Roy Moore and the Tide of Irrationality

As you may have noticed, it looks like the next U.S. Senator from Alabama, taking the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, will be former judge Roy Moore. Moore won the Republican primary, defeating the appointed incumbent, Luther Strange. Strange, an obsequiously loyal Trump supporter, was apparently not conservative enough for Alabama voters. Moore was twice elected as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, and twice removed from office because of his disrespect for the law. On the first occasion, he defied court orders to remove “Roy’s Rock,” a multi-ton monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments, from state property in Montgomery. The second time he was removed for defying the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage by directing probate judges to continue to respect Alabama’s ban on same-sex unions. For Moore, a fundamentalist’s fundamentalist, the Law of God (as infallibly revealed to him) is infinitely superior to any merely human laws, such as the U.S. Constitution.

The purpose of this post, however, is not merely to engage in political commentary (well, that too), but to raise a deeper issue: Moore’s success shows that it is impossible for a candidate to be too right-wing for Alabama voters. Moore is as far as you can go on the ideological scale; they just do not come any purer. He is a Bible-believin’, gay & lesbian hatin’, gun totin’, evolution denyin’, put-God-back-in-the-schools True Believer. It is a fair supposition that the voters that supported him also fit that description. In that case, we have to ask ourselves what, if anything, can be done about the fact that millions of our fellow citizens, concentrated in broad swaths of the country, adhere to an ideology that is both absurd and vicious.

What is the rational approach to fanatical irrationality? How do you deal with the American Taliban? Obviously, rational argument is out. I once heard people of Moore’s ilk described as those who will believe anything you tell them—except the truth. How can you convince the proudly, defiantly, adamantly ignorant? What about ridicule? During the Scopes trial of 1925 H.L. Mencken characterized the citizens of Dayton, Tennessee as “anthropoid rabble” and laughed at fundamentalists as “halfwits” who worship in “galvanized iron tabernacles behind the railroad yards.” Should we depend upon Bill Maher or Samantha Bee to mock today’s True Believers into silence? But ridicule only works on those who have a sense of shame, and those who are doing the Work of the Lord can feel no shame. Will they all just die off? No; like original sin, fanaticism is passed from one generation to the next. Will they ultimately become discouraged as they experience repeated defeats, like the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage? Yet big defeats for the religious right, such as the removal of “Roy’s Rock” and Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube, only provoked them to histrionic displays of rage and determination to fight even harder.

Normally, the wisdom would be to fight an idea with another idea. However, what we are dealing with here is much deeper than an idea; it is much more like a cult. If an individual is immersed in a cult, he or she can be deprogrammed, but how do you deprogram millions? Ideologies are also like addictions. A system of invincible dogmas works on the mind like an opiate, creating a strong dependence that requires regular infusions of the drug. Addicts can become sober, but it is a long and difficult process, and cannot be done at all unless the addict is genuinely committed to change. Again, though, if you are doing the Lord’s Work , you will have no motivation to change, whatever defeats or frustrations you encounter.

Do I think that we are going to descend into a theocratic dystopia, something like The Handmaid’s Tale? No, but if we cannot change fundamentalists we will have to keep fighting them. Who will lead us in this fight with the Democratic Party in shambles? “Establishment” Republicans do the bidding of their billionaire masters while throwing enough red-meat rhetoric to their far-right base to keep getting elected. No hope there.

I hope you are not reading this thinking that I have any answers. I’m fresh out. Anybody?