Pride Goeth Before The Fool?

Unless you were sedated during May you probably heard the furor about Kansas City Chief place kicker Harrison Butker’s commencement address at Benedictine College, a small conservative Catholic private school in Kansas.

Butker said a number of controversial things in his speech, a lot of stuff I don’t agree with. And then came the predictable overwrought reaction. I don’t mean the criticism, that’s healthy just as it’s healthy Butker can express his views. But Butker discourse really took off – and again a lot of people seemed shocked to learn that a lot of professional athletes are conservative and an NFL sideline is not the hotbed of DEI many seem to think it might be.

Source: Benedictine College

At some level, who cares? This is a particular kind of school and an NFL place kicker’s views on the world have little impact on how you like your coffee in the morning. (Yes, I know he’s done a few other things in life but you would not have heard of him if he couldn’t effectively kick a football under pressure.) But in 2024 there is still no meeting for the people who didn’t like the speech and also didn’t like the hysterical reaction. Or who just didn’t care, which contra the “silence is violence” crowd is fine, too. You can’t get spun up about everything.

Marcus Aurelius reminds us that we always own the option of having no opinion. “There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control. These things are not asking to be judged by you” he wrote.

Yet one line buried in the address, that did not get as much attention as the bit about marriage roles, stood out to me and made me think that Harrison Butker is probably kind of an asshole. It was this,

I am certain the reporters at the AP could not have imagined that their attempt to rebuke and embarrass places and people like those here at Benedictine wouldn’t be met with anger, but instead met with excitement and pride. Not the deadly sin sort of pride that has an entire month dedicated to it, but the true God-centered pride that is cooperating with the Holy Ghost to glorify him.

I don’t care that he believes this. It’s disappointing, sure, I’d suggest it’s not all that Christian, and he should come check out the 21st Century in America where people can live their lives as they wish. It’s great, fun, and he might even like it. That’s just a gratuitous, ungracious, and unnecessary thing to say at a commencement ceremony where 485 people are getting their diplomas. Even accounting for the specific nature of this school you have to assume, just based on average statistics, there are gay people in that class, and among the family and friends that came to see them get their diplomas and celebrate them.

Here, too, one might channel Aurelius and say nothing. At a commencement. It seems almost certain that on one of the most special days in their life Butker made someone feel small, bad, or excluded when there was just no reason to do so and he could have made his broader points absent that.* I’m not arguing for safetyism, thought and word policing, or any of the other absurdities infecting public discourse. I’m just pleading for manners and decency. For time and place.

To lower the temperature in this country, and our debates about schools, we have to accept that people can believe what they want and allow them to do that insofar as it doesn’t trample the rights of others. You don’t have to bake that cake and we should not compel belief and expression – an issue that is showing up in school law lately. Harrison Butker should argue for what he believes as should those who disagree with him. You just don’t have to be an asshole about it.

*You see a version of this at some high school graduations, too. It’s great to celebrate the students who performed really well, and we should. You can do that, however, without making those who didn’t do as well feel lousy – especially on graduation day. I saw a graduation recently where the superintendent had graduates stand up in groups based on GPA – not a lot of fun for those with lower GPAs! And this at a school that proudly ditched class rank and recognitions of that sort. Pretty much exactly backwards.

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