Taking It Back

Taking It Back December 3, 2013

The other day I ran across this blog entry about the links between super-duper-racist rednecks and right-wing Christians and how both intersect with modern Republican politics, and it just blew my mind. I’ve read it several times and want to talk about the concepts in it. If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly encourage you to do so; though it’s long, it’s brilliantly done and I’m completely impressed with how the author ties together a lot of different strands. (BTW, sorry for the late update–my internet’s been down most of the day, yay for Cyber Monday!)

Here is what resonated with this guy’s blog post for me most strongly: the idea that right-wing Christianity is not concerned so much with moving forward as it is with forcing everyone backward. That makes total sense and fits in with my direct experiences. Even when I was a fundie, there was this overwhelming feeling that the big bad evil world had stolen our birthright from us–and that we needed to reclaim it. Everything dealt with it. Christians had once had everything so great, so well-arranged, and “the world” had taken away our toys and ruined everything. But we’d get our toys back, and we’d see those who’d taken them get their comeuppance at the end. Oh, they would pay. They’d pay dearly. (I wonder now if this urge is perhaps inspired by how evangelicals perceived Israel as taking back their own country–right-wing Christianity has a major boner for Israel and Judaism, after all.)

I saw this desire for vengeance and reclamation manifest in a number of different ways. For example, the fight to criminalize abortion was, in large part, actually a fight against women’s rights–and this agenda was explicitly stated on more than a few occasions. “Women’s rights” was an evil, demonic concept that made women all uppity and want to not get married, have children, or obey their rightful owners. The evil feminists who’d come up with this wicked idea of equality were to blame, and you can imagine they were, in fact, blamed–loudly, often, angrily. (This isn’t even ancient history; last week I caught a pastor’s blog in which marriages that feature gender equality were called “Satanic” because they rejected what the blogger saw as his god’s “perfect” plan of complementarianism sexism.) When women are not forced to accept men’s dominance, it is quite clear to me that patriarch leaders in the movement are perfectly aware that women wouldn’t naturally choose that arrangement or happily stay in “submission” (read: subjugation). Women who rejected that model would get the other women all curious and stuff. We couldn’t have that!

Pictures from Equal Pay Day actions in Leuven.
Pictures from Equal Pay Day actions in Leuven. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). These folks are taking a break from dancing naked around bonfires.

Even back then, I could see why these fundamentalists were so furious with feminists. For women to have equality, men could not keep their superiority and dominance–an idea which, when I was Christian, threatened everything the evangelicals around me knew about the world. It challenged their entire paradigm for interaction. They used the Bible to get around their sexism and make it sound like the bonus plan for women, but nobody but them was fooled. They wanted revenge on those evil feminists, and they wanted their world put back the way it was again. They wanted a return to that lovely mythical world where women didn’t clamor for equality or care about much beyond baking bread and breeding babies. Everything would all go back to normal once they’d gotten this “equality” nonsense out of their pretty little heads.

I talk about sexism because I’ve got intimate experience with sexism, but I hope the parallels between sexism and racism are obvious to y’all–because they definitely are to me. Nowhere did I see fundagelicals’ desire to reclaim a lost destiny play out more than it did when these Christians got to talking about the “good old days.” And racism was part of the “good old days”–a part of the past that was implicitly acknowledged even by people who outwardly said they didn’t feel racist. They wanted all of the past, even the horribly unfair and unjust and nasty bits. They quite literally wanted the Victorian Age infused with 1950s suburbia, with all that such a statement entails. But that age, as we’ve discussed here several times, only really existed as a fantasy for white, straight, cis-gendered (that means “born the gender that the person identifies as,” such as a person who identifies as a man and who was born with a male body), able-bodied, upper-middle-class men–as well as those Others (women, LGBTQA folks, minorities, etc) who bought into such men’s dominance. It certainly did not exist in such a rosy form for anybody but those two groups. Even for those two groups it barely existed (even in the 1960s, many more women than patriarchal Christians liked were looking forward to working outside the home and wanted equal pay for equal work). But Christians openly long for those days and that dominance that they half-remember.

In the same way that a black person might feel angry when seeing a redneck flying a Confederate flag over his Hummer, knowing that while the redneck sees it as a symbol of freedom and persecution-fantasizing that in reality it is a symbol of racism and oppression to those who weren’t in the privileged group, when I hear a Christian whine about wanting the “good old days” back, I immediately read that as a desire to return to days of shocking sexism, bigotry, and racism. Such a whine is nothing more than a craving for the return of unwarranted privilege, let’s face it, and it is nothing more than a declaration that the racism and sexism in those “good old days” weren’t so bad.

The sexism I could almost kind of understand; the Bible is loaded with sexism all the way through, never mind one or two verses here and there that seem to “redeem” women and give them some modicum of equality. But the racism never made sense. I never understood how it was that good Christian people could be so horrifyingly biased against non-white people. I spent many years in the Deep South, remember, the happy land of segregation and Jim Crow, and even though those days were technically a bit before my time, I still saw a lot of racism. It horrified me. It discouraged me. How could these people see Bible verses about there not being male or female, slave or free, in the Bible and translate it into “except if someone’s (fill in the blank)”?

I’ve told you about that time on Mother’s Day when my pastor at the time (a very sweet older fellow whose day job was doing contract engineering for NASA) took me and Biff out to the swamps of bayou-backwoods Louisiana to eat Mother’s Day dinner with his mother, an ancient old Pentecostal matriarch. I think now he hoped that the presence of young people and relative strangers might rein in the old biddy, but no, she was a handful the whole way to the restaurant and back. I never heard anybody whine, moan, piss, and complain like that old lady did. Up until that trip, I’d have told you there was no way a human being could be so negative and downright nasty. Every little thing was a hindrance and annoyance. But when we got to the restaurant–built right out over a river, covered in droopy trees and tall grasses along its fenced patio–she flipped her ish because the table next to ours had black people in it. I still remember how mortified I was by her behavior; she’d whispered her constant grievances sotto voce, loud enough for the next table to hear, and all heads turned to us. I am sure I was as red as love’s first rose. Oh, I couldn’t wait to get out of there and never show my face again in that town. And all those folks around us wanted to do was treat their mothers to a nice dinner out and they had to hear such horrible stuff come out of the mouth of a woman who thought of herself as a good Christian!

The pastor apologized profusely afterward on the drive back to Houston, telling us that Jesus sometimes took a while to guide someone out of old attitudes and he tried hard to smooth over the reality that this old lady was almost certainly going to die a completely hate-filled racist. I was blown away. How could someone go to church her whole life and still be this awful of a human being? Afterward, I began noticing similar behavior a lot in Christians. Not so much in my church, which was proudly integrated with a lot of black people in it (and an Asian service and ASL translation too actually), but a lot of other Christians seemed to have a lot of issues with minorities. And a lot of those issues seemed to center around how great things had been once, before all that yucky social progress had begun happening.

Combine an overly-controlling social regime with an attitude that certain inborn characteristics render someone unfit to rule his or her own private life, and you get the unique set of overreaches and unwarranted privilege found in the modern fundagelical mind. It really doesn’t take much to leap from “this person is categorically unfit to handle anything serious” to “let us take over.” Indeed, as long as women and minorities more or less behaved themselves, the Republican Party was happy to let us vote and have a few representatives here and there. But now that women and minorities are generally voting Democrat, I’ve begun hearing Republican voices clamoring to disenfranchise them. Right after the 2008 election, I heard a woman talk about going to a comic convention and hearing her own local comics dealer in the dealer room angrily telling a buddy of his that women’s suffrage should be revoked. After Mittens lost in 2012 last year, more than a few Republicans hinted that women voted with their hormones (and no, I have no idea WTF either) and so maybe shouldn’t be allowed to vote at all. And now, of course, a year past the “they just wanted free stuff” excuse Mitt Romney used to explain his stunning loss among minorities, it’s hard not to see the same reasoning at work there: that minorities are just soooooo bad at separating their personal greed (and of course they are very greedy indeed) from what is best for the country that dangit, maybe they just shouldn’t be voting at all unless they’re going to do it right (read: vote Republican). And considering the rules Republicans immediately put into place when the Voting Rights Act got defanged that specifically stop and discourage black people from exercising the vote so many Americans bled and died for them to have, it seems likely that they are demanding that minorities roll over and let Daddy drive for a while if they can’t drive responsibly.

When the Tea Party came into prominence after President Obama’s first election, its racist attitudes and policies were immediately noted and remarked upon. The movement’s leaders tried very hard to distance themselves from those accusations–and indeed they still try very hard to stay above those constant accusations, but the truth has always been that their leaders and rank-and-file members constantly make racist comments and support racist speakers and causes. The Southern Poverty Law Center has noted an explosion in the number of “Patriot” hate groups in the years since President Obama’s first election win; that link also notes the high number of racist spree killings and murders in the last decade. Think I’m kidding? Huffington Post actually has a tag called “tea-party-racism” and it is two solid pages of articles about Tea Party racism-based scandals.

Even Ron Paul, the darling of the new “screw all y’all, Ima get mine” libertarian crowd, not only spewed racism back before he came to national prominence, but did so on such a frequent basis that this spew formed what a reviewer calls a “consistent ideological theme”. Though Mr. Paul tried valiantly to distance himself from the newsletter, claiming by turns that he barely even was aware of the newsletter’s existence and that–oh, that newsletter!–he just signed the dang things, the WP makes a very persuasive case for Mr. Paul being the author of the racist statements in question–or at the very least for Mr. Paul being closely associated with whoever did write them in his name using his personal anecdotes and his personal details.

Let’s look at that phrase “consistent ideological theme” again, because it is important. Yes, racism–the idea that black people are a certain way (in Mr. Paul’s specific view, that black people are “unbelievably fleet-footed” thieves and criminals and inherently more prone to rioting, violence, and greediness)–plays out all over the right wing of our political sphere*.

I was absolutely gobsmacked by how out of touch the Tea Party was about its own biases; did they seriously not realize they were this racist? No, they didn’t, any more than they seemed to realize that they were also hugely sexist as well as seriously misinformed on a number of vital issues. The racist comments kept flying, cloaked in “urban” and “ghetto” talk, as well as using the new dog-whistle word “Kenyan” to refer to not only the President’s blackness but also that of the security forces around him–but we knew as well as the people using these terms that they meant “black” by them.

You know, it’d be so much easier to take these people seriously about not being racist if they’d, uh, stop saying such racist stuff about the first non-white President and about a large segment of the population. And their focus on evangelical Christianity made their racism all the more confusing for me–but I hadn’t learned enough yet to understand why right-wing Christianity has such deep roots in racism and why Tea Partiers tend to be so racist. But my eyes are open now. I know that they can’t stop saying racist stuff because racism is built into the very backbone of their movement. The idea that some people are superior and some people are inferior just by dint of birth and accidental genetic lottery-wins and losses is part and parcel of right-wing political dogma. The idea of rolling back progress to go back to the “good old days” forms the very framework of the Tea Party’s giant cruise ship as it lurches through the freezing darkness toward its very own personal iceberg.

One of the biggest draws for people in the Tea Party is this attitude that they were once oh-so-important and oh-so-dominant, and those meaniepie progressives took away their toys. They want their toys back. They want to be dominant again. We peeled back their rightful superiority and their rightful stranglehold on society’s throat. They want those toys back. And they will take them back however they can, and then everything will be wonderful again (for them, not so much for everybody who isn’t a fairly wealthy white man or who doesn’t totally buy into the inherent superiority of fairly wealthy white men). It’s this fairy tale of retribution and vengeance that runs like a vein of disease-causing coal through the fantasies of right-wing Christians, a vein they constantly mine to sustain themselves.

Add to this attitude the sense that there is a right way to live one’s life and a wrong way, and that Christians by default know the right way while non-Christians by default only know the wrong way, and you have a potent argument for the right-wing Christian’s sense of entitlement to power over others. I was downright floored–shocked, appalled, all those letter-to-the-editor words–when I read about an evangelical minister, Joe Morecraft, preaching that atheists should be legally enslaved to (his type of) Christians. I mean legally enslaved, like how black people were in the Deep South enslaved, that kind of disgusting and humiliating and dehumanizing slavery. His excuse was that Christians needed to run atheists’ lives for them because obviously these atheists were too immoral and stupid to do it right:

“Put him in somebody’s service where they can watch over him and make him do right even though he doesn’t want to do it.” According to Pastor Morecraft, the consequences of being a “foolish person who is unwilling to live by the Word of God” is to “become a slave of somebody who is godly and who is wise.”

How can anybody moral and decent read words like those and think that this pastor is anything but the enemy of all that is good? And then I read that he is a Reconstructionist, and my blood runs cold. Reconstructionism, you see, is a weird-ass fringe movement gaining steam fast in the United States with the Tea Party and super-right-wing fundagelicalism. It wants nothing less than the establishment of a theocracy in the United States and a return to what these Christians see as Biblical laws (as in stoning to death adulterous women and gay people)**. Fundamental to its vision is the idea that there is a distinct hierarchy of humans: at the top are white Christian men. Below them are white Christian women–pretty and obedient ones who know their place, of course; others do not deserve “respect.***” Below them are Christian minorities from lighter to darker, ending with black people and below these minorities are non-Christians; at the very bottom are atheists. That is how Reconstructionists seem to see the world. And they believe with all of their hearts that they were meant to run things, that they are best-suited for running things, and that everybody would be oh so much happier if we all would just shut up and let Daddy drive (again).

So when I saw how deeply Reconstructionism draws such strong lines between the racism of the Deep South and the desire of Reconstructionist Christians to rule society (again), it hit a major chord in me when I recognized how much of a reaction against social change the Tea Party and other right-wing Republican politics really is. We’ve got these two strands of racism and desperate grabs for dominance twining together as Tea Partiers are often fundagelical Christians, and fundagelical Christians find themselves gravitating toward right-wing politics. And they are both getting infected with the sickening views of Christians like that blogger outlined, the one I linked y’all to way at the beginning here.

There is a lot of fear in those two groups–they are both downright terrified of change and of losing their dominance. Sometimes they cloak it in hysterically groundless threats issued on behalf of their mad god–threatening the rest of us with everything from terrorist attacks to meteor showers if we keep giving gay people rights like everybody else gets. There is a lot of ignorance, too, which we see when they say stupid things like that bumper sticker I myself saw on a redneck’s truck that read “Keep the government’s hands off my Social Security,” or when Tea Partiers went off to protest the exact same government shutdown they themselves had demanded (and blame it on the President, of course).

So when we see Tea Partiers humiliating themselves with constant racism gaffes, we need to ask the important question: why are they not making much better progress eliminating racism from their ranks and leaders, if eliminating racism is really that important to them? Why did Rand Paul not immediately fire his staffer when the staffer turned out to be a super-racist radio host? Why did the National Federation of Republican Women host a “Southern Experience” featuring black people dressed like slaves at their 2010 convention? Why did Michele Bachmann sign a pledge a few years ago saying that black children were better off in the days of slavery than they are now?

I mean, these are not complex questions. They’re not even difficult. But right-wing politicians and super-fundie Christians struggle constantly with bizarre situations like these, and you can all but see them freeze like deer in headlights when confronted with them by normal, moral, upright people who wonder who the thrice-damned, unholy fuck could ever say that slave children were better off than free children today and still face themselves in the mirror that night.

The answer is very simple: because their thought leaders, the people setting the tone for the uber-religious-conservative-zealot conversation, those people are hugely, enormously, gigantically racist. It’s that simple. Those leaders hate change and progress. They quite literally believe that progress is evil and bad and must be stopped or terrible things will happen to everybody. They have created movements that depend utterly on reaction, not progress. They stand for rolling back rights and taking back privilege. And getting black people and women to re-accept their inferior status is part of what has to happen for the dance to get underway. To do that, they will demand overreaching power over the rest of us, insist on celebrating ignorance and delusions, and–when all else fails–simply rewrite history. Probably the most unnerving of all the quotes on that blog piece is this one:

Slavery produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War or since…Slavery as it existed in the South was not an adversarial relationship with pervasive racial animosity. Because of its dominantly patriarchal character, it was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence. There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world.

Affection. Not an adversarial relationship. Patriarchal, therefore “mutual affection and confidence.” Intimate and harmonious. And the guy who wrote that, Doug Wilson, is one of the big names in the Christian patriarchy movement that is trying to roll back women’s rights.

Seeing red yet? I hope so.

I am downright chilled and infuriated by some of the things I have realized thanks to that blogger’s keen insight. I hope you are as well. Please do not stand by and allow zealots to turn your country (whatever it is) into the playground of people who genuinely believe that non-Christians deserve to be enslaved to Christians and who really think that women and minorities do not deserve to own their bodies or make their own decisions or who think for even one heartbeat that the disgusting spectacle of dehumanization, degradation, denigration, and cruelty that was slavery was actually friendly and intimate because back then black people knew that they needed Daddy to drive for them. Those jackasses do not deserve to lead us or to speak for anybody.

Write your congresscritters. Vote, always, often, every chance you get. Raise your voice. Be heard. Abusers depend upon silence. We cannot afford the luxury of staying silent.

Be the drop in the bucket that starts it to overflowing.

***

* Doesn’t it seem weird that libertarians of the Rand/Ron Paul variety so often are insanely, crazily into controlling and dominating those they deem inferior and eliminating all forms of social mobility? Government so small it fits inside a woman’s panties, indeed.

** Yes, yes, I know; Jesus said those laws didn’t apply anymore in one place but then he wasn’t here to change the laws in another. I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about such crazy-making contradictions anymore! Also, I’ve heard Jewish scholars rage on a few occasions now about how ignorant and beyond-stupid fundies are for thinking that Jewish laws apply in any way, shape, or form to Gentiles. But logical consistency is not a Reconstructionist’s (or for that matter a fundamentalist’s) strong suit any more than an understanding of the Bible’s context is.

*** I’m not really sure what they mean by that term, or why anybody cares if they have these people’s “respect” or not. I think they mean “esteem,” not “respect,” but let’s not assume anything about the people saying this stuff, who may well mean they do not extend basic human courtesies and civilities to those they consider to be sub-humans. When someone tells me I need to “earn” his respect (pronoun used intentionally because it seems like it’s always a man saying it, weirdly enough), that person tends not to be someone whose respect or esteem is anything I care about having. I don’t know what would drive a control freak crazier: being around people who don’t perform up to his expectations, or knowing those people really don’t care what he thinks of them.

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