As everyone in America knows by now, the old rocker Bruce Springsteen has canceled a concert in North Carolina, because the state passed a law preserving the status quo ante as of ten seconds ago, which is that men empty their bowels in the men’s room and not in the ladies’ room. It should be noted that Mr. Springsteen has made a living from concerts held in states in which men emptied their bowels in the men’s room and not in the ladies’ room, and that there is not the slightest documentary evidence, or even hearsay, that he has ever made his appearances conditional upon a state’s customary recognition of, to use the juridical term, cross-dumping. I myself attended one of his concerts when I was a young man at Princeton, and though we prided ourselves upon our intellectual amorality, even we would have caned any man caught in a women’s bathroom, mid-delusion. Nor did Mr. Springsteen, to my knowledge, call us in advance to ascertain our policy in this regard.
Much has been made of the hypocrisy of the Pubic (and now Plumbic) Left, which hails Mr. Springsteen as a hero for the rights of men who think they are women, while at the same time they cry out for the financial ruin of a Christian couple who politely decline to bake a cake for two women who think they are a man and a woman or a woman and a man, as the mood strikes them. Some of this outcry is not fair to Mr. Springsteen. We must draw distinctions here. There is a difference between a rock star and a pastry baker. The rock star rolls in wealth. The pastry bakers can barely make ends meet. The rock star can work whenever he pleases. The pastry bakers have to work ten hours a day and still must cross their fingers. The rock star doesn’t need the engagement. The pastry bakers can hardly afford to turn away a customer. The rock star will get a lot of free publicity, lest people forget that he is still around and is still singing, still modulating his voice between low C and low F and all the many notes in between, still sweating on stage and poising his guitar upon that convenient rest that Nature has provided him in his belly. The pastry bakers want no publicity at all. They just want to be left in peace.
No, there is no comparison. Rock stars are far more important than pastry bakers, in the same way that school principals are more important than parents, inside traders are more important than truck drivers, journalists are more important than people who read books to find the truth, and politicians are more important than everybody. They are more important because they hold the hammer.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
There’s another difference. The pastry bakers wish to order their actions according to the dictates of conscience. Mr. Springsteen wishes to order his actions according to the dictates of political ideology. Now there is no comparison between conscience and political ideology. Conscience is, as Newman says, that “stern monitor,” warning us at the threshold of consent. It tells us what we must not do, even though we would like to do it, or it would be profitable for us to do it. Or it tells us what we must do, even though we would like not to do it, or it would hurt us not to do it. In other words, it warns us against self-indulgence and the neglect of duty. It is not a dispenser of permissions. It is a voice we never find it comfortable to heed. At best we can say, “My conscience is clear”—though whenever I hear someone say that, I reach for my wallet and glance toward the door. Political ideology, by contrast, tells us what we get to do—and often enough what we get to do to other people. Breaking eggs to make an omelet: that is how one renowned chef du politique put it.
The pastry bakers were following the dictates of conscience, formed by their religious duties. This was not a refusal to serve sinners. They serve sinners all day long. They serve sinners whenever they sit down to lunch. If a fornicator shows up at their bakery and wants a cheese danish, they serve him a cheese danish. He asks for the pastry not as a fornicator but as a human being who happens to be hungry. If a pornographer shows up at their bakery and asks them to cater a birthday party for his three year old nephew, they cater the birthday party. He shows up not as a pornographer but as someone whose three-year-old nephew is having a birthday.
But if the owner of a legal brothel shows up and asks you to cater a party for the hookers, if you are a Christian, you must decline. You cannot lend your support to prostitution. You cannot participate in celebrating it, in any way. If you are polite, you will tell the owner of the soul-gnawing establishment where he or she can take his business; across the street, as may be, or down a certain road towards the everlasting bonfire; but you cannot take part. You must not. You hear the words of Jesus ringing in your ears: “Truly I say to you, if a man but looks at a woman with lust in his heart, he has already committed adultery.” And, try as you may, you lack the theological sophistication to twist this Jesus, yogi-like, into the requisite pretzel, so that the Master who numbered fornication among the things that come out of a man to make him filthy will now smile upon a prostitution ring—or sodomy, or pornography, or mere garden fornication, for that matter. “I knew I should have majored in theology,” you mutter; but you decline none the less.
Now, why should the law respect such a thing as conscience, when it does not respect religion at all? Conscience is not to be respected. It is to be crushed flat, under a steamroller. Hence the Pubic Left is not inconsistent when they praise Mr. Springsteen. For his conscience has nothing to do with the matter. If he says that his religious faith commands him to wave the banner for cross-dumping, we might ask him to show us precisely where, in his Scriptures, it says, “Thou shalt not prevent the man from relieving himself in the midst of women: I am the Lord.” Supposing he could do this, bringing forth to the world a hitherto unknown holy book, we would shrug and tell him that his religion is at least irrelevant, and at most something that we would not mind obliterating as such. If he then says that his conscience alone tells him that he must not, in the solemn dread of neglecting his moral duty, sing tuneless old songs to several thousands of his aging fans in a state where—unspeakable horror!—men are not allowed to invade the privacy the women’s room, we will ask him why he agreed to sing in that state in the first place, when the norm was then as the law stipulates now. For nothing has changed.
We will also ask what it is about singing songs that pricks his tender conscience. Surely what he intends to sing will not have changed? He will not be compelled to sing rallying cries for the ancien regime, that one under which he has lived his whole life minus ten seconds. He will not be compelled to participate in a demonstration for keeping men in men’s rooms and women in women’s rooms. He will not be compelled to do anything about it one way or another. He might even spare himself the dreadful indignity of using the toilet in a public place in that state, and instead merely relieve his bowels and his conscience in the privacy of his own van.
And what of the people with tickets to the concert? His conscience cannot possibly be exercised about them. He does not know them. They stand for nothing, as a group, except that they have the dubious distinction of enjoying his music. For all he knows, they may be eager to engage in cross-dumping themselves, or they may be trying, like nouveaux Pilates, to wash their hands of the whole matter, with anti-bacterial soap. And they, unlike the people who show up at a bakery and say, “Please bake us a cake to help us celebrate our sodomy,” are out a lot of money. They have bought tickets. Some will have arranged their work schedules so that they could attend the concert. Some will have bought plane tickets. The pastry bakers breached no contract; they merely declined to make a contract in the first place. Mr. Springsteen has breached a contract, and has hurt people who have nothing to do with the controversy in question.
But the pastry bakers must be ruined, and Mr. Springsteen deserves to have all of Asbury Park wrapped in toilet paper on his behalf. Why is this? It has nothing to do with conscience.
It has to do with politics, and power. Why are we so slow to perceive what is so evident? If you have the right politics, then you are a hero, no matter how rich you are, or how much you hurt others, or how you use your wealth to extort what you want from those talking mealworms, the invertebrate multiplicative politicians. Mr. Springsteen is right because we say he is. The end justifies the means—and the arse justifies the end. There is no hypocrisy here, because there is no cherished ideal to uphold. You have almost to believe in something to be a hypocrite. Nor is there any inconsistency. When smooth talk works, flatter the people and lead them by the nose to where you want them to be. When not—make them an offer they can’t refuse. Money talks. So do the doors of a prison.