Thursday, June 26, 2008

Morality?: People Who Twist Religion are Scary Edition




I've fallen behind in writing and want to put down some thoughts about the Deutsche Bank report suggesting structural changes in the game industry and some other stuff, but I can't stop thinking about a comment submitted yesterday to an earlier post. It reminded me of the scope of the gap between beliefs in this country, as well as the reasons the industry encounters so much pressure from outside forces. It also showed me why Richard Dawkins is right and people use religion for very bad things.

A while ago, I wrote the post in response to a The Timothy Plan press release I viewed to be issued to ride on the coat tails of GTA IV publicity:
The Timothy Plan, a morally responsible family of mutual funds, refuses to invest in companies like Take-Two Interactive because of their involvement in the anti-family entertainment and pornography industry.
This view is consistent with the funds charter, which reads:
The Timothy Plan® avoids investing in companies that are involved in practices contrary to Judeo-Christian principles. Our goal is to recapture traditional American values. We are America's first pro-life, pro-family, biblically-based mutual fund group.
This is their choice, and it is cool. I just thought it was odd for the plan to issue a release about companies in which it chose not to invest. I also thought it was somewhat hypocritical for the fund to refuse to invest in a company responsible for virtual guns in an "M" rated game, but to invest in a company making real bullets, one charged with EEOC violations for racial discrimination or the one which sexualized a 14 year old Brooke Shields in her jeans and regularly run provocative underwear ads.

Someone who identified his or her self only as "Whereareourmorals?" - no one on the web gives their real name when they want to throw stones - posted the following comment to my post about The Timothy Plan:
The fund is not out to be hypocritical. There is a difference with putting a gun (fake as it might be) in a child's hand and protecting our freedom (Right to Bear Arms). What parent wants their kids to play video games where their son has to kiss a boy to earn point? The Timothy Plan seeks to preserve families and let children be just children. This is a pro-family values mutual fund, maybe you would be more interested in the Vice Fund or the Lesbian Fund or the Animal Rights Fund? No one is stopping you, why bash a company that is pro-children and pro-moral values? Just food for thought.
These people would be so much more effective in their goals, if they just didn't talk. It’s the talking part that repels people. They take a pro-family and pro bible message and turn it into one of intolerance and self righteous judgment.

The comment really threw me. I can see where people would disagree, but I didn't think people really thought like the commenter any more. I am not concerned about the commentor's disagreement. If disagreements kept me up at night, I would not have slept a wink in the past 30 years. It is the nature of the argument and the level of intolerance presented with as much certainty as if he or she was saying the sky is blue.

Living on the westside of Los Angeles puts me in the deepest, darkest, sapphire blue center of a blue city in a blue state. I find myself more purple, than red or blue, and consider the presidential candidate selection as one between the lesser of two evils, but living in this climate concerned, prius driving, free range loving, therapist using, yoga attending, chai drinking, how do you really feel environment, my understanding of the real world has apparently shifted.

This commentor is not just wrong on so many levels, but he or she scares the shit out of me. The first, and most significant, objective mistake is addressing the issue regarding GTA as a children's issue. If the game falls into the hands of children, it is through the action or omission of the child’s parents. Not the publisher or retail chain. The game is not targeted at children any more than the bullets manufactured by the company receiving investment from the fund are targeted at children. The publisher and retail chain take reasonable steps to ensure the game is not sold to children. The FTC found Gamestop, the top retailer, to be 94% effective in stopping sales to underage consumers. Take Two’s actions have no more to do with letting children be children and Sesame Street has with advanced graduate degrees. I can't fault Wheareareourmorals for this mistake because it is fairly common misconception. It is also a useful arrow in the argument’s quiver. It's the rest of the post that spins, like a Japanese horror film, into a very, very dark place.

The person explains it is better for the biblically inspired fund to support bullet makers, who after all, are protecting our freedoms, than to put a virtual gun in a child’s hand. Of course we aren’t even putting virtual guns in a child’s hand, but if I attack there, I have to stop writing. I think the statement is a justification for the investment in the ammunition company, but it fails in its tie to the fund's principals. People may differ on the protecting, part, and right is more highly prized by some than some than others, but the right to bear arms is neither judeo-christian nor found in the bible. It is found in the American Constitution - a non sectarian document - and unique in its establishment of this right. The investment in an ammunition manufacture is not a protection of the right, it is an exploitation of the right granted by the document, which specifically precludes the establishment of laws precluding or mandating religion.

The next point, I believe, references the kiss in Bully. Again, my perspective may be somewhat obscured by my residence within a gay marriage State, but the statement " What parent wants their kids to play video games where their son has to kiss a boy to earn points?“ sounds kind of homophobic and somewhat ignorant. Is this person consciously choosing not to take advantage of the knowledge we possess in 2008 to know the kiss in the game will not make his or her son gay? So long as the rest of the game is appropriate for him, I am a parent who does not mind if my son earns a point in the game for kissing a boy. It promotes tolerance, suggests understanding, and may spur a discussion about the kiss. I submit, Whereareourmorals? household which believes the kiss is harmful is more dangerous for their child, than playing the game. A danger made larger if their child actually does turn out to be gay. Between the virtual gun and the virtual kiss, this person seems to have a problem delineating fantasy and play from the real world.

I have to admit, I did enjoy the second part of the commentary, "This is a pro-family values mutual fund, maybe you would be more interested in the Vice Fund or the Lesbian Fund or the Animal Rights Fund? No one is stopping you, . . . " I never really thought of this kind of investment, and perhaps if I did make one I would attend an annual meeting for the first time in my investment life. It would definitely be in Las Vegas and have an open bar. Maybe some Cirque de Soleil folks in devils costumes swinging around . . . It would be a lot more fun than the Timothy Plan’s meeting and the annual reports would be a lot more interesting.

It may be my own moral shortcoming, but I don't look at a fund's moral position prior to investing. I look to their earnings performance. There are all kinds of funds looking to invest "green" or in a "morally appropriate" way, some do better jobs than others, but in the end, they are artificial constraints on the fund's ability to invest. It is impossible for any large scale fund, to be invested only in companies ascribing to a certain morality. Their target companies do business all around the world and in many cases must comply with local rules, regulations and customs. Funds trying to comply run into issues of relative morality. This is how a fund with good intentions, like the Timothy Plan, could end up with investments in companies like the ones mentioned in my post.

As much as Whereareourmorals? would like us to believe it is so, there is no global morality. Wheareourmorals? and many other ignorant people believe it is appropriate to link vice, lesbianism and animal rights in the same thought bubble. The grouping doesn’t come from the bible, which does discourage vice, also discourages judgment. While Whereareourmorals? may believe lesbianism is amoral, it is not a globally held belief and will not find much support in the real world. Not to mention Showtime. Whereareourmorals? bible also says animals have souls. In fact his or her bible says their Creator instructed Adam and Eve to be vegetarians. They only ate animals after their act of defiance and banishment from the Garden of Eden. I point this stuff out because this person is perverting the message. People like this use religion to justify hatred, horrific actions and wars. He or she is using his or her interpretation of the bible to attack people, games, animal rights, and just about anything else he or show finds disagreeable.

I do agree with Whereareourmorals? on one point. We can choose to invest, or not. If the fund he or she supports attracts people like Whereareourmorals?, I choose not.





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