The American right wing's ability to make parody redundant has gone from being a bitter joke to being a bitter cliché. It's an observation so frequently made because it's so frequently true.
For an astonishingly explicit example of this, check out the Conservative Bible Project* at Conservapedia. Yes, that's right, they've decided the Bible will have to be rewritten due to its obvious liberal bias.
This requires a closer look precisely because of that old joke about the irrelevance of satire.
Consider what that joke means. Satire works by exaggeration, but it can't be arbitrary exaggeration. It's only effective (or funny) when it adheres to the trajectory of the idea it lampoons. The target of satire offers a series of points in succession and the satirist ridicules these ideas by continuing down that line, racing ahead to the next logical points in the established progression and demonstrating the inherent absurdity of those ideas by taking them to their logical — and necessary — extreme conclusions.
The satirist and the extremist are thus in a kind of footrace. And, as the Conservative Bible Project demonstrates, the extremists these days are winning. They're getting there first — beating any would-be satirist to the finish line and the punch line.
Thus we have Poe's Law, which states, "Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing." The Internet provides dozens of illustrations of this, Web sites that come to function, simultaneously, as parodies and as earnest expressions of the beliefs of extremists. The intent of those sites' creators may not even matter because, if the satirist is doing her job well, she will wind up at precisely the same point further along the trajectory at which the extremist will, sooner or later, arrive. Or vice versa. To paraphrase Flannery O'Connor, all that descends into absurdity must converge.
The CBP is a fine example of this. It reads like parody, even though it isn't. It presents an exaggerated, extreme view, but that extremism and exaggeration is not the product of a satirist's mockery. This makes it unintentionally funny but also, more importantly, it makes the CBP useful as a herald of what is to come. Soon. The CBP illustrates the inevitable destiny of the religious right. This is where things are headed, where things are going, possibly faster than you expect.
Observe Christianity Today, the moderate mainstream of evangelical America. Draw a point to represent that perspective. Now observe Dr. James Dobson, broadcasting his right-wing nuttiness on more than a thousand radio stations. Draw another point there. (Those two points aren't that close together, but we're not concerned here with distance as much as with direction.) Dobson's ultimatum led Sen. John McCain to select abdicated Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. Palin quickly became a revered spokesperson for Christian conservatives. So draw a third point there for Sarah Palin.
Now we have three points, so now we can be sure. Get a ruler and connect the dots. Start with CT and keep going past Dobson, past Palin, and see where it takes you. This is the trajectory. This is the direction in which things are headed. Dobson looks like a parody of CT and Palin looks like a parody of Dobson, but these aren't parodies, simply slightly more extreme, exaggerated forms of the same ideas, further down the line.
And if one continues along that same line, then one eventually has to try to rewrite the Bible. It may be a bit surprising that the folks at Conservapedia are so enthusiastically transparent about the project — that they have so few qualms about editing, redacting and altering their alleged scripture so that it no longer condemns their ideology and their idol. But it's not surprising that they've come to this point.
This point is on the line and following that line leads, inescapably, to this point. It was unavoidable.
So I want to take a closer look at this project. It's ridiculous and extreme and brazenly blasphemous and colossally illiterate, but this is the future of the religious right. This is what's next. Don't think of it as a point further out along an ideological spectrum, think of it as a point further along in the inevitable chronology of American evangelicalism.
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* Thanks to Michael B., Adrian T., Andrew M., Chris H., Craig L. and Steve S. for linking to this via e-mail.