(CN: Religious overreach, movie/book spoilers about Hot Fuzz and Watership Down.)
The movie Hot Fuzz had one element in it that really weirded me out. And I’d better not be spoiling this for you: the bad guys in the movie keep repeating, over and over again, that they’re doing what they’re doing “for the greater good.” They go to more and more monstrous lengths in the name of what they view as the greater good, and even at the very end of the movie don’t realize that they’ve become far worse than whatever they think they’ve been fighting.
That part of its plot got my attention like it did because of how often the phrase “the greater good” comes out of the mouths of such terrible people–even before they get demonstrated as the bad guys, you know they are bad–maybe just not how bad. Meanwhile, the society they created was one marked by false security but very real oppression. Like the rabbits in Cowslip’s warren in Watership Down, Sandford’s villagers have this vague recognition that there are an awful lot of fatal accidents around them, but they don’t ever talk about it or seriously examine what’s happening–and react with great hostility toward anybody who tries to get them to look squarely at the situation.
I see Christians today doing the same kind of overreach out of this hazy notion of it being for the greater good–and with the same effects both on themselves and on society.
Today in Alternet I ran across this article about the five major historical lies getting pushed by the Christian right and I wanted to talk about something it brought up that sparked my interest: namely, that there is a very good reason why toxic Christians push these lies.
I know that quite a few of rank-and-file pew-warming Christians really believe this stuff, but I know that a lot of the others actually know better than to say the stuff they’re saying lately. Of that number, they don’t push the lie that America was founded as a Christian nation just because they love lying. Lying is a sin, you see. Lying can get someone sent to Hell–unless of course it is done by a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ in the name of “the greater good.”
I regard this willingness to lie “for a good cause” as a symptom of toxic Christianity. Toxic Christians have thoroughly internalized the evil lesson that the end justifies the means. Characters in the Bible lied all the time, and not just the “bad guys”–from Abraham flat-out lying about his wife being his sister–twice no less–to the various lies that Jesus himself told, really the confusing thing is that Satan himself, who is supposedly the big heavy in the whole Bible and often called “the father of lies” (by the character of Jesus, who is–let us remember–not always truthful himself in these myths) is–as far as I can see–the being who is always seen telling the truth to people in his few appearances in the Bible. So the good guys lie their asses off and the bad guy tells the truth–yet lying is regarded as a great sin and one moral failing that will get someone sent straight to Hell.
In yet another example of where Christian “objective morality” falls flat on its face, Christians on the one hand cry to the heavens about how evil and immoral modern culture is because it is seen as untruthful, because it has no “objective morality” upon which to base its behavior and deeds, and yet on the other hand Christians lie constantly if a lie is seen to be in the best interests of gaining converts or power, or some great material good, or even just to get out of a spot of trouble.
For the new folks on the blog, I was married for about five years to a Pentecostal preacher who was very well-regarded in the denomination–a real up-and-comer who was seen as a great preacher and man of “god.” Oh, he did preach up a storm–and I knew that 95% of the stuff he said about himself was totally, completely untrue. The great miracles he said he’d seen? Wildly exaggerated or made up out of whole cloth. The time he said he spent praying? Hah! The man barely ever did anything spiritual at home–until I deconverted, of course. The visions he said he’d gotten? I don’t think so. And his dramatic testimony? Entirely, completely, utterly untrue. When I finally confronted him about that testimony, his response was to get angry with me for refusing to play along a single moment longer with his lies. Everybody did it, you see, and he was just helping people see how wonderful Jesus was. These were good lies, not bad lies. He tried to sell the idea to me by saying that since miracles, possessions, and the like were possible, that all he was doing was telling about this stuff in a more immediate and relatable way. He was helping convert the lost–saving them from an eternity of torture at the hands of our loving god. Surely a little creativity in one’s conversion story was okay if it got people to salvation.
When I put my foot down and said that no, actually, I didn’t think it was okay to lie even if it converted people, he got really petulant but he knew I was absolutely serious about exposing him on the spot if he did it again. I still wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t taken me so seriously. That would have made for a very memorable revival service, don’t you think? But lest you think I’m just picking on an ex, please do not imagine he was the only preacher doing this. He was just the preacher whose biography I knew best, having dated him since my mid-teens; every single time I went looking for corroboration for other preachers’ stories, be those stories about their testimonies or miracles they said they’d seen, I encountered the same fast-and-loose relationship with the truth.
And we should not be surprised at this dishonesty. Whenever someone is selling something that hard, that person is going to do whatever it takes to get that product sold. It was a real eye-opener for me to realize just how dishonest my god’s salespeople were.
Especially when politicians get in bed with religion, we expect to see lies, but the current crop of lies are simply astounding to behold lately, aren’t they?
It just floors me to see Christians like Bob McDonnell strutting around with their big ole Jesus smiles on. If you don’t know the name, he is the Republican governor of Virginia. His family was called “the one-time poster family for the Republican Party’s family-values wing” by one site, though another way to put it is Governor Ultrasound for his tireless efforts to destroy women’s rights in his state–no abortion for you, you hussy of a rape victim! And of course he’s way into “traditional marriage,” which is of course the toxic-Christian dogwhistle term for “government-sanctioned discrimination against LGBTQ people” that they mistakenly think has everybody fooled. He’s also apparently been illegally taking a lot of expensive presents from people, and now that he’s been caught doing it has been throwing his wife under the bus by blaming her for everything. So much for the sacred bonds of traditional marriage! Bob McDonnell once wrote that it’s just terrible how a modern American thinks that “each individual should be able to live out his sexual life in any way he chooses without interference from the state,” by which he means gay people are ickie and women should be punished for having unapproved sex, of course. But as that link says, he’s right now staying at the home of a priest and family friend who got nailed for a sex crime (getting caught alone in a car at night with another man at a gay cruising spot, which is for some reason illegal in that state), so apparently his tender widdle fee-fees are fine with people he considers immoral if he needs some crash space. It’s okay if you’re Republican, right? It’s all for the greater good!
This guy really thinks that his religious boner gives him some kind of right to tell others how to live their lives. He really thinks it is his responsibility to control other people’s lives and make their most intimate decisions for them. He has been campaigning on Christian concepts and using those “values” as his entire governing principle. And Mr. McDonnell is quite comfortable lying on a witness stand about the most insanely, stupidly, easily-caught things.
On the heels of learning this stuff about Bob McDonnell, I heard about the downfall and disgrace of Kent Sorenson, a Tea Party Republican state senator from Iowa. Oh, he was quite the Jesus Party fellow. Rabidly anti-gay and proud of it, he nonetheless doesn’t talk much on the record about where he stands on any issues. We can get a hint about his political stances from the statement he gave when he made an abrupt, absolutely unexpected switch in allegiances from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul for the 2012 Iowa Caucus. He has a major faux-libertarian Ayn Rand-style view of gubmint, a major hard-on for the Second Amendment, and a major sad-boner at the idea of women owning their bodies and LGBTQ people daring to exist in public. But his switcheroo was an absolutely huge deal at the time, and of course, people wondered why he’d done it.
After making his announcement, he looked right into a camera and with unwavering gaze and steady voice, standing beside a campaign official for Ron Paul, he said, in answer to the question of whether or not he had accepted money to switch sides, that he absolutely had not.
Now, this is a simple binary question. Had he accepted a bribe or not? As speculation swirled, he continued to insist he “never been offered a nickel by the Ron Paul campaign.” Seems pretty straightforward, but very shortly thereafter, it came out that that campaign manager for Ron Paul who’d stood at his side for that interview had actually just days earlier given him a check for $25,000 to switch sides. And later we’d learn that he had been getting paid $8k/month by Ms. Bachmann’s campaign for his endorsement. She was more upset that her bought man had not stayed bought than she was that he’d switched! Now he has confessed and pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and obstructing justice.
Despite having been caught red-handed, Mr. Sorenson still can’t resist the urge to lie; he maintains that his downfall was retaliation for being an anti-gay bigot trying to make anti-gay discrimination legal. No, really. His morality couldn’t bear the idea of people having unapproved sex, but it was perfectly fine with him taking bribes and lying about it. Hey, you can’t muzzle the oxen, right? It’s all for the greater good.
These are the people who think that they have some kind of mandate from Heaven to control everybody’s lives, yet cannot live by the simple rules their own religion sets before them. These are the people who cringe and quail at the idea of perversion and immorality yet commit them all themselves regularly. These are the people who say that subjective morality is Satanic, yet find no trouble with rationalizing away any kind of lie as long as it benefits them. They’re quite capable of telling convincing lies with the straightest of faces–but consider themselves the planet’s moral arbiters.
Indeed, their sense of being everybody’s daddy and their god’s stand-in authority to the whole world is exactly why these lies are getting told. That’s why David Barton is lying his ass off about the Founding Fathers. That’s why Ray Comfort and Ken Ham lie constantly about science. That’s why these politicians are so comfortable with lying. Considering all of these people’s Christianist leanings and outspoken desire for theocracy in America, it’s hard not to imagine that they see what they’re doing as a necessary evil–though when it’s as easy as mouthing magic incantations to evade eternal torture, one wonders just how evil they think these lies are.
We need to be really careful with folks who claim they’re just looking out for everybody’s souls and society’s best interests, especially when they borrow divine authority to try to get their way. When you hear about someone wanting to legislate consensual behavior, especially consensual sexual behavior, that’s someone who’s probably got a lot of skeletons in his or her closet. The more pious and sanctimonious the act, the more rigidly controlling and inflexible the attempt at dominance, the worse that Christian’s private life is going to look–I guarantee it. That’s why it’s the wingnuttiest of wingnuts who seem to be the only ones getting caught in these scandals. People who are that obsessed with other people’s behavior are likely ignoring some big glaring problems of their own. At least society is catching on to this double standard. I don’t think anybody but Christians themselves are fooled anymore by those big ole Jesus smiles and those super-arched puppydog preacher eyebrows.
In the end, the “good people” of Sandford in that movie aren’t actually even acting in the genuine greater good. Their crimes are committed largely out of petty malice, self-interest, and spite, not out of genuine desire to make their village a better place to live; they themselves are absolutely awful people too–petty, shallow, mean-spirited, and callous. Nicholas Angel gets the identities of the perpetrators correct, but their motives absolutely wrong (and come to think of it, that’s how I got through Geometry class in 9th grade). The terrible actress with the hideous laugh who works in the planning office is actually murdered for her hideous laugh and terrible acting skills; the florist is killed not because someone wants her land but because the villagers are angry about her moving away. He is floored when he realizes that all those evil deeds were committed for such banal reasons–but I really wasn’t. That denouement made perfect sense to me. I saw the same thing happening in church years ago–and in society now.
The actual crimes I’ve outlined here are really very banal, aren’t they? Bribes, corruption, thievery, lying, and the like. And I hardly have to search for many more lies exactly like them. These misdeeds are done for a reason. Yes, lying and thievery and all that are very bad, of course Christians would agree that they’re bad, but toxic Christians have internalized that “ends justify the means” mentality to such an extent that I doubt any of them even hesitate before committing their crimes. You can bet that when the goal becomes even more important and grand, the crimes that become acceptable in the name of achieving them get proportionally worse.
We’re going to talk a little more about this idea later, because I’ve been thinking for a while about how so many Christians seem so very okay with inflicting all sorts of indignities and humiliations on people for their idea of “the greater good.” See you next time, when we will be looking at some of the life lessons I learned from a recent kerfluffle in the PC gaming industry.