Back in 2002, the Barna Group issued a post called “Surprisingly Few Adults Outside of Christianity Have Positive Views of Christians.” (They blamed “the thrashing that evangelicals receive in the media” for this poor impression. Really.) Nothing’s gotten better since then. We’re going to talk about that perception and how Christians seem to be focusing on some very strange priorities in an effort to shore up their waning power.
Sometimes when people can’t possibly achieve a goal or don’t really want to achieve it, they start setting some downright odd priorities to make themselves feel like they’re getting something done. Lately we’re seeing some of that behavior out of Christians–and it’s another sign that things are getting better (for the rest of us). Misplaced priorities are just part of the dying pains of a major movement.
This time it’s not quite as comical–or as harmless–as their apparent war over how brightly-lit their churches should be during services. This time they’re attacking tolerance itself.
Last time we talked, I mentioned the conference that just ended recently, Freedom 2015: National Religious Liberties Conference. As you might imagine from the dogwhistle* term buried in the name, it was a festival of distorted tales of woe and hand-wringing from the current favorite professional and amateur liars-for-Jesus, all spewing the most popular of the current crop of overly-politicized apologetics catchphrases and logical fallacies masquerading as theology. Their speakers are a smorgasbord of extremist bigots who have mistaken scorn, legal fines, mockery, much-deserved criticism, and pushback for persecution, as The Daily Beast has described.
The conference’s site features a whole gallery of “Targeted Men & Women of Faith” that includes the Benham brothers, who were slated to have a home-improvement show on HGTV until someone discovered they are really the worst bigots-for-Jesus ever, and various other bigots-for-Jesus who got fined or otherwise legally smacked down for discriminating against LGBTQ people. They, the organizers of this conference, and the gullible sheep who bought tickets to this fiasco seem to think that pushback and mockery is actually punishment for “just being Christian.” Also showing up to speak were Republican politicians who hope to be nominated for President: Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Mike Huckabee (spoiler alert: I have a better shot at that nomination than any of them do).
Weird priorities: as above, so below.
As Right Wing Watch outlined in their review of the conference, a number of the speakers specifically said that they think letting same-sex couples marry is going to be the thing that pisses their god off so much that he has to destroy our entire country with a hammer. So when they warn us that they know exactly what will finally get their god to show himself and do something unmistakably miraculous and tangible for the first time in all of recorded human history instead of making the cosmos look exactly and precisely like there’s no gods in it at all, obviously we can totally trust their assertions.
It’s really just the weirdest thing ever: this god apparently has the same exact set of totally warped and misplaced priorities his followers do, and he hates the same people they hate. Phillip Kayser, a pastor who genuinely thinks that he should be allowed to “execute” gay people and who openly wants to institute a Christian theocracy in America, was one of the speakers insisting that his tribe of Christian zealots simply cannot have “religious freedom” without being allowed to trample all over the civil and bodily rights of LGBTQ people–and that if Christian are not given this pseudo-freedom, which they have decided is defined solely by their ability control a secular nation’s government so they can give themselves the right to discriminate against anybody they think is ickie and subhuman, then their buddy Republican!Jesus will feel “intense wrath” and nobody wants that, right? So do what they say he says, and nobody gets hurt.
There’s another name for using threats of violence to get one’s way. It’s not a very nice name.
But seriously, gang: who’s surprised that this is the strategy they’re pursuing to persuade those outside their tribe to let them have their way? Fundagelical theology is built around threats of violence–who’s going to be hurt, when, how, and by whom. Their entire response to those threats is figuring out how to avoid the pain they imagine is coming to dissenters. What, did you think it’s just some wacky coincidence that any time they don’t get their way, they start menacing those who speak out against them and making grotesque threats against anybody who doesn’t immediately comply? Like every other serious negative in this religion, violent threats aren’t a flaw of their system; they’re an inevitable outgrowth of its teachings even in mildest form.
As Mr. Kayser specifically stated in his speech, allowing LGBTQ people to access the exact same rights that fundagelicals get, the rights that our Constitution gives all American citizens, is “a whole lot worse” than the “tyranny of King George and Parliament” that kick-started the whole American Revolution. His implicit threat: give us back the right to persecute, demonize, smear, and bully LGBTQ folks, or else maybe, just maybe, we’ll get our asses up off our couches and rebel against the American government. Yes. You heard him right. His comparison wasn’t simply pulled out of his ass. He wants his audience to be thinking about armed rebellion against the American government.
Now, when the Christians at this conference talk about what this pastor calls “the radical LGBTQ movement,” what they are actually talking about is gay people wanting to get married and not face persecution in their daily lives from, well, the Christians at this conference. LGBTQ rights are about a lot more than that, but same-sex married couples and the inability to discriminate legally are really what has them so upset–and what they’re fighting against so hard against in the name of their vicious, hateful, tribal, brutal god, and what they are totally sure is this god’s last straw.
Strange, isn’t it, what a god’s last straw is?
Their god didn’t give a shit about American slavery, or about black people being lynched–any more than he minded any other genocide in history, or any other country’s habit of asserting ownership over people’s bodies.
He was okay with the various villains of World War II exterminating millions of Jews–his chosen people, remember–and other folks.
He hasn’t lifted a single finger to help the people who are facing genuine religious persecution in the world today–not even Christians, though there are not nearly as many Christians facing persecution as fundagelicals would like to pretend.
He doesn’t mind that millions of American children go to bed hungry every single day, or that thousands of American children are killed and hurt every year because of gun violence. (And if he seriously cares about fetuses, then it’s curious that he hasn’t done something definitive to stop abortion in America–surely there are way more women having abortions than there are same-sex couples wanting to be married.)
He doesn’t care that hundreds of people on Death Row in America are actually innocent of the charges that will lead them to their eventual executions.
None of that got him up off his ass.
Not a single bit of it provoked a single definitive reaction from him.
But two men kissing?
Oh, it is motherfucking ON now.
Their god didn’t care about any other problem America has had or created or faced, apparently, but the thing that’ll finally reach through his daze and make him want to forcefully exert his power over the world is same-sex couples committing to each other for the rest of their lives in the same legally-binding way that opposite-sex couples can.
And fundagelicals wonder why their religion is losing so much power and so many people?
Do they really?
It’s not because people are ickie and sinful. It’s because fundagelicals themselves are in complete disobedience to what their own Bibles have told them to do as followers of Jesus.
It’s not because our consciences have been seared. It’s because theirs have been, and so badly that they can’t even tell what’s good or bad anymore because they have totally lost whatever moral compass they might have possessed once in their baldfaced play for power in American culture and politics.
Even if you don’t believe in our religion’s claims, they tell us, you must obey us. You must fear what we fear, and hate who we hate. Or else.
The other baffling thing about fundagelicals’ insistence on using threats to get their way about equal marriage is that they’re demanding that we buy into their threats when they’re well aware that we simply don’t believe in their religion’s supernatural claims.
If I walked up to this Kayser fellow and told him that the Giant Invisible Pink Unicorn had said that if he didn’t give his car to me, then the Unicorn (blessed be his mane!) would trample him to death and gore him with his sparkly white horn, I doubt that this Christian would give me his car. No matter how sincere I sounded in issuing this threat, and no matter how much I apparently believed the threat was a valid one myself, if I couldn’t make him see that it was a valid threat, then he wouldn’t feel compelled to do what I had commanded.
Westley noticed the same thing in The Princess Bride when he took on the mantle and name of the Dread Pirate Roberts: a threat has to be recognized as valid before the target of it will feel compelled to obey. Otherwise, the reaction looks a lot more like the kids’ dance instructor at the beginning of Lilo & Stitch when Lilo explains that if she doesn’t give Pudge the fish the kind of sandwich he likes, then he won’t control the weather the right way. Her dubious instructor doesn’t exactly bend over backwards to excuse her for being disruptive when he hears about the implicit disaster she averted! He doesn’t take the threat seriously at all, and neither does the audience even though the distressed child is clearly totally convinced of Pudge’s power and potential anger. In the same way, when someone issues a threat that we know (or strongly suspect) isn’t based on reality, then we don’t feel compelled to obey the demands of the person issuing that threat.
There’s a lot of narcissism in right-wing Christianity, and one can hardly blame them for being this singularly incapable of considering other people’s points of view when they’re being run ragged themselves with fear and threats. They are terrified of their god’s anger, and so obviously everybody else should be too. And if we act like we’re not, then either we’re lying–since everybody secretly totally believes in the Christian god even if we say otherwise–or else we’re ignorant of the enormous risks we’re running in not obeying the same demands that Christians claim they must obey.
Now, there are two ways of handling a situation in which a threat has been issued but isn’t believed by the other person.
1. The ideal way: proving that the threat is credible.
For example, the recent history of climate change has pretty much been about how scientists figured out how to communicate to a skeptical public how serious the threat is. If you’re interested in science wonkery, it’s a hell of a detective novel in and of itself:
It is an epic story: the struggle of thousands of men and women over the course of a century for very high stakes. For some, the work required actual physical courage, a risk to life and limb in icy wastes or on the high seas. The rest needed more subtle forms of courage. They gambled decades of arduous effort on the chance of a useful discovery, and staked their reputations on what they claimed to have found. Even as they stretched their minds to the limit on intellectual problems that often proved insoluble, their attention was diverted into grueling administrative struggles to win minimal support for the great work. A few took the battle into the public arena, often getting more blame than praise; most labored to the end of their lives in obscurity. In the end they did win their goal, which was simply knowledge.
Americans’ own government was terribly skeptical for a long time, in no small part because our legislators are themselves hugely involved in industries and businesses that really don’t like the idea of the limitations and regulation that would result from us taking climate change seriously. Because those scientists busted their humps finding the evidence that reasonable laypeople would need in order to take their threats seriously and then communicated their findings in an understandable way, eventually we’ve gotten to the point where we’re starting to listen to them, with our President even stating that climate change is now a serious national security issue.
But Christians are going the other route with responding to outsiders’ skepticism.
2. The less-ideal way: Finding scarier-sounding threats.
The big problem is that Christians can’t find evidence that their god is a real being (and one needn’t wonder for long about why that might be the case). They can’t find us credible proof that the threats they’re issuing on this being’s behalf are anything for us to worry about. They can’t even find evidence that the supernatural itself is real, much less that their god is especially and particularly upset about the idea of same-sex couples marrying. They can provide us with absolutely no evidence that their threats are to be taken more seriously than the idea of a fish causing thunderstorms if he’s not given his favorite sandwich.
Instead, their solution has been to find ever-more-gruesome threats to wield against us in the hopes of finally finding one that terrorizes us as much as they are themselves terrorized, to frighten us into the same compliance they themselves pretend (and largely fail) to exhibit. And if their god will not himself hurt us, then they’re willing to help poor widdle baby Jesus out since he’s so busy lately ignoring people, and menace us themselves.
If they can’t persuade, then they are content to terrorize.
And that’s what this whole “Freedom 2015” conference is about. It’s not about freedom at all. It’s about bondage, and not the fun kinky kind, but rather the kind Christians want for the rest of us. It’s about Christians masturbating to the idea of their god finally, finally, finally showing himself in the most spectacular way possible, about finally seeing critics get what’s coming to them, about finally being shown to be correct, about finally being given the keys to the city in every sense of the idea.
Like evangelicals back in my day at least imagined the Jews of the first century were like, these Christians have this idea of a Messiah who is not a suffering servant but a wrathful, vengeful warlord who will arrive Any Day Now to destroy, rend, punish, and hurt everyone Christians hate and fear while giving honors and glory to his chosen people.
And they’re just in shock that we’re just not buying the threats they’re issuing to try to get their way.
Freedom is slavery; slavery is freedom.
Liberty is oppression; oppression is liberty.
No wonder it’s all falling apart. Conferences like this one are another sign that Christian leaders are starting to sense their power failing. While we may shiver at the constant drumbeat of savage violence and hatred being advocated in these gatherings, perhaps we can also take heart: fifty years ago, no Christians would have needed a conference like this one. Even better, behavior like this is exactly what’s thinning their herd more and more by the day.
* A dogwhistle term is one that sounds innocuous to those who aren’t in the know, but which will be immediately obvious to anybody “with ears to hear.” Republicans are particularly fond of the tactic to communicate race hatred without actually sounding overtly racist, but Christians are quite fond of the idea as well–listen for terms like “consequences,” “traditional,” “dominion,” “stewardship,” and of course the new big fave, “religious liberty/freedom.” It’s like how people in their 40s and 50s can say one line from Monty Python and instantly communicate reams of information about both themselves and the actual discussion topic, except it’s evil instead of awesome. We’ll talk a lot more about this sometime later on because it’s fascinating stuff–but for now I just wanted to brush up against the idea so we’re all on the same page.