I was just thinking today about the extremely bad luck that the Religious Right’s been having of late with finding decent mascots for its simple, universal message of hatred, exclusion, xenophobia, willful ignorance, misogyny, racism, dishonesty, and outright class warfare.
The roll call is looking more and more dismal by the day.
Last year, zealots discovered Cliven Bundy, a so-called outlaw rancher who was grazing his cattle on government land without paying for the appropriate license. The situation became explosive quickly, with his supporters and kinfolk showing up armed to resist federal agents who tried to bring Mr. Bundy to justice for his freeloading.
He seems like a rather strange mascot for the Religious Right, but only until one remembers that they have a strange connection with neo-Confederalist ideas like secession and nullification. Not all Christian wingnuts are involved in stuff like the Sovereign Citizen movement, but there’s definitely a strong overlap between the groups. When he cried aloud about feeling persecuted for doing whatever he wanted, the Christian Right heard him loud and clear. Worst of all, when the government backed down, that made his gang of domestic terrorists feel vindicated and justified in their ideas and tactics.
Well, this mascot turned out to be a particularly vile racist as well as a freeloader who used Federal land–ie, taxpayers’ land, our goddamned land and not his–without paying the proper fees for doing so. When CNN’s Bill Weir called him a welfare queen in a cowboy hat during an interview and drilled down on the rancher’s grotesquely racist comments, the Religious Right seemed to finally comprehend just what a crackpot they’d elected as their newest mascot.
He’s still trying to cling to relevance, turning up at rallies meant to support the kinds of laws his fanbase thinks are necessary and still parroting his deeply offensive racist ideas, but it’s hard to imagine him returning to the kind of power he once had in the fevered imaginations of right-wing Christians as a whole.
The patriarch of the Duck Dynasty clan had quite a long moment nestled in the blackened hearts of the Religious Right. He embodied their entire message and said aloud what their leaders had only hinted at and dared use only dogwhistle speech to describe. When a rumor got rolling in late 2012 that their host network, A&E, had some kind of issue with the Robertsons praying in their reality-show episodes and had halted filming till they agreed to stop, the outrage that followed propelled them to the height of their popularity. That the claim was categorically false in every single way (and even denied by the Robertson clan when the question was put to them directly) didn’t really matter; what mattered was that when right-wing hysteria about “religious freedom” was reaching its full height, here was a family that right-wing Christians perceived (falsely, as it turns out) as extra-super-duper-mega-awesome “godly” that was being suppressed by the atheist meaniepies in the entertainment industry.
Right as Mr. Robertson was starting to fall from grace, I wrote about one of his worst offenses–a piece that went along with one I wrote at the height of his popularity in which I asked Christians to “please quit idolizing disgusting hate-filled bigots” like him. Yes, it really took years for fundagelical Christians to catch on to what a horrible person he was.
But at a February speech he gave at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), even the movement’s biggest names squirmed as he slurred his way through a disjointed, irrational series of statements wherein he blamed “hippies” and “sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll” for all of America’s problems with sexually-transmitted diseases and declared that we needed to use the Bible and the Constitution to protect ourselves from British folks and Nazis. And at that point, even most right-wing Christians began to drift away from the obviously-disturbed nutjob.
Mr. Robertson can still count on right-wing bastions of wingnuttery like The Blaze and Breitbart to propagate his rants, but I honestly can’t think of any reputable outlet that’s talked about him lately.
The Duggars, generally.
Enough said, really. Their story arc was nothing short of meteoric–from absolute anonymity to a turn in the national spotlight to a dramatic fall as the serious shortcomings in their philosophy became apparent to even their fans. In a very real sense they’re still falling. The family’s pastor recently delivered a sermon basically blasting Anna for not being sexually available enough to Josh*, which is likely to alienate even more potential defenders of the Duggars and their weird way of life.
Despite the increasingly disturbing allegations against the Duggars, Christians are still showing up online to vociferously and vehemently defend Josh Duggar and his coverup-happy parents, but it’s been a while since I saw any of ’em. Mostly I see the fans lining up behind the eldest daughters nowadays–indeed, those daughters have plenty of defenders of their own. Christians are very quick to find someone else to line up behind.
It’s hard to overstate the importance the Religious Right lays on the not-so-humble head of the nasty bigot-for-Jesus Kim Davis, who has become their newest and greatest mascot. She is to them as Benghazi was to Fox News: a reliable source of outrage in a world where outrage bleeds dollar signs.
Don’t believe me? Then here’s Mike Huckabee: “God showed up and he showed up in the form of an elected Democrat named Kim Davis.”
God showed up as KIM DAVIS.
The mind boggles, truly. This hypocritical, nasty, judgmental, bigoted, vindictive, smug, mean-spirited, condescending liar-for-Jesus is this Presidential contender’s idea of GOD?
I guess that explains a lot.
The Family Research Council–you know, the hate group that employed the otherwise-unemployable creep-for-Jesus Josh Duggar (seen here looking terribly earnest as he slams and smears gay people) until it turned out that their TRUE CHRISTIAN™ spokesperson had molested his sisters–came out with a surprisingly incoherent “defense” of their new hero. One shouldn’t be overly surprised at all the fervor around Kim Davis. The Religious Right needed a mascot super-bad, and she was right there when they needed her the most.
For a while there, they probably thought that Kim Davis was the answer to their prayers: a Southern Christian woman who talked exclusively in Christianese and was as fervent-sounding as fundagelical Fox News viewers could ask. I’m not saying this next part to shame her, only saying let’s face it: a dumpy, frowsy, jumper-wearing middle-aged Southern mother with frizzy hair, a Southern whine to her voice, and unflattering glasses was about as far from their imaginary prototypical criminal as the Religious Right could ever have hoped to have found. No intellectual, this. No dubiously well-educated maven of etiquette, here. No hellion of unapproved dangerous female sexuality unbridled and uncontained, either. Kim Davis would never give Mike Huckabee the vapors by cursing in his exalted penis-owning presence, any more than she’d ever make Fox News viewers feel challenged in their misogyny and bigotry. She’d never met a fundagelical talking point she didn’t like, nor had failed to internalize a single one of the most extreme of her extremist religion’s teachings. She managed to embody both the overweening narcissism of the Religious Right and its deep-seated (but misplaced) belief in its own humility, all while displaying its extreme hubris and smugness like peacock feathers in her hair. Like all the other idols had at first, she seemed completely perfect.
It was child’s play for people who’d become experts at distorting and mischaracterizing events to distort and mischaracterize Kim Davis’ situation into something that their pandered-to audiences could seize upon as PROOF YES PROOF of their persecution and impending government-sanctioned executions.
Then all her hypocrisy came to light.
Soon folks uncovered her habit of “terrorizing” staff in her office–staff who would have happily issued the licenses except for their fear of their tyrannical boss–a fact revealed by a great interview with Kentucky Trial Court Review. The interview concluded that Ms. Davis was acting entirely alone and basically putting the whole courthouse to a lot of trouble over her and her regressive, willfully-ignorant cult beliefs. And while right-wing Christians can always find ways to hand-wave away allegations of hypocrisy, hers just seemed so damned egregious. Far more disturbing in my opinion are the accusations of nepotism swirling around her and the impression she’s given numerous times of being a deeply awful person even aside from her weird-ass beliefs.
Look, Fox News was humiliated when their years-long smear campaign about Benghazi turned out to be totally unfounded. They quietly dropped that topic and skulked away from it, with very few returns to the well–returns which have been roundly picked apart and debunked. And every one of their other pet causes and mascots, once exposed as utter distortions if not fabrications, has gotten the same exact treatment. It’s like they completely forget a debunked or toppled idol even existed by the time they’ve finished leaping to the ice-floe containing their next manufactured outrage.
Another Symptom of Christianity’s Sickness.
Fundagelicals as a whole pick up new mascots like a child sorting through toys. When something shiny gets their attention, they pick it up and turn it over in their hands and maybe play with it a little, sometimes even with with great enthusiasm! But inevitably the toy fails to achieve the desired feeling and reaction, so they drop it and move on to the next toy, which starts the process up again.
It’s weird that they can’t find someone who is really worth making into a mascot for their message–and that they keep picking people who are categorically unworthy of the title. The people who are eager and willing to bray the loudest about their simple message (see beginning of post) turn out to be the worst people imaginable to present to the public. This endless string of mascots may keep money flowing in to the coffers of the people pushing them onto the stage, but their various hypocrisies alienate others even further from fundagelical Christianity–and chase even other Christians away from their causes.
Really, it’s almost as if they can’t find anyone decent to idolize.
I wonder why that is.**
Remember the rule: systems work the way their architects and leaders want those systems to work. If something keeps happening over and over again, then it’s because doing it some other way is not as rewarding to the people gleaning rewards from the current system.
At the end of the day, it’s not like all large groups won’t have a few wingnuts on the fringes. Usually we just ignore those elements and hope they either socialize into the group properly or else drift out to find somewhere else that’s more welcoming of their ideas and personalities. But we don’t raise those people up into idols–and if we do and find out they’re deeply awful people, we repudiate them and distance ourselves from them. We particularly don’t idolize people who would drive others away from our groups. It can be hard for some groups to neutralize and drive away members who are as bad for their groups as Kim Davis is for her tribe (especially in gaming culture, where ostracism and rejection can get seen as cardinal sins), but if it’s not done then wingnuts’ actions can cause a lot of havoc in their groups.
These idols in fundagelical Christianity are a major symptom of the disease infecting their body as a whole. They embody a mindset that values appearances and shows of religiosity over good character and compassion. Fundagelicals push to the forefront anybody who is willing to parrot their party lines and talking points, then react with indignation when outsiders scorn, mock, and criticize their chosen idols–or worse, consider our reaction to be evidence of their need to redouble their efforts to control us and our lives.
Meanwhile, the people in their group who actually are living out the commandments of Jesus–to love God, and to love their neighbors, to materially help the needy and comfort the hopeless–get insulted, mistreated, and called “lukewarm” and worse for opting out of fundagelicalism’s various culture wars.
We’ll know Christianity is starting to heal itself when Christians as a whole eschew these false idols and when they are the very first to debunk and expose their own hypocrites and bad elements. That kind of self-policing takes discipline, compassion, integrity, and true humility, which is why we won’t be seeing it in right-wing Christianity anytime soon.
* I wonder what this creepy pastor’s explanation was for why Josh Duggar sexually abused his little sisters in his teens? Who wasn’t sexually available enough to him then? Or is “sexual availability” only something that matters in adults-only adultery cases? And who wasn’t “sexually available” enough to his parents that they chose to cover up their son’s crimes until long after the statute of limitations had run out?
** No, I don’t.