Aren’t atheists just the worst? Jeez, aren’t non-Christians all just so totes over all this bickering and fighting? Why can’t we all just give it a rest and talk about “the truth”? Rachel Held Evans is sick of non-Christians (who she conflates with “atheists,” like most Christians do) pointing to toxic Christians like Pat Robertson as examples of what Christians as a whole are like. She wants to strike a deal with “us.” She wants us to quit doing that, and in return, she’ll graciously concede that atheist leaders like Richard Dawkins don’t speak for all atheists either.
That sound you just heard was my forehead going clean through my palm, through my desk, and onto the floor. Hey, at least I’m good to go in case my house needs to make an emergency landing.
You folks know I kinda like Rachel Held Evans. I think that as Christians go, she’s about as non-toxic as one could reasonably get. She’s generally pretty woman-affirming and against the flashier sorts of controlling, sexist, bigoted Christianity that most of us now think of when we think of the religion. Right-wing fundie patriarchal types really don’t like her, which is enough all by itself to make me think she’s probably in the right about how she’s going about reforming the religion. But she has missed the boat here so dramatically I might have to re-think that opinion.
I know she means well and just wants people to quit attacking each other using their various leaders, but this really came off badly to me. It sounded like those bigots who wish gay people would just shut up about gay marriage already. It sounded like those guys who think that women should shut up about equality because they’ve got the vote, jeez, what else could they want? It sounds like those folks who are tired of being careful about offending minorities and women and fat people and the handicapped and just wish we’d all quit caring about being considerate to others’ struggles and pains because it’s just so tedious and hard to remember all these new rules.
What Ms. Evans said is really a statement of privilege blindness. She is in the privileged faction, and she’s a little tired of people being upset about her faction’s leaders acting like doofuses. But her solution is to ask us to stop talking about these offenses–in effect blaming us for her own faction’s inability to effectively deal with these doofuses.
Her weariness is perfectly understandable. Of course she is upset about this sort of negative attention. It just never seems to end, does it?
You see, I’m sure Pat Robertson embarrasses a great number of people in her faction. That’s because he is a truly embarrassing human being. It’s easy for me to see that even that poor woman opposite him in this video of him ranting about gay people deliberately infecting people with AIDS via special pokey rings is deeply embarrassed by what he’s saying. He is a humiliating holdover of days when Christian leaders could say and do just about anything and still be assured of not only an audience but a very deeply sympathetic audience.
The Internet Age hasn’t been kind to the Pat Robertsons of this world now that he’s been inflicted on a sizeable audience that isn’t very sympathetic. Stuff he’d say before the advent of easy camera-capture that would just whizz past the heads of his adoring fans now gets put on YouTube’s front pages and makes nationwide headlines in the most mocking and derisive sort of way. Say what you like about the various atheist-issued gaffes; they don’t tend to make nationwide news. Most folks don’t have more than a vague awareness of even the biggest atheist kerfluffles, but ask anybody off the street to name five Christian leaders who’ve suffered huge scandals, and you’ll likely get ten names instead.
But here’s the problem with Pat Robertson and those other big names:
Despite all his crazy, he is still a major leader and speaker in the Christian religion.
When Ms. Evans insists that he embarrasses “plenty of Christians,” how many of those Christians are in higher office? How many of them pastor megachurches? How many of them write apologetics books slamming his evil and divisive discourse? How many of them write huge blogs with big followings? By contrast, how many rank-and-file Christians as well as big-name Christians think he’s awesome? Bet it’s dozens if not hundreds for every sane Christian who gets embarrassed by his antics.
Richard Dawkins is not an atheist leader in the same sense that Pat Robertson is a Christian leader. She’s asking us to do something we already do there, to a certain extent–I mean, I don’t know any atheists who think Dawkins is a prophet or a godlike figure the way I knew Christians who held Robertson in such high esteem when I was a Christian. Dawkins is a prominent voice in the movement, and given a lot of attention, yes, but he doesn’t run for Presidential office, lead big Christian universities, act as the host of a long-running Christian talk show (700 Club) that is heard by untold numbers of Christians, and show up as a frequent talking head during controversies like abortion, Islamic bigotry, gay rights, and a host of other topics. Dawkins isn’t involved with various African governments or rooking people out of millions of dollars with fake charity works like Operation Blessing. People don’t send him huge checks out of adoration and hang everything on his numerous failed “prophecies.” To say he is a leader in the same sense that Robertson is a leader would be the greatest of misstatements.
But the worst part of Robertson’s behavior is this: he is the leader and a public face of a religion that claims the moral high ground. Robertson thinks that believing in Jesus makes him a better person, and that people who do not believe in Jesus are intrinsically worse people (reminds you of the Elder Bush who thought atheists were somehow treasonous, doesn’t it?). He claims that his god informs his behavior and his attitudes. But his behavior and attitudes are horrifyingly inhuman and dismally ignorant. If he can’t even get this “love your neighbor” and “be truthful and honest” stuff right, then we have every right to say something about his hypocrisy when he tries to shove that failed philosophy on the rest of us. Dawkins, by contrast, doesn’t preach a moral system or run afoul of one; when he or one of the other atheist big names messes up, most non-Christians don’t have to apologize for anything or delineate ourselves from the person making the mistake.
Ms. Evans: you want a deal? Get rid of these assholes and then we’ll talk. You want to look like you’re Not Like All Those Other Guys? Then stop asking me to concede the hard-won ground I’ve gained in fighting against people like Robertson. Stop asking me to ignore my own dehumanization at his hands. Stop asking me to quit calling attention to his evil. When Pat Robertson and all the other big-name Jesus fans who treat people horribly are finally laughed off your national stage, then we’ll look at deals. Until then, the issue is not fixed yet; the offenses are ongoing; the injury is still being dealt, but here you are asking for us to just ignore all the damage being done while your bully-boy classmate takes another swing at us. You’re asking us to stop scrutinizing and mocking the people who make your religion a mockery, and the problem is, they are the public faces of your religion and a huge part of exactly why outsiders to your religion are being victimized and dehumanized.
In short, Robertson gets away with this stuff because Christians let him get away with it. The moment his bottom line becomes threatened and he starts seeing some real blowback for holding his antiquated ideas, he’ll find some god-mandated reason to change. Trust me.
So no. I’m not going to ignore him or his buddies. They are the living embodiment of what I view as harmful and evil about Christianity, and they need to be called out every single time. And until I am satisfied that Christians–everyday, rank-and-file Christians, normal everyday Christians as well as the big name fans–are policing their own ranks, then atheists–and non-believers of all stripes–are going to be needed to step in to show just how hypocritical people like him are.
We shouldn’t need to call out Christian hypocrites. Non-believers shouldn’t have to cope with Robertson or any of those toads. But Christians don’t seem to be doing the job, and I suspect the reason is because ultimately such hypocrites are nominally on their side. As toxic and harmful and foul as Robertson is, he’s “working for the kingdom” (as I saw someone defend debunked liar-for-Jesus Mike Warnke by saying), and as I’ve mentioned before, Christian culture penalizes and demonizes those who speak out against its offenses–look how Ms. Evans herself is being treated by her own tribe in the wake of her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood if you want proof–accusations of her being blasphemous, rebellious, or otherwise “not a real Christian” abound among Christians, especially the fundagelical variety.
Until Christians reliably and consistently take down the hypocrites among their leadership, then they deserve to be painted with the same brush; ultimately, they are in fact the same group, not “these nice sane Christians” over here and “these evil nasty hypocritical Christians” over there, and even the nice sane Christians are drawing social benefits from Pat Robertson plowing around the world lying, deceiving, and hurting people in the name of Jesus. Until that changes, until the nice sane Christians as a whole refuse to draw those social benefits from someone that evil, until they put a stop to such people long before they murder their masters and become Sith Lords in their own right, someone else is going to have to do it, and until then, until it becomes glaringly obvious that Robertson’s hate-filled spew has a serious opposition, I don’t see why I should have to pull back to let him rampage further unimpeded. I’m willing to draw distinctions between “good people who happen to be involved in Christianity” and “nasty people who happen to be involved in Christianity,” but I’m not going to stop speaking out against the nasty people just because it gives the good people a sad. (As Shakespeare’s Sister put it so well, “Asking me to make distinctions about ‘real’ Christians is asking me to participate in my own marginalization. That is a request I cannot accommodate.”)
Yes, we’ll talk about truth–objective truth, spiritual truth, and everything in between. We can do both that and call out hypocritical leaders at the same time, you know. But there’ll be no deal struck that requires me to be complicit in my own victimization, that pushes hypocritical world leaders off the table as topics of discussion while they are still doing their damage, that demands I be silent as such hypocritical figures trample across people’s rights and the very nature of reality itself, and as they try to enshrine their bigotry and hate into law.
I do not appease oppressors.
And neither should Rachel Held Evans.