One for Ginny

Austin Bay has a thoughtful essay posted over at The subject is the role of rhetoric in the political process.

Ancient Greek rhetoricians admired — and feared — powerful speakers who had the gift of emotional appeal and exhortation. My worn copy of “A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms” lists over 50 types of emotional appeals. From “amphidiorthosis” (“to hedge or qualify” a dangerous or bold position ) to “threnos” (a lament), thoughtful minds in the fourth century B.C. had analyzed every plea, supplication, ploy and gambit.

Yet there’s strong evidence a healthy democracy requires rhetorical showmanship and convincing verbal drama. (Hesoid argued that effective justice also requires it, since a ruling judge must persuade aggrieved parties justice has been served and not partisan interest.)

So Bay starts out by pointing out that artistic use of language is necessary for grand political debate, and that debate is necessary for democracy. He then uses recent remarks by Pat Robertson and Ted Kennedy as examples of how this process can go wrong.

Bay’s essay is insightful and to the point, and I urge everyone to click the link and give it a read. But what struck me was the way that these incidents have been handled in the media. Both Robertson’s and Kennedy’s remarks were hateful and should never have been uttered. I notice, however, that the press condemned Robertson while giving Kennedy a pass even though Kennedy was uttering actual lies while Robertson was merely expressing an opinion.

Why is this so?

The most obvious answer is that our mostly Left-leaning press is more distrustful and critical of religion than lies. It would appear that the most obvious answer is probably also the truth.

This sort of prejudice against religion isn’t something confined to the 4th Estate. For the past 35 years I’ve been noticing that those with religious convictions and the organizations they devote their lives to have been treated with increasing contempt and scorn in popular culture. One example is a show that recently aired on television entitles The Book of Daniel.

The Book of Daniel is a new hour long drama on NBC that concerns the life of an Episcopal priest and his family. Four network affiliates have refused to air the program, causing reporters to claim that the reason for the refusal is that the priest has a gay son. So far as journalists are concerned, this must be the reason because everyone knows that anyone with religious convictions must hate homosexuals.

It would seem that a gay character is the least of the show’s problems, as Bryan points out in his short review of the first episode. The very first hour portrayed illegal drug trafficking, statutory rape, embezzlement, a possible murder, and a Catholic priest with ties to the Mafia. Except for the Catholic priest, all of these disparate plot elements concern the title character’s immediate family.

Consider the last paragraph for a moment. This drama concerns a man who would never be able to gain the position of priest unless he had an exemplary personal life. If this is how the priest lives I’m sure that his flock is made up of serial killers and members of international drug cartels.

I’m hardly a religious man myself. In fact I’m about as far from it as you can get since I’m an affirmed agnostic. I suppose you could say that people like me are the target audience for this show but I can recognize prejudice, bigotry and contempt when I see it. I’ve been seeing it a great deal every time the professional media deals with organized religion.

PS Ginny mentioned in this post that she attends church, and I know she’s more qualified to discuss Austin Bay’s essay. Maybe we can get her to leave a comment.

(HT to Scott for the link to Bryan’s review.)

4 thoughts on “One for Ginny”

  1. Your post errs as follows: Kennedy’s errors (not lies) were hardly the sort of thing seen on tv, read in the papers.Even if so, would the ordinary reader know that Kennedy was simply wrong in what he had said about Alito? NO>

    As for Roberston. His remarks, very inflamatory, went mainstream and were readily understood by most people. In fact, Israel is incensed by what Robertson has said about Sharon that Robertson is now not going to be allowed to build his mega-bibical land theme park in Israel.

  2. Ted Kennedy is an elected official with 43 years of experience, a powerful Beltway insider with a staff on hand to make sure that he has the facts when he needs them. He not only represents the constituents who elected him but also the country at large.

    Pat Robertson is a private citizen who has repeatedly failed in his bids for elected office.

    It could be that Kennedy was merely mistaken in his remarks about Alito’s voting record, but that seems rather unlikely to me considering the resources Kennedy has at his command. (Isn’t the first requirement for a Congressional staffer to be able to look stuff up?) It appears to me that he’s making stuff up as he goes along: i.e. lying.


  3. James, I’m somewhat flattered that you used my name but this is bizarre. Within both my social and my familial circle, I’m known as the least religious person. (And in those circles there are no fundamentalists and only one who might be considered an evangelist.) I doubt that Lexington is the only Chicagoboy more religious than I–and I’m sure he is. (This is a red state – perhaps in a blue state what I do might pass for a religious life. But it would have to be awfully blue.)

    My daughter, who was I suspect worried by this state of affairs and who had her own social reasons, asked me to seek out the church in which I was raised and if I did that, she’d like to start going to another church. So, at 60, I’ve returned to attending church, which I hadn’t done for probably 38 years. She has felt quite at home (ah, Pinker’s nature coming through again) and, strangely, so have I.

    Your post points to some interesting topics.

    Austin Bay is right that Kennedy is not exactly honest (mistaken may be the right word, but mistakes that are used to color another’s character & imply racism are rather nasty misstatements).

    And you are right – rarely are religioius people treated with respect on television. (I do watch more television than the other bloggers here.) There are exceptions (the rather hokey Father Dowling mysteries), but in general you can figure any churchmman is going a villain.

    Why these are always hypocrites and the environmentalist/leftist/self-righteous secular humanist never is is beyond me. Especially since, in our society, the preachier tone seems more true of, say, the ACLU and NARAL & PETA. Sure, there are some homophobic believers and some students from a relatively fundamentalist church booed the Mormon homecoming queen – I wouldn’t say that firm belief doesn’t lead to some incivility. But these people are generally quite civil; most dislike Robertson, for instance, intensely. Their feelings are nothing next to the self-righteousness of our local counter-culture newspaper, who is entertained by hateful statements by Michael Moore. And then there is the condemnation of churchgoers as “weak sisters,” as one of my hosts said lately at a dinner party. If you believe that only the halt, blind & deaf are believers, you need to lead a more exemplary llife than that speaker’s complex of neuroses does. Frankly, I’ve never heard such blanket comments from a churchgoer.

    By the way, Fussell’s Class equates religion with lower classes. I do not find this kind of elitism all that charming.

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