By CJ Werleman
We atheists like to chastise the religious for their child-like belief in an imaginary friend, but, equally, the time has come for the atheist movement to grow up. It’s understood that the so-called new atheist movement began at the start of the new millennium with the mainstream emergence of luminaries Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and others.
For much of the first decade of the new century, the atheist movement behaved like a curious child in search of meaning to its own existence. Now that the child is a teenager on its way to adulthood, it needs to start acting like a grown up. The atheist movement comprises more than 2,000 groups and organizations in the U.S. today, but the movement, in composition and purpose, has failed to establish a coherent cause outside of validating non-belief and offering platitudes towards protecting the separation of church and state. Another thing one notices with the atheist movement is the fact it is predominantly upwardly middle-class, white and male. Sikivu Hutchinson writes, in her essay “Prayer Warriors and Freethinkers”: “If mainstream freethought and humanism continue to reflect the narrow cultural interests of white elites who have disposable income to go to conferences then the secular movement is destined to remain marginal and insular.”
The movement has an image problem. An image that isn’t helped by the ceaseless and over-simplified fear-mongering over Islamic terrorism from the likes of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins — rhetoric that not only ignores our long history of foreign policy blunders in the Middle East, but also echoes the neo-conservatives, the Israel lobby and the entire right-wing echo chamber. Nathan Lean, author of “The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims,” writes, “The New Atheists became the new Islamophobes, their invectives against Muslims resembling the rowdy, uneducated ramblings of backwoods racists rather than appraisals based on intellect, rationality and reason.”
It’s time for the movement to address bigger and real issues, and the biggest issue of our time is income inequality. Of all the developed nations, the U.S. has the most unequal distribution of income. In the past decade, 95 percent of all economic gains have gone to the top 1 percent. A mere 400 individuals own one-half of the entire nation’s wealth. Meanwhile, median household income keeps falling, and our poverty levels resemble that of the Great Depression era. In other words, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is being decimated. Atheists like to talk about building a better world, one that is absent of religiosity in the public square, but where are the atheist groups on helping tackle the single biggest tear in the fabric of our society — wealth disparity?
They are nowhere. Its absence on the most pressing moral issue of our time makes it difficult for the movement to establish meaningful partnerships with other moral communities. To remain white, middle class, intellectually smug and mostly apolitical will not only serve to alienate atheism from minorities and the poor, but will also ensure it remains a politically impotent movement that is incapable of building a better America. Growing up means less time and money spent on self-righteous billboard campaigns, and, instead, more resources allocated to fighting the political conditions that have caused this nation’s middle class and infrastructure to resemble that of a hyper-religious Third World nation.
Christopher Hitchens wrote that the intellectual advantage of atheism is its ability to reject unprovable assertions on face value. It’s why we don’t believe in the supernatural. Equally, it’s why we shouldn’t believe in a myth that is causing greater harm than creationism — the myth of trickle-down economics, which remains the economic blueprint for today’s Republican Party, despite the world’s leading economists lampooning it as an abject failure. In the four decades that followed FDR’s New Deal, our middle class became the envy of the world. In an op-ed titled “Abject Failure of Reaganomics,” Robert Parry writes, “It was the federal government that essentially created the Great American Middle Class — from the New Deal policies of the 1930s through other reforms of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, from Social Security to Wall Street regulation to labor rights to the GI Bill to the Interstate Highway System to the space program’s technological advances to Medicare and Medicaid to the minimum wage to civil rights.” But then came the period of Reagan’s holy trinity — privatization, deregulation, and free trade. Now here we are today — facing the largest economic crisis since the 1930s. Atheists are secularists, and a secularist cannot be a member of today’s Republican Party. You’re either one or the other.
You cannot be both. Now, I am acutely aware that a great number of atheists identify with the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, but this is comical. A lack of evidence is why atheists don’t believe in God. But to believe in libertarianism is in itself an act of faith, because libertarianism has not only never been tried anywhere, but an overwhelming number of economists reject the philosophy as little more than “capitalism with the gloves off” — a condition that would only exacerbate the winner-takes-all society we have today. If an atheist is looking for political evidence, the evidence we have is that not only is today’s Republican Party a theocratic sponsor, it’s also a party that has been proven wrong on just about everything in the past three decades or more: from evolution to climate change, trickle-down economics, that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators, that the Bush tax cuts would lead to jobs. It didn’t. It added $3 trillion to the debt.
They were wrong that the stimulus would trigger inflation, that austerity stimulates an economy and that universal healthcare is worse than slavery. It’s time for the atheist movement to get off the political sidelines. It’s time to truly help this country become a better place to live for all its citizens. The recent Values Voter Summit demonstrated that the likely 2016 GOP frontrunners and its base wish to transform America’s secular state into a tyrannical theocracy — a nirvana absent gays, liberals, immigrants, Muslims and science books. If the atheist movement doesn’t evolve into a politically agitated, unified and mobilized Secular Left, then the Christian Right might just get its way. In fighting for truly meaningful social justice, such as income equality and the rights of minorities, the movement can form partnerships with communities that share common causes. For instance, building a bridge with certain religious communities that are equally concerned with fighting against class inequality and social injustice.
This would broaden the appeal of the atheism movement, and might just get people to like us a little more. Walter Bristol, an atheist interfaith activist, wrote, “Economic inequality is one of the most imminent issues facing Western society today. Any progressive movement that chooses to dismiss it is and will be rightfully dismissed themselves.” Atheists are the fastest growing minority in the country. We now have the critical mass to shape elections and policy. Either we seize our potential political power, thus acting like the grown up in the room, or we can continue to focus on the ‘pettier’ or issues, thus continuing to act like a petulant child.
CJ Werleman is the author of Crucifying America, and God Hates You. Hate Him Back. You can follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman
Tea Party Galaxy: Voyage to the Center of Delusion
With the government shutdown continuing and no real negotiations happening, it seems that Captain Ted Cruz is still at the helm of the Republican Party. It’s helpful to remember that the Tea Party crew’s main demand is an end to Obamacare, a health care reform law that was passed years ago.
Putting it another way, the Republicans, currently led by the Tea Party, are willing to risk a US default in order to keep working class Americans from accessing affordable health care. This is their best chance to finally drown government in the bathtub, so why would they ever negotiate? They’re having the time of their lives.
And even though the latest Tea Party/Republican talking point is that a default won’t really be that bad and we have plenty of money to pay the interest on our debt, I don’t think I want to stake the world’s economy on Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. I think the Republican space ship may be a recurring character, let’s see how it holds up under the gravitational pull of economic calamity and increasing corporate pressure. Be sure to like, comment and tell yer friends! Oh, and you can find more links to the news behind the cartoon on my site.
The real story of the shutdown: 50 years of GOP race-baiting
By Joan Walsh
On the day the Affordable Care Act takes effect, the U.S. government is shut down, and it may be permanently broken. You’ll read lots of explanations for the dysfunction, but the simple truth is this: It’s the culmination of 50 years of evolving yet consistent Republican strategy to depict government as the enemy, an oppressor that works primarily as the protector of and provider for African-Americans, to the detriment of everyone else. The fact that everything came apart under our first African-American president wasn’t an accident, it was probably inevitable.
People talk about the role of race in Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”: how Pat Buchanan and Kevin Phillips helped him lure the old Dixiecrats into the Republican Party permanently. Far less well known was the GOP’s “Northern Strategy,” which targeted so-called white ethnics – many of them from the Catholic “Sidewalks of New York” like my working-class family, in the words of Kevin Phillips. Without a Northern Strategy designed to inflame white-ethnic fears of racial and economic change, Phillips’ imaginary but still influential notion of a “permanent Republican majority” would have been unimaginable.
“The principal force which broke up the Democratic (New Deal) coalition is the Negro socioeconomic revolution and liberal Democratic ideological inability to cope with it,” Phillips wrote. “Democratic ‘Great Society’ programs aligned that party with many Negro demands, but the party was unable to defuse the racial tension sundering the nation.” Phillips was not trying to defuse that tension, far from it – he was trying to lure those white ethnics to the GOP (although he later broke with the party he helped create.) But his Northern Strategy truly came to fruition in 1980, with the election of Ronald Reagan. Where Nixon swept the South, Reagan was able to take much of the North and West, too.
I loved Chris Matthews’ book “Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked,” but as I said in my interview with him, I think he let Reagan off the hook when it came to race. Ronald Reagan picked up the political baton passed to him by Barry Goldwater and Pat Buchanan, and played his role with genial gusto. Reagan had trafficked in ugly racial stereotyping over the years, about “young bucks” buying T-bone steaks with food stamps and Cadillac-driving welfare queens. But the Reagan who got elected president was better at using deracialized language to channel racial fears and resentment. He and his strategists had succeeded in making government synonymous with “welfare,” and “welfare” synonymous with lazy people, most of them African-American.
So for a lot of Democrat-turned-Republican voters, “government” was all about black people, Reagan knew. You didn’t have to be racist to thrill to Reagan’s declaration that “government is not the solution; government is the problem,” though it didn’t hurt. Republican strategist Lee Atwater explained exactly how it worked in a now-infamous 1981 interview that was secret for 30 years. Atwater explained how the GOP dialed down its racial rhetoric for fear of alienating white moderates who might buy the GOP’s anti-government crusade, but be uncomfortable with outright racism.
You start out in 1954 by saying, “N–ger, n–ger, n–ger.” By 1968 you can’t say “n–ger” — that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites … “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N–ger, n–ger.”
And then you say “Defund Obamacare,” and everyone knows why.
To be fair to Republicans, not everyone is or was comfortable with this strategy. One of the things I remember best from Richard Ben Cramer’s legendary history of the 1988 election, “What It Takes,” was the way both George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole grappled with whether and how to reach black voters, in the wake of the Reagan revolution. Each man struggled, in his own way, to understand and accept exactly how party leaders, starting with Goldwater, had actively pushed African-Americans out of the party of Abraham Lincoln. Dole’s discomfort seemed a little deeper and more genuine; in the end, Bush acceded to Atwater and Roger Ailes, one of Richard Nixon’s media henchmen, to produce the infamous Willie Horton ad that helped torpedo Michael Dukakis.
Over and over, that’s how things got worse: Republicans who know better, who probably aren’t “racist” in the old-fashioned sense of believing in black inferiority and opposing the equality and integration of the races, nonetheless pander to those who are, for electoral gain. And when the election of our first black president riled up the racists and launched the Tea Party – supposed deficit hawks who tolerated skyrocketing government spending under George W. Bush — too many Republicans went along.
Today, the entire government has been taken hostage by leaders elected by this crazed minority, who see in the face of Barack Obama everything they’ve been taught to fear for 50 years. Start with miscegenation: He’s not just black, he’s the product of a black father and a white mother. (That helps explain an unconscious motive for birtherism: They can’t get their minds off the circumstances of his conception and birth.) With his Ivy League degrees, they are sure he must be the elitist beneficiary of affirmative action. Steeped in Chicago politics, he’s the representative of corrupt urban machines controlled by Democrats – machines that ironically originated with the Irish and once kept African-Americans down, but which are now synonymous with corrupt black power. In Michele Bachmann’s words, Obama is a product of Chicago’s scary “gangster government,” or did she say “gangsta”?
Leading Republicans who know better have demeaned the president with a long list of racially coded slurs. Obama is “the food stamp president,” Newt Gingrich told us. He wants to help “black people” (or was it “blah people”?) “by giving them somebody else’s money,” Rick Santorum said. Even his so-called GOP “friend” Sen. Tom Coburn insists Obama is spreading “dependency” on government because “it worked so well for him as an African-American male.”
Where Mitt Romney’s father, George, stood up to the rising tide of racism in his party and marched in fair housing protests in the 1960s, Mitt himself embraced the birther-in-chief Donald Trump during the 2012 campaign. And when things got tough in the fall campaign, he and Paul Ryan doubled down on racial appeals by accusing Obama of weakening welfare reform – he hadn’t – and of giving white seniors’ hard-earned Medicare dollars to Obamacare recipients. And we all know who they are.
Now we have John Boehner, elected House speaker thanks to the Tea Party wave of 2010, shutting down the government over Obamacare. Boehner has the power to open the government by bringing a clean continuing resolution to the floor and allowing it to pass with the help of Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats. Should we expect such courage? In one of his first major media appearances after becoming speaker, he refused to rebuke the birthers in his caucus. “It’s not up to me to tell them what to think,” he told NBC’s Brian Williams.
Now he’s kowtowing to the roughly 30 House Republicans from bright red districts that also happen to be almost exclusively white, in a country that is more than one-third non-white. They want to shut down the government to torpedo Obamacare, the signature program of our first black president. Obviously, though he’s the leader, Boehner believes it’s not up to him to tell the GOP suicide caucus what to think. Although the speaker told reporters after Obama’s r-election that Obamacare was the law of the land, and that a government shutdown would be bad for the country, he changed his tune when confronted with an insurrection, and the de facto House speaker who happens to be a senator, Ted Cruz. (Cruz’s father, by the way, just joined the ranks of those who seem to believe Obama is a Muslim, telling a Colorado woman who made that claim: “[Sen. John] McCain couldn’t say that because it wasn’t politically correct. It is time we stop being politically correct!”
In the end, it’s all about Obama. I keep waiting for John Boehner to have his “Take this job and shove it” moment, since he’s not the House leader, he’s being led by Ted Cruz and the House suicide caucus. But I’ve been waiting a long time for Republicans to do the right thing and repudiate their party’s lunatic fringe, particularly its racist fringe. I assume I’ll be waiting a while longer.
by NPR Staff
“He went around the country,” Jacoby tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “He spoke to more people than presidents. He was also an active mover and shaker behind the scenes of the Republican Party.”
But Ingersoll is largely forgotten today. His crime? Speaking out in favor of the separation of church and state. Jacoby, the author of a new biography The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought, says he promoted Darwin’s theory of evolution and fought publicly against government interference in religion.
“Because of this, as The New York Times said in his obituary when he died in 1899, he couldn’t run for public office even though he was a big deal behind the scenes,” she says. “Because even then, although most of the Republican presidents from Lincoln on didn’t even belong to a church, you still, if you were an open agnostic or atheist, could not hope to run for public office.”
Ingersoll actually gave up his public career, Jacoby says, because “he thought it was more important to talk about the ways in which fundamentalist religion was a bad thing.”
Author Susan Jacoby says Robert Ingersoll “was probably the first person who said, ‘I don’t believe in a God,’ that a lot of people had ever seen.”
Ingersoll’s father was actually a Presbyterian minister, who kept a library “of all of the things that Ingersoll came not to believe,” Jacoby says. “There is nothing like reading the Bible literally to make you question it; Ingersoll said that quite often.”
And he was public about those questions. “He wanted to revive the secular portion of America’s revolutionary history,” Jacoby continues. “He did not want to deny the role of religion in the founding of America, but he wanted to put it in its perspective.” Then as now, she adds, many people asked whether America had been founded as a Christian nation. “As controversial then as it is now, Ingersoll’s answer was no, and he went around explaining why it was no.”
Men like Ingersoll would have been astonished, Jacoby says, by the survival of fundamentalism in our era. “I don’t think that they would have been at all surprised that people are still religious. I think they would have been very surprised that anybody, by the end of the 20th century, would have been running for office on the platform that the Bible is literally true.”
Less than one week away from the election, a terrifying new poll reveals that more than two-thirds of registered Republican voters believe that people can be possessed by demons.
A staggering 68 percent of registered Republican votersstated that they believe demonic possession is real. Meanwhile, only 48 percent of self-identified Republicans believe in another equally if not more scary natural phenomenon: climate change.
The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling, touted by NPR as “one of the most prolific polling outfits in the country.”
The survey was filled with enlightening gems about how the supernatural world may affect the upcoming presidential race. Women were slightly more likely than men to believe in demonic possession, although this gender gap is not nearly as wide as that of women’s preference for Obama.
In a classic example of cognitive dissidence, only 37 percent of registered voters–both Democrat and Republican–believe in ghosts, although 57 percent believe in demonic possession. This raises the question, which was ignored in the presidential debates along with other essential issues like climate change and the educational system, about what the possessing force would actually be. (Perhaps Karl Rove?)
For registered Republicans who do believe in demonic possession (which is, again, the majority), there is at least one standout elected official who is taking this issue seriously and has educated himself about spiritual exorcism.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has written a first-hand account about witnessing an exorcism while he was in college.
“Kneeling on the ground, my friends were chanting, ‘Satan, I command you to leave this woman.’ Others exhorted all ‘demons to leave in the name of Christ,'”Jindal wrote.
Jindal made presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s short list for VP picks–but, according to the Associated Press, this story of exorcism was a strike against the governor. (The Public Policy Poll hadn’t come out yet.)
Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell also has considerable knowledge of witchcraft, although this expertise didn’t win her the race in 2010.
“I dabbled into witchcraft — I never joined a coven,” she said to ABC . “But I did, I did. I dabbled into witchcraft. I hung around people who were doing these things. I’m not making this stuff up. I know what they told me they do,” she said.
“One of my first dates with a witch was on a satanic altar, and I didn’t know it. I mean, there’s little blood there and stuff like that,” she said. “We went to a movie and then had a midnight picnic on a satanic altar.”
The poll also revealed that zombies are considered to be the scariest monster, another issue that has not been raised at all on the campaign trail.
Whether the two candidates will address these issues within the last week of the race remains to be seen.
Laura Gottesdiener is a freelance journalist and activist in New York City.
From Rep. Paul Broun’s (R-GA) remarks at the Liberty Baptist Church Sportsman’s Banquet on September 27, 2012, in Hartwell, Georgia:
BROUN: God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.
And what I’ve come to learn is that it’s the manufacturer’s handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society. And that’s the reason as your congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.
Rep. Broun, like Missouri caveman Todd Akin, serves on the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
I’ll let that sink in for a second.
Paul Broun, Todd Akin — these are the people that the Republican Party puts in charge of science at the highest level of the government. Extreme right wing fundamentalists and young earth creationists who believe science is a tool of Satan.
(h/t: Benjy Sarlin.)
Jane Smiley’s review, from the Huffington Post:
About twenty years ago, I read an article about a death row inmate who had shot a clerk in a convenience store. The way the murder was presented by the man on death row was mysterious–his hand just rose up and the gun went off. Shooting the clerk in the face in the midst of a robbery wasn’t in fact his fault. He never said, “I shot a man.” It just happened.
I thought of that man while reading Max Blumenthal’s terrific, but also, of course, appalling new book, Republican Gomorrah. Apparently there isn’t a single person in the present incarnation of the Republican party who does anything. Things happen–God does it. Satan does it. No Republican is an agent of his or her own success or failure, sin or redemption. It just happens.
The consequences of this lack of responsibility are there for all to see–screaming threats, guns at rallies, unhinged behavior every time a Republican doesn’t feel the way he or she wants to feel, absolute sense of powerlessness leading directly to an absolute will to power. Because that was the thing that struck me about the murderer in the 7-11–he had the power and in his own last moments, the clerk knew it. But the killer, no matter how well armed, never felt it.
Republican Gomorrah is a frightening book because it is clear to all of us on the outside that the various Republican operatives who surround James Dobson and his ilk have no consciences and will stop at nothing. They invoke the name of God for purposes that shame God absolutely–hurting, destroying, maiming, and damning others who either don’t accept their beliefs or don’t acknowledge their power and righteousness. Of course that is frightening.
But Blumenthal’s cast of characters, beginning with Dobson and his prodigal son, Ryan, and including John Hagee, Sarah Palin, Ralph Reed, Charles Colson, Judith Reisman, Christina Regnery, Donald Wildmon, et al. strike the reader as above all else very small–egocentric, narrow minded, uneducated, selfish, and resentful. Each of these qualities is destructive in and of itself. The combination is turning out to be coercive. Even those of us who are immune to the emotions these people play upon are getting more and more nervous about the power that they wish to exert.
Blumenthal does two things that no one else I have read manages to do–the first of these is that he organizes the network. He shows how Ted Bundy is connected to James Dobson is connected to Gary Bauer is connected to Erik Prince is connected to Ralph Reed is connected to Jack Abramoff is connected to Tom Delay is connected to Tony Perkins is connected to David Duke is connected to Mel Gibson, and so forth, and in the course of tracing these connections, he informs us, or reminds us, of the crimes and misdemeanors these people have committed.
Two of my favorites are James Dobson’s son Ryan’s messy divorce (Dad seems to have paid the settlement–did he not dare to discipline? Or did he discipline too much?) and David Vitter’s habitual recourse to a brothel in New Orleans where Republicans “wanted to be spanked and tortured and wear stockings–Republicans have impeccable taste in silk stockings” (the madam is talking about men). Republican Gomorrah is full of crimes–both those we’ve already heard of, such as Abramoff’s and Ted Haggard’s, and those we haven’t (there is good evidence that Texas billionaire T. Cullen Davis, funder of the right wing Council For National Policy, ordered hits on his estranged wife, and succeeded in murdering his step-daughter and the wife’s boyfriend).
This aspect of the book reminds me of a Scottish novel called The Private Memoirs And Confessions Of A Justified Sinner by James Hogg, in which, once a man believes he is among the saved, he can commit any sin he wants to and be sure he will go to heaven. Once Davis was “saved,” for example, he said, “My goal is to get to heaven. I’ll do anything it takes to get there, and I’m not going to let anything stand in my way.” He must have thought getting to heaven was just another power play.
And power plays are the key to right wing psychology. Right wing psychology is the other thing that Blumenthal has to offer. At the periphery of this world is your run-of-the-mill bully, a man like Jack Abramoff, whose brutality is well remembered by his high school classmates, but who sang like a bird once he was caught. At the center of is James Dobson, a much more destructive figure than Abramoff, who advocates, in the strongest terms, child beating, and not only child-beating, but dog-beating. At one point he brags about going after the family canine (who weighed twelve pounds) and engaging in “the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast.” As for children, the goal is to keep beating the child until “he wants(s) to crumple on the breast of his parent.” In other words, Dobson is a proud sadist who thinks sadism is kind of funny, and who, over the years, has successfully advocated sadism as the only workable form of child-rearing.
It order to understand the deeply disturbing effect Dobson and his theories have had on our culture, Blumenthal cites Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom, about the psychology of Nazism and authoritarianism, and Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer. Insofar as he finds the documentation, Blumenthal points out how many of these powerful Evangelical Christians were beaten and abused as children (including Dobson). It’s a high number. The beatings, often arbitrary, cruel, and frequent, were then, in many cases, backed up with constant lessons about God–that he is arbitrary, that he is cruel, that he demands obedience above all things, and that he surpasseth understanding. The point of these exercises is to establish the powerlessness of the child, his shame and guilt as a worthless sinner, and his absolute fear of thinking for himself. He will then take his place in the hierarchy and thereby reinforce the existence of the hierarchy.
Blumenthal goes pretty far with this psychology, but, in my view, not far enough. I’m sure he was reared by liberal parents, who gave him a sense of responsibility, curiosity, and autonomy, and since he is only in his thirties, I don’t think that he really empathizes with the tortured and damaged souls that he has been interviewing and watching for the last few years. I don’t think he understands their fear–how deep it is, how constant it is, and how arousing it is. I don’t think, in fact, that Max Blumenthal looks within and sees evil. I think he looks within, and says, “I’m okay; you’re okay.” That’s the goal of liberal parenting, and as we can tell by statistics he cites concerning unwed pregnancy, divorce, and occurrence of STDs, liberal parenting works–atheists and agnostics, for example, have a much lower rate of divorce than Evangelicals, and states that have sex education in the schools, rather than abstinence-only education, have lower rates of teen pregnancy.
But a child who is beaten enough eventually comes to understand two things above all–that the world makes no sense (and so why try to make sense of it?) and that the world is so dangerous that to be oneself, or even to try to figure out what oneself might be, is a death-defying exercise. There is safety only in two things–conforming to a group and, as a part of that group, dominating and even destroying other groups. The rules of the group can be anything at all, as long as the members of the group abide by them. And other groups have to abide by them, too, or the painful and arbitrary rules that group abides by are meaningless. The beaten child’s sense of terror can only be assuaged by evanescent feelings of power, because in relation to his parents and to God, he is defined as powerless. When he “crumples” on the “loving” breast of his parent (and in my view a person who administers a beating to a living being who is 1/16th his size doesn’t know what love is) he accepts his powerlessness and he also accepts that power is what defines this life. That’s where your freedom and mine come in.
Many of the Evangelicals Blumenthal discusses are Christian Dominionists–that is, they differ from the Taliban only in their choice of doctrine. Their uses of that doctrine (to dehumanize women and other groups, to never share power, to control every aspect of every life within their power, and to create society as a steeply hierarchical structure with them at the top) are those of the Taliban.
It’s an eye-opener to read about R.J. Rushdoony, son of Armenian immigrants who fled the Armenian genocide of 1915. You would think that a man whose family escaped mass murder would go on to espouse peace, love, and understanding, but Rushdoony went the other way, taking literally the 613 laws in the Book of Leviticus. In his book, The Institutes of Biblical Law, he advocates capital punishment for “disobedient children, unchaste women, apostates, blasphemers, practitioners of witchcraft, adulterers,” and homosexuals. Gary North, the Presbyterian Christian Reconstructionist, is his son-in-law, and, while not backing down on the mass death penalty, advocates stoning rather than burning at the stake, because stoning is cheaper (and of course that is a factor, because there would be a lot of people to exterminate). As for who would be doing the killing (of you and me, if they could catch us), well, Christians would, but not because they wanted to. Ever unable to accept responsibility, they assign agency to God, who wants us killed, who will beat us until we “crumple” on his “loving” breast, a God who has given us all sorts of talents, skills, and interests, but is, like these Christian Dominionists, interested only in power. I believe his motto is “Adore me or I will hurt you.”
Can you believe in a God so small? When I was a parent of young children, I, too, got frustrated, and I, too, thought a spanking might be a good thing. I soon realized that my motives for administering physical punishment were highly suspect–more anger and frustration than care for the child or knowledge about effective methods. I then saw a show about child-rearing, in which a woman who firmly believed in child-beating aroused far more resistance in her beaten daughter, and had much more family disruption, than the parents who ignored the tantrum and then used the technique of redirection to train their toddlers. Works with horses, dogs, and other animals, too. It was then I decided that if I, in my human weakness, could put two and two together concerning free will and proper behavior, surely God could, also. I didn’t want to believe in a God who was a smaller being than myself. And I don’t.
The ray of hope in Blumenthal’s book is that the right-wingers he talks about tend to be so psychologically unstable that they don’t have much staying power–think Ted Haggard. But they have numbers. The bad thing about that is that they could take control. The defeat of Sarah Palin, Conrad Burns (R-MT), George Allen (R-VA), Rick Santorum (R-PA), James Talent (R-MO), and Mike DeWine (R-OH) brought us “back from the brink” according to the website Theocracy Watch. But only back from the brink. The good thing is that they would not be able to maintain what we call a government for very long (see George W. Bush). The bad thing is that they would destroy the country as we know it while they were trying. If I take the long view, well, I think, Stalinism lasted about 25 years, Nazism 12. The Iranian Mullahs have been at it for 30 years. Russia and Germany survived, Iran might, as well. But generations were lost in all these places. And Stalin and Hitler didn’t have nuclear weapons.
I think about the 22-year-old clerk in that convenience store, looking down the barrel of that pistol. He probably had no idea that his killer had no sense of agency, hardly even knew what he was doing, was seeing his hand as separate from himself. But I have to feel sorry for the killer, too, subject to feelings that he could not label that were terrifying and overpowering. I bet he was beaten, shamed, and neglected as a child. I bet, afterward, he wished someone, somehow, had stopped him.
At Talk to Action, the veteran watcher of white supremacist and anti-semitic groups Chip Berlet writes, The Becking of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. An excerpt:
|From a moral viewpoint Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is the victim of demagogues such as Glenn Beck and his allies at Fox News and in the Tea Party Movement. This is not about legal liability but about moral culpability. This is about a nation that has lost its moral compass.Some of us progressive writers have been warning about this dangerous trend for several years. This includes my colleagues Fred Clarkson, David Neiwert, Sara Robinson, John Amato, Adele Stan, and others. We blame right-wing demagogues like Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter and a culture that tolerates their vicious targeting of scapegoats.
Now the shootings have created a new word floating across cyberspace: “becking.” To be “becked” is to be held up as such an evil and destructive person that someone, somewhere, will interpret it as a call to eliminate that problem through violence.
I made similar assertions after the murder of Dr. Tiller in a post at Religion Dispatches, “Who Will Rid Me of This Troublesome Doctor?”: Bill O’Reilly, King Henry II, and George Tiller” Here is what I wrote then:
On the day Dr. Tiller died, May 31, 2009, Gabrielle Winant on Salon traced O’Reilly’s relentless campaign against the murdered doctor. Winant wrote that some of O’Reilly’s characterizations of Tiller replicated “ancient conservative, paranoid stories: a decadent, permissive and callous elite tolerates moral monstrosities that every common-sense citizen just knows to be awful. Conspiring against our folk wisdom, O’Reilly says, the sophisticates have shielded Tiller from the appropriate, legal consequences for his deeds.”
So, concludes Winant: “O’Reilly didn’t tell anyone to do anything violent, but he did put Tiller in the public eye, and help make him the focus of a movement with a history of violence against exactly these kinds of targets.”
The analysts at Media Matters for America have been forcefully arguing the case against the “Emerging Culture of Paranoia” and the role of “Right-Wing Media” in fostering a toxic climate in which violence is more likely. Media Matters’ Eric Boehlert, who suggested after the Tiller murder that “O’Reilly and Fox News will have more right-wing vigilantism to explain,” selected some of O’Reilly’s most egregious statements demonizing Dr. Tiller. …
Hannah Arendt described the process of demagoguery leading to violence as it occurs in totalitarian regimes ranging from Hitler to Stalin. The demagogue frames the target, but leaves off a direct call for violence. But the message is clear. Unstable people often act first. Political ideologues, however, can be mobilized as the process continues to act as a group. Sara Robinson and I have been tracking the number of political murders since the inauguration of President Barack Obama. [See link below].
The people who “becked” Rep. Gabrielle Giffords began with a premise of dualism or Manicheaism, and then constructed a frame that uses demonization, scapegoating, and conspiracism to divide the world into a good ‘us’ and a bad ‘them’. …
Following the shooting of Rep. Giffords we once again heard calls for civility and pundits pointing out that hateful rhetoric is aimed at Republicans and conservatives by Democrats and their lefty allies. This is true, and I do object to liberals who hurl buckets of mud as we on the left are being buried in an avalanche of shit from right-wing demagogues with national television and radio programs, websites, and newspaper columns. The comparison is true in the manipulated facts yet false in the claim of equivalence.
Peter Daou writes about the bogus equivalency between right/left extremism in his post Gabriel Giffords and the rightwing hate machine.”The targeting of political scapegoats in our nation today is overwhelmingly coming from the Political Right. To claim otherwise is a lie easily debunked by even a modicum of research. A big lie. …
We who must speak out are not faced with death here in our nation this week. We are faced with our visage in a moral mirror looking back at our conscience which is telling us that we must speak out against the crescendo of totalitarian demagoguery. We must oppose the becking of our society.
How many more must die before we wake up and put a stop to this terrible trend?
Another important read on this subject is the 18-month-old Tragedy At The Holocaust Museum: Stand Up To Terrorism by Sara Robinson.
See also Marta Evry’s The “Becking” Of America: How Right-Wing Media and Politicians Incite Violence at Venice for Change.
Not surprisingly, Livestro’s views skew to the right. He helped to found the Edmund Burke Foundation, a right-wing Dutch think tank created to push back against progressive politics in the Netherlands. In one manifesto, citing the number of Muslims in the Netherlands, the foundation warned of ethnic conflict and said the country’s borders should be closed. In the Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland, Livestro once wrote that the gruesome photos depicting detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib resembled little more than an out-of-control frat party; he complained that Abu Ghraib critics were “cry-babies” exaggerating the episode’s signficiance. On his blog, Livestro similarly quipped that the CIA’s torture techniques—with the exception of waterboarding—were milder than the hazing methods of fraternities.
Livestro founded the Edmund Burke Foundation along with a fellow Dutch journalist named Bart Jan Spruyt, who went on to advise the virulently Islamophobic Dutch politician Geert Wilders. Spruyt accompanied Wilders on a trip to the United States in 2005, the purpose being for Wilders to publicize here “what is happening to his country because of the rise of radical Islam and why he is promoting a moratorium on non-western immigration.” (Spruyt has now distanced himself from Wilders.)
It’s no surprise that Palin would be tied to an anti-Muslim Dutch writer. Palin has stoked bigotry against Muslims herself, from referring to the president as Barack Hussein Obama to calling on “peaceful Muslims” to “refudiate” the “Ground Zero mosque” to defending Franklin Graham, who once called Islam a “very evil and wicked religion.” She’s also the hero of the Tea Party, a right-wing movement that’s no stranger to anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment.
Race and religion-baiting of President Obama and Muslims will be par for the course if/when Palin runs for president in 2012.