Thursday, October 21, 2010

(The Lack of) Civility and Content in Public Discourse

Carl Trueman had an interesting and thought-provoking post the other day at Reformation 21.  In it he cited last week's much publicized argument between Bill O'Reilly and Whoopi Goldberg.  In case you missed it, O'Reilly was a guest on The View.  As he and the panel discussed the so-called "Ground-Zero Mosque," the discussion quickly devolved into a shouting match, culminating with Goldberg (as well as co-host, Joy Behar) walking off the set.

 I recently purchased, and very much look forward to reading, Trueman's book, Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative.  Though I don't always agree with him, I enjoy reading what he has to say because he is almost always thought-provoking. And while I sometimes have my sensibilities offended by Trueman, I appreciate the fact that he is definitely an equal-opportunity offender.  I think this comes through in these comments on the O'Reilly-Goldberg tête-à-tête, in which he decries the lack of civility and content in contemporary political discourse:
The most popular TV pundit of the Right, who yet cannot define "socialism," versus the advocate for women's rights who does not regard the drugging, and forcible and perverted sexual violation of a thirteen year old girl as "rape."  If ever we needed a microcosmic demonstration of all that is wrong with left and right, those two say it all: it is all about empty posturing, extreme slogans, and, above all, entertainment.
Against this cultural backdrop, Trueman calls on Christians to raise the bar, both in what we expect and in what we exhibit.  He points out that those who (like me) subscribe to the Westminster Standards are bound by such statements as the Larger Catechism's answer to Question 128, which reads as follows: "The sins of inferiors against their superiors are, all neglect of the duties required toward them; envying at, contempt of, and rebellion against, their persons and places, in their lawful counsels, commands, and corrections; cursing, mocking, and all such refractory and scandalous carriage, as proves a shame and dishonour to them."  He goes on to make the following suggestions:
Christians, right and left, should model intelligent civic engagement, not help to destroy it by pandering to the moronic soundbites and posturing of the TV pundits.  And anybody who holds office in a confessional presbyterian denomination and who calls the President a Marxist (or carries around a picture of him at a rally photoshopped to make him into Hitler or the Joker), or anyone, for that matter, who claims that the Republicans are all Fascists or racists -- anybody who does such, I say, should be charged in the courts of the church with breach of vows and, if unrepentant, dismissed from office.  Criticism and dissent are vital in democracy; but  how we express that criticism and dissent should be shaped by our Christian commitments and, for those of us who hold office, by our solemn vows.
I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.  Please comment below.  You can read Trueman's whole post here.

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