I wanted to address the situation that has arisen from the series of articles in right-wing media outlets about me, and then me and Professor Kukla, that resulted from a private Facebook exchange being published and taken out of context, followed by a public thread that was a response to the fact that all of those messages were made public and taken out of context. I will begin by apologizing to Professor Richard Swinburne. I regret that he is involved at all, and I regret even bringing his name into the conversation in my public post.
The post of mine that was made public was not about Richard Swinburne. It was a comment, or a reply to a comment, on a private Facebook thread. The Facebook thread was about how the Swinburne episode reminded a gay colleague and friend of the harsh discrimination they had faced as a gay philosopher. I knew about what this person had experienced, and from whom. I saw that they were using Facebook to channel frustration about discrimination. So I used strong words, including expletives, to exhibit my support. But I simply was not talking about Richard Swinburne.
A screenshot of that comment, as well as other posts and comments from other philosophers, which were intended for specific audiences, were taken out of context and publicized on a blog. I faced a difficult situation, and the anger in my public post which followed was directed against those who made those comments public. I was both deeply frustrated at the violation of privacy, and worried that the others on that thread would face harsh recrimination, and felt that it was my responsibility, as a person with some power in the field, to take the heat. But I forgot that having my position at Yale makes anything I say part of the whole campus wars. For example, Rod Dreher was one of the main figures in November, 2015 who attacked our undergraduate students in very harsh terms. So that meant anything associated with me would be taken national.
For those who don’t know me, it may come as a surprise that the national discussion in right wing media has also been wounding to me, because I am sensitive to the difficulties many religious Christians face in academic settings. We live in a country, the vast majority of whose citizens are followers of one of the world’s great intellectual and moral systems, Christianity. And though the majority of philosophers in American are Christian or were raised as such, there is a significant difference between being in our intellectual community and being in America outside its walls.
I was almost always the only Jewish person in my classes growing up. In my high schools in tenth and eleventh grade, I was the first Jewish person to attend. I am very familiar with the isolation that is involved, even when there is no overt discrimination (though I grew up being asked if I had horns and such like, this was ignorance and not malice). It is woven into the tapestry of my existence what it is like to be in a minority faith among a majority. I can’t imagine what it must be like to go from a community in which one’s cultural traditions and many of its assumptions are just part of the ordinary tapestry of existence, to one in which that is considerably less so. I have tried in the departments I have been in to be very sensitive to this. And my own work, both academic and public, leaves theism in any form alone.
But this is not to say that the only issues here are the complete confusion caused by the publication of out of context private messages. I do have a dispute with those philosophers (Christian or otherwise) who irresponsibly espouse harmful theories about sexual minorities that are out of touch with the literature, current science, and the experiences of those minorities themselves. I also have another, distinct dispute with those who would violate the privacy of their friends by taking expressions of support and frustration — which were intentionally visible only to select audiences — out of context, publish them, and mislead the public as to their meaning. Anyone who thinks that is perfectly ordinary Christian behavior has a much lower opinion of Christians than I do. I also think both of these distinct disputes are ones we can have in public spaces in a respectful manner.
The last week has been very extreme for me. My family, which is the core of my existence, has been frightened. I can’t here explain everything that has happened, but it has been very ugly at times. But much worse than that is the legitimation of the very real discrimination that gay philosophers have to face on a daily basis from colleagues, from students, and from the media.
When gay philosophers try to speak up, even privately, about actual discrimination they face, they now know they risk a media storm against them. They see from my case that the student paper at their university may even add fuel to the fire.
So: do I regret that Swinburne has been sucked into this? I regret this very much. I apologize for bringing Swinburne in at all. I sincerely apologize for my error in judgment in even mentioning his name. But my central concern right now is entirely about our gay colleagues in academia who have been watching this episode in horror, rightly concerned that any complaints about discrimination they may raise, even in private spaces, will result in the kind of incredibly intense retribution that Rebecca Kukla and I have been singled out and subject to over the past week. And those concerns would be legitimate.
I need to end with the issue of anti-Semitism. On my public post, someone posted a disturbing comment about Swinburne’s death. I contemplated deleting it but then wanted to wait to see if anyone would ‘like’ it before addressing its horrors (no one did). It is hard to avoid the suspicion that the media discussion starting with the September 28th piece in The American Conservative, and then the Washington Times, is straightforwardly anti-Semitic. How did a non-story about the complexity of communication that results when screenshots from private conversations are made public, become a national story about two leftist Jewish professors and the dangers they pose?
At first, the story was solely about me. Then, the other Jewish philosopher who posted on that thread, Rebecca Kukla, was also targeted. What ensued was a terrible anti-Semitic narrative, channeling a virulent 20th century form of anti-Semitism, now present in Russia; that leftist Jews seek to use the issue of homosexuality to target the Christian faith. I hope we can, as a profession, have a respectful discussion about the two disputes I mentioned above. I responded to disrespect in kind, and I regret that this may have made it more difficult. We need to have these conversations, though, in a way that does not invite retribution against our gay colleagues, whose experiences of discrimination need to be highlighted, rather than forced ever more into the shadows. And we need to have it in a way that does not help bring in the stain of anti-Semitism.