Wednesday, April 10, 2013

On Ballocks and Bull-horns

Let's make one thing absolutely clear: I live and die by the First Amendment. There is no civil liberty more precious to me than the ability to express what I think through voice and pen. So it is, when I see someone else exercising the same treasured right, be they Richard Dawkins or Fred Phelps, I am sincerely happy that I live in a country where such practice is not only permissible, but protected by the first godless Constitution in the history of the world. 

Aside from this throat-clearing, my heart admittedly sinks every time I walk around into a brisk Montana afternoon and find, in the public speech square of the University of Montana, a gaggle of gnomish men decked to the nines with bulletins and microphones, standing atop plastic step-stools and shrieking that god's wrath upon homosexuals is nigh; the only true love is through Jesus; there is only one authority . . . blah-de-blahsphemy. It instantaneously turns me into a capricious, epistemological Jekyll-and-Hyde, wherein half of me wants to run away and clear my ear canals of their banal nonsense, another half wants to stay and fight; half of me wishes to pummel them with bare fists, another half concedes their right to their opinion and their ability to express (regurgitate?) it and let them be. I become a creature unlike myself -- and the side that wants to knock them down a few pegs always wins out. Indeed, I missed a decently important class last semester because, once this nonsense began, no appointment academic or otherwise would deter me. 

Today, when the same event occurred, I was happily greeted by several standers-by who knew me, laughed and shouted at my arrival, and threw me into the square. Even standing by yourself in a ring of people (I would say perhaps 40 at the height of the drama), it is difficult to get the attention of the masses. Only by interrupting the winded old walrus at a moment of breath-catching was I able to insert: 

"Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Joshua Kelly: I am the author of the book Oh, Your god!: The Evil Idea That Is Religion..."

While no one in the crowd had obviously read the book (it doesn't come out until the end of this month), there was a good bit of clapping at laughter at this. Much like a joke in rehearsal, one forgets how funny it actually is until one receives an audience to test it out on. This was encouraging. 

It is essential to lead with the point of Matthew 6:1 -- Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. This immediately gives one leverage in the debate, because it undermines the ability of the preacher to have any divine justification for anything he says. I must throw a point for this to Logan LaCross, who was walking with me at the time and who brought to mind this point before we had even got there. I hurriedly gave him the wrong verse and we went to look it up before we dove into the battle. I've used it many times in such instances, but leading with it was entirely his idea and very effective. Much kudos to him. 

From there, unfortunately, the structure quickly disintegrates. Once you score a point like this, they will not forgive you (ironic for their ideology) and never give you the chance to score another hit again. So, between one old man caterwauling indeterminably into his megaphone, and a group of well-meaning (and frankly, hysterical) students passionately reading excerpts of The Curry Center Handbook for Students and The Joys of Lesbian Sex, there was little room for further times to tap in well-aimed arguments. I was shut up a couple of times by the cacophony, and managed to get a few decently pointed remarks in before finally losing my appetite and leaving. Much like junk-food, arguing with the zealous is great fun, but too much will develop into indigestion. 

Because of this, I yearn for a formal debate. Believe me, in a setting where these idiots require structure and arguments other than theological, wherein they cannot rant and froth at the mouth like the schizophrenics whose books they follow, there is no ground for them to stand on. If anyone reading this has the interest or ability in making this happen, I am more than fair game. 

But something rather remarkable happened -- more importantly than several people coming up to me, asking for my information and where to buy the book on its release (which was flattering and very nice), it never fails to inspire me to see a group of people united against outright hatred, who join arms and voices and passions to silence the foul croaking of dogmatic injustice wherever it rears its ugly head -- even in our own little patch of Montana. There is something painfully poetic when even those who do not know the Bible will argue only by means of empathy -- further proof that divine mandate is not required for a person to know the difference between right and wrong. Even the most unlettered, crude, or hilarious retorts were appreciated by me as they all came from a place of equality, love, and justice. It was heartening. 

And, if I were to press the point slightly more politically: I am not even sure that it is within the First Amendment rights of these ethically inept toads to do this in the first place. Sure, the Free Speech Zone on campus is available to anyone and is restricted only in speaking time and volume, but the kind of babble that we hear from these people is not merely offensive, it's discriminatory. And beyond this, we attend a secular campus and therefore are not required to endure this claptrap by way of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The sooner everyone involved, from every student to the campus President understands this, the better. Not being a law student myself, I am willing to bet there are better and more acute arguments that might support this hunch. 

In fact, I think I'll be writing a letter to the administration tonight...

Either way, it is a bittersweet thing -- I am always keen for the opportunity to sharpen the argument against new and old opponents, but the process is always exhausting. The only thing that keeps one going is the knowledge that, while they certainly haven't changed the minds of the ersatz mullahs they are debating with, they might have lightened (or, dare I say, enlightened) a few of those listening on. These events are minute drops in an ocean of very small victories, but are always worth fighting for, nonetheless. 

1 comment:

  1. Sounds fun. Let them continue. Fight fire with fire.