Working on yesterday's post reminded me of a video clip I saw recently taken from The O'Reilly Factor. In this clip, Bill O'Reilly found it objectionable that somebody would call 'repugnant' the view that people like me should be subject to all of the anger and blame people may feel for the Columbine and Amish school shootings.
The view under consideration states that if the godless and their liberal allies did not exist, those children would still be alive. So, ultimately, it is as if I (and people like me) killed them. I, one of those being blamed for the killing, are not supposed to think of this accusation as 'repugnant'.
O'Reilly made his comment in response to events surrounding an ABC News broadcast. The new ABC News show with Katie Couric contains a segment called "Free Speech." Earlier this month, after the Amish school shootings in which five young girls were murdered, ABC invited Brian Rohrbough to speak. Rohrbough's 15-year old son was killed in the Columbine school massacre.
Rohrbough used this opportunity to assert that atheists, such as myself, and liberals who would defend our right to fair and equal treatment under the law, are inherently immoral and that if the nation were rid of us these children would still be alive.
Specifically, he said,
This country is in a moral free fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing Him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak without moral consequences.
This is effectively a replay of a bigotry that atheists are evil that is as common as the bigotry that Jews are seeking to control all the world's wealth.
The purpose of these types of words is to invite the listener to consider the hatred and the contempt that are the natural human reaction to this type of event, and to direct that hate at the victims named in this hate speech. It effectively states, "I want you to consider how you feel about the fact that these children were murdered. I want you to take all of those emotions. I want you to do with these emotions what I have done with it - take that hate, and now put it on the liberals and the godless."
Should we find this view repugnant?
Tell me, should we find it the speaker was a Nazi Party member complaining about how all of our economic and social ills could be blamed on the Jews who were only interested in their own material wealth?
Rohrbough expressed just this type of view - blatant, bigoted condemnation of a whole group of people based on gross generalizations for the sake of promoting hatred.
Some may question the fact that I am taking Rohrbough's statements personally - as if he is accusing me personally of killing those children. Roghbough's words are personal.
If somebody says, "All X are Y", and I happen to be an X, then it is the same as saying, "You are X." If a person says that all niggers are lazy social leaches, and I were and African American, then that person would be asserting that I was a lazy social leach. Rohrbough is asserting that everybody who lacks belief in God believes in a moral code that says that the strong may kill the weak and that human life is insignificant. I am an atheist, so Rohrbough is making these claims about me.
It is perfectly reasonable that I find Rohrbough's comments contemptible. It is perfectly reasonable to identify Rohrbough as a hate-mongering bigot.
O'Reilly objected to calling Rohrbough's comments repugnant.
Why would any fair-minded person find Mr. Rohrbough's opinion repugnant? You can disagree with the man, but using a word like "repugnant" marginalizes his legitimate opinion. Millions of Americans see it the way Mr. Rohrbough does.
I have explained why a fair-minded person would find Rohrbough's opinion repugnant.
The fact that it is shared by millions does not save it. Among those who study logic, this is called 'the bandwagon fallacy.' It would be like saying that slaves living in the early 1800s would have been wrong to condemn the view that slavery was acceptable because the view was 'shared by millions.' It would mean condemning any Jew who held the Nazi in contempt in the 1930s because the Nazi view was 'shared by millions.'
I am certain that even O'Reilly would reject the claim that we should treat the views of the Islamic Jihadists shouting 'Death to America' with respect since it, too, is 'shared by millions.'
Besides, if Rohrbough's view is a 'legitimate view' that nobody may rightfully call 'repugnant' because it is shared by millions, and the view that Rohrbough's views are repugnant is also shared by millions, then it, too, is a legitimate view that should not be harshly condemned.
This contradiction is one of the consequences of having a muddled and confused grasp of the concept of "free speech."
The right to free speech is not a right to be free from criticism - even harsh criticism. It means that the response to another person's words must be limited to words themselves or private actions such as who to visit with during lunch. It is within the limits of free speech to call Rohrbough's bigotry repugnant. It is within the limits of free speech to criticize those who condemn Rohrbough's bigotry. The real focus should be on the question of why some view Rohrbough's views are repugnant and whether those arguments are sound. I'll accept criticism that my arguments are not sound. I will not accept criticism that it is wrong to call Rohrbough's view that, for all practical purposes, I killed those children repugnant independent of any evidence that I am mistaken.
Out of fairness, I want to point out that there are people making the same mistake on the other side of this dispute. Just as there are those who seek to use these shootings to promote hate against the 'godless' and 'liberals', there are people seeking to use 9/11 and the situation in the Middle East to promote hatred of the people of faith.
Admittedly, the case against people of faith being responsible for 9/11 is far stronger than the case that the godless are responsible for Columbine and the Amish school shootings. The 9/11 hijackers were explicitly acting in the name of God, while the murderers in these school shooting cases were not acting in the name of godlessness. However, this does not disprove the fundamental injustice of blaming people for a crime they had nothing to do with – as in blaming the Amish for 9/11 because they, like the perpetrators of that crime, are people of faith.
It's the same type of argument. "Take all of your hate and your condemnation for those responsible for 9/11 and fix it on people of faith - blame all of them - irrespective of their differences."
As if the Amish community that suffered this tragedy is made up of people who would encourage and promote activities like 9/11.
In both cases, there is only one group of people who can be legitimately blamed for the crimes that took place. That is those who participated in them, and those who cheered the results.
Ultimately, my objection in this essay is to the repugnant habit that too many people have of exploiting an event such as 9/11 and the Amish or Columbine school shooting to focus hatred on the speaker’s favorite target group. This type of behavior simply adds one injustice on top of another – casting a net that captures a huge group of innocent people and targets them with condemnation that can only justly be inflicted on those who are actually guilty.
It is a habit that does us no good, that should be recognized as repugnant whenever it occurs, and that all good people interested in making a better society would seek to put to an end.
For the record, I find Bill O'Reilly's endorsement of this bigotry - his eagerness to cast it as a 'legitimate opinion' to be repugnant as well.