David Booth’s use of Twitter has repeatedly drawn the ire of Canucks fans, mostly because of his habit of posting boastful photos (and videos) documenting his legal hunting exploits. But criticism of Booth’s tweets and his worldview reached something of a crescendo this past weekend, when Booth took some time to comment on the tragic school shooting in Sandy Hook Connecticut. As debates about gun-control and ultimately inaccurate reporting from the crime scene filled up our "timelines" on Friday and Saturday, David Booth offered an alternative take on the tragic events and appeared to be advocating for school prayer:
Can’t get over yesterday. Still thinking about CT. Wondering… with all the thoughts & PRAYERS why not bring Christ back into the schools?
— David Booth (@D_Booth7) December 15, 2012
Read on past the jump.
Needless to say the criticism of Booth’s comment was overly harsh, and shrill in my view.
Yesterday, Pass it to Bulis’ Harrison Mooney defended Booth’s tweets in a lengthy and compelling post. Here’s the meat of Mooney’s argument:
I certainly don’t feel that we should be directing scorn at Booth… or the many others that believe the tragedy at Sandy Hook is attributed to prayer-free classrooms. If they were cheering the tragedy for teaching us a lesson about secularizing education, that would be one thing. But for them to express the same grief, confusion, disillusionment and despair as the rest of us, then polemicize about the root cause as seen through the prism of their worldview — well, that’s what everyone did….
And yet Booth was fully vilified over it. It’s silly and it needs to stop.I’m not saying you can’t disagree with David Booth. I disagree with him all the time. But so long as he’s being respectful, can we please just aim to respectfully disagree?
Mooney’s argument here is basically for civility and for free speech, which shouldn’t be too controversial. So of course on Twitter and in the comments of that post he was lambasted.
Let’s slow down for a second and try to understand what precisely offended people about Booth’s tweet. Mooney posits that Canucks fans are conflating Booth’s stance with a whole host of distasteful Conservative positions, saying: "I think a lot of Booth-haters suffer from a fundamental misunderstanding, which is that every single right-winger is a racist, homophobic, Bible-thumping, gun-crazed Tea Party nut."
Now I don’t buy that, not even a little bit. Personally, I’m an atheist and I’ll admit to an abhorrence for superstition of all sorts, and a healthy dose of skepticism for the very language of faith. I believe strongly that there can be morality in the absence of organized religion (if we’re being honest, organized religion can act as a barrier to morality and often does). Beyond that, I’m convinced that a secular society free from the influence of organized religion is absolutely required for promoting essential values like science, education, justice, and the equality of LGBT people, and women.
And here’s the thing about school prayer, or more precisely "the required recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in public schools." It has been found in courts to violate the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, and has been functionally illegal in British Columbia since 1996. That wasn’t very long ago, and in fact, the presence of prayer groups in schools remains an active, hot-button issue that recieved plenty of news coverage only 16 months ago in Toronto.
Since mandatory school prayer was outlawed (in 1989 in Ontario, and in 1996 in British Columbia) Canadian attitudes towards religion have shifted enormously. In 2006, a clear plurality of Canadians (61%) said that religion wasn’t important in their daily lives. According to data (and my experience interacting with people across the country), Canadians are proud secularists and in particular, bristle at the presence of god in political discourse. For example, according to an Angus Reid poll conducted in 2008, 66% of Canadians think it’s inappropriate for a political candidate to talk about their religious beliefs during a political campaign. Contrast that with the tenor of a standard American political campaign, and one might forgive the Michigan born Booth for not quite understanding the sensibilities of Canadians on this topic…
I suspect that Booth’s critics found his tweet offensive primarily because they implied from his words the idea if society were only organized in a more explicitly religious and moral way, we’d be better off for it and, maybe mass violence wouldn’t occur so frequently. Perhaps people who were offended by Booth’s tweet read into it an attack on the secular values that they hold dear.
Now David Booth is wrong in my view. For example, America is a very religious country in comparison with Canada (63% of American in 2006 said that religion was important in their daily lives), and has way higher rates of gun violence. But I don’t find his expressing his opinion offensive.
Just based on his Twitter account and how happy he is to admit that he really loves the song "Call Me Maybe," I’ve always thought of David Booth as a genuine, happy guy. He’s also been extremely successful, and I’d imagine he credits a good deal of his success and happiness to his faith and the strength it gives him. If he wants to share that, then it’s probably intended in a spirit of generosity (albeit misguided generosity), and I have no problem with that.
It’s not like David Booth is a politician, or a school board trustee or someone who I would attack (vociferously) if they were advoacting mandatory school prayer. He’s just a hockey player who loves God (and probably capitalizes the word "Him" when talking about him).
I’d also point out that David Booth has never explicitly expressed an opinion on, say, a woman’s right to choose. He’s never chimed in on gay-marriage. He’s never applied, or spoken publicly about his religion in a way that I would call uninclusive (and probably take him to task for in this space). His religious views, and even his tweet about Sandy Hook strike me as benign; and frankly I find the hostility that many of my fellow Canucks fans (and athiests) have for Booth’s worldview much more problematic than Booth’s tweets.
Here’s the thing, while the emergence of Canada’s secular values are a
wholly mostly positive development in my view, there’s an ugly side to this evolution. In particular, I don’t know that Canadians as a group, are all that tolerant of religious beliefs or religious persons. Check out the findings of this Angus-Reid poll for MacLeans from 2009:
"Across Canada, 72 per cent said they have a “generally favourable opinion” of Christianity. At the other end of the spectrum, Islam scored the lowest favourability rating, just 28 per cent. Sikhism didn’t fare much better at 30 per cent, and Hinduism was rated favourably by 41 per cent. Both Buddhism, at 57 per cent, and Judaism, 53 per cent, were rated favourably by more than half the population—but even Jews and Buddhists might reasonably ask if that’s a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty result."
So as recently as 2009 a clear majority of Canadians held a negative view of Sikhism, Islam and Hinduism, and only a narrow majority have a positive view of Judaism. Kind of eye-opening isn’t it?
Now, I’m not saying that having a negative reaction to David Booth’s tweet about Sandy Hook makes you intolerant of his religion. Personally, I gave the tweet a quick eye-roll and moved on (so, it’s fair to say that I also had a negative reaction to it myself). But those who attacked Booth personally and at length for his viewpoint demonstrated, in my view, a failure of empathy that in some cases may have been tinged with intolerance. Point is, you know what you’re getting when you follow David Booth. If you don’t want to hear about how God is great, you can easily unfollow him.
On David Booth’s use of Twitter more generally, I’m more conflicted. On the one hand, as a guy who works in digital communications and advises clients on social media strategy: I think Booth is hurting himself (and arguably the Canucks brand) by using the medium in a way that clearly offends a large and vocal segment of the Canucks’ fanbase. On the other hand, as an opinionated guy, I respect the hell out of Booth for stubbornly continuing to express himself honestly and openly, and who cares what those who disagree might think…