Friday, January 3, 2014
What's your take on the Duck People?
Dear Rev. Know-it-all
What do you think of all this Duck Dynasty business?
I guess I don’t think about it. I have never watched the show, but I have always been a little amazed that people who look like they need regular flea baths could parlay a business that made duck calls into a lucrative enterprise. Beyond this I cannot understand why a show about the travails of a family full of these people could command one of the largest viewing audiences in American history. The phenomenon could provide doctorates and government research grants for years to come.
I assume however that you are referring to the comments one of them made about same-sex attraction and same-sex marriage that caused a ruckus. I didn’t see that either. My complete ignorance about the show and the interview that let the network to placing the family patriarch on “hiatus” will however not stop me from commenting on the whole business.
My suspicion is that the Arts and Entertainment Network of Cable TV started the show so that they could cash in on the enjoyment of mocking a bunch of fundamentalist rubes. I imagine that they were both pleased and chagrined that the audience loved it all and took it seriously. The audience, I suspect, sees the Duck People as quintessential Americans. They have managed to make a small fortune by thumbing their noses at the world. What could be more American? The clan patriarch, Mr. Robertson does not own a computer or cell phone and is publicly a fundamentalist Christian who belongs to White's Ferry Road Church of Christ. It is a Congregationalist church that believes in “word only”. They believe that the action of the Holy Spirit is limited to the Bible. That means every man is his own pope, able to read the Bible without any clerical help. Could anything be more American?
Here we have the crux of the problem. Mr. Robertson believes in his own infallibility. So do his critics. Which one is right? Well, the one who is right is the one who agrees with your particular opinion — or, perhaps, my particular opinion. I’m not sure which. I suspect that if I can drown out your voice by yelling louder than you clearly my opinion is the correct one. This is a Congregationalist country founded by the followers of John Calvin. The founders of the republic rejected the idea that there should be an established religion precisely because the Congregationalist faith of the new nation could not agree within itself on the nature of truth. They founded a republic on the principle that we have the right to disagree with each other.
A woman waited outside the locked doors of the constitutional convention in 1787, wondering whether the framers had chosen a monarchy or a democracy. When she asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, what have you given us?” He responded, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”
The Congregationalist political experiment has been in doubt for the past two centuries, and I think it is more in peril now than it has ever been. The invasion of media into the private thought of citizens could never have been imagined by the founders of this country. The desire to belong is an overwhelming human need. “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Gen 2:18) We are terrified by loneliness, and so we fill the holes in our life with anything that will drown out the silence. Cell phones, I-pads, Twitter, Facebook, Wi-Fi, on and on and on.
Do you know how carbon monoxide works? Our blood has receptors for oxygen. Carbon monoxide will fit these receptors just as well, but it is poisonous. We can’t take in oxygen if we have filled the receptors with poison and so we suffocate. One can put the wrong plug into the wrong outlet. Just because one can do it, doesn’t mean one should. There will be a fire or some other disaster.
We have plugged chatter into the holes where dialogue is meant to go. The Duck People are untroubled by cell phones and email and computers. That, I suspect, is why they are so fascinating to the American public. They have a confidence in their own self-worth that left our republic years ago. They don’t care what people think of them, or at least they seem not to. They have formed their consciences, right or wrong, they have formed them. They need no external approbation and this both maddens and fascinates us. It’s who we imagine ourselves to be, but we haven’t been that independent since the ink finally dried on the Declaration.
The whole snafu takes me back to a parish I pastored many years ago. The Inflexibly Tolerant Committee forbad me to offer the 9AM Mass. It was clear that I was Intolerant because I called God “Father” and used the word “Lord”. They firmly supported a woman’s right to kill her unborn child and always used the feminine pronoun in the readings at Mass. They would often say things like “Jesus and Her disciples...”, though it was always “the devil and his angels...” (I’m not making this up).
It was clear that I was intolerant because I did not do this. And they simply would not tolerate such behavior. After three years I decided to dialogue with them. At one point I said to them, “Whatever you do, don’t change the words of Baptism. I have to sign a statement that says, “This child was baptized in name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Not “this child was baptized in the name of the 9 o’clock Liturgy committee.” They had been in the habit of having the special priests they brought in for “their” Mass baptize children in the name of the creator, savior, sanctifier, the father-mother, the earth mother, the four winds, and anyone else who happened to come along. I told them that I had a conscience too, and they had no right to make me sign on to their decisions of conscience.
The next week, they had a child a baptized in heaven knows whose name. I called the chancery and all whatever broke out. There were pickets in front of the rectory, nasty letters to the bishop, calls from the dean and unpleasant faxes from the chancery. They boycotted the collection, which started, strangely, to go up. They left the parish which then doubled in size. They sure showed me!
Like the 9 o’clock liturgy committee, the Current Moral Movement, that will tolerate everything except intolerance claims to be a movement of conscience and that those who don’t agree are immoral. I was rather impressed by one the critics of the Duck People who said the Duck People weren’t true Christians and no true Christian would agree with them. The True Christian commentator knocked 95% of Christians out of the Church, including its founder, Jesus, and the apostles Peter and Paul.
When people in the Current Moral Movement say they are merely following their consciences, I wonder. My conscience usually disagrees with me about what is good and right. I keep trying to tell my conscience that if it feels good, it must be good. My conscience just rolls its eyes when I say that and then starts making me feel bad. My conscience is constantly telling me I should be good to the poor, share my money, not eat that second piece of cake and not insult people who really seem to need a good insulting.
I don’t know. I wish I was as good a person as the Current Moral Movement people. Their consciences always seem to agree with what they want. Even more, they are not content simply to follow their own consciences. They are so concerned for me that they want me to follow their consciences too. It’s as if they aren’t quite sure that they are right, and by forcing me to participate, not just allow, but to approve and participate in their decisions of conscience, and occasionally to pay for them, they will finally be sure that they were right all along. They do not concede me the right or the freedom to be immoral, at least as they define it. Heaven forefend that I should call them immoral. That is hate speech, which, of course is immoral and increasingly criminal. They can’t yet stop me from thinking it, but at least they can stop my church and my children from thinking it.
Our republic is founded on the right of people to disagree. Our Church is founded on the Way the Truth and the Life, securely set on the Rock of Peter. The state is a compulsory society. I must respect and agree with the right of others to disagree. The Church is a voluntary society. If I don’t hold what it teaches, I am free to obey my conscience and leave it or not to join it in the first place. It seems that we have turned things upside down. If I don’t agree with you, but can outshout you, you must go along with the crowd in order to be part of the general society. To disagree is criminal hate speech. However, in the Church if you have the bad taste to point out that my theology or morality runs counter to the whole history and teaching of the Church, you must be a mean spirited un-Christian, inflexible, narrow-minded, bigot who isn’t a true Christian.
I can’t figure any of it out frankly. Maybe that’s why the Duck People are so fascinating. They have the freedom of Citizens and the hearts of believers, and besides, they have really cool beards.
The Rev. Know-it-all