bookmark_borderIs the Religious Right Finished?

This week was a bad week for right-wingers. The Supreme Court (I hate the acronym “SCOTUS.” Sounds like a disreputable body part.) upheld the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) against a challenge that would have removed the federal subsidy for health insurance purchase in non-participating (red) states. Then, just yesterday, came an even crueler blow when the Court struck down state bans on gay marriage. State officials here in Texas were apoplectic or lachrymose, vowing no surrender. Speaking of Glorious Lost Causes, neo-Confederates got a kick to the dentures when rebel flags started to come down across the south. Even the Republican governors of Alabama and South Carolina said that the Confederate Battle Flag is a symbol of racism and hatred and has no place on public property. The choruses of wailing, moaning, and gnashing of teeth wafting from the right were music to my liberal ears.
The ruling striking down gay marriage bans comes on the tail of a remarkable turnaround in public opinion. As recently as 2004, George W. Bush could run successfully on a campaign of “fears, smears, and queers,” that is, by playing up fear of terrorism, smearing John Kerry with the “swift boat” stuff, and decrying the “gay agenda.” Ten years ago a strong majority disapproved of gay marriage, and this has turned into strong approval. Does this ruling and the groundswell of public approval mean that the religious right has shot its bolt? Is it finished? After all, opposition to gay marriage is a big-ticket item for them, one of their key and defining issues. Braving charges of homophobia, they cast down the gauntlet and drew lines in the sand. Will the Court’s ruling impact them like the Scopes trial did in the 1920s? Will they now be castigated and humiliated in the media, held up as archetypical bigots and obscurantists, lampooned by every wag and wit with a microphone? Will they skulk off for a few decades at least, to lick their wounds and await a new day?
I think that any news of the demise of the religious right is grossly exaggerated. They have gotten a lot smarter since the 1920s. If beaten in open battle, they resort to guerilla attacks. Take abortion, which is as big or bigger issue for the religious right than gay rights. When Roe v. Wade recognized abortion as a constitutional right, it could no longer be attacked head-on. When you enter public office in Texas you have to swear to uphold the law and the Constitution. What they have done, then, is to try to make abortion die the death of a thousand small cuts. Bit, by bit, they chip away at it, with rules that make it more onerous, humiliating, or intimidating for women seeking abortions and harder for abortion clinics to stay open. For instance, anyone seeking abortion is required to get an ultrasound in hopes that image of the “baby” will shame her into backing off. Abortion clinics are required to meet unnecessarily strict standards, and abortion doctors must have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The net result is that clinics get closed, leaving only a few in the state. Since these measures cannot be defended as attempts to deny to women a constitutional right, they are risibly justified as “empowering” women or promoting their safety.
So, I think that the religious right will not surrender or even retreat. They will just start launching sneaky attacks on gay marriage, just like they do on abortion. One trick that the religious right has learned is to defend their agenda with the rhetoric of progressives. Thus, as noted above, laws designed to prevent women’s choices are defended as “empowering.” Likewise, instead of attacking gays directly, the new rhetoric will support “religious liberty.” State legislatures, as I am sure we will see in Texas, will offer a plethora of bills ostensibly to defend the freedom of religion but really intended to defend the freedom to discriminate. The argument will be that some people (conservative Christians) regard gay marriage as sinful on the basis of sincere and deeply held religious convictions, and therefore it would be an infringement of their religious freedom to require that they so act as to promote or sanction actions they regard as sinful. Really, it is amazing how creative fundamentalist legislators can be at coming up with underhanded ways to undermine federal rulings.
So, while we might pop a cork to celebrate the ruling, now is not the time for complacency about the religious right. On the contrary, we have to become a lot more vigilant in sniffing out their schemes and machinations. When they go behind the scenes, we have to drag them out into the daylight and expose the sleazy rhetoric they use to cloak bigotry in the language of progress. We have to be emphatic that freedom of religion does not include the freedom to make people into second class citizens because they are LGBT (actually, transgender will be the next big battleground).
Actually, the thing that might hurt the religious right the most is that the movement is graying. According to the polls I have seen, young people are moving farther away from the social conservative agenda, so demographics might do the job that the Supreme Court cannot. Gen X and the Millennials have grown up with more positive models of gay people in the media and with openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual friends and relatives. They have a hard time seeing that these people are deserving of hell because of whom they love. Will Southern Baptists have openly gay ministers in fifty years? Not impossible, I would say.

bookmark_borderParsons is Mean

Someone named Randal Rauser thinks I am being mean to fundamentalists:
I am. I ain’t a Christian. I don’t turn the other cheek or love my enemies or pray for those that say mean things about atheists.
What justifies ridicule? The ridiculous deserves to be ridiculed. Well, we should spare the innocent ridiculousness of those who cannot help it–the genuinely, pathetically dimwitted or uneducated. But pernicious, aggressive ridiculousness by smart, educated people who are attempting to foist their ridiculousness on the rest of us–that richly deserves ridicule. Those who attempt to use the power of the state to cram their fatuous, hateful ideology down the throats of everyone else–by having creationism taught in the public schools, say–are contemptible and fully deserving of contemptuous laughter. I heard Lewis Black do a terrific rant on creationism. Priceless.
The only interesting issue raised in Rauser’s post is how we define “fundamentalist.” Can we do no better than to say, after Alvin Plantinga, that a fundamentalist is a “stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine”? First, as to the “stupid” characterization: It may well be that most stupid people are fundamentalists, but it certainly is not the case that all fundamentalists are stupid. Some are very smart, or at least very clever. It is the clever ones we should ridicule. Chiefly though, it is the doctrine, fundamentalism, that should be ridiculed, not individual fundamentalists. What is fundamentalism? I identify it with the following doctrines/positions:
1) Biblical inerrancy: This is the view that the canonical books of the Protestant Bible (in the “original autographs”) are not only reliable in matters of morals or faith, but are scientifically, historically, and in every way true in every detail and contain no inconsistencies, discrepancies, or error of any sort. Lot’s wife really did turn into a pillar of salt. Sampson really did pull down that temple on the Philistines. There really was an earth-covering flood and an Ark full of animals. The walls of Jericho really did tumble down at the trumpet blast. The snake really did talk to the naked woman in the garden. Balaam’s donkey spoke, too. Jonah really was in the belly of the whale, er, great fish, for three days. The Nile really did turn into blood and the first-born of every Egyptian household was slain. Samuel really did tell Saul to commit genocide on the Amalekites. Elisha really did curse the children in the name of the Lord, and two she-bears mauled forty two of the children. Jesus really is coming back in glory to kick the Antichrist into hell. Really.
2) Extreme social conservatism. Marriage must be between one man and one woman (It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve). In fact, sexual love between a man and a man or a woman and a woman is sinful and morally reprehensible. Organizations should be allowed to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against gays. The Boy Scouts should not admit gays. Abortion is wrong under all circumstances. Even pregnancies due to rape or incest must not be terminated. (Oh, I forgot. Some fundamentalists believe that a woman’s body will shut down and prevent pregnancy by rape). Even contraception is suspect for some fundamentalists. A woman should not have the choice to terminate her pregnancy. In fact, women should mainly be wives and mothers, since that is their Biblically-appointed role. “KInder, Kuche, Kirche (children, cooking, and church)” as the Germans used to say. A wife should accept the authority of her husband and recognize that he is the head of the household. There should be sectarian prayer in the public schools. This country was founded on Christian (i.e. fundamentalist) principles.
3) Young Earth Creationism. The universe was created from six to ten thousand years ago in six literal days, as it says in Genesis. Macroevolution did not occur, and is, in fact, a Satanic lie. The geological record is explained by the Noachian Flood. Humans and the great apes are not related. Dinosaurs were on the Ark with Noah. T. rex was a harmless herbivore before the Fall of Man. There is no evidence for evolution. There are no intermediate fossils. There is no genetic evidence for evolution. Organisms were created of basically the same “kind” they are now. Human languages became diverse at the Tower of Babel. Evolutionary theory is only atheist ideology.
Now, if fundamentalism were only practiced by consenting adults, I might snicker at it in private with friends. But the advocates of such preposterous stuff are very, very aggressive in propagandizing for it f and in trying to get laws passed to impose it on everyone. Therefore, if public ridicule is an effective counter-measure, we need to go for it.

bookmark_borderHow do you Solve a Problem like Fundamentalism?

This is an insightful and accurate description of the pernicious effects of fundamentalism on, well, everything.
I particularly like the last paragraph which is an antidote to the overly-optimistic bromides you often hear about how education, particularly science education, is the cure for the current plague of anti-intellectualism and fundamentalism. Baloney. Trying to stem fundamentalism with education is like trying to put out a five-alarm fire with an eyedropper. For education to succeed, there has to be some degree of receptivity, and fundamentalism is extremely effective at hermetically sealing the channels into the human brain. No, fundamentalism must be fought, not with physical violence (at least not in this country…yet), but in several ways:
1) Intellectually: The pseudo-intellectual basis of fundamentalist polemic and ideology should be systematically dismantled. It would be great if there were some one site you could consult that would carry authoritative, point-by-point, in-your-face refutations of all major fundamentalist and religious right claims. Many of these critiques already exist, for instance at Talk.Origins and other anti-creationist and anti-fundamentalist sites. It would be great to have these brought together in one convenient location. Of course, maintaining such a site and keeping it current would be a lot of work and would probably keep a team of volunteers busy, but it would be a great resource. Naturally, the site would not aim at convincing fundamentalists. It would exist to provide ammunition for people to oppose fundamentalist polemic. For instance, when I hear some fundamentalist saying that you can “pray the gay away,” I would love to have one site where I could go that would give a clear, focused rebuttal that would cite the legitimate scientific sources and take that nonsense apart piece by piece.
2) Politically: Here, actually, we have seen some real progress. In the last election fundamentalist idiots were taken to task when they said particularly stupid things, especially stupid things about women. Fundamentalist beliefs really are out of the mainstream, especially with younger people. Much of what needs to be done here is to alert people to what fundamentalists REALLY believe. They really believe that a woman should submit to the authority of her husband. They really believe that abortion should be illegal even when the pregnancy is due to rape or incest. They really believe that there is something terribly wrong with gay people. They really believe that Jesus is soon coming back in glory for a genocidal Second Coming. They REALLY believe these things. Not much could be more damaging to fundamentalism than to let people know what they really believe. When a fundamentalist is running for office, we must pressure them to admit what they really believe. Make them say that they think a raped woman should be denied an abortion. Make them say that we don’t need to do anything about climate change because Jesus is coming back soon. Make them say it.
3) Culturally: I think that Tina Fey’s wicked satire of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live probably had as much to do with the defeat of the McCain/Palin ticket in ’08 as anything else. Fey made it devastatingly clear just how clueless and fatuous Palin really is. “A single belly-laugh is worth a thousand syllogisms” said H.L. Mencken. Fundamentalism and fundamentalists should be ridiculed in the media, by comedians, or wherever. You don’t have to worry about fairness, since, as Poe’s Law famously notes, no satire can possibly be more absurd than the real thing. Come on. You just can’t come up with anything more ridiculous than someone who honestly thinks that all human woes stem from an incident in which a talking snake accosted a naked woman in a primeval garden and talked her into eating a piece of fruit. Again, most ridicule would consist of pointedly drawing attention to what they really believe. Nothing could be fairer than that. As a sign admonished on The Simpsons, put the fun back in fundamentalism. Laugh it to death.