The Rising of the Sun

In most of the Western world, today is Christmas Day. We rationalists know that, despite the meandering of the calendar and all the religious mythology that’s become encrusted on it, this date was first chosen for its astronomical significance. The winter solstice is an inflection point, after which ancient people knew dark days would brighten and long nights would dwindle as the sun returned. That’s what we’re really celebrating, and all the “Keep Christ in Christmas” signs in the world won’t change that.

There’s a parallel here worth exploring. These last few years in America, we freethinkers and progressives have been living through a cold winter of our own. We’ve witnessed the rise of an aggressive, theocratic faction of conservatism, which has brought on a blizzard of brutal attacks on choice, on voting rights, on the social safety net, and more. Despite having a Democratic president, it seems as though preserving the accomplishments of the past has been the most we’ve been able to accomplish, and often not even that.

And yet, in the midst of this darkness, there are glimmers of light. Healthcare reform stumbled out of the gate, but it’s steadily picking up steam. The non-religious continue their demographic ascent. And what odds would you have given twelve months ago that Utah, of all states, would have marriage equality by the end of 2013?

It’s stories like these that make me think America is going through its own winter solstice season. It’s not that our long night is over, but we’ve hit an inflection point: we can see change coming, up ahead on the horizon.

And I think the religious right knows this too. I’m not the only one who’s noticed how their rhetoric has reached a fever pitch of hysteria – accusing President Obama of being a Muslim-socialist-atheist usurper, making absolute non-cooperation a precondition for all their politicians, trying to drum up support for secession, nullification, and violent rebellion.

Above-it-all pundits have bemoaned the “gridlock” and “hyperpartisanship” of our era, apportioning blame equally among the parties, without ever attempting to explain why things have gotten so bad. Well, I have the answer for that.

The cause of these convulsions is privileged distress on a massive scale, as white Christian conservatives realize they’re losing their power to unilaterally dictate the direction of the country. Taking their place is a coalition of younger, more multiracial, less religious voters – and the old guard is obsessed with the idea that these upstarts are immoral, undeserving, and will bring America to ruin. It’s shocking how willing they are to say this openly, as in the recent Wall Street Journal editorial that, no joke, laments the end of WASP rule.

Barack Obama, a black man with a mixed ethnic heritage and a funny name, is like a composite of everything they fear. (The exception to this is that he was Christian and not, say, Muslim – but they were happy to fix that detail.) And as disheartening as his election was for them, his re-election made it even worse, confirming that his first win was no aberration but the sign of a demographic change that may be permanent. Their wailing and rending of garments over Mitt Romney’s loss can be understood in this light.

Their plan now, insofar as they have one, is a strategy of massive resistance to slow down political change and cling to power as long as possible. We saw it with voter ID laws: after the Supreme Court disgracefully invalidated the Voting Rights Act, state after state raced to pass the most restrictive laws possible, trying their utmost to weaken and dilute the power of women and minority voters. We saw it in the brick-wall obstruction that Republicans put up against health-care reform – unanimous opposition in Congress, a torrent of lawsuits, blunt refusal to set up state exchanges, and now outside groups spending millions on TV ads trying to convince people not to buy the insurance they now have access to.

We saw it in the Senate, where minority Republicans were dead-set on filibustering any judge nominated by President Obama, because they didn’t think a Democratic president should be allowed to make appointments that would change the balance of the courts. That absolutism backfired when it finally pushed the Senate majority to abolish the filibuster for presidential nominees – but even now, Republicans are still gumming up the process as much as they can by petulantly demanding the maximum 30 hours of debate for every vote.

We saw it in the House, where a dead-ender majority passed a record low number of bills, of which more than 40 were demands for the repeal of Obamacare. This culminated in the historic embarassment that was the two-week government shutdown, which likewise came about as a failed attempt by Republicans to blackmail the Senate into repealing health-care reform.

So, as infuriating as these stonewall tactics are, we should recognize what it means. The religious right believes it’s losing the culture war, and they’re acting accordingly, lashing out in fury with all the tools they still possess, trying to build walls to hold off the future as long as possible. And when your opponents think they’re losing, you should believe them. For true-blue American liberals, this may be the darkest hour of the night. But that just means the sun will be rising all the sooner.

Image credit: savillent

About Adam Lee

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

  • L.Long

    Yes I agree and have stated before that as the secularists win battles the war on brains gets fierce and intense as the as the intelligence-damaged fundies push back ever harder. Although there is a distance spark of light, the various ‘liars4jesus’ just get louder and louder, cuz we all know that the louder you yell the more truthful it is…;-}

  • Jason Wexler

    Just to be provocative, the religious right is correct. The rise of secularism and multiculturalism will mean the end of America, or at least the America of their imagination. Everything they like and find familiar, comforting and symbolic of what it means to be American is being or will be dismantled over the course of next several decades perhaps the whole century. In that sense America as they understand it will cease to exist, it is the beginning of the end of their America. As time progresses conservatism will come to embrace the values we are now espousing and then nash it’s teeth once again as progress takes over and moves America forward again beyond the framework that will develop from our current evolution. So America will always be in decline as old ideas that were good at one time fail to function any longer and new better ways of living and being and doing replace them. This will likely be so until such time that any sort of innate psychological tendency towards conservatism is bred out of our species. Do any of the evolutionary biologists here now what is the shortest time it can take for that sort of mutation to occur naturally?

  • Jason Wexler

    I read the WSJ article lamenting the end of WASP rule, and it reminded me of Gore Vidal, whose writings mostly lamented the disappearance of the elite culture to which he was raised in. Although I do think the author may have had a reasonable point about “good” schools only having good reputation as opposed to offering good education, although that begs the question of why those “good” Ivy league schools are such a vaunted part of WASP culture; I think he also made a decent point in suggesting that American education as it currently is practiced is only useful for producing good students.

  • Azkyroth

    Of course, America as they imagine it never existed.

  • Pito Rosario

    Indeed, the solstice has arrived. Have a happy one, Adam and all!

  • Sean Hoade

    Hear, hear! Extremely well done.

  • Dave Ucannottaknow

    AMEN!!! With only one point of disagreement, which is with how you invoke race –
    it doesn’t matter what color you are, you may just as easily be religious or atheist,
    and you may or may not be bigoted. As a white man who is the former, and not
    the latter, I am sick of being demonized while other groups are presumed
    necessarily blameless. Why must atheists, or any idea groups be divided by race?

    Since race has been invoked, let’s discuss groups. It simply isn’t fact that
    non-white racial groups are any less naturally prejudiced against people who
    are different from them, as is demonstrated by their behavior in countries where
    they rule. SMART people of any race transcend that natural fear, which leads to
    unfair discrimination – this is a real problem which people need to overcome,
    if they are going to help make their world a better place for all to live in!

    It may be true that factions of bigots have led the white majority against other
    people, while bandying their common religion as justification (that’s what
    religion is for – it makes otherwise open-minded people afraid of others, and
    then enables those who are willing to do the dirty deeds which maintain comfort
    for the majority), but THIS white guy is on your side, and will hang out with
    intelligent people of any color!

    I don’t think it helps any that people are still boxed into race groups at all –
    there’s nothing more scientific about this based on skin color than creating
    racial divisions between white people of different hair and eye color (which the
    Nazis tried to do)! As I see it, skin color isn’t much less a social distinction
    now than it ever was. In a time when racial discrimination and harassment is in
    most parts of this country socially abhorrent, people now reinforce it as such
    whenever they identify themselves with that distinction, draw a line in the sand,
    and then dare those from outside to cross it! Your skin color should be a
    descriptive factor, nothing more, and the people who you can describe only for
    their white skin are not the bad guys!

    By the way, I really love that photo!

  • Dave Ucannottaknow

    I just love the fact that they applied a concept once defined by one of their least favorite people (Walt Disney), which he called “imagineering”!

  • Dave Ucannottaknow

    Yeah, folks – let’s not get too overconfident! Such a victory dance is gratifying, but the scenario which I lived through more than thirty years ago will be happening more than ever in the coming year, at youth rallies across the US. The youth-rally weapon is far more dangerous than the Accelerated Christian School programs which a few kids have had to endure (been there, done that), because they exploit the raging hormones of youth – they actually get children to go voluntarily. Imagine stadiums packed with 12-15-year-olds, lured in by the chance to travel from their podunk towns, explore the city, stay overnight in hotels, make some new friends, and escape parental supervision for awhile. All this, while basking in the glorious inspiration of feeling connected to such a huge crowd, in a movement which appeals directly to themselves as the new soldiers for Christ! At the center of that stadium is a preacher, one whose stock in trade is the warping of young minds, and he is saying:

    THERE’S A WAR GOING ON!!!
    Will you take the cross for Christ?
    If you want to stand for Jesus, then I want to hear you say
    I WANT THE CROSS!!!

    …and the crowd, with fists pumping in the air, shouts back “I WANT THE CROSS! Hundreds leave their seats, step forward into the arena. Warm hands are placed on their heads, and new foot-soldiers are SAVED into their god’s army! This enemy army still has billions of dollars to throw at the new generations, and (as recently demonstated in Russia and Uganda), they won’t mind using our potential physical enemies against us if it ultimately comes to them losing America. On that, we still have a long way to go on winning that war, and we don’t want to let our guard down!

  • Azkyroth
  • Dave Ucannottaknow

    Excuse me, but if you are going to call “shit” my opinions, and my appeals to treated with the same fairness as you would demand of me, then I can legitmately write off any need to respect YOUR complaints!

    It really would be a shame if atheism should lose the ground which it has gained just because it’s most vocal proponents are angry at the wrong people, practicing the same racial intolerance in reverse as what they (legitimately) complain about. Become as bad as the real enemy, and you become no better (and deserve no better than) your enemy!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Yes, it bears emphasizing that the golden age they pine for never actually existed. But the fantasy is just as dangerous.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    With only one point of disagreement, which is with how you invoke race – it doesn’t matter what color you are, you may just as easily be religious or atheist, and you may or may not be bigoted.

    That’s strictly true, but not particularly relevant to this post. The fact is that you can’t understand American politics, either in the past or in the present, without understanding the racial divisions in this country. The religious right has always made it part and parcel of their strategy to stir up racial animosity among whites against non-whites, as a way of keeping their own power base unified by creating an external enemy for them to hate and fear.

    That was true in the era of slavery, it was true in the era of Jim Crow, and it’s still true today, when the racial division between the parties is wider than ever. The only thing that’s changed is that it’s no longer acceptable to use racist slurs openly, and so the religious right has to sow prejudice more subtly, using coded dog-whistle language. (One 20th century example was when Ronald Reagan kicked off a presidential campaign in a Mississippi town where three civil rights workers were murdered by declaring, “I believe in states’ rights.”)

    As a white man who is the former, and not the latter, I am sick of being demonized while other groups are presumed necessarily blameless.

    Then I suggest you target your anger on the racists who act in ways that reflect badly on all white people, rather than complain about how you’re being “demonized” when people of color point out the very real policies, both de jure and de facto, that still exist and that still privilege white people above other racial groups.

  • David_Evans

    For the sake of pedantry, let me point out that the inflection points in the amount of sunlight per day are actually the equinoxes (or near them) not the solstices. See http://mathworld.wolfram.com/InflectionPoint.html
    Admittedly, not many people agree with me. Like “exponentially larger”, it may be a phrase in which the mathematical meaning has been swamped by common usage.

  • Dave Ucannottaknow

    On relevancy – the condition of race, and it’s so-called influence on religiosity, is what YOU raised, not me! I contend that religious behavior, and the tendency to justify evil deeds with religous ideas has nothing to do with race, and that contention would be consistent with modern anthropologists such as Jared Diamond. The fact that white people have used it to maintain a political climate favorable to their interests in America does not say that a different race would have behaved any differently had they been in control. Japanese society is not a racially-diverse country because it is so disrespectful of it’s “gaijin” population, and non-black persons have traditionally had no rights at all in certain African countries. As for the notion of white people being more religious, how many WASPs live in Brazil? Please stop implying that white people, as a group are uniquely evil – this is what I disagree with you on, and it is very relevant to what you said!

    Adam, I am not angry – not unless I am being unfairly mischaracterized, which I believe is the case here. How dare you suggest that I am somehow responsible for the evil which other white people have committed – that sort of crap is for religious people! As it happens, I was NOT born to wealth, nor social status, but every time I took a state or federal employment exam, it was I who was unfairly discriminated against, and for no better reason than my skin color! The decision to award extra, unearned points to racial minorities under the premise that they are all culturally illiterate is an implied insult to those within those groups who are at least as intelligent and well-spoken as I am, and is no less unfair to white people who’s only “privilege” was being raised in a trailer!

    What I suggest for you is to take care not to become yourself that very sort of evil which you write against. The reality of this world (and the point which I strive to make) is that humans, like all sighted animals throughout the course of evolution, have the natural tendency to favor those who look most like their own – this ancient animal trait will not be expunged during our lifetimes, therefore the best that we can hope for is to mitigate it’s impact as best as possible. What I fear is that a stable, harmonious coexistence (as opposed to a continued state of brutal contention) will be that much more difficult to maintain as long as we identify ourselves by the cultural barriers which are unfortunately still maintained by so many – and they do this every time they point to a different group, as one for which to lay blame! This is what keeps those walls from falling! Contrarily, it wasn’t white people who enslaved black people (this group, for most of the time span of the 16-19th centuries had as many or more white opponents to the practice as those who supported it) – it was a group of insensitive, selfish dolts who happened to be white, and it is critical that this difference be understood before any good change can happen. It happened because this group opportunistically seized on presumptions and misconceptions which minds such as Jared Diamond (in Guns, Germs, and Steel) have since helped to clear up on people who were (at the time) discovered in less techologically-advanced cultures). As with any social change (gays are a relevent example), the abolition of social evils can only happen when an overwhelming majority demands this – this takes a very long time, and then it takes centuries more before a culture is cleansed of Jim-Crowe evils and likewise hatred. On gays, the people who have hated them have not been, and are not all white!

    I cannot expect that you will upload this comment after you axed my counter-response to Azkyroth’s extremely rude, anti-intellectual reply, and I find it shocking that you would be so petty – what is important, if you are to have influence on the American people, is that YOU should read and understand the above!

  • Dave Ucannottaknow

    You said:
    “The fact is that you can’t understand American politics, either in the
    past or in the present, without understanding the racial divisions in
    this country. The religious right has always made it part and
    parcel of their strategy to stir up racial animosity among whites
    against non-whites, as a way of keeping their own power base unified by
    creating an external enemy for them to hate and fear.”

    All true, I cannot disagree here. But it’s no reason to blame white people as a group for what happened – it just happened that the majority which held the power was white, culturally Christian, and that the worst among them used Christianity to justify their evil treatement of those who they got others among them to view as “lesser” people. This is unfortunate, and disgraceful, but I still don’t like the implication that white descendents of people who worked in a Utica beer plant deserve such hatred for those people’s misdeeds. Hating the beer they produce would be something different!


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