I confess my intent is to be provocative by dragging Phil Robertson into another cartoon at a moment when the "Duck Dynasty" controversy seems to have simmered down. But, after all, provocation is the whole point of political cartoons and, now that I've got everyone's attention, I want to share some thoughts about cartoons, religion and free speech.
My rumination was inspired by the 339 reader comments that came in reaction to my Dec. 26 "Horsey On Hollywood" cartoon and column. The cartoon depicted two A&E producers pleading with "Duck Dynasty" patriarch Robertson, to apologize for his Bible-inspired comparison of homosexuality to bestiality, murder and other grievous sins. In the cartoon, Robertson responds, "I say you queer-lovin' God haters are goin' straight to Hell."
Some readers blasted me for putting words in Robertson's mouth that he didn't say. To that I plead guilty and note that the A&E folks never said what I had them say either. In fact, very rarely do the funny people in my cartoons say things that their real-life counterparts actually said. It's a cartoon, get it? A spoof, a lampoon, a satire, a joke with a point of view.
Nevertheless, I can understand how someone of a literal mind could be confused. In times past, the exaggerations in cartoons were obvious. These days, reality -- especially in the political realm -- has gotten so downright weird that cartoons can often seem like mere illustrations.
I have little doubt, however, that the view expressed by the cartoon version of Robinson matches the opinion of the real-life redneck millionaire. He has made it quite clear in numerous forums that he believes the Gospel is the gospel truth. In his worldview, anyone who condones the gay lifestyle would be as guilty of sin as is the sinner -- and just as liable to end up in the fires of Hades.
I side with those who say Robertson has an absolute right to express his opinions. None of us, though, can be guaranteed that we will not suffer negative consequences for stating those opinions. (I, for instance, get called a litany of nasty names by those who post comments under my cartoons and columns and I'm not whining.) Robertson, as it turns out, has not really suffered at all for his statements. A&E retracted its impulsive decision to temporarily ban him from the show, and he has become a huge hero to those conservatives who feel they are engaged in an ideological war with the secular world.
However, Robertson is not absolved of responsibility for his words simply because they are based on the teachings of his particular brand of Christianity. Not too long ago in this country, the Bible was used by some people to justify slavery. Those people also had a right to their opinion, but they were still wrong.
Readers on both sides of this debate might take issue with my cartoon today that more or less equates the Bible with Darwin's "Origin of the Species." Fundamentalists will insist that the Bible is the word of God while Darwin's tome is just a book of flawed human theories. Darwin fans will say their man's book is a work of scientific fact while the Bible is an archaic collection of stories and rules from a superstitious, pre-scientific era.
For my own part, I find truths of different kinds in both books, but those books have no more relevance to the ultimate concern here than "Winnie-the-Pooh." That concern is the ever-widening scope of freedom in our democratic republic and the only documents that matter, in that regard, are the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.