Secular Sabotage!

In their never-ending quest to elevate every ranting wingnut to the same status as genuine experts, the Washington Post has given a guest column to Bill Donohue – the extreme right-wing Catholic bully whose sole purpose in life is seeking out things to be offended by. Whether it’s The Simpsons, the “secular Jews” who run Hollywood and hate Christianity, store greeters who say “Happy Holidays”, or monogamous gay couples who want to adopt children, no insult or indignity against the Catholic church is too minor for Donohue to ignore – except, that is, for priests who sexually molest children and are protected by the church hierarchy, which he views as no big deal.

Let’s consider Donohue’s column one point at a time, starting at the beginning:

There are many ways cultural nihilists are busy trying to sabotage America these days: multiculturalism is used as a club to beat down Western civilization in the classroom…

Yet as I mentioned, Donohue has no qualms about using his own “offense” as a club to beat others. He successfully used this tactic to get two well-known feminist bloggers fired from the John Edwards campaign in 2008. Clearly, the source of his complaint is that he’s no longer the only one who can dictate to others what they can and cannot say in order not to offend him.

…artists use their artistic freedoms to mock Christianity… Today’s radicals are intellectually spent: they want to annihilate American culture, having absolutely nothing to put in its place.

If this is what Donohue considers “sabotaging” America, then the First Amendment sabotages America. Citizens of this country have always had the right to speak their minds, to criticize, and to parody. And that doesn’t make us “cultural nihilists”, it makes us people with a different value system than the scrunched-up wad of indiscriminate rage that apparently constitutes his entire worldview.

Sexual libertines… have sought to pervert society by acting out on their own perversions. What motivates them most of all is a pathological hatred of Christianity. They know, deep down, that what they are doing is wrong, and they shudder at the dreaded words, “Thou Shalt Not.” But they continue with their death-style anyway.

The Washington Post, ladies and gentlemen. Is this gibbering, spittle-flecked screed really the sort of garbage they want gracing their editorial pages? (If you don’t think so, e-mail onfaith@washingtonpost.com and let them know your views.)

Self-awareness is not a strong trait of the religious right, and this passage shows it. Donohue whines at length about how secularists mock him, but that’s only because he makes himself an irresistible target for mockery. Just think of the gigantic ego required to seriously argue that the world revolves around your personal likes and dislikes, and that everyone who believes or acts differently than you is doing it on purpose, just to be spiteful. What satirist could resist the chance to puncture such ludicrously inflated pretensions? How could one not tweak a nose that’s so invitingly bulbous and red?

This rant does illustrate a larger point, however. When it comes to religion, many expert pundits and theologians solemnly aver that we atheists are the nasty, rude, uncivil extremists who are making our cause look bad. Why is that criticism never applied in the other direction? Why are bigots like Donohue allowed to rant on about “death-styles” and “perversions” without condemnation, while we secularists are condescendingly chastised just for standing up and calling this delusional nonsense what it is? If the gatekeepers had their way, this debate would be reduced to Donohue and those like him standing on the ramparts and hurling bombs down at us, while we’d be forbidden to reply.

There was a time when Hollywood made reverential movies about Christianity. But those days are long gone. Now they just insult.

Yes indeed, the days of the Hays Code are long gone. That self-imposed industry code of censorship required that “no film… may throw ridicule on any religious faith”, nor could ministers be presented as comic relief or as villains. Doubtless, Bill Donohue looks back fondly on those days. But for the record, it also banned films from presenting “sex relationships between the white and black races”. Donohue is silent on whether he’s nostalgic for that rule, but since it seems clear that he views the Hays Code as a net positive, one would have to conclude, at the very least, that he considers anti-miscegenation laws an acceptable compromise if he also gets anti-blasphemy laws out of the bargain.

I want to emphasize this point, because I think it’s important to notice how religious conservatives consistently whitewash the uglier parts of our history when speaking of the past. They pine for the good old days, the era of perceived respect and civility, while steadfastly ignoring the virulent racism, sexism and prejudice of all kinds that ran rampant. This is a subtle form of racism in itself, and we shouldn’t let it pass unchallenged. Ask one, the next time you encounter them: Do you believe that the civil rights movement was a good thing? And if so, doesn’t that disprove your claims about the moral decay of civilization by showing that, at least in some ways, our society is morally better today than in past generations?

The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State harbor an agenda to smash the last vestiges of Christianity in America. Lying about their real motives, they say their fidelity is to the Constitution. But there is nothing in the Constitution that sanctions the censorship of religious speech.

Quite true, but there most definitely is something in the Constitution (that pesky First Amendment again!) that forbids the government from endorsing or supporting any particular religious view. This is a distinction that the religious right consistently fails to grasp. As Donohue already admitted, his desire is that Catholicism be the only belief system protected from attack or criticism, while everyone else is fair game.

Catholics were once the mainstay of the Democratic Party; now the gay activists are in charge.

The irony is, as pointed out in a comment on Donohue’s column, Catholics hold many top positions in the Democratic party – including the Speaker of the House, the Vice President, and last election’s presidential nominee – and are actually overrepresented relative to their share of the population as a whole. Indeed, Catholics voted for Obama over McCain by a nine-point margin. This just goes to show that Catholic laypeople are more progressive than the stultifying views of their self-appointed leaders.

And finally, in closing, comes this truly incredible wingnuttery:

The good news is that religious conservatives continue to breed like rabbits, while secular saboteurs have shut down: they’re too busy walking their dogs, going to bathhouses and aborting their kids. Time, it seems, is on the side of the angels.

While Donohue dreams of a rosy future overpopulated by desperately poor and uneducated Catholic faithful, the sad truth is that every reliable survey has shown rates of atheism, freethought, and support for gay rights rising in every generation.

It is remarkable, however, how openly the right-wingers have given up on winning the battle of ideas. Instead, they’ve set their hopes on outbreeding their enemies. Clearly, the only people they expect to be able to convince are young, susceptible children. This in itself is the best sign that we’re winning the culture war. Donohue’s shrill, vile rant is the swan song of a demagogue who’s fading into the dust of history, and knows it.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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