Today the internet is awash with condemnation of Kirk Cameron for his recent comments on Piers Morgan Tonight. A quick Google search will yield innumerable results, most (1.2 million) featuring the word “homophobe.”
I am not going to defend Cameron, nor will I condemn him. I do want to challenge the use of the word homophobe. The larger point I want to make is about our collective tendency to devalue words and forego debate for ad hominem attacks.
Here is what Cameron said:
“Marriage is almost as old as dirt, and it was defined in the garden between Adam and Eve. One man, one woman for life till death do you part. So I would never attempt to try to redefine marriage. And I don’t think anyone else should either. So do I support the idea of gay marriage? No, I don’t.”
“I think that it’s – it’s – it’s unnatural. I think that it’s – it’s detrimental, and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.”
First let’s recall that this is just about the same policy position as President Obama. Cameron said he does not support gay marriage, and that (I’m not sure from the transcript if it is gay marriage or homosexuality generally) is “ultimately destructive” to the foundations of civilization. I do not know what that means, but I imagine that lots of things are harmful to civilization, from video games to overpopulation – it is a limitless category.
Second, let’s be fair about the meaning of homophobia. One gay rights group is selling snarky t-shirts defining homophobia as “insecurity about being heterosexual.” The more respectable Anti-Defamation League defines it as “the hatred or fear of homosexuals, sometimes leading to acts of violence and expressions of hostility.”
I think the ADL definition is too broad, but accepting it, I fail to see where Cameron expresses fear of or hatred towards homosexuals. Certainly he advocates no violence. Cameron is expressing an opinion. It may be an unpopular opinion, it may be a wrong opinion, his reasoning or command of evidence may be wanting – but it is still his opinion and he is entitled to it.
Of course, everyone is entitled to disagree with him, and to do so persistently and vigorously. Importantly, Cameron may in fact be a homophobe, waiting for an opportune moment to unleash a wave of violence against homosexuals. Or, he may pray ardently for the heavenly salvation of homosexuals. Either way, I don’t know. And neither do you.
Cameron, or anyone else, can oppose a public policy agenda of any group. It does not necessarily denote hatred, fear, or a wish for some “final solution.”
To attack the person and not the argument demonstrates, well, nothing very flattering about the attacker. De-valuing powerful words by careless use limits clarity and options in debate, and practically, can hurt your own cause.
One can object to Obama’s policies without being a racist. One can advocate change in immigration policy without being a bigot. One can question American support of Israel without being an anti-Semite. I thought a few of Joel Schumaker’s movies should never have been made, but it does not make me anti-Batman – not by a long shot.
Real hatred exists. Real hatred can be expressed through murderous violence.
We must be careful with words because they have real power. To silence or shun someone for an opinion is undemocratic with the potential to be worse. It is a very short distance from lashing out against someone because their opinion seemed “hostile” to you, to behaving as if there were thought-crimes.
George Orwell wrote “Politics and the English Language,” in 1946. Like most everything Orwell wrote, it is eerily resonant, these 60+ years later. Orwell writes that “the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” He cautions us to use language “as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.”
As I write this I fear being misinterpreted and I fear offending persons I care for. I feel it necessary to state that I have no strong opinions on homosexuality one way or the other. Frankly, I do not care what anyone else does and have no inclination to meddle in the lives of others, just as I wish no one would meddle in my life. Where issues rise to become matters of public policy, I am divided. There are components of the agenda of activist groups that I oppose, just as there are elements of the status quo social norms to which I object.
I will click “publish” on this post for one very simple reason. I believe that words have power, and that power should not be de-valued or used haphazardly.
Regarding Cameron specifically, I can not believe that any sane person gives any thought to the opinions of a former child star from a television show that was cancelled twenty years ago. Seriously a 40 year old child actor talking to a host that no one watches, how did this even become an issue?