It was inevitable that the substitution of emotional fervor for rational discourse would impact our politics and our national debates on important matters such as the meaning of marriage. Now we have witnessed the spectacle of five members of the Supreme Court thinking and writing as if they were guests on Phil or Oprah. What makes me cringe and shake my head with both anger and sadness, is that our nation\'s most powerful jurists sound like all those students, in my fifteen years of university teaching, who told me that \"truth\" is based upon feeling states, such as feelings of being \"excluded\" or \"judged.\" Thus, if the truth feels \"demeaning\" -- such as marriage is between a man and woman -- it can\'t be the truth. Such a view is called "emotivism" by philosophers
The Phil Donahue Show (1970-96) had a huge influence on American culture in the exaltation of personal feeling
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Thanks to my friend, Rev. Joshua Allen of Atlanta, for alerting me to the following passages in the recent DOMA decision of our Supreme Court.
I share Rev. Allen's "cringe at the language of the majority opinion," namely the "dignity" conferred on same-sex marriage by the State in the exercise of its sovereign powers (21). But I especially abhor the Court's language, written by Justice Kennedy, that differentiating between an unnatural same-sex marriage and a heterosexual marriage somehow "demeans the couple" and "humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples" (23).
And finally, again in the same florid tone: The majority opinion claims that "the principal purpose and the necessary effect of this law are to demean those persons who are in a lawful same-sex marriage" (25).
What makes me cringe and shake my head with both anger and sadness, is that our nation's most powerful jurists sound like all those students, in my fifteen years of university teaching, who told me that "truth" is based upon feeling states, such as feelings of being "excluded" or "judged." Thus, if the truth feels "demeaning" -- such as marriage is between a man and woman -- it can't be the truth. Such a view is called "emotivism" by philosophers.
In a brief email exchange yesterday, Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, agreed with me that the popularity of the Phil Donahue Show (1970-96) had a huge influence on American culture in the exaltation of personal feeling.
You may recall how Donahue would rove around, microphone in hand, as a kind of psychological Socrates, asking members of his audience how does so and so "make you feel?" Donahue was raised Roman Catholic in Cleveland, Ohio, received an all-Catholic education, graduating from the University of Notre Dame in 1957, but admitted, I was not "a very good Roman Catholic."
Donahue's fascination with public displays of emotional bedwetting would be copied by Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey. Live, daytime TV talk shows became virtual purgathons, during which the guru-like celebrities would seek to elicit as much laughter and tears, especially the latter, from their studio audiences as possible -- ratings soared as viewers, primarily women (no offense intended!) watched these histrionics in droves.
It was inevitable that the substitution of emotional fervor for rational discourse would impact our politics and our national debates on important matters such as the meaning of marriage. Now we have witnessed the spectacle of five members of the Supreme Court thinking and writing as if they were guests on Phil or Oprah.
Have these justices, graduates of the finest colleges and law schools, never in the course of their education, had their adolescent fear of rejection challenged as the basis of all knowledge and value?
I don't blame Phil, Barbara, and Oprah -- it was their job to entertain, after all. But it was the job of educators to educate, not mimic the manipulations of the talk show host, and certainly not to embrace the key to their popularity, the idolization of high emotion. Educators have failed to combat the slide of our culture into emotivism, presumably because they lacked the courage, or the means, to challenge it. I lay the primary blame for the Court's sophomoric confusion at the feet of educators at every level, but especially colleges and graduate schools.
Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D, is president of the Pennsylvania Catholics Network and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine. He is the Senior Correspondent for Church and Culture and a contributing writer for Catholic Online.
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