I know this is probably not a really big surprise, but the Republican Party of the United States has a real image problem with racism. And given its close association with Christianity (not for nothing do I and others sometimes refer to it as the Jesus Party), that is a problem for more than one reason.
Hypocrisy ain’t anything new in the Christian world. In Matthew 23:25, we have Jesus’ ghostwriters having him yell at hypocrites about how carefully they clean the outside of their cups and plates, while leaving the insides–which nobody can see–filthy. But that verse is one of the forgotten ones, I guess. Republicans–the vast majority of whom are Christians–present themselves as equal opportunity types, but then you get them alone and you hear eye-popping crazy talk like from Don Yelton, who was forced to resign this week from his political position as his state’s precinct Republican chair after a shockingly racist interview he gave the Daily Show (his response to the outcry, btw, was to accuse his party of having “no guts,” because being a stone-cold racist takes guts apparently). And you know, I could have picked any one of dozens if not hundreds of similar examples. For a party that is trying hard to reach out to minorities and women, the Republican Party seems to be doing every single thing it can think of to alienate both (see this article for some rather surprising stats about the GOP’s War on Women). It’s not even hard to find examples of their glaring flaws.
See, we all know the mating call of the racist by now: “I’m not racist but…” followed by something deeply, hideously, shockingly racist. It’s like it’s very important to the racist not to think of him- or herself as racist. Alas, they are in fact racist. Everybody sees that fact except themselves. They think that race denotes qualities across the spectrum. They think that people of other races are inferior to themselves. They impart qualities to all members of a race, and those qualities are usually rather negative–and when those qualities are positive, they have some very clear and tangible benefit to the racist (like “hard-working Mexicans” or “submissive Filipinas”).
And they try very hard to cloak their racism with more acceptable terms. By now they know that most people don’t like hearing racist “jokes” or claims. So they disguise their racism. When I hear Republican politicians speak, I hear these dog-whistles: They aren’t like “us.” We can’t let “them” get power again. We must take back “our” country. They’re trying to scare the hell out of white people. And there was a time when that tactic worked.
The whole Tea Party platform seems built upon racial baiting and fearmongering, with obviously made-up stories like that of “Kiara of Baltimore” who is a young black woman with a very “black” name, a sassy attitude, and four babydaddies–and no intention of seeking work when there are all these wonderful handouts available to her. Obviously Kiara is a fiction; her last name is not given, and no proof of these claims about her lifestyle are provided. But I’ve seen that image show up on the ol’ Facebook feed several times amid angry outcries about the undeserving poor even from celebrities’ feeds. Nobody questions where it came from, who it’s depicting, or if its facts are real. I wonder how they’d react if they knew that there are about as many white people as black people on welfare, or that most people on welfare are quite deserving: aged, children, or the disabled. But the truth’s not anywhere near as fun as race-baiting, is it?
These politicians speak about property rights and try to claim that it’s not them speaking but their god, who just never meant for races to get into mixed marriages and they’re just following orders. They claim they’re against the President not because of his race but because of his policies, but betray the truth by spreading racist “jokes” and stories about him and his Otherness–including one rather shocking event in which protesters sang “Bye Bye Black Sheep.” (And, too, there’s that explosion of racist hate groups in the US after Obama’s election.)
But they’re not racist. Racists are bad, and they can’t possibly be bad.
I’m picking on racists here because racism presents a very clear and easy way to see an ego defense at work. People don’t want to think of themselves in negative terms, so they’ll hold this totally inaccurate view of themselves that totally doesn’t match the reality of how they actually behave. There are a whole raft of cognitive biases that discuss why it is that humans need to believe things about ourselves that are patently not true, but nowhere do we see those biases in effect more than we do when we’re looking at our most uncomfortable features.
I saw this in gaming often as well, when I administered a large online game. Often we’d get a player who wanted to play a very intelligent or devious character in the game, but the player him/herself might not be either very intelligent or devious. Or we’d get a player with no discipline whatsoever or any understanding of military protocol who wanted to jump right into a military officer character. It was very tough to figure out how to handle that situation. It’s not that hard to play someone about as smart or wise as yourself. It’s a little harder to play someone a bit denser, but way harder still to play someone much more intelligent than oneself. Over time, I adopted the view as a Game Master that in such cases, I help by giving minor bits of advice or offering a perspective the player might not have seen but that the character surely would have, but such advice and perspectives had to be offered in a purely game-oriented manner and very delicately so as not to offend the player.
Such advice was needed because the player’s view of him/herself just didn’t match the character. And sometimes a player would get quite offended at the suggestion that s/he was portraying a totally different character than intended. One young woman was very proud of her super-spy–and very dismayed to learn that most of the rest of the game thought her super-spy was an idiot. She thought she was portraying an insouciant Black Butler type of character (if you don’t feel like clicking, that’s a Japanese anime about a demonic butler; the term “black” here doesn’t refer to his race), but in reality her habit of dozing off in taverns, being very obviously conspicuously someone who wasn’t what she seemed, and missing important hints made people think she was rather dense. She got really offended–how dare we not treat her character like the dazzling super-spy she was portraying?
Another player had a teenaged character who she thought she was playing like a street-kid who’d found a home at last; the teenager didn’t know her colors, how to count or read, spoke in baby-babble, was emotionally stunted, and had a bizarrely toddler-like view of the world. She had this character for years and I went almost that whole time thinking she was brilliantly depicting a character who was mentally challenged. It was only toward the end when I was leaving that game and complimented her sensitive handling of the differently-abled that I discovered that wasn’t what she’d been trying to do at all. The player got pretty pissed, actually. She’d thought all this time she’d been portraying a quirky, super-intelligent teenager. I can promise you nobody in that game except her thought this character was quirky and super-intelligent. I felt terrible about hurting her feelings, but there was quite seriously no way I could have thought anything else given what she was doing.
In the same way, we often have these self-images of ourselves that form a core of beliefs about who we are and what we are that may have next to nothing to do with how we actually portray ourselves to the world. David Wong, who I am convinced is one of the smartest human beings alive, wrote about this briefly in a piece he did on Cracked called Five Popular Beliefs That Are Holding Humanity Back–#4, if you’re heading there, and I expect you back soon so we can finish this thing. When we act outside of that core of beliefs, when we do something that is categorically not in keeping with our delusions about who and what we are, we try our best to ignore those signals. When we can’t ignore those signals, we try to rationalize them: “I was drunk.” Or “I was so mad that I lost control.” We try to convince ourselves–and others–that whatever we did or said, that wasn’t who we really are inside. We have this idea of ourselves that we hold up to the world, and this idea may not have much to do with how we actually behave.
One thing that’s stuck with me, post-Christianity, is that Bible verse, Matthew 12:34, about “out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Other cultures might say it “In wine, truth.” We recognize that when we’re down and dirty, when we’re completely unguarded, when our tongues are loosed and our emotions left to run free, we say those things that we really mean. We speak the truth as we know it. And sometimes that truth is really ugly.
That’s why couples have to be really careful about arguing. Sometimes you say something that cannot be apologized for or un-said. Sometimes you do something you can’t just walk back. No matter how many apologies you may make, that thing you said or did might be the bridge too far. Your partner will always remember the breathtaking crack of the whip you wielded, and the pain of it will be like a scorpion sting that flares up for years after the initial attack. But I think that pain hurts like it does and lasts like it does because in that attack, you said something that was totally true and totally real, and your partner knows it. The illusion you portray about who you are fell away for a moment, and while many illusions can be tacked back up in place, your cup broke: it will never be new again. Your illusion will never cover up the truth like it did before.
That’s why nobody but Republicans are fooled by the “I’m not a racist but…” statements. We know that yes, they are in fact quite racist. They may protest, they may say that the core of who they are certainly is not racist, but racist is as racist does. And what they do is racist. Either their behavior is lying, or they are. And the behavior is quite clear to see so we know that’s not where the disconnect is happening.
For example, one incident that may well have sunk Mitt Romney’s shot at the presidency, one that mightily highlighted the disconnect between his self-image and reality, involved his dog Seamus. For a vacation, he strapped the poor dog into a crate on the roof of his station wagon and set off on a 12-hour road trip. The dog was so terrified that it shat its crate, prompting Romney to stop the car, get out, hose the dog off, put the poor thing back into the crate and the crate on the roof, and get back into the car and keep driving. People freaked out–I think almost more at the fact that Romney and his family saw nothing wrong at all with doing that to a helpless animal than about the incident itself. The story featured in attack ads on Romney from other candidates and was considered a mark and indicator of Romney’s weirdly sociopathic and inhuman character. He said he loved dogs, but his behavior told us something entirely different. We listened to the dog’s terror and distress, not to Romney’s protests about being a dog lover. We were willing to believe him up to a point, but Seamus drove us past that point.
When it comes down to a question between someone’s observed behavior and someone’s ego-defensive illusion about what kind of person he or she is, I’m going to go with the behavior to tell me what sort of person I’m dealing with. It’s downright abusive to tell me that I’m not allowed to judge a person’s character based on what I can see and what I experience at that person’s hands. If it bothers someone that I do so, then the solution seems quite clear: make the behavior match a little better, one way or the other, with the claims.
It’s like these toxic Christians are saying “No, no, I’m really loving! You’re not allowed to think I’m hateful! I’m not hateful at all!” They do it because their self-conception requires them to be loving. Love is no less than the primary commandment from their very own Messiah, after all. Either they don’t understand what love even is, as we’ve discussed here before, or else they do but they’re not showing it. And either way, it translates into me not feeling loved at all but rather judged and condemned (all the Christian comments about non-Christians being the “spawn of Satan” and threatening me in lurid detail with the eternal torture and rape I’ll be facing at demonic hands for not believing in the idea of this Prince of Peace and God of Love probably doesn’t help much either, and by the way, this happened yesterday).
If someone tells me he or she loves me but treats me in a hateful manner, then no, I’m not going to believe I’m loved, and I’m not even going to feel bad about not buying that person’s delusional insistence to the contrary. If someone tells me he or she believes in women owning their own bodies but only up to a certain point, then no, I’m not going to believe that person really thinks women own their own bodies. If someone says he or she isn’t a racist but then says something really racist or joins a hate group or something, then you can bet I’m going to think that person is actually a racist. That’s why that “love the sinner, hate the sin” horsepuckey doesn’t work anymore–the rest of us figured out how very similar such treatment feels to just hating the sinner.
And I think we’re collectively losing patience in indulging and humoring people’s harmful self-delusions. I perceive that society’s way less willing to believe delusional insistence than maybe it used to be. We’re pulling away masks and peering inside hypocrites’ cups.
It can be frightening to have one’s mask peeled away, for the pristine-looking cup to be examined and shown to be filthy inside. But that’s how people grow and learn. We can’t improve ourselves if we refuse to look at reality.
Christianity will not improve till more of its people understand that there’s this massive disconnect between what sort of people they think they are, and how they actually act toward others. You can’t fix what you can’t even see is wrong. And non-Christians and Christians alike need to hold people accountable when they say stuff that flies in the face of their cherished self-image, just as we are starting to hold Republicans accountable every time they say something that doesn’t fit their self-image.
As it stands, though, when a Christian says or does something sheerly hateful and cruel, chances are other Christians will just rally around that person and cheer on the behavior. Even when a pastor gets caught diddling someone underaged, chances are the congregation will rally around the pastor and blame his victim instead. When a youth pastor gets caught lying about his credentials, chances are his leadership team will cover up for him and blame everybody else for bringing up the charges. When a Christian refuses to serve a gay couple (because Jesus never would have made a cake for a gay couple, right?), chances are thousands and thousands of Christians will loudly bray about how meeeeeeean the rest of the world is for being so intolerant of the Christian’s intolerance. When a fast food restaurant comes out as being shockingly bigoted toward gay people, chances are that failed Presidential contenders and other hypocritical Christians will form lines way out the doors (this site might be satirical but the chain did see record-breaking sales on the days of the protests) to demonstrate how much they hate and fear the idea of gay people having rights. But we’re not supposed to think they’re bigoted and hateful? Sure, they helped Chick-Fil-A get record sales, but what do you think they did to their image as a result of these lines they formed? Do you suppose gay people feel loved by seeing those lines of ignorant Christians waiting to support a business that promoted bigotry?
The cup is dirty on the inside. We see that. We know that. The question is, do the Christians so busy polishing these cups and holding them up to the world realize how dirty that cup is inside? I seriously don’t think they do.
If the behavior doesn’t match the claims a person makes about what kind of person s/he is, then believe the behavior. Always believe the behavior. We get into so much drama by not believing the behavior we see in others. I still wonder what my life would have been like if I’d believed my preacher ex’s behavior over his words. That’s not a mistake I will ever make again.
To sum up, I’ll quote something a very wise friend used as a .sig a while ago (I know I’ve quoted this before but it stands to be said again):
Don’t tell me you love me. Let me guess.
And I’ll quote Maya Angelou:
The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.