Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Oh No! Not Christian Radio!

Y'all know how much I like a good ethical dilemma, so I feel compelled to comment on this post over at Pharyngula about a business playing Christian radio in its waiting area. The essence of the dilemma is as follows (but go read the rest for details):

Today I went to get my car inspected as my state requires it annually, and you will get a ticket for having an expired inspection sticker. The inspection place I went to had a Christian radio station in the waiting room. I politely asked the guy at the desk (who I later confirmed was the owner) to change the channel to one that was not religious. He said he would not.
The person sending in the question eventually ended up taking their business elsewhere and wants to know if they did the right thing.

So what issues are in play here? Let's start with the easy analysis and go from there. Does the business owner have a right to play Christian radio in his waiting room? I'd offer a qualified "yes" in this case. In general I support the right of business owners to do whatever the hell they damn well please within to confines of their business, provided such doing doesn't infringe on the rights of others. The question of whether playing Christian radio in the waiting room does so turns, in part, on whether the customer is there voluntarily. I agree with PZ's take:

The only concern would be if there were only one local place that could handle your legally-mandated requirements, in which case there might be grounds for making a bigger stink.
If this business was the only one within a reasonable distance that could provide a government mandated service things might be different. At that point the customer becomes a captive audience, which changes the analysis. However, that doesn't seem to be the case, since the questioner was able to take eir business elsewhere. The business owner isn't acting as a de facto representative of the local government, so he's free to do his thing.

Moving on, what are the ethical implications of him choosing to do so? The questioner feels that the business owner was behaving in a discriminatory fashion:

I explained that not all of his customers are Christians - surely some are Jewish and some are not religious at all. He still refused and I told him that he was discriminating by making me listen to his religion being promoted.
Going solely by the description provided by the questioner the charge that the business owner was "discriminating" is pretty much baseless. An act of discrimination involves showing preference to one class of person over another in some substantive fashion. If the questioner could demonstrate that the business owner was giving preferential treatment Christians over non-Christians there'd be better grounds for such a charge. But the mere presence of Christian radio in the room, IMHO, doesn't demonstrate such preferential treatment.

That really seems to be the heart of the questioner's contention, that it was unethical to expose a non-Christian to Christian radio. But we need to make a further distinction: did the questioner have a problem with the specific instance that ey described, or does eir contention hold as a general rule? If the content of the particular broadcast ey had to listen to was particularly egregious that's certainly relevant to the discussion. But the questioner doesn't provide any reason to believe that ey heard anything untoward, so we can assume that eir complaint was not with the specific instance, but rather with the practice in general.

So then, is it unethical to expose a non-Christian to Christian radio? Let's see if we can generalize away some of the specifics and create a more universal statement. Is this situation peculiar to Christianity? Would it have been OK if the shop owner had Rabbi Shmuley Boteach playing instead? The questioner has given me no reason to distinguish between the two, so we can assume that the question applies broadly to all religions. That being the case

"Is it unethical to expose a non-Christian to Christian radio?"
"Is it unethical to expose a non-believer to religious advocacy programming on the radio?"

PZ rightly points out that there's nothing special about religious programming either:
This isn't unique to religious broadcasting, either — I'd feel the same way if I had to listen to Rush Limbaugh while waiting on some car maintenance.
In which case
"Is it unethical to expose a non-believer to religious advocacy programming on the radio?"
"Is it unethical to expose someone to radio programming with whose content they disagree?"
Is there anything special about the fact that this was radio programming as opposed to, say, print media? Radio is loud and intrusive; if you're in the presence of a radio broadcast you can't really choose not to listen. But there's examples of that in print media as well; its hard not to read posters, for example. In either case you're being unavoidably exposed to a message; if you don't want to be exposed to the message your only alternative is to leave the area. However, we've already determined that we're not dealing with a captive listener here, so the mere fact that ey'd have to remove emself from the immediate area isn't a problem. The fact that the program was conveyed by radio, as opposed to by some other means, doesn't appear to be particularly relevant, in which case
"Is it unethical to expose someone to radio programming with whose content they disagree?"
"Is it unethical to expose someone to ideas with whose content they disagree?"

Well, I sure hope not. Y'all can see the problems that might arise if it were.

I saw this result way back in paragraph one, but I wanted to go through the generalization process explicitly just to make sure I hadn't screwed up the analysis somewhere along the line. From a business standpoint its probably better to play Muzak, since few people find it objectionable, but from an ethical standpoint there's no substantive difference between Christian programming and The News Hour With Jim Lehrer. They both put forth ideas with which the listener may not agree, but its not unethical to expose the listener to either.

Now that the formal analysis is out of the way I can get on to the ranting. Who the fuck cares if they're playing Christian radio? This is exactly the same kind of mentality that has people boycotting Disney because their children might be accidentally be exposed to Teh Gay. Look, people, if you're so delicate that you curl up into the fetal position at the mere hint of pro-Christian sentiment what does that say about your own personal prejudices, huh? If you think Christian radio is moronic then the next time you find yourself in that situation you should stop, listen, say "Yup, that's moronic", and then move on. Or better yet, find some entertainment value in it... Christian radio can be highly amusing if approached with the appropriate sense of ironic detachment. Whatever you do, grow a pair already, will you?


Blogger (Ryan) said...

I'm with you here. I usually agree with Myers but this seems like such a sanctimonious over-reaction. Especially his whole "publicize it!" bit at the end. Usually it is religious people who take this kind of thing way too seriously-- it is weird that he doesn't realize he is doing the same thing

4:41 PM  

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