The people inhabiting broken systems often try to claim superior morality over people in other groups, even to be possessed of a superior set of virtues and ideals than non-members have. Disgraced judge and aspiring politician Roy Moore is someone who benefits from reaching the top of the ladder of a dysfunctional system that is possibly one of the worst and most broken out there. He does it by embodying his tribe’s virtues to the letter. I’ll show you what I mean by that–and what his system’s real virtues actually are. Worse, I’ll show you how Roy Moore may well have himself a lucrative career in politics thanks to how his broken system works.
First, though, I want to give you an overview of the concept of the broken system and how it works within Christianity.
The Broken System: An Overview.
A broken system is, at heart, a dysfunctional group: one in which predators roam free in search of prey, where people can be victimized for years because they’re too scared or discouraged to report it to anyone, where abuse can reign in families for generations upon generations, and where children are set up to fail by unwitting parents who were, themselves, failed by their own unwitting parents and so on and so forth back to the system’s creation.
Broken systems often begin with the highest ideals in mind. Often they’re created by people who’ve suffered in other broken systems but who haven’t figured out why their last group was so bad. Care has to be taken to build safeguards into the system at the start, from the ground up to the very top levels to prevent abuses from happening and to keep the most vulnerable people in the group safe. It’s almost impossible to add in those safeguards later–because it will not take long for predators to recognize weaknesses in the group’s structure and leap to take advantage of that opportunity before another predator does. Once enough abusers or predators hold power in a broken system, they will not easily let anything change.
The failures of this system are systemic rather than being isolated and individual failings. Every group is probably going to have at least one or two fringe members who aren’t exactly a glowing example of their group. A well-functioning group will be able to police itself and remove those members if they seem like they’re going to cause or become trouble somehow. It’ll be rare for such a person to achieve a position of real power within a well-functioning group before running afoul of the group’s safeguards. But when scandals erupt time after time in the group and especially when it’s always the same sorts of scandals and they are occurring at every level of power all the way up to the top, people in that group have to seriously consider the fact that somehow the fringe troublemakers got into power and have jealously guarded that power ever since.
In a system that is broken, it’ll be next to impossible to dislodge a troublesome person from leadership–because in a broken system, power guards itself. Those in power protect the other people in power at the expense of victims. They’ll hush up any fallout; they’ll silence victims; they’ll destroy anyone seeking to reform their group–and therefore potentially lessen their own power within it (or expose their own wrongdoing). Worse, the troublesome person in question knows that that is how the group will respond if and when the wrongdoing comes to light. Everyone in the group will all be downright shocked if anyone is ever held accountable for any damage done.
That’s why we keep seeing scandals coming out of the same end of extremist fundagelical Christianity and right-wing politics over and over again. That’s why these scandals take such similar forms, too.
And with all of this in mind, we turn to look upon Roy Moore, the disgraced Alabama judge and unrepentant Republican theocrat who may well become one of his state’s two senators in Congress soon.
Roy Moore has been kicked off the bench of his state’s Supreme Court not once but very nearly twice for fundagelical grandstanding. He’s lost two elections for the Alabama governor’s seat and pretty much everyone in his party despises him. But he’s still a political force to reckon with, as we see in Alabama’s senate race lately. He’s harder to dislodge than one of those stickfast fleas Lambchop was talking about earlier, and for the same reasons.
This fundagelical politician is absolutely the end-run result that anybody should expect of a Christian who has embraced fundagelical values and become their ultimate embodiment. He’s in fact the only result that makes sense, given those values and how tightly he’s embraced them. He shows us exactly what the reality of his ideology is–and what his tribe will do to the rest of us, if they are not denied and fought at every turn.
Roy Moore is the very worst sort of monster: one who really, truly believes that his imaginary friend, a real live god, told him to do the stuff he’s doing, and who really, truly believes that he is 100% in the right to do it. He’s swallowed whole his tribe’s real values. That makes him dangerous on a scale that can barely be described.
But what are these values?
It’s not uncommon at all for Christians to claim that not only do they have an objective morality that they have used to construct a set of values they call “Christian values.” By objective, of course, they mean handed down to humans by an ultimate authority, who is in this case their god. They don’t mean that this morality is consistent. Their morality is anything at all but consistent, despite their claims to the contrary. Nor do they mean that this set of values is always the same in every single situation for every single person–they’ll lie at the drop of a hat if they think it’ll help them sell their religion, for just one example. But they think that their god is unchanging (except when he does change) and that his opinions regarding humanity never alter (except when they do), so his law simply cannot ever shift even an inch to account for changes in society (except when it absolutely does precisely that). That’s what they think makes their morality objective.
Once they’ve established that nothing less than a real live god has demanded that they behave a certain way, it’s impossible to walk that back because their god cannot, in their debased and childish misunderstanding of their source documents, ever do that. Sometimes they can get away with saying they just misread their god’s will or misinterpreted something they read or felt, but these admissions can be disastrous in groups that go in for authoritarianism–which is exactly what fundagelical groups almost always do. It’s dangerous to suggest to authoritarian followers that sometimes a leader is wrong; it gets them thinking in very alarming new directions.
Once a Christian really believes that his or her imaginary friend is the source of objective morality, it doesn’t take much to go from there to believing that Christianity itself is the only wellspring from which values can flow. These values are values to these Christians precisely because their imaginary friend is thought to have pressed them upon a humankind hellbent on destroying itself through evildoing. Without everyone being forced to live according to these perfect, objectively-moral values, chaos and villainy would destroy humanity.
It was a real problem for me, when I was Christian way back when, to run into people who weren’t Christian but seemed like perfectly nice, decent people: charitable, kind, loving, and capable of a level of empathy I’d never seen among my own tribe. Values I’d previously thought were exclusively the domain of Christians were being shown in abundance by people who rejected Christianity with as much force as they could muster, while my own tribemates seemed to struggle so hard with showing those values.
That’s because the values I thought were “Christian values” weren’t exclusively Christian at all. But that doesn’t mean that there were no “Christian values” at all. No, not at all. Far from it. We did cultivate a set of values in ourselves, a dark-web, deep-driven set that we didn’t even recognize and would never have acknowledged. My tribemates were showing those values in abundance–and the non-Christians I knew weren’t showing much of them at all, if any at all.
I didn’t yet know that often people will have a stated goal that they say is totally what they want even if their behavior makes it highly unlikely that the goal will be met, while they actually put real work into bringing about their real but unstated goal. I didn’t know how to figure out what a person or group’s real goal was because I didn’t yet realize that the “values” we claimed to revere and said we were striving to meet were not the values we actually practiced, perfected, and admired.
Those are the real “Christian values.” And Roy Moore embodies them to a tee.
The first of his tribe’s primary virtues Roy Moore has demonstrated throughout his public life is willful ignorance.
Virtue #1: Willful Ignorance.
Willful ignorance is a state of deliberately avoiding information that contradict’s one’s beliefs, or which would require action of a person that they don’t really want to take. Like most of the harmful ideas in fundagelicalism, willful ignorance is an adaptation strategy of a sort, one that allows fundagelicals to function in a world that offers constant and unrelenting contradictions to every single one of their core beliefs and customs. Sometimes you hear willful ignorance described as sticking one’s head in the sand, and it is certainly reminiscent of that mental image, but it differs from simple self-deception because it is done to protect oneself from the consequences of engaging with reality.
One psychology professor points out the difference between willful ignorance and self-delusion by alluding to last year’s Presidential election. Most of us know people who were totally gung-ho about Donald Trump and were thrilled to help make him President. If we think those folks are simply self-deceived, then we’re a lot more forgiving; we think those people just got fooled by an expert manipulator into believing things about Trump that simply aren’t true. But if we think those people are willfully ignorant, we think they’re deliberately ignoring and avoiding the facts about Trump–and therefore we are much less sympathetic to them and much less likely to excuse their exuberance about someone who is a horrible person in every single way. It’s that element of knowing that there’s truth out there and deliberately avoiding it that makes the difference between plain ol’ self-deception and actual willful ignorance.
And fundagelicals are very, very adept in practicing willful ignorance. They have to be. A fundagelical who fails to practice this signal Christian virtue is going to stop being fundagelical pretty quickly.
A wealth of mental tools exist in a Christian’s mental toolbox to remain willfully ignorant. From thought-stopping phrases to compartmentalization to rationalization to bubble-bound insularity, it’s a marvel that any of them escape the religion.
When we look at Roy Moore, we see a man who practices willful ignorance like it is the only thing that matters to him. For just one example, he is a Christian Dominionist and theocrat… who is (record scratch!) also a judge who has served in his state’s highest court. He really, truly wants to make America a fundagelical-controlled, fundagelical-dominated nation where absolutely nothing but what he imagines to be “Biblical law” matters–with him in charge. I’m betting that at this point, even with the scandals roiling around him, he’s even entertaining visions of himself in the Oval Office.
The problem is, of course, that anybody who practices or adjudicates the law ought to know that in the United States, we have this big ol’ separation of church and state. That means that Christianity cannot be enshrined into our government, and that our government must eschew any favoritism regarding any religion at all. That a man in Moore’s position would be as deeply ignorant of the law he has been elected to adjudicate is disturbing, but when one views his actions through the lens of fundagelicals’ idolization of willful ignorance, it makes perfect sense.
He’s not deluded about the nature of the Separation Clause. He must know perfectly well that what he’s doing is totally unconstitutional. But he ignores that stuff because pushing for theocracy will, if successful, bring him even more power than he has now.
I’ve noted before that people in that end of Christianity appear to think that everyone around them is an idiot–but it’s not so much that as that they often excuse or rationalize away their behavior and opinions with truly bees-headed explanations that provide them with, they hope, plausible deniability. It’s motivated reasoning at its peak.The reason for this willful ignorance is that Christians like Roy Moore truly and really hate how the world is changing. They especially hate that they are no longer as dominant in American culture as they used to be. They ache to have that power back.
So the logical solution for them is to simply pretend that they never lost that power, and to act like they’ve always had it.
If you’ve ever known someone who’s really bad with money who refuses to look at their bank balance, or someone unhappy with their weight who doesn’t ever want to step on a scale, you are in a good position to understand why so many Christians profess ignorance of the rules that would stop them from pursuing unwarranted power that they don’t deserve, can’t be trusted to safely hold, and shouldn’t ever be allowed to wield. They think that if they just act like the rules never changed, if they just drill down harder on their rulebreaking, then everyone will eventually fall into line with their self-delusions.
That exact line of thinking has worked marvelously within Christian tribes to keep them a solid 50 years behind the rest of American society in terms of culture and civil rights. When they trot out that thinking around everyone else, though, it fails spectacularly–producing the second Christian virtue in their tribe, belligerence.
Virtue #2: Belligerence.
It’s no secret at all that fundagelicals aren’t just afraid of the changes they see in the world around themselves. They are also furious about how their own dominance has been eroding ever since those changes began. They went from being one of the most influential and powerful groups in America to being challenged and exposed at every turn as the hypocrites they are.
And I’m sure it’s very frustrating for them to see their power evaporate and dribble away like it has been. When people get frustrated and they never learned to manage their emotions well, they are going to lash out hard at whoever they possibly can. And that lashing-out often takes the form of belligerence.
Belligerence is a kind of sullen aggression, an eagerness for fighting, and a desire to abuse others (and pets, and property, and whatever else they can lash out against). Unlike simple irritation or annoyance, which can be soothed quickly by figuring out what’s got that person tetchy and helping them meet that need, a belligerent person won’t calm down or become more reasonable. They’re smoldering volcanoes: their anger will erupt again and again even when nothing’s happened to make them angry. They want to roar and beat their chests and trample things, and they literally don’t care what.
A belligerent person will go through life destroying everything around themselves. They’ll get fired repeatedly from jobs. They’ll lose good relationships. They’ll alienate their own children. But they will never engage with reality about why they’re like that. In their minds, they are in the right to feel this way, and everyone they are lashing out against is in the wrong. They’ll blame everyone but themselves for their outbursts and cruelty. Woe betide anybody who is forced to spend time with this person–or who has no choice in the matter. And woe betide any group that person feels drawn to join.
There is really only one way to deal with a truly belligerent person, and that is to get the hell away from them as fast as possible and to minimize the damage they can do.
I’d be hard-pressed to name any major group in America that fits that description better than fundagelicals. The seeds of their current belligerence could be easily seen in my days as a Christian, when people began using terms like prayer warrior and spiritual combat a lot and fantasizing about the Endtimes. But even I couldn’t have predicted their current rage. I’d never have imagined them becoming gun nuts or preppers, or rallying around causes like capital punishment and child abuse/neglect. I’d never have imagined them mistreating people in both real life and online by insulting them, abusing them, and laughing at their misfortunes. This kind of brutal aggression and gleeful, glittering-eyed abusiveness just wouldn’t have occurred to me then. But I hadn’t counted on Christians’ frustration and rage turning into outright belligerence.
And here Roy Moore shines as a perfect example of his tribe’s value of belligerence. He draws guns during rallies. He is downright vicious to the people his tribe has decided are their enemies. He wears a yokel’s hyuck-hyuck gee gawrsh grin as he pals around with people who think gay people should be executed under “biblical law.” In his dogged fight to keep his religious monuments in government offices and spaces, in his determined battle to shove his religion at others whether they consent to it or not, it’s easy to see him as that kind of aggressive.
Normally, someone that bees-headed wouldn’t get far in a highly-functional group. But in fundagelicalism, that’s exactly the kind of blowhard buffoonery that makes Christians in that end of the religion squee with delight. They, too, want to push back against their losses. They, too, want to abuse the people who are denying them power and privilege. They, too, want to hurt and lash out against everyone telling them they’re wrong.
But most of them know that if they reveal and express their anger and rage, they will be seriously penalized socially if not legally. So they seek heroes who’ll do that for them.
And right on time, here comes Roy Moore hyuck-hyucking in a ten-gallon hat riding in on a real honest-to-goodness horse and waving guns around saying he will totally give them exactly that power.
Roy Moore has capitalized on the third value in their world: tribalism.
Virtue #3: Tribalism.
The problem Moore has with marriage equality and women’s rights is that he is, at heart, a complete bigot who despises people who aren’t just like him or who don’t unabashedly support and further his interests. And whaddya know? What’s the chances? Somehow he found a form of religion that encouraged those traits and made them even worse through its value of tribalism.
When communities become too detached from reality and lose their compassion and empathy, they are at risk of turning into tribes. Tribalism demands homogeneity and lockstep from members, and tribal people tend to be really xenophobic and exclusionary–as well as ferociously cruel to the people they’ve decided are outsiders and therefore their enemies. Even someone who is in great standing in a tribe can fall from grace in an instant if the tribe thinks that that person is actually an outsider.
Fundagelicalism divides the world into categories of Others, with some categories being way more acceptable to the group’s members than others might be. Fundagelicals themselves have a complex mental system of assigning status to every single person they know or meet or hear about. People above them on the ladder of power are allowed to abuse them and must be obeyed. Anyone below them on the ladder can be abused and must obey.
Many of these Others turn into scapegoats and designated abuse victims for Christians’ wrath–people they can trample and oppose to the bitter end as a way of demonstrating their dominance and power, even to mark a living boundary between fundagelicals’ group and other groups.
In Christians’ conceptualization of the ladder of power, people who oppose fundagelical overreach or who represent defiance to that overreach (like feminists and LGBTQ folks) are always shunted to the lowest rungs of that ladder–and thus can be freely abused at will by anybody else above them without fear of reprisal. The powerless exist to be abused and used at will. And when the powerful people in the tribe do in fact turn out to be abusing the powerless, the tribe will circle the wagons around those people rather than protect and aid the victims of these abusers.
That’s why fundagelicals seem so tainted by control-lust. It’s a consequence of their tribal mentality. Power is all there is in their world, and the more of it they can grab the better their own lives will be. That’s why the scandals that erupt out of fundagelicals center around abuse of the vulnerable in their group: women and children, whose personal power was long ago stripped away and handed to men who in turn pretended they’d always use it wisely and honorably and compassionately. The exact opposite is far more likely to be the case: abusers see how powerless their would-be victims are and know that powerless people in broken systems can’t get help if they are abused and probably won’t even try to get help because they know what’ll happen if they speak against their tribal leaders. In this environment, the victims will be blamed for their own abuse. The abuser will get a free permission slip to continue preying upon others, meanwhile.
There is literally no other way for things to go when one group is thus stripped of power and then told that a god has demanded they obey those above them on the ladder. That is literally all that can possibly happen. There has never been any group that managed to disenfranchise whole demographics that did not turn out to be ruthlessly abusing the people thus stripped of power. Fervent faith in “Jesus” doesn’t change a thing, either.
By the same token, it doesn’t matter what a a tribemate does, especially if they’re higher on the ladder than those viewing the situation, as long as they don’t turn out to be secretly a member of a marginalized group or too sympathetic to those the tribe considers enemies. A tribe can tolerate any amount of wrongdoing in an insider, especially in one of the leaders of their tribe, as long as the tribal ladder of power is maintained.
Despite It All.
The fundagelical worldview not only encourages this kind of thinking but demands it.
These Christians all have tons of Bible verses backing up their assertions and opinions–verses that tell them to see the world in black-and-white, to divide themselves up into sharply-delineated groups, and to exclude all people they deem unfit for membership in their tribe. Some of them (like fundagelical pastor Joe Morecraft, who has never once been reprimanded or rebuked by his tribe for this exact sentiment that I’ve ever seen) even have elaborate arguments to explain why it’s totally okay for them to push for the literal enslavement of atheists under TRUE CHRISTIAN™ masters (like themselves).
Roy Moore is not only part of the fundagelical tribe, he’s a leader of it. And as long as they’ve seen that voting Republican is a requirement for the tribe, members will, as one millennial-aged Republican told HuffPo, “hold our noses–once again–to vote for a candidate that we don’t believe has the capability to get things done in Washington.” Women in Alabama might feel “disgust” and “fatigue” over the news surrounding the defiant fundagelical wannabe-cowboy, but they also have a sinking feeling that he’ll win the Senate race anyway because they know how their tribe works. And Moore’s fellow Republican politicians might be “reeling” over the depth of his wrongdoing, but they know the same thing.
That’s why hatemongers and abusers like Roy Moore just won’t go away. A sizeable number of people in Alabama regard him as a TRUE CHRISTIAN™, one of the only Christians they can actually trust in government to advance their tribe back to power again. In a weird way, too, they’re right. He is a TRUE CHRISTIAN™, embodying every one of their unstated values. If nothing else, they’ll vote for him because they’re not as certain of the tribal affiliations of his competition.
But friends: he’s also the embodiment of a religion that is on its last legs. He surely knows as well as anybody else–even if he won’t admit it to himself–that his religion is dying. People are leaving it faster than they are joining. People are rejecting his tribe’s message of anger, hatred, cruelty, exclusion, and bloodlust far more often than they are rallying around that foul banner. That’s why he’s pushing so hard. He wouldn’t be pulling any of his stunts if he felt secure in his tribe’s power and dominance.
That’s also why we cannot stop resisting fundagelical overreach–not now. Not with the results of that resistance slowly coming into view.
And I daresay we will not.
But it’s harder to defeat an enemy if we don’t know what motivates that enemy, and I truly hope that I’ve shown how Roy Moore and his tribe thinks and why they’re doing the stuff they’re doing. Thank you for reading along all this way. I know this was a long post and I’m grateful that you’re spending time here.
Next we’re going to look at Roy Moore’s dimwitted denials, not-pologies, and excuses for the accusations against him (as well as his tacit encouragement of retaliation against his accusers), because I thought they were grimly telling of just what kind of TRUE CHRISTIAN™ he is. And we’re gonna circle around to Second Glance, that movie we just reviewed, to look at the roots of today’s fundagelical.