Phil the Merciful

The last week has seen an explosion of indignation at the remarks of Duck Dynasty‘s Phil Robertson on homosexuality (he referred to it in the context of “sin”).  A lot of this condemnation is misplaced, based, as it is, on a mistake and a double-standard.

The mistake is in thinking that calling something a sin implies hatred or bigotry against whoever it is that happens to practice it.  But there is no necessary connection.  From the standpoint of a non-religious person, Robertson’s judgment that homosexual conduct is sinful is just his opinion–an opinion that he knows is rejected by practicing homosexuals.  Yet it ought to be obvious that it is possible to disagree with someone else’s views or conduct without hating that person.  If disagreeing with someone else’s plan of life is hatred, then almost everybody is hating somebody all the time.  It would mean that the people who disagree with Robertson hate him.


Admittedly, there is in human nature a self-love that makes us tend to get angry with, and maybe even hate, the people we disagree with.  Who do they think they are, not seeing things the way we do!  But the proper response to this tendency is to control it, and not to try to banish all possibility of hate by making all disagreement illegitimate.  It is fair to point out here, moreover, that, judging from what he said in the now infamous GQ interview, Phil Robertson is a calm and mature man who is capable of disagreeing with conduct without hating the people who do it.

This mistake is so obvious that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that those who are making it are making it on purpose–that their aim is not so much to prevent hatred as to stop any conversation on the topic of sexual morality.  That is, their aim is not so much to promote civility as to ensure that a certain side of the argument will prevail.  This brings us to the double-standard.  Suppose some left-leaning secularist with a TV show had said the opposite of what Phil Robertson said.  Suppose this person had said that the Biblical understanding of human sexuality is repressive and wrong, a cause of human misery.  Does anyone seriously think that this person’s career would be in danger?  No.  Accordingly, the campaign against Phil Robertson is not so much about preventing hatred and bigotry as about ensuring that the nation’s commitment to Christian morality will continue its rapid decline without any public complaints from influential people.

It’s also worth noting that from Phil Robertson’s remarks were, from his own standpoint, not only innocent but even an act of love.  Christians believe that sin is deadly to the soul.  They therefore believe they are trying to help the sinner by alerting him to his sin.  This view is reflected in the old Catholic tradition that says that “admonishing the sinner” is one of the spiritual works of mercy.  Of course, those who don’t believe in Christianity or its morality may reject the admonition as misguided.  But it is hardly reasonable for them to assume that the person making the admonition is necessarily animated by ill-will.




  • Charlie

    Acts of love? her is what he said about gays in a prior interview..

    Women with women, men with men, they committed indecent acts with one another, and they received in themselves the due penalty for their perversions,” Robertson continued. “They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil.

    SO TELL ME HOW this squares with the teaching of Pope Francis?

    • Ben

      Umm… Those are quotes of St. Paul. The New Testament squares with the teaching of the Pope, by definition, because both the teaching of the Pope and the New Testament are the teaching of Christianity.

      You should be careful snipping quotes out of context, too. The “they” in your selections doesn’t refer to homosexuals in particular in its original context.

  • M. Szabo

    I looked up the referenced article to get some context as to what this controversy is all about, and boy was it not worth it. The interview is probably THE WORST that I’ve ever skimmed. It’s full of crude language and degrading pictures of women line the sides of it. I wonder how this ever got to become a controversy? Who even reads that crap? If I had not been looking for the comments that caused such a stir, I would NEVER have made it to page 2 where they are located! I wish you could have just spared me the experience and included an extended quote.

  • Antonio A. Badilla

    I don’t think the problem is what he said regarding Corinthians. After all, that’s God’s word, period. What infuriated the gay community is the connection he made between homosexual acts and bestiality. That’s why A&E got rid of him but it is hypocritical of the station to suspend him as they continue to show his shows. The T.V. station has the right as a private entity to fire the guy, but that would mean that MSNBC would have to do the same beginning with Chris Matthews. We are getting to a point in this country where anyone is offended at anything and under that type of attitude “freedom of expression” becomes a joke. I am sure someone here will get offended at what I just wrote and perhaps Catholic Vote should get rid of me.

    • MominVermont

      Here’s the pertinent quote from Robertson:

      “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.”

      Robertson wasn’t saying that bestiality starts with homosexuality. If you follow that line of reasoning, then you have to believe that he was saying homosexuality leads to sleeping around with women, which obviously doesn’t make sense. Looks to me like Robertson was simply listing different sexual sins.

  • Francis

    Perhaps he was referring to a selfishness? If our Christian principle is “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” then love of self is an essential element of living a Christian life.

    • Jack Mason

      Francis, right on! Great point! Many religions teach that self-love is wrong. Love of self is essential if one is to understand what Jesus what telling us. We can only love another human being as much as we love ourselves. We can only love Jesus as much as we love ourselves. Self-love is essential if one is to achieve high self-esteem.

      • Ben

        If one qualifies that love has the definition “to will the ultimate good of the object,” then your statement is perfectly orthodox and not inconsistent with calling a sin a sin. With the gooey, subjective Lord Byron definition, which most people take for granted these days, the very idea of “self-love” is horrifying.


    Hi Carson! First, I grew up in Rural Fresno so one level I get things like duck hunting (Had my own 20 Gauge at 14) and them thar Fundamentalist Protestants (One of whom knocked my front teeth out cuz I was wearing a Catholic school uniform.) However, from the point of view of a mainstream, urban Catholic with close gay family and friends, his recent performance offends me.

    His opinion on the sinfulness of gay sex isn’t uncommon in America. What did tip the balance in causing millions to get angry was the comparison to bestiality. I could calmly listen to an atheist like say Penn Gillette, arguing that the holy Eucharist is only bread and wine. It would be quite another thing if he were, as some have, compared it with symbolic cannibalism.

    It’s often not what you say, but how you say it. I saw the video of Phil’s sermon on the subject and if he wanted to admonish gay people, in say San Francisco, about their sinful sex lives, they probably aren’t going to res pond to an inarticulate guy in cammo who looks like one of the really distressed mentally ill street guys we see downtown.
    As far as I’m concerned he is no more a victim than Fred Phelps and his Westbro “Baptist” “Church” are.
    Anyway, marry Christmas.
    Best regards,

  • Jack Mason

    Carson, I agree with your post except for the following: “Admittedly, there is in human nature a self-love that makes us tend to get angry with, and maybe even hate, the people we disagree with.” A person who loves themselves doesn’t react this way. A person who doesn’t like themselves and has low self-esteem acts this way. A person who loves themselves loves everyone and would never hate another human being.



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