Diagnosing Christian Right Derangement Syndrome

Diagnosing Christian Right Derangement Syndrome June 19, 2012

My recent posts challenging the standard “culture war” narrative (here) and addressing the caricaturing of conservative evangelicals (here and here) stirred up some conversation — a conversation that’s been illuminating for me.

Some of my progressive Christian friends (most of whom responded very appreciatively to these posts) seem to have been laboring under the very sincere conviction that a conservative Christian who complains of caricaturing or scorn is hugely over-reacting.  After all, it’s the Christian Right that is strident, rancorous and conspiratorial, while liberals are thoughtful and compassionate and “evidence-based.”  Certainly the rivers of scorn run overwhelmingly, they believe, from Right to Left?

So I’ve become convinced that it will be helpful to peel back the covers a bit here and expose the problem more fully.  I’m going to start with one of the comments that was left on this blog.  Yes, I know.  It’s a random commenter.  I’ll refer to some other sources — including a blogger with a large following, a new book making the rounds, depictions in popular entertainment, and comments from public intellectuals — but I thought this comment so perfectly illustrated what I’m going to call Christian Right Derangement Syndrome: the point when your scorn for the Christian Right has reached such a fevered pitch that you abandon critical reasoning faculties and become willing to believe anything regarding the motives, beliefs and goals of Christian conservatives.

So here is a comment from someone who called himself Christopher.  I’ve put the accusations against “the Christian Right” in bold type:

[T]he Christian Right constantly spouts out vile and hateful things about anyone who is not exactly like them…I am not one to sit back silently and listen to the Christian Right repeatedly say vile and ugly things about those of us here who are liberal, the President, Democrats, moderate Democrats and independents, immigrants, non-heterosexuals, those who are not of their particular faith, and anyone else they dislike…or more accurately, hate.

I have argued for quite some time that the Christian Right merely uses the Bible to justify the things they do. At base, I suspect that much of the Christian Right is greedy, sexist, intolerant and racist, and with good reason. Every time someone from the religious right spouts off anything that fits into one of the above categories [it reveals] their true character…1. A dislike of representative or democratic government 2. A dislike or hate of science 3. A hatred of freedom of speech and religion 4. A love of the Second Amendment – this I will explain shortly 5. A hatred of almost all non-white individuals…6. A hatred of all civil rights 7. An inclination to regard women as nothing more than property to be used for breeding 8. A hatred of gays for simply doing something that those on the Christian Right personally dislike for no evident reason.

Now, with respect to number 4, I’ll tell you why the Christian Right loves the Second Amendment: in many ways, the Christian Right is absolutely comfortable with the idea of using the Second Amendment to utilize guns against those who they hate, and more so using it in order to prop up a dictatorship…because to be honest, while they hunger for a Biblical theocracy like that seen in the Handmaid’s Tale, at the end of the day a small cadre of individuals will hold power and wield it ruthlesslyAsk yourselves this: are you really willing to stand by while the Christian Right ignites another civil war out of the hopes that they will end up forcing all of us to live according to their views?

After you let this veritable cataract of scorn, enmity and paranoia wash over you, it’s hard to remember which side is hateful and says vile and ugly things, isn’t it?  So let’s review.  The Christian Right hates:

  1. Liberals.
  2. The President (in case #1 was not enough to make this clear).
  3. Democrats, Moderate Democrats and Independents.
  4. Immigrants.
  5. Non-heterosexuals.
  6. Those who are not of their own particular faith.
  7. Anyone else they dislike (by, I suppose, tautology).
  8. Science.
  9. Freedom of speech and religion.
  10. Almost all non-white individuals.
  11. All civil rights.

The Christian Right also views women as property for breeding and dislikes Democratic government.  Our motivations and goals are: “greedy,” “sexist,” “intolerant,” “racist” and oriented toward provoking a civil war where we can shoot anyone we please, prop up a ruthless dictatorship, and force everyone to share our beliefs in a Biblical theocracy.

This would be comical if it were not so destructive.   Of course, there are sectors of the Christian Right that are thoroughly deserving of criticism.  That goes without saying.  But when we see these animosities between believers — whether they are coming from the Right or the Left, even from our friends — we need to speak against them.  They harm the body of Christ.

There’s also something curious that happens here.  I’m often painfully aware of the people on “my side” who are writing with paranoia and rancor.  That’s probably because I spent so much time in liberal academic institutions.  But I notice that many folks on the Right don’t seem to see much of the scorn that comes from their side, and many folks on the Left don’t see much of the scorn that comes from their side.  Why is that?

I think it’s because (1) we’re more inclined to agree with them or at least view them as not completely divorced from reality, but also because (2) we just think the people on our side are mostly harmless.  We know the people on our side better, we know how they think and how they feel; we don’t resent them and we’re not afraid of them.  If you’re a conservative Christian, you’re more inclined to think the extremes on the Right are basically harmless because the people are harmless.  So it’s not so much that we don’t notice the excesses on our side but we don’t worry about them.  When we see them on our side, they quickly recede out of our consciousness because we don’t consider them newsworthy or upsetting.

So here is a simple points-based system to indicate whether you, a progressive Christian, might be suffering from Christian Right Derangement Syndrome:

  • ENCLAVING.  You surround yourself with people who think like you do (1 point), and you consume the majority of your news and commentary from sources that confirm your biases (1 point).  You think Bill Maher just speaks the hard truth (3 points).
  • DICHOTOMIZING.  You find cartoonish dichotomies like “Conservatives are stupid and liberals are smart,” or “Conservatives are heartless and liberals are compassionate” to be accurate descriptions of reality (2 points each).
  • BROAD-BRUSHING.  When you hear the words “Christian Right,” you think of everyday Christians like myself with different political views than my own (subtract 3 points), Billy Graham (subtract 1 point), Franklin Graham (add 1 point), Jerry Falwell (add 2 points), the Klan (add 4 points).
  • CULTURE-WAR OBSESSING.  You can name three groups of people Franklin Graham has criticized but cannot name the major charitable relief organization he heads (add 2 points).  You cannot name three other charitable organizations founded by conservative Christians (add 2 points).  You believe most conservative Christian preachers spend a lot of time addressing culture war issues in their sermons (add 2 points).  You actually find it plausible that “the Christian Right” wants to establish a theocracy (add 3 points).
  • IMPUTING NEFARIOUS MOTIVES.  Complete the sentence: “Conservative Christians are really motivated by…”  If you answered basically the same things that motivate me, subtract 1 point.  If you answered a true (if misdirected) desire to honor Christ, subtract 3 points.  If you answered hatredbigotry, ignoranceintolerance, or greed, add 1 point each.

7-12 POINTS: a mild case of Christian Right Derangement Syndrome.

13 POINTS OR ABOVE: you are suffering from a severe case of CRDS.  Seek help immediately.

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