Tending The Flock

Eugene Volokh rightfully condemns Jimmy Swaggart for anti-homosexual bigotry[1]. Swaggart said,

I've never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I'm gonna be blunt and plain; if one ever looks at me like that, I'm gonna kill him and tell God he died.

But then Volokh goes beyond merely condemning Swaggart and calls on all "decent Christians...to condemn this defender of murder" and to "Tell us, at least, that this supposed Christian...doesn't speak for you."

In response to Res Ipsa Loquitur's objection that individual Christians have no special moral obligation to renounce Swaggart unless directly called upon, Volokh writes,

Christianity is a belief system — not just an involuntary status such as race or ethnicity, but a consciously chosen belief system that is based on certain writings and certain traditions. ...

When someone who is a Christian minister, and still something of a Christian leader, makes a claim about what Christian scriptures mean, it seems to me that those Christians who condemn his views — and condemn them as deeply evil, rather than just subtly or slightly wrong — do have a responsibility to speak out. Though this man calls himself a Christian leader, they should say, his is not the Christianity that we endorse. ....

And when people don't object to what is done in the name of their religion by those who claim to share it — when they don't t [sic] express any interest in the religion's being tainted by the views of those who speak on its behalf — then I do wonder whether those people might in fact agree (or at least not strongly disagree) with those who purport to speak on their religion's behalf.

This is all well and good; there is nothing internally inconsistent here. The problem is, Volokh previously made a very different kind of argument regarding Republican flock-tending. When asked whether he would comment on the now-long-forgotten torture memo, Volokh declined, on the grounds that the topic was "outside [his] core area of expertise," that other people will do it for him, that his time is limited and he only wishes to "invest a good deal of time into researching something that [he wants] to blog about," (implying that this topic does not interest him enough to make the time commitment worthwhile), and that "I just don't like this topic. I find it not just difficult but also sickening. Torture is disgusting."

How are we to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory views? Conservative Republicanism is a belief system — not just an involuntary status such as race or ethnicity, but a consciously chosen belief system that is based on certain writings and certain traditions. And while Volokh is more libertarian than the average Republican, he votes Republican, supports the war, and has explicitly stated his support for the present administration and the Republican Party. Does Volokh have a responsibility to speak out against those Republicans he condemns as deeply evil, rather than just subtly or slightly wrong (assuming, of course, he condemns any such Republicans)? Must Volokh say that, "Though this man calls himself a Republican, this is not the kind of Republican Party I endorse"? Would Volokh allow a Christian to use the excuse that

I just don't like this topic. I find it not just difficult but also sickening. Homosexuality is disgusting. Killing homosexuals is disgusting. Does the need to save people's souls, not to mention maintain the stability of society, justify killing homosexuals? I don't know the answers, and while I have no doubt about the importance of the questions, I don't enjoy thinking about them. The whole topic is sad and horrible, whatever the right answer is.

If Volokh fails to do this -- if he fails to express any interest in the Party's being tainted by the views of those who speak on its behalf - then should we wonder whether he might in fact agree (or at least not strongly disagree) with those who purport to speak on his Party's behalf?

The torture memo incident is not the first time Volokh has made this argument. Although I cannot find the posts, I distinctly remember Volokh making similar arguments in the past about not feeling responsible for addressing every political issue of the day, or condemning every statement made by a well-known Republican with which he vehemently disagrees.

Perhaps Volokh changed his mind, in which case he is not being inconsistent. If so, he should make this clear. At the end of his current post he writes the following paragraph, which gives the impression that this has been his policy all along:

This is the standard that I use for members of my ideological movement -- when Republicans say outrageous things, it seems to me that we Republicans ought to condemn them, to try to redeem the movement's good name. Careful readers of this blog will notice that I have done this in the past, and that many other Republicans have done it as well. This is one of the responsibilities of being part of an ideological movement, of urging others to join your movement, and of praising the movement as good for society: You need to police your own, or those who purport to be your own. Not an onerous responsibility, or an unreasonable imposition, it seems to me.

It is true that Volokh has condemned Republicans in the past for saying outrageous things, and he should be commended for that. But it is also true that he has refrained from commenting on various outrageous things, whether intentionally or not, for whatever reasons he may or may not have had.

Volokh was right before and should have stuck with his previous position: blogging is a hobby, not a chore. Bloggers do not have an ethical responsibility to police everyone who claims to share their ideology. Pace Volokh, this is an onerous responsibility and an unreasonable imposition. There are just too many bigoted, hateful loons of all political, religious, and otherwise ideological stripes in the world, and not enough time in the day to refute them all. While tending to one's own flock is commendable, it is not an ethical obligation, for the same reason that saving the life of a child in imminent danger is not an ethical obligation[2]. It is just too costly to be reasonably required of anyone.

fn. 1 I know many people object to the term "homophobia," but if there was ever a case where the term applies, it is here.

fn. 2 See: More On Positive Rights, All Men Are Created Equal…, and Equality and Rights where I attempt to justify this controversial claim.

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Jimmy Swaggart to Gays:

Jimmy Swaggart to Gays: "Kill Him and Tell God..."
I wonder if Volokh would think it okay for me let loose on Swaggart. UPDATE: Volokh answers my question here..and gets taken, three times, in the process.

Micha, I think it only fair

Micha, I think it only fair to ask Republican bloggers to express outrage at such assinine comments. After all libertarians get stick (from Republicans) for any daft thing anyone who calls himself a libertarian says.