Free Markets, Free People

Smearing The Religious

This is a favorite pastime of many on the left, and libertarians of all stripes. When in it’s the nature of busting biblethumpers’ chops, I get it. I mean, The Great Flying Spaghetti Monster? That’s just funny. As for those who simply question religion, well there is certainly a lot to question. I’m Catholic, a religion with plenty of black marks in its history, some of which rival (if not surpass) the Nazis in sheer disregard for human life and dignity. So, again, I get it. But sometimes the criticism and ribbing is nothing more than outright bigotry, designed to stoke popular hate against those who are religious.

The Huffington Post offers one of those latter critiques in a post entitled “American Family Association: Stone To Death Killer Whale Who Killed Trainer” about the tragedy at SeaWorld:

The American Family Association, a religious right group, is urging that Tillikum (Tilly), the killer whale that killed a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando, be put down, preferably by stoning. Citing Tilly’s history of violent altercations, the group is slamming SeaWorld for not listening to Scripture in how to deal with the animal:

Says the ancient civil code of Israel, “When an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner shall not be liable.” (Exodus 21:28)

However, the group is going further and laying the blame for the trainer’s death directly at the feet of Chuck Thompson, the curator in charge of animal behavior, because, according to Scripture,

But, the Scripture soberly warns, if one of your animals kills a second time because you didn’t kill it after it claimed its first human victim, this time you die right along with your animal. To use the example from Exodus, if your ox kills a second time, “the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death.” (Exodus 21:29)

SeaWorld has no plans to execute Tilly.

If you read nothing else other than the HuffPo piece, then the post’s title and implications make perfect sense. However, if you read the actual post being ridiculed by HuffPo, you may have a different opinion:

Now there are all kinds of theories as to why the “killer whale” did what it did, to include one which says it was just playing.

That could be, but whatever the reason it was an animal acting like it should. It kills things and eats them. It doesn’t moralize about what is or isn’t “good” or “evil”. It does what it is hard wired to do without thinking about it and certainly without concerning itself with the consequences. It certainly isn’t unreasonable to expect such an animal to act like it should.

Hmmm … actually, no. That wasn’t from The American Family Association, but instead from our very own Bruce McQuain. Here’s the AFA:

According to the Orlando Sentinel, “SeaWorld Orlando has always know that Tillikum…could be a particularly dangerous killer whale…because of his ominous history.”

The Sentinel then recounts that Tilly, as he was affectionately known, had killed a trainer back in 1991 in front of spectators at a now defunct aquarium in Victoria, British Columbia.

Then in 1999 he killed a man who sneaked into SeaWorld to swim with the whales and was found the next morning draped dead across Tilly’s back. His body had been bit and the killer whale had torn off his swimming trunks after he had died.

What about the term “killer whale” do SeaWorld officials not understand?

You see the difference? McQ honed in with that laser-like focus that only Army Rangers possess on the most salient fact of the matter, i.e. that this was a wild animal known as a killer whale, while the AFA chose the lesser fact of … oh right, the same thing. So, now you know: McQ is a biblethumpin’ m’OH-ron.

To be fair to HuffPo, the AFA did cite scriptures as guidance for how people should live their lives when everybody knows they’re just for displaying on placards at football games. How silly to think that religious people who believe in the same things as the AFA would look to the word of God as having some wisdom that might imparted.

But it’s worse than that. Whether or not you agree with the religious aspect of the advice offered by the AFA, the actual Bible quotes cited in the ridiculed post weren’t referenced as literal commands to action, contrary to what HuffPo would have you believe. Instead, they were cited as guidance (there’s that word again) in how people should live their lives:

If the counsel of the Judeo-Christian tradition had been followed, Tillikum would have been put out of everyone’s misery back in 1991 and would not have had the opportunity to claim two more human lives.

Says the ancient civil code of Israel, “When an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner shall not be liable.” (Exodus 21:28)

So, your animal kills somebody, your moral responsibility is to put that animal to death. You have no moral culpability in the death, because you didn’t know the animal was going to go postal on somebody.

But, the Scripture soberly warns, if one of your animals kills a second time because you didn’t kill it after it claimed its first human victim, this time you die right along with your animal. To use the example from Exodus, if your ox kills a second time, “the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death.” (Exodus 21:29)

If I were the family of Dawn Brancheau, I’d sue the pants off SeaWorld for allowing this killer whale to kill again after they were well aware of its violent history.

I’ve highlighted that last sentence because, in complete contrast to what HuffPo would have you believe, the AFA author never demanded, nor even suggested, that the killer whale or anyone else should be stoned. Instead, he suggested that the aggrieved party should sue through the civil system — and he’s right. There’s a doctrine known as the “one bite rule” which, while not exactly what people think it is, does pertain to domesticated wild animals in certain situations. And, in fact, the legal underpinnings hue quite closely to what the Bible scriptures say as far as assigning guilt is concerned:

Restatement [of Torts] § 519 states the general principle for liability, and § 520 provides several evaluative factors. Section 519 provides for strict liability for one “who carries on an abnormally dangerous activity” causing harm to persons or property even if he “has exercised the utmost care to prevent the harm.” Section 520 suggests evaluative factors to assist in determining if an activity should be termed abnormally dangerous, and includes (1) the degree of risk of harm; (2) the magnitude of that harm; (3) the inevitability of some risk irrespective of precautionary measures that might be taken; (4) the ordinary or unusual nature of the activity; and (5) the activity’s value to the community in comparison to the risk of harm created by its presence.

In short, when a known dangerous animal is mixed with humans in that animal’s natural environment, there is a pretty good chance that the owner of that animal will bear blame for any harm that befalls another party, without any excuse (that is, with “strict liability”).

Of course, I don’t mean to say that the tragic death of the animal trainer was unequivocally the fault of SeaWorld or anyone else. There are plenty of legal doctrines (“assumption of risk” comes to mind) that could exonerate the owners of Tilly, despite the Restatement of Torts passage above. The point is that what the AFA suggests — that the animal should have been put down after it demonstrated it was not entirely domesticable — using scriptures as its guidance, shouldn’t strike anyone as particularly strange or outlandish. The common law quite agrees with that verdict. Indeed, if evidence were produced that the slain trainer was never made aware of Tilly’s violent tendencies, then the common law might very well find that SeaWorld is legally culpable for the death to the tune of several millions of dollars.

Getting back to the point, what the AFA argues is not that anyone (other than the killer whale) should be put to death, but that Biblical scriptures provide common-sense guidance (again with that word!) as to how to peaceably conduct ourselves as a community of mankind; the emphasis being on “common sense.” No one other than HuffPo claims that stoning is the appropriate penalty, or that the owners of Tilly should be killed, contrary to what HuffPo would have you believe. At most, the AFA author contends that SeaWorld should have used the Bible’s counsel when it comes to protecting human life from wild animal aggression, and that the victim’s family should avail itself of the civil court system for SeaWorld’s failure to do so. One can disagree with that presumption, but it’s pretty difficult to argue that anyone other than SeaWorld (or whomever) would have been better off for not disposing of the killer whale after the first death. Whether anyone is guilty in the eyes of God for that failure is not for us to decide, but it’s certainly not delusional to think that a mortal judge may arrive at such a decision.

Whatever problems one might have with religion, I just don’t see the utility in deriding people of faith for suggesting that their tenets have practical advice to offer. That goes double for harangues that have no basis in reality. With just a little bit of investigation, one would find that most religious texts offer an enormous amount of practical advice of the type that even the non-religious take for granted. There’s lots of goofy stuff in there as well, including prescriptions that shouldn’t be taken literally in this day and age, but that doesn’t mean the principles aren’t sound. When someone of a religious persuasion offers advice pertaining to those common-sense principles, and counsels adherence to those principles, then no fair critic would claim that such person is instead calling for a literal interpretation of ancient penalties. But then, HuffPo isn’t striving for fairness, but for bigotry.

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15 Responses to Smearing The Religious

  • Would be quite a sight to see, stoning a whale to death….take a bit of time i think if your using stones a human could throw.

  • I was reading a piece by a college kid last night about how he had come to reject the Catholic Church and faith in general. Confused but sincere and pretty standard. I commented to him that I knew of no person who had ever mocked religion more viciously than I had or who was less likely to ever find his faith or the Church again.

    We are living in a time when the Western great society is being torn apart even as it implodes. This has been at least a 200-year long process. It cannot be stabilized and restored unless the Church is restored.

    That’s my thesis statement. I believe that Reason is grounded in natural Truth, but that without revelation it will become involuted, solipsistic, and lead to civilizational suicide.

    Where libertarianism is but a mask over an unstable existentialism, all the market’s horses and all the market’s men will not put the West together again.

    • It cannot be stabilized and restored unless the Church is restored.

      The west has torn itself apart several times during the heyday of the Church.

      I believe that Reason is grounded in natural Truth,

      No;truth is grounded in reason.

      but that without revelation it will become involuted, solipsistic, and lead to civilizational suicide.

      Yeah, that’s right – mysticism and superstition will lead to a different end other than the previous 3000 years of history.
      Boy! Give the left some rich targets.

      • 1. The Church transports the thesis of the West. It is the source of Western morality and the universal values that distinguish it. The disintegration of the Church is the disintegration of the West. You can see how once that foundation is removed disintegration sets in (see the postmodern attacks on Reason itself, let alone the attacks on reality).

        2. Reason is process. It can’t be grounded in itself. Elsewise there would be no sophistry. Truth is the proper object of Reason. It relies on A being A, for instance. But at its empirical base it rests on the truth of the reasoning individual: “I am the one thinking these thoughts.”

        3. Christain revelation is neither mysticism nor superstition. You may not believe in the revelation of the Gospels, but they are presented as moral teaching and supernatural fact via the life of a historical person. (There is something that is identifiably Christian mysticism, but that is also based in revelation, not in itself as mysticism.) Superstition is believing that black cats bring bad luck or that mirrors must be covered when someone dies. Mysticism outside of the context of revelation is to be mentally absorbed into something  that might be called an analog of universal transcendence. It’s to leave oneself, so to speak, for a higher reality. Unguided by revelation it runs into a dead end.

        Since Acquinas, and earlier really, Christianity is reconciled in Reason and in both natural and revealed Truth.

        See JPII’s encyclical “Fide et Ratio” for a good description of the relationship between faith and reason.

  • so this not deriding people of faith does it also apply to our enemy’s faith as well or just people of your faith?

    • I think the difference can be found it the world “smear”. As Michael points out, there is legitimate criticism of any religion. But a “smear” is illegitimate criticism. And both apply to “our enemy’s faith” as well as our own.

      • Yes, but is it a “smear”?
        Seriously, … is it?  It’s a misrepresentation, of course.  But a “smear”?  Come on.
        What is more of a question is that why is Mr. Wade choosing this article, an article littered with factual errors and logical fallacies, to defend?  Why???
        Although I do realize that defending the weak and logic impaired is Mr. Wade’s modus operandi, I gotta wonder why this one caught his attention.
        It’s not like this guy is a “special needs” person.
        It is not like this guy writes for NRO or something that Mr. Wade would want to fish for readers.  What gives?
        Maybe it’s just plain old vanilla charity.  Picking up a blogger in obvious need of special attention, and giving him the encouragement he needs.  Well done, Mr. Wade.
        I’m sure the Sisters at your former school, The Angel of Weeping Guilt Academy, would no doubt approve.  😉

  • slntax[D]oes [not deriding people of faith] also apply to our enemy’s faith as well or just people of your faith?

    What a coincidence: I was thinking along those very lines.  Can anybody link to a HuffPo piece heaping this much ridicule on Muslims (or Jews, or Hindus, or Buddhists, or any other major religion), or do they reserve their scorn and snark only for Christians?

    Actually, I’m suspicious about the origin of this piece.  HuffPo is a liberal site, no?  Well, we all know how tolerant liberals are, and that understanding, accepting and not judging different ideas and beliefs is a core value of the left.  So, this article couldn’t POSSIBLY have come from HuffPo, now could it?

    / sarc

  • But sometimes the criticism and ribbing is nothing more than outright bigotry, designed to stoke popular hate against those who are religious.

    Hate?  Not merely ridicule?  If you say so.
    I agree that the HuffPo’s piece does not accurately represent what the author was suggesting, and the language of the piece no doubt takes the author’s meaning out of context for nefarious purposes.  This is unnecessary of course giving that there are other things in that piece that can be questioned.  Let us examine a few of those questionable assertions.
    The AFA blogger writes, “Chalk another death up to animal rights insanity…”
    Really?  Is it “animal rights insanity”?  Or could it be the fact that, quoting from the blogger’s linked article, the animal was “the only mature breeding male in SeaWorld Orlando’s collection.”
    Couldn’t it be that the consideration to retain the animal was a financial one???  You know, my Great Dane eats a lot of kibble… I can only imagine the investment a 12,000 lbs. animal takes spanning almost 20 years.
    Also, and this is the funny bit, the only animal rights activist quoted in the article was the guy calling the whale a killer and that it should not have been in captivity – saying that, “if this was a dog, it would have been put down.”
    “…and the ongoing failure of the West to take counsel on practical matters from the Scripture.”
    Really?  It’s the failure of not taking counsel on scripture to know not to swim with sharks … er… giant killer whales.  Personally, I’ve never read the book, so maybe I’m just blessed with inherent wisdom to know not to do that.  But whatever.
    Then, the AFA blogger gets his facts wrong.  Or he just blatantly distorts them in order to fit his argument.

    Then in 1999 he [the whale] killed a man who sneaked into SeaWorld

    Uhh… The article clearly states that authorities concluded that the man likely died of hypothermia.  A fact omitted by the AFA blogger.  Again, I’ve never read the book, but I’m pretty sure that the Bible says something about lying being wrong.  Am I right?
    Those are just a couple of things the HuffPo’s article could have attacked.  They didn’t.  And I get Michael’s point.  This article is more about pointing and laughing than it is about truth or how religious people view the world.
    But someone could also write a post about this AFA blogger doing the same thing.  The blogger blames the Left and animal rights activism while failing to back up his claim that this tragedy had anything to do with the Left or animal rights activism.  The blogger goes on to write detailed ridicule as opposed to the HuffPo’s general ridicule.
    So was this AFA piece about promoting scripture?  Finding the truth?
    Or was it more about … oh how did Michael put it… “nothing more than outright bigotry and stoking popular hate.”


    • It was the latter.
      There are really two types of Atheists I have known, one type will give you a sincere and spirited debate but will not go out of their way to belittle a religious believer or their faith.
      The other type are filled with cynicism, hatred, and will not acknowledge how much of their own beliefs are accepted on faith rather than discovered for themselves.
      They are also usually full of false knowledge like the often repeated myth that religious wars have killed more people in history than any other.
      Such people are also, in my experience, usually much more anti-christian than they are anti-religion.  If the subject of Islam and jihad comes up they will immediately and loudly go to the “Christians are just as bad” card.
      and by the way, such atheists are not exclusively, but most often found on the left end of the political scale.

  • As a libertarian who has struggled with agnosticism, these kinds of stories always leave me quesy. Nevermind the fact that I envy both atheists and Christians their faith, but I’ve know way too many good and decent people who call themselves Christian to fell comfortable with the kinds of comments, rightly called smears, the Huffington Post used.  Unfortunately, it happens all the time. And I should say, tangentially, I’ve lost far more friends because of judmental atheists (libertarian or progressive) than because of judmental Christians.

  • So I gather that the “one bite rule” is a corollary of …

    Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me

  • But then, HuffPo isn’t striving for fairness, but for bigotry.

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    • Yeah, if they want to lampoon something, they should start with the Huffpo postings by Bernard-Henri Levy and his affection for Saint Roman Polanski.