Chris Hedges, author of American Fascists, has written a new article at AlterNet. In it, he claims that the war for the future of America is being won by the Christians. And not just your run of the mill moderate Christian, either. The antagonists in this narrative are much more akin to the Muslim extremists who have caused so much grief for the non-Muslim world for so long. They are intent, he claims, on literally taking over America and making it into a kind of Christian Totalitarian State, where the One True Indisputable Word of the Lord™ is the law of the land — even when it demands punishment for the crimes of homosexuality or even non-belief.
The Christian right defends itself in the legal and scientific jargon of modernity. Facts and opinions, once they are used “scientifically” to support the irrational, become interchangeable. Reality is no longer based on the gathering of facts and evidence. It is based on ideology. Facts are altered. Lies become true. Hannah Arendt called it “nihilistic relativism,” although a better phrase might be collective insanity.
Ironically, my main purpose in writing this article is not to bash religion, or even faith. (That’s not to say I think faith is irrelevant. Quite the contrary.) Instead, I intend it as a kind of follow up to my previous entry about priming. In it, I gave a brief catalog of the myriad ways in which Coke has insinuated itself into every aspect of our culture. In doing so, it has effectively won the culture war. It has become synonymous with everything we hold dear in America.
In the same way, I believe the Christians have won the culture war. I think Chris Hedges is right about the Christian Right, and if he’s exaggerating things, it isn’t by much. I grew up in the fledgling years of this movement, and I can clearly see that it has grown in size and strength.
“What convinces masses are not facts,” [Hannah] Arendt wrote in “Origins of Totalitarianism,” “and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system which they are presumably part. Repetition, somewhat overrated in importance because of the common belief in the masses’ inferior capacity to grasp and remember, is important because it convinces them of consistency in time.”
This is a somewhat convoluted way of stating the old truism: The lie, repeated often enough, becomes truth. America is a good example of this. We get tired of saying it, but we shouldn’t forget — Forty out of a hundred Americans don’t accept the scientific reality of evolution. In just the last few weeks, we’ve been able to add several absurdities to this one:
- Thomas Jefferson was… who was he? Certainly not important, whoever he might have been…
- McCarthy? American Hero.
- The Israeli-Palestine conflict? Part of the Global War on Terror
- The Confederacy? Made “significant contributions” to America.
In just the past few weeks, we’ve seen the re-writing of history in textbooks that will be used in classrooms all over America. Quite a few of us (even many progressives) have stood by while Arizona legislated a kind of police state in which anyone of “questionable” ethnic descent is targeted for legal harassment. (How would you feel if you knew that just being seen by a policeman would probably lead to being interrogated? Even if you have nothing to hide, it’s still a horrible way to live.)
I’m honestly a bit shocked by the lack of outrage and action over things like this. Do we not comprehend the implications of rewriting history with a Christian Fundamentalist bias? Have we completely forgotten that children are overwhelmingly likely to become what they are taught (indoctrinated) to become?
I believe that there are more atheists and agnostics in America than shown by the polls. It seems like every time I write a piece on the need for atheists to “come out,” I get at least two or three letters in my inbox* thanking me for helping them decide to live openly. The rabid fundamentalist fascists are growing in number, but they’re far from a majority. However, they’re anything but passive. They vote early and often, and they continue to vote with their feet, their pocketbooks, and through the media.
We, the tolerant liberals, are playing right into their hands. Chris Hedges explains it eloquently:
The rise of this Christian fascism, a rise we ignore at our peril, is being fueled by an ineffectual and bankrupt liberal class that has proved to be unable to roll back surging unemployment, protect us from speculators on Wall Street, or save our dispossessed working class from foreclosures, bankruptcies and misery. The liberal class has proved useless in combating the largest environmental disaster in our history, ending costly and futile imperial wars or stopping the corporate plundering of the nation. And the gutlessness of the liberal class has left it, and the values it represents, reviled and hated.
Make no mistake. Chris Hedges, by all accounts, is a liberal. He believes in plurality and tolerance as well as a soft and gentle version of theism. He is afraid of the far right. He thinks Bush was a horrible president. But he’s right about liberals. We have lost the culture war. We’ve lost the political war. We’ve lost the economic war.
Don’t believe me? Look around you and try to see your familiar surroundings from the perspective of an outsider. If you turn on the radio, will you hear any legitimate, respected liberal talk show hosts? Look at the highway billboards. How many have “messages from God,” and how many are promoting non-religious causes? Do you know how many lobbyists represent secular interests in America? (If not, check out the Secular Coalition for America homepage.) How many lobbyists represent religiously motivated interests? If you had to make a guess, how much money do you think flows (tax free) through church coffers each year? How much have we spent on abstinence only education? Faith based initiatives? Even with the remarkable success of atheist writers like Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins over the past decade, how do you think their book sales compare to the Left Behind series, or James Dobson’s manuals for child abuse?
When demand for Dobson as a speaker began to steal time from his own two children, he quit his job at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles in 1977 and started his radio program. Two years later, he summarized his parenting views in a seven-part Focus on the Family video series, which has now been seen by 70 million people. Rapid growth carried the ministry through five headquarters buildings and from California to Colorado Springs, where 1,300 people work in the $113 million enterprise.
Most of the Focus operation, which receives up to 12,000 letters, calls, and E-mails every day, is occupied with “constituent service.” In one pile of counseling requests at a random Focus cubicle, a long-distance trucker asks how to keep his family together when he is always gone; a woman deals with a miscarriage; a divorced man asks if it is OK to remarry. SOURCE
And folks, that’s just one guy. He’s kind of old news as the Christian Right goes.
If none of these observations convince you that we’ve already lost, consider this question: How do you think your life would change if you started wearing a large, noticeable atheist “A” necklace, or got a big “Darwin Fish” tattoo in a clearly visible spot? Do you think your life would be comparable to those of the hundreds of thousands of Christians who proudly wear crosses and sport Christian bumper stickers on their cars?
We’ve lost, folks. We’ve lost.
Can we turn our defeat into victory? I honestly don’t know. The Texas textbook disaster was just the latest in a series of events that has tempted me to pick up roots and find a secluded corner of the world to disappear into. America isn’t a very good place to live in a lot of ways right now, and it’s our fault — the liberals who have refused to play the game. We’ve turned tolerance into meek acceptance of intolerance. We’ve made the mistake of assuming that if only we live and let live, everyone else will, too.
Tolerance Sometimes Requires Intolerance
This isn’t a Bush-ism. It’s not a contradiction. If a culture is dedicated to egalitarianism and pluralism (in other words, tolerance of differences), then it must not tolerate intolerance when it leads to oppression, suppression, or criminalization of egalitarianism and pluralism. The tolerant must not be so accepting of other views that they can no longer freely express their own views or live their own lives.
I think that many liberals have used tolerance as a synonym for laziness. After all, America’s the land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. We don’t need to get out and sell our way of life because we’re happy to let everyone else live as they please. While we’ve sat quietly in our eco-friendly homes, smug in the knowledge that we’re not out there oppressing anyone, we’ve let the oppressors rise to power. We’re potentially one economic crisis away from coup. (Hint: There’s a big black stain covering half the Gulf of Mexico right this minute. Think it’s not going to hurt us economically? Think we’ve got a strong enough economy to absorb it?)
It sounds contradictory, but it’s true: Sometimes, you have to be aggressive in defense of non-aggression. When a small minority of theist wackos has the legitimate ability to take over a country as large and diverse as America, it is a failure of those who respect and desire freedom and diversity. We have tolerated ourselves into a corner, and now we’re being portrayed as the evil oppressors.
We can quibble over the subtleties of psychology, but we should not make the mistake of delaying an “Action Committee” until we have all the answers. Things will not get better without action on the part of those who demand tolerance and respect of differing viewpoints. The Christian Action Committees have been actively working since the 70s. We’re 4 decades behind, folks. There is no more time to wait.
Here are the things I think every freethinker, atheist, agnostic, skeptic, and liberal in America should be doing, right now:
- Living openly and proudly. We must not give credence to the lie that America is just a Christian nation. There are more atheists than blacks in America. Would anyone consider calling America a “White Nation”? It’s unthinkable!
- Realize that Christians are tithing. Donate to effective liberal causes. I suggest the Secular Coalition for America and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. If 15% of Americans (a rough estimate of the number of non-theists) donated a hundred dollars a year, it would be far, far less than the revenue of churches in America, but it would be far, far more than these organizations have to work with now.
- Vote with your vote. We need liberal, secular elected officials. Find them, support them, finance them, campaign for them. Campaign as if your children’s future depends on it. It probably does.
- Vote with your feet. Do you see religious injustice? Say something! Do something! Write letters. Protest. Organize task forces. Start non-profits. Start charities. Make the secular voice loud and clear. Do positive things for the world around you, and do them as a proud non-theist. Refuse to give God the credit for what you have done.
- Realize that tolerance does not equal silence. If there is one thing I wish I could change about liberals, it is this. Being tolerant is NOT the same as refusing to voice dissent, or refusing to hurt anyone’s feelings. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. If you feel like you’re right and someone else is wrong, present your case. If you can’t convince them, that’s fine, but a truly open society is one in which all ideas are challenged, and with any luck, the ones that are most true are the ones that will hold up to scrutiny.
- Realize that fighting is harder than remaining passive. I’m not going to suggest that your life will improve if you do these things. It probably won’t. You might lose friends and family. You might lose economic opportunities. You might be an outcast. BUT THAT’S EXACTLY WHY WE MUST ALL DO THESE THINGS. It is wrong for 15% of the country to be unable to live openly and honestly, and this will not change unless we face the people who would silence us and say, “We are not afraid of you. We are willing to accept your negative sanctions in the name of true freedom.”
I’m making a challenge to every atheist reading this blog today. If you are not out, come out. If you have not done something in the last month to help support a secular cause, do something. Today. Donate now. Tell one of your friends that you’re an atheist. Today. Make the leap and commit yourself to action. We are as many as they are. We have as much potential power as they do. But we must act in order to affect change.
To return to the original theme of today’s entry, I believe we have “the truth,” in as far as egalitarianism is a much better way of organizing a society than totalitarianism. What we don’t have is repetition, priming, and visibility. Our truth has not been told enough times to be accepted as truth. The lie has thousands more repetitions every hour than the truth. In that sense, the truth will avail us nothing. We must accept human nature for what it is and fight this fight on the real battleground — the unconscious and conscious minds of millions of humans who will accept whatever is repeated the most times.
* Want to email me? Find me on Facebook! It’s Hamby Dammit. Two words. Not one.