February 11, 2013

Boy Scouts, Catholics, and Nazis

"Boy Scouts of America" march (sheet...
"Boy Scouts of America" march (sheet music) Page 1 of 6 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I rarely go out of my way to engage Christians online, and this is especially true when it comes to Twitter. When a Christian goes out of his or her way to begin an argument with me, I rarely respond. That isn't why I'm on Twitter, and I have little interest in hearing the same tired arguments yet again. But every once in awhile, I'll take the bait and attempt to have an actual discussion. The second the name-calling begins, I'm gone. But until then, I might give it a try. I had an interesting interaction with someone claiming to be a Catholic priest (@fr_andy) recently that did manage to provoke some real thought on my part, and I'd like to tell you about it.

I had tweeted about how I thought the Boy Scouts of America should stop discriminating against gays and atheists. This man responded that gays and atheists were free to begin their own youth organizations but that they were not wanted in the Scouts (I am going to use male pronouns because that is how he identified himself to me). I replied that I had hoped we'd all learned that "separate but equal" was not really equal. He responded by arguing that discrimination was only illegal when the government did it and that private organizations like the Scouts and his church could legally do it. I replied that discrimination, legal or not, was not what I would consider morally virtuous.

It was at this point that this self-described Catholic priest decided to spring his trap.
It's can be a very positive moral value. Or do you also oppose discrimination against sex offenders and Nazis? (sic)
Even I know that a discussion has run its course when the other party brings up Nazis! Normally, I would have moved on without giving it another thought. But it occurred to me than an important point was being missed here. In spite of feeling quite constrained by Twitter's 140 character limit, I responded:
I oppose discrimination based on membership in a group (gay or atheist), as it entails bigotry. Criminal behavior is different.
I know, I know. The irony of someone who might be a Catholic priest bringing up sex offenders in this context was delicious, but I managed to resist commenting on it. I also managed not to point out how ridiculous it was that he seemed to be comparing gay and atheist youth with sex offenders and Nazis. Now that you've indulged me by reading this far, I'm ready to get to what was his final response and the part I found so thought-provoking:
It's not criminal to be a Nazi, so I guess you wouldn't support discrimination against people in that group.
This was the point at which I decided that additional responses on my part would be pointless. Still, I'd like to take up this question without the 140 character limit.

Yes, that is correct. I would not support discrimination against Nazis in this context either. The same would go for Communists, Klan members, Satanists, feminists, liberals, fans of Justin Bieber, Southern Baptists, NRA members, or any other group holding views with which some of the Boy Scouts leadership or the Catholic Church might not agree. None of these things has any relevance to being a Boy Scout, and none tells us enough about an individual to justify excluding them from consideration. Discriminating against someone because they belong to a group that hold views one finds objectionable is bigotry. Why would bigotry somehow be okay when the Scouts or the Catholic Church want to do it? It wouldn't.

The Boy Scouts of America should be able to kick people out who engage in criminal behavior. The same would be true for noncriminal behavior that is so disruptive that it prevents the group from functioning effectively. This should be true regardless of what views are held or what groups members belong to. But that isn't what we're talking about here. We're talking about bigotry.

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