to his small-town Louisiana roots from a go-go New York media career after a family tragedy.

Dreher hit the nail on the head.  While Dreher doesn’t agree with Robertson’s positions, he remarked on the ridiculously excessive shock expressed by many media mavens.  Too many of those “culture-makers,” Dreher lamented,

are often every bit as parochial as those they condemn, but flatter themselves that they are the tolerant, cosmopolitan ones. I have lived in Manhattan, and I live once again in my tiny south Louisiana hometown. To paraphrase Solzhenitsyn, the border between narrow-minded and tolerant runs not between city and country, North and South, degreed and uneducated, but down the middle of every human community and every human heart.

. . .

The Duck Dynasty mess revealed that not all fundamentalists live in the Bible Belt, and that some of the biggest hicks live in Hollywood. The Duckman’s win is a score for authentic diversity and pluralism in the public square, and a victory for the right to be wrong without being ruined.

Hear hear.

When I began my current job as a university professor, I gave a talk about my dissertation research.  That work—which became my first book—concerned the first generation of American fundamentalists.  I soon realized that my tolerant, cosmopolitan university audience contained more than its share of Dreher’s hip hicks.  Not the entire audience, by any means, but certainly an influential group.  These culture-makers did not hope to understand fundamentalists; they did not seem interested in puzzling out the intellectual world I had tried to portray.  Instead, they only rushed to demonstrate their shock and horror at the ideas of people very different from themselves.

At the end of the talk, one member of my academic audience raised her hand and asked in a frustrated tone, “What is WRONG with these people?”  Heads nodded throughout the room.  The person who asked the question was not dumb, was not ignorant.  She was a prolific researcher and dedicated teacher.  In fact, she had worked throughout her career to make schools more inclusive for all sorts of students.  Yet she saw no contradiction in dismissing the thinking of a large percentage of Americans as “these people” out of hand.

Like Dreher, I don’t think Robertson’s comments are worth talking about, much less defending.  But the reaction to his comments can tell us a good deal about the current state of America’s intellectual myopia.   It serves as a sobering reminder of the widespread and unacknowledged ignorance among many Americans about what America is really like.

 

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1 Comment

  1. The Time editorial was excellent. Thanks for the link. We need more conversation, more robust debate, not less, in the public square.

    Reply

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