Well you’re high on top of your mountain of woe

We recently looked at quantifiable evidence showing that white evangelicals have a delusional persecution complex.

The tide of public opinion condemning white evangelicals’ defense of legal discrimination against LGBT people has only intensified that sense of imagined grievance and martyrdom.

“It’s as if we’re second-class citizens now because we support the traditional, biblical definition of marriage,” Fox News commentator Todd Starnes whined. And CBN’s David Brody argued that white evangelicals are now “more scorned than homosexuals.”

This is nonsense. Paul Waldman and Steve Benen both offer good summaries of why such claims from people like Starnes and Brody are wildly inaccurate. Losing an argument is not the same thing as legal persecution.

Here’s Waldman on “Oppressed Christians and Second-Class Citizenship“:

The impulse to jam that crown of thorns down on your head is a powerful one in politics. It means you’ve achieved the moral superiority of the victim, and the other side must be the victimizer. The problem is that these folks don’t seem to have much of a grasp on what second-class citizenship actually looks like. Last time I checked, nobody was forbidden to vote because they’re a Christian, or not allowed to eat in their choice of restaurants, or forced to use separate water fountains, or even be forbidden by the state to marry the person of their choice. That’s what second-class citizenship is. Having somebody on television call your views retrograde may not be fun, but it doesn’t make you a second-class citizen.

Of course, they say, “Just you wait.” But these fantasies of oppression are just that, fantasies. One of their favorite scare stories is that before you know it, Christian ministers are going to be hauled off to jail or have their churches lose their tax-exempt status if they refuse to marry gay people. Right, just like at the moment a Jewish synagogue will lose its tax-exempt status if the rabbi won’t preside over a Pentecostal wedding.

And here’s Benen on “When a persecution complex goes awry“:

As much as I hate to break up a good pity party, it’s worth noting that conservative evangelicals are not actually oppressed, at least not in this country. They’re losing public debates — failing to persuade the American mainstream is not the same thing as persecution — but no one has proposed stopping social conservatives from getting married, or adopting, or serving in the military. When conservative evangelicals get elected to Congress, it’s not a historic breakthrough. When social conservatives look for equality, they don’t wait patiently for a Supreme Court ruling to decide whether they’ll get it.

They’re eager to make others second-class citizens, but as these efforts stumble, conservative evangelicals have convinced themselves that they’re the real second-class citizens.

I think the panic we’re seeing from folks like Brody and Starnes reflects their growing realization not just that the tide has turned against them in their culture war, but that their own side is not regarded as the moral one.

The one thing they had been sure of was that they were morally superior. Losing any given battle in the culture war was tolerable because they could, at least, reassure themselves that they had been fighting for goodness and truth and righteousness. But when it comes to discrimination against LGBT people, not only are they losing, but their defeat is celebrated as a triumph for goodness and truth and righteousness. They’re slowly beginning to realize that they are not the Good Guys in this story.

I wrote about this just after the election in November, so allow me to repeat a bit of that here:

For decades, the religious right has been pre-occupied with two issues above all else: abortion and homosexuality. And on both of those issues, they have wielded power and influence by claiming the moral high ground — claiming to represent the godly, “biblical” truth of right and wrong. Anyone who disagreed with them on these issues was portrayed as less moral, less godly, less good.

That claim — that framing of these issues as right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, biblical vs. unbiblical, moral vs. immoral — was asserted and accepted for most of the religious right’s 30-year run.

But not any more. That claim is still being asserted, but it is no longer being accepted.

Part of what happened on Tuesday was that millions of people rejected that claim on moral grounds. This was not just a political or pragmatic disagreement that preserved their essential claim of godly morality. It was a powerful counter-claim — the claim that the religious right is advocating immoral, unjust and cruelly unfair policies on both of its hallmark issues. Knee-jerk opposition to legal abortion and to gay rights weren’t just rejected as bad policy, but as bad morals — as being on the wrong side of right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, biblical vs. unbiblical, moral vs. immoral.


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LBCF, No. 186: ‘Lone Gunmen’
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LBCF, No. 186: ‘Lone Gunmen’

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  • Mary

    I think one of the things that the anti-gay people do not understand is that there is a lot of hate and fear being spread and although there are some who simply disagree with the gay “lifestyle”, the movement in general is hateful.
    Yeah not everybody is like Fred Phelps, however when the Republican Party states in it’s platform that “gay marriage attacks the very foundations of our society” (and presumably civilization as well) how is that not hate?
    If disgreeing with someone’s personal choices involves hysterical propositions like this then you can be sure that it is homophobia. In other words, fear and hate. Not just disagreement.
    As someone who is not gay but very accepting I have been tossed out of my naive idea that homosexual relationships are generally accepted in this society. It makes me feel sick and sad for all those who are bombarded with hate just because they are different. The amount of suffering they go through everyday can in no way compare to these Christians who claim to be “persecuted.” It is like Hitler claiming that the Jews were persecuting him!

  • Fanraeth

    I think I love you.

  • arcseconds

    Yes, I don’t think one can simultaneously and consistently hold that we should only look to the entity’s current mental capacities to judge moral worth, and think that it’s OK to kill animals, and that infanticide is bad. An adult chicken is a lot more mentally competent than a new-born human infant.

    (Even being a vegan doesn’t get you out of this. If you think it’s OK or even right to put down animals in, say, the circumstance that the animal has no hope of much ongoing quality of life, then the same should apply to a newborn. If not, there’s something at stake other than mental capacities.)

    And yes, as you point out, Peter Singer is the foremost representative of this kind of view point. He’s pro-infanticide in some circumstances. He points out that actually medical practice in the recent past hasn’t been above ‘letting die’ in the case of severely malformed infants.

    However, one might wonder how right it is to ascribe everything to current mental capacities. We don’t think it’s any better to rob me while I’m unconscious, do we?

    Along those lines, can’t you be harmed without being aware of it? I mean, if you strip my bank account right now, arguably you’ve harmed me quite greatly, but I might not be aware of this for days.

    Now, you might be inclined to say I’m the sort of being who has some understanding of financial matters, so it’s the capacity to become aware, rather than the awareness itself, which is important. But what if instead of pillaging my bank account, you pillage the trust-fund of a 3-year old? They don’t have any understanding of modern banking — one could say, using your words, that they lack the kind of brain activity that allows them to be receptive to financial harm.

    Maybe banking’s a bit too abstract. What if I deliberately poison an expectant mother at 6 weeks so the foetus becomes deformed? Have I harmed it?

  • You would have caused harm to the mother both in poisoning her and in giving her the responsibility to raise a deformed child, and said child might become capable of understanding that their deformation (assuming it causes mental disability and isn’t strictly physical deformation) isn’t a natural condition. Well, assuming that you don’t mean it would kill the fetus too, in which case, that would be harm to the woman.

    But I do think there’s something to the logic, “If one is neither capable of suffering or feeling satisfaction, then there can be no preference between being existent or not,” although it doesn’t answer the issue of that being a transitive state. An unconscious adult has had time to develop expectations and investment in living and would presumably awaken shortly, therefore their presence or absence from the world can both mean something to them (if not at that exact moment) and others, and may even have an active role in society which makes their absence problematic for many people, so the state of being unaware doesn’t necessarily mean they have nothing to lose.

  • P J Evans

    I wish they’d think about how they look when people discover that the law *doesn’t* force them to do that.

  • Matri

    That pretty much classfies at least half of congress as technically dead.

  • Anon_Ymous

    Actually, I reacted pretty much like you did, and then went and looked up where the quote came from. He wasn’t talking about gay marriage and defending himself to people like you or I – he was talking about Muslims, and defending himself against people even more fundagelical than he is who thought he ought to have been a lot more hateful toward them.

    I’d never seen Islam referred to as a “lifestyle” until reading that article… (Can find it for you if you like, but I just googled the first few words of the quote to get it)

  • arcseconds

    Well, let’s take the case that the child end up being cognitively normal, but is missing limbs, say. In this case it seems a bit cruel to say to the child (at the age of 7 or 15 or whenever you like) “no, arcseconds didn’t harm you, because you were incapable of conceiving of what was happening to you at the time”.

    (it’s also kind of odd to say “oh, but your mother was harmed because she’s been forced to take care of you”, so let’s leave the mother out of this)

    this immediately gets us into some difficult waters. Either I haven’t really harmed the child, which seems odd as she’s missing limbs as a result of something I did (and knows she’s missing limbs, and it seems reasonable to hold me to account for this). Or the present capacity to comprehend harm isn’t as important as we might initially think, but rather whether or not the being is going to be capable of comprehending harm in the future. Or maybe I haven’t harmed anyone at the moment of poisoning, but 5 years later it will become true that I did harm at that point, which is a bit odd.

  • I’m not sure it’s that odd. I would compare it to the evangelical bubble — people within it think it’s perfectly normal to be that way, but the moment the bubble pops, they realize the harm that’s been done to them their entire lives. Were they being harmed while they were in the bubble? They would say no, others would say yes. How much does their perception count for if they have no model for comparison to determine whether their lives have been negatively impacted at all? Suppose a person dies before ever leaving the bubble, perfectly content in their beliefs in evil Satanist atheists and whatnot. Were their lives satisfactory “because of” or “despite” being harmed?

  • In my head, those are two Imperial Guardsmen deployed to some war-torn backwater.

    Just be sure that the company Commissar is not around when having that conversation, otherwise *BLAM!*

  • arcseconds

    Just to be clear, I’m not saying it’s odd to be able to harm something that’s not capable of recognising that it has been harmed. Indeed, your assertion to the contrary is what I’m bringing into question.

    I’ve said several things were odd, but the closest thing to the example you give was the notion that you can do something which at the time isn’t harm, but retroactively becomes so when they’re capable of realising what you’ve done to them.

    The most obvious thing to say about your example, and I think what most people (well, those who agree that the evangelical bubble is a bad thing, at any rate) say about this is that the children are being harmed at the time, whether or not they ever understand that they’re being harmed.

    Assuming you agree with that, then it’s another example where harm can be done to an entity that has no ability to comprehend that they’ve been harmed.

    (I’m assuming you’re not going with the notion that they’re not being harmed by their upbringing, until and unless they get out of the bubble, and at that point it becomes true their parents and wider culture harmed them, and if they never realise this they’re not harmed. )

  • Actually the point I think is pivotal is the state of recognizing that harm has been done. If no recognition is ever made, is it actually harm? I don’t have an answer for that. It strikes me as something of a koan.

  • arcseconds

    That would mean that all sorts of bad things someone can do to another aren’t harm so long as the victim never finds out about it.


    – brainwashing (so long as you never get de-programmed)

    – fraud (you continue to believe my fraudulent scheme would have given you the promised returns had it not been for the financial crisis)

    – theft (your accounting’s so bad you don’t notice I’ve made off with 10% of your savings)

    – murder (so long as you’re so quick they don’t realise they’ve even been attacked)

    – workplace politics (e.g. the company’s downsizing, but you’re sacked
    not because you’re not a performer, nor because first-in, first out, but
    because someone doesn’t like you and gets you put on the ‘out’ list
    through deceit).

    This last one is a bit of a fringe case, I guess, as you’re aware you’ve lost your job, but as far as you know you’re in the same situation as everyone else who’s been downsized. At any rate, a significant moral wrong has been done to you, and you don’t know about that.

    I think most people would think that most of these would count as harm. At any rate, it seems fairly clear that there are significant ways you can be wronged, deliberately, for the benefit of another, in ways that significantly impact on your life, and yet not realise it’s happened.

    If you don’t want to call these things ‘harm’, then fine, but they still have to be taken into account. that just means asking whether you’re harming someone isn’t the end of the matter because it excludes a lot of significant wrongs on what I think is a somewhat arbitrary basis.

  • I think we’ve exhausted my interest in debating the ethics of actual infanticide. :p I did say that Singer’s view didn’t address the issue of non-awareness being a transitive state.

  • Carstonio

    Standing on a mountain looking down on a city,
    All the sinning there is a doggone pity,
    Inside a church there’s a gay couple vowing,
    The culture war is lost, there’s no more disallowing,
    How dare they be happy when I tell them no,
    High on a mountain of woe!