A conservatory of Ldotter blogs.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

SpongeBob and James Dobson. . .

. . .have reappeared in the news the past couple of days in the context of the controversy over the cartoon character's appearance in a video slated to be distributed in some 61,000 public schools this month. The uproar revolves around the question of whether or not Dr. Dobson "attacked" SpongeBob for being gay, regrettably. It's unfortunate because it completely evades the real issue. I don't doubt Dr. Dobson's word for a moment when he says he never tried to imply that the cartoon character is somehow homosexual, and the attacks that have been launched against him based on that notion are specious and opportunistic. Furthermore, the accusations completely cloud the issue that Dobson was getting at, which is a completely valid concern for anyone who has children in public schools.

What's really at issue, and what Dobson says he was addressing at a Family Research Council banquet celebrating President Bush's second inauguration, is the idea that activist groups are aggressively working to indoctrinate school children into a belief system where homosexual relationships are accepted as equally valid as their traditional heterosexual counterparts. Leaving aside the argument of whether they are or not, parents of school children have every right to be concerned about the notion that schools would promote the idea. After all, the majority of people in the United States (and presumably the world) believe that homosexual relationships are immoral, and want to raise their children in a way that perpetuates their strongly held beliefs without being undermined in schools financed with their own tax dollars. It's fairly clear that this is the central issue that Dr. Dobson was addressing, and not the absurd idea that SpongeBob himself is a predatory homosexual.

Like most conservatives (and what I believe are fair-minded people), I accept Dr. Dobson's explanation as far as that goes. However, there is something else at issue, and it's simply a matter of consistency. And, if I'm to have any integrity whatsoever as a writer discussing cultural issues, I have to be consistent in approaching the things I write about. I can't hold the people I agree with to a different standard than that to which I hold people with whom I disagree. People who take the time to read my blog deserve an honest assessment if they are to judge the soundness and reasoning of my opinions. I can't simply say, "James Dobson is telling the truth and the media are lying because I think James Dobson is a good man and the media are lying jackals." What can be gained from what amounts to a personal endorsement based on how I feel about the people involved, and nothing more?

To me, the issue at hand isn't whether or not I agree with Dr. Dobson's core belief on the issue of homosexuality itself, or his assertion that there are forces being exerted on our public schools by left-wing activists seeking to undermine what has been accepted as the traditional family model throughout the history of our civilization. I agree with him on those points, and gladly say so when asked. Those issues are settled in my mind. But, the matter of consistency is an important one, and it's essential to honest discussion and debate.

In essence, what we have are accusations and counter accusations. Various media entities have accused Dr. Dobson of attempting induce hysteria among evangelical Christians by painting SpongeBob Squarepants as a stealth gay character sneaked into millions of families' living rooms with the intent of recruiting young children to become homosexuals. Dr. Dobson has accused these media outlets of taking his words and distorting them in an attempt to undermine his public image and make him appear to be a hellfire-and-damnation, Bible-thumping bigot intent on purging the world of homosexuals by hook, or by crook. That's it. That's what the whole story amounts to. Any other details add color and context, but aren't dispositive of the argument.

So now, the question becomes a simple one: "Who is telling the truth here?" And, to me, the answer is fairly simple -- I'm inclined to believe Dr. Dobson. In my mind, there's very little debate. I'm not a follower of Dobson's, but what I know of him leads me to believe he's an honest man. And, what I know of the typical mainstream media outlet leads me to believe that they are doing a hatchet job on him. But, in the end, what I believe is of no importance if I don't have facts to back it up -- and facts are the one thing that seem to be in short supply in this entire debate.

I'm a reasonably adept Google user, and I've enlisted the help of an even more adept user, who in turn enlisted the help of a someone who does actual research for a living. None of us has been able to turn up a transcript of what Dr. Dobson said at the banquet. As I pointed out on a thread at Lucianne.com, there are only two transcripts in recent memory that I've been unable to find on Google after some fairly diligent searching -- that of Eason Jordan's remarks at the panel discussion in Davos, and those of James Dobson at the FRC inaugural banquet. To me, this doesn't prove anything -- it could very well be that no one ever entertained the notion that something worth recording might be said at such an event, so no record was kept.

However, to anyone with any amount of skepticism, it has to appear awfully fishy. And, if I'm to be honest, I have to say that the absence of any written, video, or audio record raises a little skepticism within myself. It doesn't prove, or even indicate, that Dr. Dobson is lying about what he said at the banquet, but to any honest individual with a tendency toward critical reasoning, it has to raise a question as to whether or not Dobson said something at the banquet that might vindicate his detractors. If in fact he did, it's not necessarily proof that he is lying about the matter. But, it does indicate that the matter is up to debate. Unfortunately, until some record of the remarks is made public, honest debate can't really take place, because in the end, all we have are the allegations.

This is the most unfortunate aspect of the matter because all it does is create a din of senseless accusations among people of good intent, and incorporates them into the battalions of ill will. It provides the impetus for people who like to use God as a cudgel with which to thump the heads of those they see as lukewarm in their reverence for Him, tarnishing the image of Christianity among those who would otherwise be open to its teachings, while confirming their own sense of spiritual superiority. It also lends credence among the skeptical to the arguments made by those who are inclined to dismiss Christian belief as nothing more than slavering superstition and hypocrisy.

If the goal is to win hearts and minds in an effort to bring about a more moral society based on Judeo-Christian values and ethics, one would think that an appeal to the vast group of people who rest between the extremes of belief and disbelief would be a priority. It's the people in that great middle who decide society's direction, and like anyone else, they make their decisions based on what they hear from both sides. All they're hearing at this point is a volley of accusations occurring somewhere far removed from where they see themselves, and the best they can do is shake their heads and say, "to hell with all of them."

As a blogger, I feel a certain duty to shed whatever light I can on matters under debate in American culture. Given that I agree with much of what Dr. Dobson has to say on the many issues that confront our culture, I'd like to be able to make the case to the agnostic that he isn't the man he is being portrayed as, and that his words are in fact being twisted by a fringe group of gay activists and its allies in the media in order to discredit him. Unfortunately, I don't have those words to point to because they seem to have vanished into the ether. And, even more unfortunately, some who support him seem content with demonizing those who simply want to get to the heart of the matter, labeling them as godless simply because they prefer to make Dobson's case based on facts, rather than insisting that people agree with them based on nothing more than that his word is "good enough for me."

I could sit and write elegies to Dobson's public image from here to Kingdom Come and draw hosannahs from the pews all day long, but to what end? Honest debate isn't about making people feel more secure in their beliefs. It's about making people defend their beliefs with objective truth. And when you question someone's belief in God simply because they express a desire to hear more truth from a certain man, you have stepped over into the realm of idol worship and have some answering to God of your own to do. And, the longer Dobson's words remain obscured, the longer the questions linger, slowly eroding his ability to reach out and bring new people into the fold.

Some may question my conservatism. Some may question my belief in God. Some may even question my motives in seeking out the truth at the bottom of this entire controversy. I'm fine with that, just as Dr. Dobson professes to be fine with whatever people in the media have to say about him. But, if he's going to maintain that attitude, he should at least instruct his followers to adopt the same posture with regard to those who may have some questions, rather than let this minor blemish turn into a festering boil of self-righteousness. It's rather ugly and it undercuts his very admirable efforts.

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