Pseudo-tolerance, or “Fast food vs. equality”


The economist John Kenneth Galbraith once wrote, “Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” I recently had the chance to witness this firsthand. On the social news site reddit.com, a story was posted about Chick-fil-A and their history of donations to anti-gay groups. The fast food chain’s charitable foundation is recorded to have given several hundred thousand dollars to groups like the National Christian Foundation and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

I’ve been around reddit for some time now, and as a community, it’s the kind of place where nearly everyone seems to recognize the importance of gay equality. Or so I thought. This time was different, because it involved fried chicken. In over a thousand comments, I watched as people tried to reconcile their support for gay rights with their craving for fast food. I saw what happened when it came time for them to put their professed beliefs into action: they chickened out.

At first, some of them questioned whether the National Christian Foundation and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes are actually anti-gay. This was answered when people found that the NCF had given millions of dollars in grants to Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. In addition, the FCA’s National College Conference director claims that they’ve “freed” people from homosexuality, and their “Sexual Purity Statement” says that being gay is not “acceptable to God.” It doesn’t get any more obvious than that, right? Wrong. Now it was time to come up with excuses!

First in line was the distancing: Chick-fil-A didn’t donate to anti-gay groups, they just donated to another group that gave money to anti-gay groups. So of course they didn’t see a problem with this, given that their brains can’t follow a moving object. Then came the minimizing – they had to find a way to pretend that groups like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council aren’t really anti-gay. Many people insisted that it wouldn’t be accurate to call them “hate groups”, as if whether or not we call them hate groups would do anything to change the reality of what they’ve actually done. These groups think anti-bullying programs are “pro-homosexual curriculum”, they’re officially opposed to any legal recognition of gay relationships, and they’ve even recommended making it illegal to be gay. But hey, at least it isn’t hateful to take people’s rights away! That makes it so much better.

Some of them claimed that being anti-gay is just “a small part” of what these groups do, rather than one of the central reasons for their very existence. And even if that were the case, why should that be any part of what they do? Is that like helping to support groups that are only a little bit white-supremacist? Others said that these aren’t anti-gay organizations, they’re just Christian organizations – are those supposed to be mutually exclusive? Apparently these are just their “deeply held beliefs”, as if the fact that you believe stupid things is itself a justification for believing stupid things. Is this meant to be any more acceptable because it takes place under the banner of religion? Maybe in practice, but only because people like this are willing to give them a free pass.

Some of them tried to say that this isn’t really that bad, because most of the world’s religions don’t think being gay is okay, either. Could the world’s religions ever be very, very wrong about something? Perish the thought! I guess it’s okay to be on the wrong side of things, as long as you’ve got company. Eventually, some people even started saying that these groups are “non-judgmental”, they “keep their beliefs to themselves”, they don’t “persecute” gay people, and they have “nothing to do with sexual orientation”. Yes, none of this has ever actually happened as long as they refuse to acknowledge it.

And then there was the compensation: Chick-fil-A can’t really be that bad, because they treat their employees well. They’ve donated to adoption agencies. They give out scholarships. So there you have it: my rights are disposable because they put people through college. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more cynical and contemptuous scheme than using your good deeds as a cover for the harm you intend to cause. The very fact that people need to come up with rationalizations for this shows that they recognize that it’s wrong.

And even when they did see that it’s wrong, they felt the need to mention that the rest of us are probably shopping at businesses that support disagreeable causes, too – as if that makes it okay for them to keep doing it. It seems as though they wanted to be consistent in their ignorance by disregarding what they’ve learned about Chick-fil-A and pretending it never happened. And, at last, some of them just gave up. They finally decided that having their delicious chicken was simply more important than political and social responsiblity. And that’s when I gave up on them.

If they had all just admitted this in the first place, that would have been a different story. But that’s not what they did. They had to wrestle with this. They had to come up with every excuse in the book for why waffle fries are worth sacrificing people’s rights. And these people do care about gay rights on some level. They cared enough that they didn’t want to be seen as failing to support gay rights. They cared enough to propose the most farfetched justifications for why their choices aren’t in conflict with this. But they didn’t care enough to do something so easy as just not eating there. Apparently that was too much to ask.

They might say they’re okay with gay people. They might have gay friends. They might even vote against marriage bans. But when it comes to considering the consequences of their actions, and following their professed beliefs even when it means changing their behavior, it seems that their alleged support is too flimsy to withstand the allure of fast food. And if your ethics can be bought for the price of a chicken sandwich – a sandwich that you paid for – you don’t get to call them ethics. If you really care about people’s rights, fried food should count for exactly nothing next to that. The very thought of making such a comparison should repulse any decent person.

But, as I’m reminded time and time again, not everyone is a decent person. Not everyone can be counted on to follow through on their word. So don’t trust what people say. Look at what they do.