Intemperate Personal Hostility on the Secular Left

A provocative figure on the political Right, Andrew Breitbart, died suddenly, of natural causes, very early in the morning on 1 March.  He was forty-three years old.

A remarkable number of bloggers and tweeters on the political Left vocally celebrated his death, which leaves his wife a widow and his four young children orphans.

Reading Jim Geraghty’s reflections on this distasteful phenomenon, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the, to my mind, truly extraordinary personal hostility that I and other believing Latter-day Saints have encountered from many ex-Mormons of a secularizing bent.

Once or twice, I’ve started to keep an unsystematic file of some of the epithets and insults that have been hurled my way — many of them too obscene to cite here — but I’ve never followed through with the effort, and have long since mislaid most of them.  Here, though, are three relatively mild samples from the single surviving file that I can locate:

“Dan Peterson is a condescending, passive-aggressive douchebag.”

“one of the most evil and degenerate people that the Church has ever produced”

“a mean self-important ego-maniac”

Unfortunately, I’ve misplaced or lost the ones that call for my early death, lampoon my appearance, propose various plans to get me fired and ruin my career and/or engineer my excommunication from my church, and pronounce me a pervert, and I’m deliberately excluding the comments about my children, the obscene remarks about my wife, and other charming things of that sort.  I’ve been threatened with law suits.  I’ve actually been sued, for $4.5 million dollars (good luck with that!), on utterly frivolous grounds.  (Incidentally, the case was ultimately dismissed by the judge “with prejudice,” but not before it had consumed considerable time and money for approximately two years.)  I’ve been described for many years now by a certain class of my critics as a sadist, a slanderer, an incompetent pseudo-scholar, a fantasist of homicidal violence, a Nazi-sympathizer, a deliberate destroyer of families, a racist, a religious bigot, an anti-Semite, a misogynist, a madman, a “homophobe,” a voyeur, a conscious wrecker of jobs, a theo-fascist, and etc.  And, of course, many more times than I can possibly count, as a liar.

I think I can honestly say that I feel no such hostility toward those with whom I disagree, and have never felt it.  In fact, I’m on friendly terms with a number of very negative critics of my religious beliefs, as with many who don’t share my libertarian-leaning conservative political views.  And — my writing is on public display, easily accessible for inspection — I simply don’t write such things about other people.

The reactions of some Left-leaning bloggers and tweeters to Andrew Breitbart’s death also reminded me of the late Christopher Hitchens’s graceless remarks on the death of Rev. Jerry Falwell back in 2007.

Hitchens had, famously, been a Trotskyite for much of his life, and, although he later came to be associated by many people with the Neoconservative Right because of his support for “the war on terror,” he pretty clearly remained a man of the Left.  (I myself support the poorly named “war on terror” in general and in principle, but I often suspected, rather uncomfortably, that Hitchens’s enthusiasm for it owed as much to his deep hostility to religion in general and to Islam in particular as to any political ideas we might share.)

I’m guessing — it’s a reasonably informed guess — that most if not all of those rejoicing in the death of Andrew Breitbart are not only on the relatively far Left politically but religiously secular.

Which leaves me wondering whether this vitriolic personal hatred might be a peculiar characteristic of some on the secular Left, and, if so, why that would be.  (I honestly don’t know.)

So far as I’m aware, few if any on the Right or among strong religious believers responded with glee to the announcement of Hitchens’s ultimately fatal esophageal cancer.  (Quite the contrary, in fact:  Many Christian believers included him in their prayers.)  I’m not aware of anybody chortling with repulsive joy at his death.  (If anybody did, it was surely not in the conservative or religious equivalent of Slate, where Christopher Hitchens published his reaction to Rev. Falwell’s death, or on CNN, where he voiced similar sentiments.)

And, although there are more than a few believing Mormons who, under the anonymity of the internet, allow themselves to say things that they shouldn’t, I genuinely don’t think I see the level of vitriol and venom among on-line Mormons that I see all too often among their opposites on line.  Somebody can probably find a few exceptions but, in my experience, real bloodcurdling nastiness is, at a minimum, far more common coming from the other side.

(A couple of years ago, seated at an open air cafe in Vienna, I found myself only a few feet away from Bill Maher.  I’m not, to put it mildly, a fan of his.  I don’t even think he’s particularly funny, just mildly clever and strikingly shallow  And he’s been quite vicious in his mockery of my religious beliefs.  But, even though I had a plate of Hungarian goulash in front of me that would obviously have looked very nice dripping from his head, I found it easy to resist the temptation, and didn’t even say anything to him.)

My sense is that most if not quite all of the agnostic/atheistic critics of Mormonism who engage in such intemperate, hateful, personal attacks on believing Latter-day Saints (or, at least, on the hated Mormon “apologists”) are also on the political Left — indeed, fairly far over on the spectrum.

Is there something about the intersection of Leftist politics and secularizing worldviews that permits certain personality types to so dehumanize their opponents?  To forget that those they’re seeking to destroy are real people, with families and friends?

I’m sincerely puzzled by the phenomenon.

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