Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tick, Tock, the Game is Locked

The late, lamented The Dallas Morning News religion blog has been reduced to a weekly "Texas Faith" posting in which a panel of local religious leaders are asked to comment on a provocative question, such as this week's, "Is it ever right to divorce a spouse with Alzheimers?" Unfortunately, the answers are seldom as provocative as the questions. Something seems to be missing.

Thanks to Unfair Park, we learn that the panel used by the News deliberately excludes a secular viewpoint. Zachary Moore, a coordinator for the DFW Coalition of Reason, has been lobbying the News for months to include a secular viewpoint on the panel, to no effect. Moore says one panelist told him that the other members of the panel voted down the request. Blog moderator Bill McKenzie told Unfair Park, "He's welcome to be a part of the discussion in the comments. I don't think he's being excluded."

After the jump, my thoughts.

First, let me emphasize that the News has a right to include who they want, and exclude who they don't want, on their blogs' panels. It's a free country. I'm speaking as a (potential) customer of the News's product. I offer my opinion of what their product lacks and what could make it better. They are free not to listen. If they choose not to, it wouldn't be the first time they've been accused of that.

My initial reaction to the Unfair Park article was "Ah ha!" That's what's missing from "Texas Faith." Listening in on a discussion by Baptists and Methodists and Presbyterians provides a spectrum of opinion from A to B. Adding a priest, a rabbi, a Buddhist and a nature worshiper broadens the spectrum a lot.

Why not include the atheist viewpoint? Comparing a secular viewpoint with, say, a Christian or Muslim viewpoint could be enlightening to all. It's not like the questions are beyond the range of secular concern. Asking about the morality of divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer's is not directly a question about God. It's not like asking the panel to discuss, say, the importance of ritual in worship ceremonies.

Rod Dreher, an original moderator of the "Texas Faith" blog, offers his own explanation for the exclusion of a secular humanist viewpoint:

Nobody says that the secular humanists are bad or otherwise immoral people. It's simply philosophically incoherent to include one on a religion blog. What kind of bizarro diversity sensibility would find it oppressive or at least strange that a blog for commentary by atheists would not feel compelled to give voice to religious believers' perspectives?
Source: Rod Dreher.

And yet the "Texas Faith" blog thinks nothing of including a Buddhist viewpoint, a Unitarian viewpoint and a pantheistic viewpoint (I don't know what else to call it), all of which are broad enough to include followers who are comfortable also being called atheists. It's a "bizarro" kind of diversity to single out secular humanists for exclusion from the wide cast of characters who are welcomed on the "Texas Faith" panel.

McKenzie's claim that allowing Zachary Moore to comment means that a secular viewpoint is not being excluded is either inconsistent or disingenuous or both. McKenzie says Moore's comments are welcome. That implies that Moore's comments are relevant, not philosophically incoherent. Relegating the secular humanist's viewpoint to the comments treats him as a second class citizen. It's a "back of bus approach," as Moore puts it. Separate but equal no longer works in racial relations, but it's still a handy excuse when asked to accept atheism as a valid world view.

Oh well. I shared this on Google+ where reader Jason Carr commented, "The major players (whether political, religious, or otherwise) play a mean game of 'tick tock, the game is locked'." Huh? That drove me to Google itself, where I learned how this children's rhyme is used to restrict the number of players in a game:

Tick, tock, the game is locked;
Nobody else can play,
And if they do, we'll take their shoe
And we'll beat them black and blue.

It's funny how adults go on playing children's games, only they become more subtle about how the game is played, maybe even hiding the underlying rules from themselves. Instead of admitting that "no one else can play," adults construct elaborate charades like "separate but equal." Or maybe they say, "He's welcome to be a part of the discussion in the comments. I don't think he's being excluded." Call it what you want, it's still "Tick, tock, the game is locked."

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