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What if there were a god named Fred who hated lies?

Timothy Kincaid

November 16th, 2011

Now I know that here at BTB we have readers from diverse places and a wide variety of beliefs. Some, like me, have a belief system that includes the divine while others are skeptical or dismissive about claims of supernatural beings that cannot be substantiated. From orthodoxy to atheism to skepticism and uncertainty, BTB accepts us all.

But let’s try a thought experiment. Let’s all suppose that there is one god, and that his name is “Fred”. (Fred either has six arms or two and is either inordinately fond of fried chicken livers or finds chicken repulsive – depending on which Order of Fred you ask. The ascetic monks of Outer Urboo even claim that Fred has tentacles and flies. But none of that is material to our story.)

We also assume that Fred is omniscient and that he has established a code of behavior. And, for sake of our experiment, let’s assume that within that code, Fred highlights ten specific things that humans are forbidden to do. And finally, let’s agree that in this hypothetical situation, that one of the ten forbidden behaviors is “bearing false witness”.

To be clear: often for simplicity’s sake, people talk about deities banning lying. But Fred is very specific. He forbids any instances in which you present yourself to others as a witness about a matter (as one who has information that others lack) and then give testimony about that matter that is false or intended to deceive. That is a really big no-no in Fred’s book.

With me so far?

Okay, now – within that context – consider a hypothetical email message sent out by Fred’s Followers in response to the effort to repeal the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (which prohibits the Federal Government from recognizing same sex marriages). They warn their readers, as FF tracks such things and are better informed, of what the consequences would be of this bill passing. They are, in the words of our deity, “bearing witness” about the bill.

The repercussions are enormous:

  • States laws protecting marriage as between “one man, one woman” will become null and void – including the 31 states who have voted on constitutional amendments.
  • The military will be thrown into complete chaos and disarray, as Department of Defense leaders try to figure out housing, benefits, and “same-sex spouse” sensitivity training regimens.
  • Churches will come under fire from radical homosexual activists. Ministers and churches will be sued for “religious discrimination” for refusing to perform or allow gay “marriages.”
  • Public schools will be forced to indoctrinate our children, teaching them that homosexual marriage is both natural and acceptable.

Let’s take a quick look at these claims to see if Fred would approve. The relevant language from S 598 is as follows:

Sec. 7. Marriage

(a) For the purposes of any Federal law in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be considered married if that individual’s marriage is valid in the State where the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside any State, if the marriage is valid in the place where entered into and the marriage could have been entered into in a State.

So how do the claims of Fred’s Followers match up to reality? How did FF do?

Claim 1. As we can see, nothing in S 598 addresses state laws at all. Not only are they not made “null and void”, they aren’t even up for consideration.

This bill only would define the federal government’s rules of recognition and further would actually recognize and honor the restrictions on marriage imposed by those 31 states. While a soldier in Alabama might have her marriage recognized on base, it must have been conducted in one of the states in which she could marry and there’s no requirement that the Fred-fearing people of Alabama not point at her and scream “single, single, single brazen hussy of the leeeeesbian variety” if they so choose.

Now it is possible, even likely, that the various state DOMA amendments will be found by the United States Supreme Court to be in violation of the US Constitution. But until such time as the Supreme Court steps in and reminds the states that “any person” does not have an asterisk, states will be free to continue to be as exclusionary and unfair as AFA’s readers wish them to be.

Conclusion: claim 1 has no truth whatsoever.

Claim 2. Currently the Department of Defense leaders are experiencing a small amount of disarray as they try and comply with the provisions of DOMA that prohibit them from treating gay service personnel the same as straight personnel. Like most employers, they would prefer to just have one set of rules that apply to everyone.

But recent efforts to simplify (e.g. applying chaplain marriage structure equally) resulted in outcry from folks like Fred’s Followers and congressional meddling and a lot of back-peddling to please those who do not wish for gay people to be accorded the same rights and privileges as heterosexuals. And Defense officials are still not entirely certain how to apply (or, actually, deny) benefits for gay soldiers. Ironically, rather than throw them into disarray, it would be a tremendous relief for the military if DOMA to no longer intruded into their obsession for procedure and order and equal application of rules.

Conclusion: not only is claim 2 false, the opposite is true.

Claim 3. This claim is deceptive in its wording and deliberately so.

The US Constitution provides churches with the freedom to conduct such rites as they choose and to set whatever parameters they like for refusal. That is not in question. So FF says that churches will be “under fire”. And, indeed, they will. From their own members.

Gay and Lesbian and equality-loving heterosexual Presbyterians will pressure the Presbyterian Church (USA) to allow clergy to conduct same-sex weddings and to establish standard language by which to do so. But that has nothing at all to do with S 598. They are already doing so. In denomination after denomination and congregation after congregation, churches are seeking wisdom and discernment over how same-sex attracted congregants fit into the body of faith and “radical activists” of all inclinations are telling their stories and sharing their insight.

And the idea of gay couples suing churches over “religious discrimination” is so obviously false as to be laughable. The whole point of denominational autonomy – and surely there is no one who does not acknowledge that the First Amendment protects denominational autonomy – is to discriminate between rites, beliefs, and practices. The Church of Fred has no obligation to provide a venue for marriage ceremonies to anyone and the Fredite priests have no obligation to perform them. And nothing in that will change with S 598.

Conclusion: claim 3 has no kernel of truth whatsoever.

Claim 4. This one is similar to Claim 1. Schools and their curriculum are under state and local control; nothing in S 598 will or could force public schools to teach anything at all about marriage – gay, straight, natural, acceptable, or in accordance with the Ancient and Most Holy Broom-Jumping, Hora Dancing, Egg Stomping, Henna Painting, Dowry Gifting Rites of Connubial Bliss established by the Good and Gracious Fred, himself.

Conclusion: not only is claim 4 a flat out lie, it’s a rather obvious one as well.

Fred’s followers may be fools who lack the intellectual capability of distinguishing between an apple and a pineapple. They may be so mind-numbingly stupid, so tragically impeded, or so hopped up on Delphic vapors that they actually believe what they wrote.

And Fred, being gracious, just might look at his followers sadly and wonder, “how did I end up as the god of a bunch of idiots?” Perhaps their simple-mindedness would incline Fred towards mercy. And being fictional, after all, Fred’s Followers aren’t hurting anyone.

But, as I’m sure you guessed, this story isn’t really fiction. And the American Family Association, the real organization who crafted the above email and sent it out to all of those on their email list, is hurting people. And they are not fools. The AFA knew that they were disseminating false witness. Those who receive and respond to an AFA Action Alert may be so divorced from the law and how it works that they could believe that S 598 will result in their pastors being sued or the Military devolving into chaos, but the Wildmon family and their employees are not.

So this raises a most peculiar conundrum.

The American Family Association claims that they believe in a deity. They state that they believe in God and promote virtue by upholding in culture that which is right, true and good. The god they talk about is a holy and righteous god that cannot abide sin. Their god has provided forgiveness but he also demands repentance and change. Their god intends to throw all liars into a lake of eternal punishment for willfully breaking his commandments.

And yet the American Family Association has borne false – blatantly, inarguably, false – witness. Again.

So how can this be? If the God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked, then how can you, one of his followers, flagrantly and repeatedly defy a commandment so important to God that it made it into his top ten list?

If Don and Tim Wildmon and the others who pay their bills though anti-gay activism at the American Family Association believe in the god they preach, why then don’t they fall on their knees in fear and trembling and beg their god for mercy? Why don’t they dedicate their remaining days to recanting their lies and healing the damage they have caused?

Because they don’t believe. They couldn’t. And that’s their biggest lie of all.

Comments

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Graham
November 16th, 2011 | LINK

That’s not Fred, it’s an exquisite piece of Nok art!

Timothy Kincaid
November 16th, 2011 | LINK

Grant, cool that you recognized the Nok piece (an interesting and advanced culture about which not much is known) … but how to you know it isn’t Fred? The Ancient Holy Order of Nokturnal Fredites had a monastery in Nok for centuries, you know. Their worship was mainly at night.

andrew
November 16th, 2011 | LINK

I agree and disagree with you on these postings, and given that we’re concentrating on honesty, and even shading that as the broadest interpretation of the absence of spin, it’s critical that the posting be conscious of its own spin, if there is any.

As for point #1 — of course it nullifies state laws that seek to limit the definition of marriage. federal law always trumps state law, and the commerce clause would leave states with little recourse except to recognize contracts established in other states and recognized by the federal government. it might not require that such states conduct / permit gay marriages within their borders, but it would almost certainly prevent them from ignoring them — and obviously those opposed to gay marriage desperately desire to ensure that gay marriages are not deemed valid within their jurisdictions.

#2 COMPLETELY agree..

#3 i mostly agree with you. but there is something to be said for the right to the freedom of conscience. it makes me instinctively queasy to apply so much as pressure to anyone about personally held beliefs that are applied to themselves (distinct from those who insist on imposing them on others). in short, anti-gays should not be pressured in their own churches or private spaces to feel badly, as long as they aren’t agitating for a limitation of my rights in public, or in my private affairs. SO… should they worry about being pressured? I think they have the right to be worried about being left alone, or criticized by outsiders. And, we, above all, should know how that feels. So — it’s not a lie. It’s just a very self-centered way of seeing the issue.

#4 This depends on how you perceive “indoctrination”. If this means that parents won’t be able to prevent schools from engaging in diversity training, or discussing diversity of family structure, or discussing gays in sex-ed classes, then sure, parents now have the government deciding about information their children receive concerning issues they may or may not agree with. “Indoctrination” is an incendiary word, and this is clearly spin, but it’s worth understanding that one person’s status quo is another person’s “indoctrination”, and one person’s diversity training is another person’s “indoctrination”. It’s not a lie. It’s just spin layered over a very self-centered way of seeing the world.

Given that the article is predicated on honesty, as much as I hate to give any ground to these jerks, I like the idea of a posting (offered here) that acknoledges that we aren’t willing to give ground or concede (your piece), but that we do understand the subtleties of language at play (my caveat attached here). Both things need saying, but yours needs to come FIRST.

Thanks.

Christopher
November 16th, 2011 | LINK

Fred is only a god if people believe he is.

Lisa Simpson said it best in one of the Hallowe’en specials when all the Springfield advertising and logo figures came to life: Just don’t look.

Timothy Kincaid
November 16th, 2011 | LINK

andrew,

You missed the point.

The AFA claims that S 598 will lead to four things. Causation. One thing leading to another. A consequential event.

Also the AFA claims that S 598 will lead to four things. Yes, I already said that but I want you to stop and ponder it.

I’m not talking in generalities. Nor is the AFA. We are talking about S 598.

And none of the four things which they predict are – or can be – a consequence of S 598. If it passes or if it fails, those things will not be impacted.

Follow me?

I could say, “unless you hit Andrew with a stick, it will rain tomorrow.” But whether it rains or not tomorrow has nothing to do with you. So it would be a lie, Andrew. Even if it pours buckets tomorrow, it would still be a lie to blame it on you.

This isn’t about incendiary language, or spin, or a “way of seeing the world” or “subtleties of language”.

This is about making claims that are not true.

And as we are being honest, I have to say that it seems to me that you crafted your response without carefully reading the commentary. I encourage you to go back and read again what I offered here.

If you still disagree, then go ahead and specifically indicate the language within S 598 which will lead to one of AFA’s listed consequences and explain just how that is going to happen.

Hyhybt
November 16th, 2011 | LINK

Andrew: on #3, you talk about pressure from *outsiders.* But that’s exactly the point: the pressure on churches to recognize, perform, whatever gay marriages comes from *inside.* Are you saying that people ought not try to change the official positions of *their own* churches?

Steve
November 16th, 2011 | LINK

Extreme federalism when it comes to marriage is bullshit anyways. Let’s call it how it is. In today’s hyper-mobile society it is outrageous that personal contracts are terminated at state lines when you can cross the country within a few hours.

If a couple marries in one state and then moves to another state I may buy that the state doesn’t have to recognize it. That’s very unfortunate and unfair, but it’s workable.

What is NOT workable is that when you merely transit through a state while traveling that you suddenly seize to be married. There needs to be a distinction between RESIDING in a state that doesn’t recognize same-same marriage and merely traveling through it.

Timothy Kincaid
November 16th, 2011 | LINK

Steve,

Interesting idea. I think it probably would still be in violation of the “full faith and credit” clause, but it certainly would be a legal position that might appeal to some on the federal bench as a solution.

Jim Burroway
November 16th, 2011 | LINK

By the way, my middle name is Fred. And yes, I do hate lies. And the thing about chicken livers is heresy. I hate chicken livers. I’ve always been a leg man. And the older I get, the more I like chickens.

Okay. I’ve probably said too much.

Andrew
November 17th, 2011 | LINK

But some of it is “kinda” true, depending on how you perceive it.

This bill will lead to increased pressure on churches. It will almost certainly serve as the chief legal structure for voiding the non-portability of gay marriages between states. It will further an atmosphere in which it is intolerable for schools to ignore a diversity of family structures (it’s entirely conceivable that, as was done with Medicare dollars and hospital visitation rights, with the Senate bill passed, a White House could link school dollars to inclusion of gay families in public school curricula in order to qualify for Federal school grants, without consulting Congress). The bill has acts included in the specific wording of the bill, but it also has impacts – repercussions, as they term it – beyond those explicitly written into law — they know it, and we know it.

Again, it’s a question of spin and nuance. Maybe it’s me — I’ve been reading politispeak so long that I autotranslate as it goes into my eyeballs. To me several of the points aren’t “lies” as much as “spin” — to me there’s a subtle difference (spin is detectable manipulation, argument presented as fact, rhetorical flourishes, a tool for argument; “lie” is a harder word with a higher threshold).

Now, a very reasonable argument is that all spin has, in its core, a lie. But the problem is, we have our own spin. We choose to interpret facts in our own ways to suit our own purposes and further our own arguments all the time. Such as, for example, whether what someone else says is spin or deliberate deceit.

A reasonable disinterested 3rd party might chalk their press release up to spin.

On the other hand, a vested, interested (wise, good-looking, and well-spoken) opponent cites this as an example of a sanctimonious Bible-thumping prick spouting misleading falsehoods while missing that whole commandment about bearing false witness (okay, that’s my paraphrase – you didn’t call anyone a prick). But that is, in a way, also its own spin. Which means… (gulp)

And since I’m most allergic to hypocrisy, anything written about the sins of spin must intrinsically include a footnote (nothing more) acknowledging that, merely in order to “keep honest” and remain free of its own sanctimoniousness – whether intentional or not (sometimes honest earnestness doubles for both). I’m basically putting a lot of characters into very subtle parsing that doesn’t really warrant it lol. In short, I agree with you. Almost completely. Good job.

By the way – I live in a mixed Pastafarian household. My man still believes in His Saucy Redness, while I am an adherent of the Reformed Church of Alfredo. Have YOU been touched by his noodly appendage?

Jim, stay away from the chickens.

Andrew
November 17th, 2011 | LINK

Sorry, I didn’t do any of those things you talked about. Because I disagree with you COMPLETELY about the impact of the bill.

The bill is not a stand-alone. It will have DRAMATIC impact. It is currently the chief piece of legislation standing in the way of all sorts of progress (which was why it was written) — from health insurance for self-insured businesses to army barracks policy to social security to immigration to marriage portability to education policy to tax policy. It has huge legal, but also symbolic impact. With the demise of laws prohibiting sodomy, it’s the last structural nail our opponents are able to hang pretty well anything on when it comes to marriage and family policy.

Andrew
November 17th, 2011 | LINK

(okay maybe not army barracks policy, but army housing policy for married couples — sorry, not a military household here).

TJ Davis
November 17th, 2011 | LINK

Jim, I have always liked chicken, livers and all. I am not ashamed to admit that, even though there are some that say I should be. There was this restaurant I used to go to that served up saute chicken livers and onions that….wait…oh that kind of chicken…hmm, never mind.

Timothy, regarding the first point, in a way Andrew is right. But it is a technical splitting of the hairs in a way. You see S 598 is a piece of legislation that would effectively repeal DOMA.

However, in some legal circles there has been some unofficial discussions about all 31 states who have passed anti gay marriage amendments, DOMA and Prop 8. I recall reading that one individual actually referred to it as a horse race.

The argument basically being that which ever of the two, DOMA or Prop 8, reaches the Supreme Court first it will in effect render the other moot. It is assumed that if the one is declared unconstitutional then the other cannot stand on merits given the arguments that prevailed in the first.

And as such either of these two issues, if declared against the US Constitutional guarantee of equal treatment under the law, will render the 31 state amendments unconstitutional as well. Nothing I have read so far suggests that there is any possibility that S 598 will become law for at least 2 years out if then, but many feel that the Federal Supreme Court will hear either the Prop 8 challenge or DOMA within that time frame.

But again I point out that S 598 is a law, the Respect of Marriage Act and it will not address the constitutionality of DOMA in anyway. So Andrew, at least as I can understand it, if S 598 becomes law you are wrong, it won’t effect any of those 31 state level anti gay marriage amendments and in that respect the AFA was lying to suggest it will. But if those pesky US Supreme Court Judges get to legislating from the bench and declare Prop 8 or DOMA unconstitutional then you are right, and all bets are off.

And the AFA knows that all too well. Way back, early on they and some others actually said that they didn’t want to try to defend the federal law suit against Prop 8 because of the enormous consequences if that challenge should prevail in Federal Court. For the sake of this particular message to their supporters they are just mixing up the consequences of the two branches of government, the legislative and the judicial. Perhaps they are doing that purposely, lying just to raise money, I won’t say even though I got me some opinions about that.

One more point, Timothy, I really enjoyed your very last statement, “the biggest lie of all.” I wonder if there could ever be a way to get that old German, the rat singer, to ponder that point just a bit.

Thanks for all the hard work and input everyone. DOMA has been particularly hard on me in my life. I count the minutes until it is finally gone.

Hyhybt
November 17th, 2011 | LINK

Andrew: it may be hard, in some cases, to determine whether something is a lie or only spin, but the difference is a sharp one. Presenting the *truth* in as favorable a way as you can manage is spin; anything outside the bounds of truth is a lie.

All four in the article are well outside the bounds of truth, and therefore cannot qualify as mere spin.

Timothy Kincaid
November 17th, 2011 | LINK

Andrew,

You can argue all you like about the subtle difference between deceptive dishonest lies and deceptive dishonest spin. I take the Gertrude Stein approach to untruths.

But if AFA really believes what they preach, they have to know that God has no “spin clause” in the ninth commandment.

AFA bore witness.
It was false.
Spin class over.

Timothy Kincaid
November 17th, 2011 | LINK

TJ Davis,

Yes, the issue is related. But related is not the same as identical.

And, as you said, AFA’s claim does not truthfully reflect the situation. Repealing DOMA does not and cannot cause “states laws protecting marriage as between ‘one man, one woman’ [to] become null and void”.

Suppose that the Ninth Circuit decides to ignore the CA Supremes and it is decided that the Proponents have no standing and thus Prop 8 is dead. And suppose S 589 passes and DOMA is repealed.

Neither of these actions would result in the ‘no faith or credit’ clauses being declared unconstitutional. Instead, all current federal challenges to gay marriage bans would be moot adn a case or cases would have to be brought up individually against states.

Actually, DOMA is an advantage from a legal perspective. It is a law that can be challenged in court. And it has the additional advantage that states can be injured parties rather than just individuals.

Absent DOMA, we have no federal case other than Prop 8 and the eventual federal nature of state challenges.

Timothy Kincaid
November 17th, 2011 | LINK

TJ,

One more point, Timothy, I really enjoyed your very last statement, “the biggest lie of all.” I wonder if there could ever be a way to get that old German, the rat singer, to ponder that point just a bit.

I may be mistaken and it’s only my opinion… but I get the impression that Papa Ratzi thinks that God is his vicar in heaven and not the other way around.

Frijondi
November 17th, 2011 | LINK

+1 for the Jonathan Edwards reference.

The AFA tells these lies, because they truly believe that it’s for a higher purpose, and therefore okay. That higher purpose of theirs is, imo, not simply preventing gays from marrying, but preventing straights from conducting their own lives in a manner that is not pleasing to the AFA. They believe they have a mandate from God to see to it that all American families look more like the Duggars and less like the childless dual-career couple who live down the street from many of us.

They’re worried that the legal recognition and social acceptance of gay marriage will only encourage non-Duggarlike behavior among heterosexuals. When they lie about the effects of repealing DOMA, this is what’s at stake for them. They no doubt think they’re being wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves.

What the AFA doesn’t realize is they have made their notion of the family into their God. Instead of worshipping the Golden Calf, or Him Who Walks Behind the Rows, they’re worshipping a combination of 1950s sex roles and unchecked fertility.

Broggly
November 19th, 2011 | LINK

Fred has tentacles and flies? But he’s not a beached giant squid!

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