Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Theologian and linguist of the week

I've done my best to ignore Not-Joe the Not-Plumber all these months because I'm hoping he'll go away. Unfortunately, he keeps poking his head into the public discourse, and I'm going to comment this time because ignoring dangerous things can get you hurt somewhere along the line.

Joe's used to speaking outside his expertise — he's opined about politics and economics, badly — but now in his recent interview with Christianity Today, he takes a hatchet to gay people, and along the way, he makes a truly strange argument about language.
Interviewer: In the last month, same-sex marriage has become legal in Iowa and Vermont. What do you think about same-sex marriage at a state level?

Joe: At a state level, it's up to them. I don't want it to be a federal thing. I personally still think it's wrong. People don't understand the dictionary—it's called queer. Queer means strange and unusual. It's not like a slur, like you would call a white person a honky or something like that. You know, God is pretty explicit in what we're supposed to do—what man and woman are for. Now, at the same time, we're supposed to love everybody and accept people, and preach against the sins. I've had some friends that are actually homosexual. And, I mean, they know where I stand, and they know that I wouldn't have them anywhere near my children. But at the same time, they're people, and they're going to do their thing.
If I understand his argument, he's saying that being queer is "strange and unusual"…because the dictionary says so. And there's only one dictionary. You know — the dictionary! That one.

People have all kinds of attitudes about language, but it takes an especially obtuse individual to insist that a dictionary definition is the true meaning of a word. Words have different senses, as with 'queer'. It's hard to make the argument that the dictionary definition for one sense of a word should determine the meaning of a completely different sense. It's like going to the bank for some cash and being surprised not to find a river there because 'the dictionary' says that a bank is 'sloping land by a river'.

There's a lot more to the article: his "state's rights" trope that was used to justify racism in the South. And his admission that he's 'had some friends' who are gay. (Why do they always say that?) But of course he won't let his friends near the kids. Feel the Christian love.


  1. I think he may just be trying to point out that: the etymology of 'queer' in the homosexual sense suggests that [at some time in the past] being homosexual is [was] "strange and unusual", except that he doesn't want to admit the bracketed part.

    I think the more offensive comment is I wouldn't have [my homosexual friends] anywhere near my children. Is this a weasel way of implying homosexuality is correlated with molestation potential? Or that his children could catch teh gay?

  2. I have known people of earlier generations who were certain that all gay people had a pathological urge to molest little boys. Probably the availability heuristic working.

  3. I'm quite certain any gay person he knows has a lot of other words to describe him besides "friend".

    I was quite amused by his explanation of why his usage of "queer" wasn't a slur. "Because it's in the dictionary" is certainly a novel excuse for discrimination.

  4. I hate the "I have friends who are gay" excuse. As if that justifies being a bigot. Someone I know tried to use that when justifying his discrimination against gays. When I pressed him on it, he couldn't name a single gay person he was friends with.

  5. I have lots of friends who are bigots.

  6. I think he has a very legitimate concern in not letting his homosexual friends near his children... kids are clever, they'd realise that these 'friends' aren't strange and unusual at all - and where would that leave him?

  7. I think Alarik hit it on the head. Ignorance is the friend of bigotry, and subconsciously they all know it. Thus the American madras' known as born again home school or xtrian charter schools.


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