“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire
The American restaurant chain Chick-fil-A has been in the news quite a bit recently, because of the conservative views of its President, Dan Cathy. As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Cathy supports his church’s view of the traditional family, which means that he is opposed to gay marriage. This has caused an uproar across the country.
Personally, I find it absolutely astounding that we, in the 21st century, are not only judging people for their religious beliefs, but we are actually taking action against them and interfering with their livelihood. Here are some examples of the reactions:
- The mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino, wrote a letter to Dan Cathy, discouraging him from opening any stores in his city. The mayor of San Francisco, Edwin Lee, tweeted “Very disappointed #ChickFilA doesn’t share San Francisco’s values” and “Closest #ChickFilA to San Francisco is 40 miles away & I strongly recommend that they not try to come any closer“.
- University of Louisville students have started movements to remove Chick-fil-A restaurants from their campus.
- A manufacturing executive berated the cashier at a Chick-fil-A drive-through window, recorded the incident on video and uploaded it to YouTube. He has subsequently apologized to the cashier, and has since been fired from his job.
This Chick-fil-A story is fascinating, sad and allegorical, and as you’ve probably guessed by now, I have my own angle on it. I think that the sudden outrage among the general public is baffling, for two reasons:
- This isn’t a surprise: I’ve eaten at Chick-fil-A several times during the past few years, and I like the restaurant. The food is good and the staff is exceptionally courteous. They remember your name, and they’ll even bring your food to your table. I was surprised when I discovered that the restaurant is always closed on Sundays – which is unusual when most American stores are open on statutory holidays – but I was told that the chain’s owner is a conservative Christian who believes that the Sabbath should be a day of rest. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Dan Cathy would embrace the rest of his religion’s dogma, including their definition of a traditional family.
- Chick-fil-A and gay marriage are not connected: I personally have no objection to gay marriage. I also have no qualms about eating at Chick-fil-A, and would not hesitate to return. That’s because the restaurant and the religious beliefs of its employees, including its President, are two entirely separate things and one does not affect the other. You probably know nothing about the beliefs of the CEOs of McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell or Arby’s – and even if you did, that shouldn’t influence your buying decisions.
So what’s happening to the general public? Why is everyone so reactionary? Why are Dan Cathy’s religious beliefs any of our business? Finally, why are so many people weighing in on a subject that is really of no importance or consequence?
Polarizing A Nation
This story just happens to exploit a quirk of human nature: the vast majority of us, when exposed to something controversial or even inflammatory, will stop and consider both sides of the argument, and then take our time and reason things out. However, there are some subjects that will circumvent our calm reasoning process and simply make us react. These are issues that typically polarize the nation: the death penalty, abortion, gun ownership, a Democratic / Republican government, stem cell research, euthanasia, and gay marriage. Unlike other issues, they do not have any shades of gray, and most of us will take either one side or the other.
The other fascinating thing about this story is that it allows me to examine some of the motivation behind political correctness. The politically-correct stance in this situation is not just supporting gay marriage, but also condemning those who oppose it. I believe that the most vocal critics in this debacle are not truly offended by Dan Cathy’s religious views at all; their histrionics are nothing more than bombast and grandiloquence, and they are using their PC stance to elevate themselves. Let me give you an example:
Back 2008, I read a bizarre letter to the editor in my local newspaper. A week earlier, the newspaper mentioned that the small, northern Ontario town of Swastika would be celebrating its centennial that year. This gentleman was horrified that any town would have this name, so he wrote to the editor to promulgate his utter disgust. News of his letter made its way to the town of Swastika, and two weeks later, the newspaper printed some letters from the town’s residents. They chastised the writer for being not only reactionary, but decidedly ill-informed. The town was actually named after the Swastika gold mine in 1907, and was incorporated in 1908. The name had been established well before Adolph Hitler bastardized it and associated it with Nazism. The residents knew their history, and had no objection to their town’s name.
While I’m sure the letter writer thought he was being politically-correct, I thought that he sounded like a sanctimonious twit. He wasn’t genuinely offended by the name; he was merely using the newspaper as a platform to tell the world how morally superior he was. He was saying (in so many words) “You, the unwashed masses of small-town Ontario, are a bunch of buffoons who need to be educated. You are clearly not sensitive or informed enough to be offended by this word. I am obviously more enlightened and refined than you troglodytes, and that is why such things offend me – and merely pass right over your collective proletarian heads”. He didn’t use those words, I felt that this was his holier-than-thou sentiment.
Since then, whenever I hear stories involving political correctness, I ask myself what the true motivation is behind the outrage. In the vast majority of cases, there is nothing that is truly offensive. The PC crowd is merely using the situation as an opportunity to assert their perceived moral superiority and to elevate themselves above the rest of the population. Political correctness is not about taking offense – it’s about stroking your own ego, and hoisting yourself above the crowd.
Words vs. Actions
This is the imbalance that I see in this summer’s Chick-fil-A story and in everyone’s histrionics. Are you really going to castigate publicly, those who have more conservative religious views than you? Closer to home, many of my Facebook friends support gay marriage, but some of my conservative and religious friends don’t. And that’s OK – I’m not going to end any friendships because of their views, or even treat them any differently. They can believe anything they like, and I’m not going to take any action against them or their livelihood, including refusing to patronize their businesses.
According to letters sent to universities (the ones threatening to remove Chick-fil-A from their campuses) from the Alliance Defending Freedom, there is no evidence that Chick-fil-A engages in any discrimination against employees or customers based upon their sexual orientation. The Chick-fil-A web site states “The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender”. Dan Cathy’s personal views on gay marriage are limited to his thoughts and words. However, the public isn’t responding with words; they are using threats and punitive actions (in the form of boycotts) designed to hurt his business.
Change Happens Slowly
The attitudes and beliefs we adopt during our formative years become entrenched, and often last our entire lives. If they do change, that change can take decades. A societal attitude shift generally doesn’t occur until an entire generation is flushed out. One generation ago, spanking your children was completely acceptable; today, I’d say we’re reaching the tipping point where more parents are in favour of a “time out” than a spanking. It will probably take one more generation before spanking seems archaic, much like “the strap” was an acceptable form of corporal punishment in schools only two generations ago.
A few years ago, I was chatting with a co-worker who was originally from Trinidad. He was expressing his frustration after watching the Miss America pageant on television. He said that North American beauty standards do not include black women. I pointed out that the pageants are much more diverse than they used to be. He replied that the few black contestants in the pageants generally have lighter skin, straightened hair, and have undergone rhinoplasty to make their noses narrower – all Caucasian beauty ideals. He wanted North Americans to see beauty in African and Caribbean women – ones who have very dark-skin, wider noses and kinky hair. I said that our increasing cultural diversity (especially in large urban areas) will ensure that he will get his wish, although it may take another generation, or perhaps one and a half generations. He wasn’t very happy with my response – he wanted a society-wide change, and he wanted it now.
Change happens slowly, and young people are generally the first to embrace it. When I was a teenager and my parents bought our family its first computer (a Commodore-64), I wanted to show my relatives all of the amazing ways that it could improve their lives. To my surprise and disappointment, my older relatives didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic, even though what I was showing them was vastly superior to any technology that they were currently using. My parents told me that older people are simply “set in their ways, and aren’t going to change”. We’ve all spent our childhood and adolescence surrounded by people who were one and two generations older than we were. We should understand this by now.
The legal recognition (and even the acceptance) of gay marriage is a fairly recent phenomenon, and in my view, it’s unreasonable to expect everyone to adopt it immediately – especially older people who have lived their entire lives with a single (albeit narrow) definition of a family. Expecting this sudden change in attitude will probably be as effective as standing on a soapbox and demanding that everyone in society change their beauty ideals to fit yours.
That’s the view from The Bob Angle. This Chick-fil-A story should be a non-issue. There are millions of fundamentalist Christians who oppose gay marriage, yet the general public is focusing its outrage on the one who owns a chain of retaurants. When I see how we’ve been behaving, I not only weep for the future – I also weep for the present. Moths react instinctively to stimuli; I like to think that we humans are a little more evolved.