I guess it’s about time to jump on the anti-Rick Warren bandwagon, except I don’t really plan to hate on Warren as much as I plan to talk about disagreement. For those of you living in a box (or outside of the States), pastor Rick Warren was recently invited to give the invocation speech at Obama’s inauguration ceremony in January. This invitation is troubling for a lot of people, considering that Rick Warren is an incredibly bigoted and offensive anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-women jerk. I read a wide range of blogs about a wide variety of topics, and a huge number of them came out against this decision; some claim Obama is simply trying to pander to the evangelical wingnut sector, some claim that the hope that Obama ran on is now being dashed, others think that Obama is making an effort to be inclusive and open up dialogue with people he disagrees with, but pastor Warren was still a regrettable choice.
Obama is in an unfortunate situation, like a lot of politicians, in that he has the opportunity to make a huge number of positive changes for the country, but he has to weigh all of his actions against the spectre of popularity and approval. His job is, officially, to do what his employers (the people) want him to do, not necessarily what’s best. If he wants to do something that he thinks would be good for the country, he has to convince the people to support him before he can go ahead and do it, lest he be fired for ignoring the instructions of his employers.
Opening up dialogue with people he disagrees with is one of those things that is good for the country, but that has the risk of upsetting a lot of his employers. I happen to agree with Obama that talking to bigoted assholes is a necessary step toward ameliorating harmful disagreements, just as I think talking to Iran without “preconditions” is an excellent way of coming to a resolution with Iran and other Middle Eastern countries who are justifiably pissed off at the United States. Talking should be the first step; if talking is only undertaken with preconditions, then it becomes coercion, and coercion is toxic to good discussion. I’m happy to see Obama talking with people like Warren, because it means that the first step to bringing those people around has already been taken, or is at least underway. But considering the position that Obama is in, I think Warren was a poor political choice for the purposes of the inauguration, because it is too easy to infer that his invitation was purely a political move designed to make bigots happy at the expense of oppressed minorities.
I read an essay by Sarah J. Cervanak and others this semester about the experience of teaching a course on US Latina feminisms, and I came across a passage where the authors describe students rejecting feminist theory for being “empty intellectualism and Eurocentric elitism.” It reminded me of how common it is for people, especially feminists and other leftists, to ignore people whose ideas are opposed or different to their own, without even engaging in dialogue with the ideas. I asked on our group blog how this is different from natural scientists rejecting the theoretical humanities for being fluff–people in the humanities resent people like Sokal and Morningstar, who criticize postmodernism without reading it first, but we criticize the natural sciences and feminist theory for being “too bourgeois,” too elitist or too positivistic without engaging in any dialogue first. The same thing happens in the blogosphere, too, as we saw with the posts about the female bodybuilders; lots of people were told to shut up before any conversation happened. It is much too common to see people shy away from talking with people who hold disagreeable views in favour of turning around and preaching to the choir–because that way you don’t have bother to manage any conflict.
Assuming Obama is doing this as a legitimate attempt to open up dialogue with homophobic bigots, I applaud him; but at the same time I resent him for legitimizing homophobic bigotry. What a dilemma.