Sunday, January 14, 2007
Something Under the Bed Is Drooling
The delicious thrill of the lurking monster is a hallmark of our species, H. storytellis. From the big bad wolf to John Hurt leaning over the alien pod, from Grendel to the Communist Menace, we delight in frightening ourselves for entertainment ... and more serious pursuits.
I am not immune from this meme. I've repeatedly (um, at least one, two, three, four, five, six times) shared the shiver of the theocrat hiding under the bed, as taken from Michelle Goldberg's recent book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism.
Now there is a new book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, by Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent for The New York Times. And, according to this review by Jon Wiener, a history professor at the University of California, Irvine, there are chills aplenty to be had in Hedges' offering:
[Hedges] joins a five-day "Evangelism Explosion" seminar in Florida to learn tactics for converting people to the Christian right's version of Christ. That conference is run by D. James Kennedy, whose The Coral Ridge Hour is seen weekly on more than 600 TV stations. There, he and 60 other people learn the sales pitch and how to fake friendship for the potential convert. ...
But the key message Hedges and the others are taught to deliver is that conversion obliterates "our fear of death, not only for ourselves, but the fear we have of losing those we love" - for example, children or spouses fighting in Iraq. This, Hedges argues, is "not only dishonest but cruel," because the fear of death cannot be banished.
As Wiener is quick to point out, that is going over the top, rather like Michael Myers getting up from clearly deadly wounds one too many times.[T]he goal of the Christian right is "not simply conversion but also eventual recruitment into a political movement to create a Christian nation," where constitutional freedoms would be replaced by biblical law, as interpreted by evangelical leaders. Kennedy has been clear about this goal: "As the vice regents of God," the Florida-based minister has written, "we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government," as well as "our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors. ... "
If the conservative Christians come to power, Hedges asserts, evangelical leaders such as Kennedy, Falwell and Robertson could be "calling for the punishment, detention and quarantining of gays and lesbians - as well as abortionists, Muslims and other nonbelievers." Thus, Hedges concludes, the United States today faces an internal threat analogous to that posed by the Nazis in Weimar Germany.
There are problems with this analogy. First, democracy in America is much stronger than it was in Weimar Germany in 1933. Nor is the Christian right as widespread or powerful as Hedges suggests.
Hedges concludes that the Christian right "should no longer be tolerated," because it "would destroy the tolerance that makes an open society possible." What does he think should be done? He endorses the view that "any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law," and therefore we should treat "incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal." Thus he rejects the First Amendment protections for freedom of speech and religion, and court rulings that permit prosecution for speech only if there is an imminent threat to particular individuals.
Hedges advocates passage of federal hate-crimes legislation prohibiting intolerance, but he doesn't really explain how it would work.
Prosecuting Pat Robertson for his preaching is likely to win him more sympathy and support, not less. There is a stronger answer to those who want to prohibit speech they consider wrong and dangerous: The solution is not less speech but more. Argue back. Debate your opponents. Fight arguments with better ones. Challenge them in elections with strong candidates. That's the way to preserve the tolerance that Hedges values.Let's not scare our own democracy to death.
This may be primarily in reference to their 'TeenPact legislature'. But the ambiguity, combined with their declared goals of influencing legislation, and the deeply fundamental beliefs espoused by the leaders, does make me worry.
But that's their right. Just as it's our right to check every politician's resume and vote against anyone from these places and to publicize how far out of the mainstream they are. If Kansas is any bell weather (and what redder state is there?) regular Republicans are getting pretty sick of the Righteous Right too.