June 25, 2008

Why is James Dobson famous?

James Dobson is "making stuff up," says Barack Obama.

Not that that's news, of course, since for people like Dobson, making stuff up is a base function of the medulla oblongata. As Obama reportedly put it, "Somebody would be pretty hard-pressed to make that argument" — that he was distorting the Bible.

"Argument" is a generous courtesy on Obama's part, since Dobson didn't "argue" so much as whine noisily. I know this because the national press deems his wailings and gnashings practically lead-in material on the evening news.

Why this is is an interesting question on its own. In a more perfect world, Dobson would be wearing a sandwich board and ringing a bell on a street corner somewhere. People would pass him by, maybe give him a dollar or a cigarette or a half a bagel, but otherwise ignore his fevered gesticulations. He might even get arrested.

But Dobson apparently has "influence" over a considerable number of people including — it is rumored — the ear of the current president himself and all that entails.

Last evening CNN devoted an extended segment to Dobson's unwittingly doltish performance during which, it must be gratefully acknowledged, the laughably inept Tony Perkins was definitively flogged by Al Sharpton, Roland Martin, and Anderson Cooper in turn (even though both Perkins and Sharpton shared a round of guffaws about Cooper, who is gay, burning in Hell. Which would be funny if not for Perkins and Sharpton actually believing it).

And Perkins needed to start making more stuff up when he was shown portions of the speech featuring Obama criticizing hardliner secularists and acknowledging not only the existence of Judeo-Christian moral principles in the American system of law, but also the fact that many are appropriately enforceable. Perkins then tried to make it about Obama's personal faith, which it wasn't at all.

Dobson, who is incompetent even as a conservative radio host, a position created for incompetents, commits the same clear error.

It's obvious why Dobson dug up Obama's 2006 speech to a Christian group. Because he doesn't want his own little farce exposed. And because of Obama's emerging strategy to woo some of the Christian "values voters" over and from whom Dobson demands exclusive preserve, allegiance and, ultimately, control.

Dobson hasn't a clue what Obama was talking about and when Dobson weeps about being prevented from pushing "partial birth abortion" legislation he's flatly lying. He can push it wherever he likes.

Obama's speech was informed by political theory, not aversion to "orthodox Christian" dogma, as Tony Perkins calls his own personal, subjective version of objective morality.

What Obama is saying is that there are a number of approaches a rational political society may take in order to arrange a widely applicable system of ethics. Because it's impossible for everyone to agree on everything, Obama is initiating a dialogue to determine whether there are some things that almost everyone agrees are destructive to the polity's ethic, theft of property or child sexual assault for example.

When more subtle ethical questions arise, religion presents itself into the calculus and because religion wouldn't be religion without dogma, Dobson's dogma ultimately faces off against one of the other televangelists' dogmas.

The Bible that James Dobson is whacking is a very complicated assembly of disparate and highly derivative texts whose influence in many, many ways shaped Western civilization itself, not to mention civilizations elsewhere, still in existence or otherwise.

It accreted over centuries and various bits and pieces of it have been adhered to — or not — by hundreds of separate and distinct societies over a few thousand years.

Obama is not saying that only his interpretation of the Bible is inherently correct; it's Dobson and his ilk that are making that baseless insistence. Obama is simply pointing out that sectarian dogmatism in the false guise of absolute morality is a stumbling block to constructing the political ethic, by definition.

Dobson needs to understand that he's not going to convert all the people of America to his particular flavor of so-called Christianity. And obviously he can continue to insist on his own special divine insight.

The point is, if you are going to use the Bible as a source of ethical guidance, that's perfectly appropriate. Even I would use it. Selectively, of course, as I'm not about to give up calamari or cotton/rayon blends.

And it's also perfectly appropriate to attempt to codify that Biblical guidance in legislation and turn its enforcement over to the D.A.

But you have to support it with some argument other than, "Because I speak personally on behalf of the Almighty True God and you must Obey." Legislation formulated on such grounds are the mustard seeds of theocracy, a form of polity favored by America's enemies.

Obama's speech is simply a reminder of a few glaringly obvious historical facts of which Dobson evidently insists on remaining ignorant, which proves Obama's point precisely, hence the self-defeating, humiliatingly ironic quality of Dobson's reaction.

Rational people probably need to start ignoring anachronistic cranks like Dobson and Hagee and Swaggart and the rest or else consign them back to their bells and their sandwich boards.

While I'm suspicious of "leaders" on general principle — Al Gore's repeated invocation of the term to describe Obama during his endorsement was downright Orwellian creepy — Obama is demonstrating leadership by laying out the terms of a national discussion, as he did for the Christian group in 2006.

And it's a welcome initiative, given religious dogmatism's often fractious and deleterious effects in this society, something even the Framers of the Constitution were well acquainted with.

Incidentally, Dobson's most recent fit of the vapors did serve at least one useful purpose, apart from their usual entertainment value. It unearthed a speech of Obama's comparing the admonitions of the New Testament with the policies of the Department of Defense.

It's not something you hear from a candidate for the U.S. presidency very often and it's refreshing as hell. That sort of talk is guaranteed to inflame the Dobsonian followers of the Prince of Peace but politically moderate Christians are guaranteed to respond well.

And if they are disillusioned Republicans or otherwise undecided, then hopefully Dobson's hysterics cement the deal for Obama.

1 comment:

Clutch said...

"Why is James Dobson famous?"

Same reason Paris Hilton is: he gives some people a basically pornographic stimulation of their most basic brute instincts, while presenting others with a compelling can't-avert-gaze spectacle of crap culture and stupidity.