Tuesday, February 21, 2006

READER RESPONSE -- Westover's religious bigotry

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:28 PM |  

One of the benefits of writing an Opinion Page column is occasionally getting the chance to engage in intelligent conversation with people that don’t agree with you.

I’ve had some spirited exchanges with Chuck Darrell of Minnesota for Marriage over the issue of same-sex marriage, but while disagreeing with his position, I’ve never doubted his sincerity. I’ve posted a number of Chuck’s opinion pieces, the latest as an update to this post. The other day we spent an hour or so at Stub and Herb’s hashing over some developments in the debate that may be fodder for a future column. (Don‘t say anything to Chuck, but before he got there, I told the bartender I was waiting for my partner.)

I had lunch the other day with Alan James, founder of The Institute of Theological and Interdisciplinary Studies,” not exactly a dues-paying member of the vast right-wing conspiracy. I attended one of his seminars on the separation of church and state, where I got into a lively discussion with the speaker on the question of school vouchers. It was fun. Alan contacted me after reading my column on liberal hypocrisy.

And then there is Michael Dickel. On today’s Pioneer Press Opinion Page, Dickel spews a little anger over my liberal hypocrisy column. I’m not going to bother refuting his piece -- I’ve already addressed his misconceptions and confusion of hypocrisy with bad public policy (the examples he claims I omitted) and pure corruption in responding to other critics. However I would like to correct one error Dickel makes.

Westover ultimately equates liberals with a particular religious group: Jews.

His central attack taints the hypocrisy of the left in one broad anti-Semitic stroke: "do (liberals) practice themselves what they inflict on we uncircumcised Philistines?"

While one definition of Philistines relates to those uncultured in the liberal arts and indifferent to intellectual or artistic accomplishment, the unnecessary addition of "uncircumcised" implies to me Westover's religious bigotry.

While casting liberals as intolerant of those who do not share their views, Westover reveals his own intolerance. While making a broad argument about ideology and politics, he codes his text to let other religious ideologues know that it's Jews who are hypocritical liberals and proper Christians who are morally superior and ethically un-hypocritical conservatives. All while claiming night is day.

The tag on his piece indicates that Dickel, “a poet, is director of the Macalester Academic Excellence Center and teaches College Writing at Macalester College. He is Jewish.” With those credentials, one would hope that he might distinguish between my “implication” and his “inference.” He caught “the code,” but he wrongly inferred my bigoted implication.

By inserting the word “uncircumcised” I was secretly letting my fellow men know that it’s women who are hypocritical liberals, and proper cigar-smoking, gun-toting, lecherous, hairy-chested men that are superior. I thought that would be obvious when I related Nancy Pelosi’s decision not to hire union labor to Amy Klobuchar’s union problems. Both women? Are you not connecting the dots? It’s time America became aware of the threat of fundamentalist Gynoism.

Okay, seriously. Having spent a good deal of column space and bandwidth defending American Muslims right to be offended by relatively innocuous cartoons (while incidently defending the right of people of all religions to inform public debate with their beliefs), I can’t object if Dickel finds the phrase “uncircumcised Philistine” to be offensive. However, he doesn’t say that it’s offensive.

Like a mob rioting over the Danish cartoons while cloaking political action in the robe of religion, Dickel reads me the riot act without applying any thoughtful commentary to his discourse. Confusing commentary, yes. I’d welcome help with this paragraph --
What makes any set of principles unworkable is requiring a rigid adherence without possibility of redemption. Redemption is embodied by different religious beliefs and by different political ideologies, although only for conservatives in Westover's view.
I don’t know what I should find more frightening -- that Dickel teaches College Writing or that one of my editors at the Pioneer Press decided Dickel’s piece “demonstrate[s] a greater knowledge of [the] topic . . . or superior writing skills” and that the best quote in the article to use as a pull-box was one calling me a bigot.

Oh well, that’s why I make the big bucks.

UPDATE: John of Stillwater notes that a “day” is a 24-hour period, part of which is dark. We call that part “night.” If that’s true, he asks, isn’t “night” actually “day”?