Insincere bigotry

Insincere bigotry August 13, 2010

The Liar Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, appeared on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday morning.

I refer to the Liar Tony Perkins as “the Liar Tony Perkins” because the Liar Tony Perkins lies. A lot. He lies professionally in order to convince the fearfully credulous to send him more money.

And that, of course, is what the Liar Tony Perkins was doing Sunday morning on Face the Nation. He was lying.

The delicious thing on this particular Sunday morning — unlike the Sunday mornings on which the Liar Tony Perkins is, inexplicably, allowed to attend church as though a member in good standing — he was called on it.

David Boies didn’t just accuse the Liar Tony Perkins of lying, he pointed out that the lies of the Liar Tony Perkins had been laughed out of court. (Steve Benen provides a transcript, John Cole the video). Here is what Boies said as the Liar Tony Perkins blinked and squinted and shook his head:

It’s easy to sit around and debate and throw around opinions —
appeal to people’s fear and prejudice, cite studies that either don’t
exist or don’t say what you say they do. In a court of law you’ve got to
come in and you’ve got to support those opinions. You’ve got to stand
up under oath and cross-examination. And what we saw at trial is that
it’s very easy for the people who want to deprive gay and lesbian
citizens the right to vote, to make all sorts of statements in campaign
literature or in debates where they can’t be cross-examined.

But when they come into court and they have to support those
opinions and they have to defend those opinions under oath and
cross-examination, those opinions just melt away. And that’s what
happened here. There simply wasn’t any evidence. There weren’t any of
those studies. There weren’t any empirical studies. That’s just made up.
That’s junk science.

… A witness stand is a
lonely place to lie. And when you come into court, you can’t do that.
And that’s what we proved. We put fear and prejudice on trial, and fear
and prejudice lost.

In response, the Liar Tony Perkins, unable to support his assertions because they were not true, simply reasserted them. To any reasonable observer, this was not credible and the Liar Tony Perkins was exposed, yet again, as the Liar Tony Perkins.

But reasonable observers are not the Liar Tony Perkins’ target audience. “You can fool some of the people all of the time …” Abraham Lincoln said, and the Liar Tony Perkins never stuck around to hear the rest. He had found his calling.

There’s an interesting moral distinction to be examined here and I’m still struggling to figure out whether it matters or how it matters if it does.

The lies of the Liar Tony Perkins are hateful and harmful. His lies have victims. Two sets of victims, actually.

First there are the direct victims — the people about whom the Liar Tony Perkins is lying. Quite often, those direct victims are homosexuals, whom the Liar Tony Perkins accuses of all manner of nastiness. These lies are hurtful — not just because they create a din of incessant harassment, but because they alter the cultural environment in which GLBT persons must live. The Liar Tony Perkins is, intentionally, creating a hostile environment for our GLBT neighbors. That hostility can become tangible — hindering the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of those neighbors, restricting their freedoms, their ability to make a living, to find housing, to pursue relationships, to live unmolested. This hostility and harassment can have a particularly forceful impact on young people, harming self-esteem, identity, health and happiness and leading, in extreme but by no means rare cases, to a host of problems including suicide. The unending hostility sown by the lies of the Liar Tony Perkins can also inspire actual violence, leading to physical injury to the neighbors his lies are slandering.

So that’s bad.

The second set of victims, the indirect victims of the Liar Tony Perkins’ lies, are those naive or foolish or fearful enough to believe him. These victims are doubly victimized. First they suffer financially by responding to the Liar Tony Perkins’ incessant appeals for contributions. Collecting money under the pretext that it will provide imaginary protection from an imaginary threat is, of course, fraud. And the victims of this fraud are being deprived of their hard-earned money.

But these believers in the Liar Tony Perkins are also victims in a second, more pernicious way. Their character is being corroded and poisoned by the steady diet of lies fed to them by the Liar Tony Perkins. Their capacity for love, for tolerance, magnanimity, citizenship, mutuality, honor, kindness, responsibility, hope, hospitality, generosity and neighborliness is being diminished. When you are deceived into believing hateful and stupid things you become yourself more hateful and stupid. This is not good for you.

Now, as David Boies pointed out, it is clear that the Liar Tony Perkins is lying. When he cites “numerous studies” showing that homosexuals are a danger to children and a menace to society we know that he is familiar with those studies and that therefore he knows that they do not say what he says they say or show what he says they show. Some of the studies do not exist at all. The Liar Tony Perkins simply made them up (that’s the “research” part of “Family Research Council”). Presumably, therefore, he knows he made them up.

So we know he’s lying. It may be that he has chosen to tell this particular set of profitably toxic lies because he dislikes his direct victims and enjoys harming them. It may be, in other words, that the Liar Tony Perkins is a bigot telling lies to spread that bigotry.

But it’s also altogether possible that the Liar Tony Perkins doesn’t actually harbor any personal dislike for the GLBT neighbors about whom he is telling such hateful, absurd lies. It may be that these neighbors are simply an especially profitable target of convenience.

For a demagogue in search of a subject for his demagoguery, our GLBT neighbors must seem an easy target. They are in the minority, and they are different from the majority, and therefore they are doubly vulnerable. Plus, to some devoutly religious believers — the pool from which the Liar Tony Perkins fishes for fearful, foolish donors — GLBT persons are also viewed as sinners, and that can be exploited to provide pseudo-spiritual cover for all manner of bigotry and slander.

We should note here that this religious cover is a sham, a non-sequitur. It does not follow. One cannot logically proceed from the belief that same-gender sex is a sin to the conclusion that homosexuals ought therefore to be denied full access to civil rights.

Many of the conservative Baptists among whom I grew up believe that dancing is a sin. I have never heard any of them suggest that weddings are invalid if there is dancing at the reception. Nor did any of them argue that professional dancers ought to be relegated to second-class citizenship — forbidden to marry, to adopt children, to serve openly in the military. They didn’t argue such things because it wouldn’t have made sense. The leap from “dancing is a sin” to “dancers are subhuman and should not have rights” is illogical and it’s bad theology by their own standards. The belief in a religious prohibition against homosexuality can be exploited by demagogues to produce and nurture bigotry among those who are prone to bigotry, but that religious prohibition is not, in itself, the cause or the source of that bigotry.

The question I am puzzling over here is does it matter whether or not the Liar Tony Perkins is, himself, a sincere bigot? Is there any sense in drawing a distinction between an actual bigot promoting and profiting from a bigotry he truly believes and a con-artist demagogue performing the exact same actions and saying the exact same things despite not actually believing the bigoted lies he’s selling?

The net effect on others is the same in either case. Both make the world a crueler, more brutal, less hospitable place. Both increase the aggregate stupidity, diminish freedom, manufacture unhappiness and produce tangible harm for their direct and indirect victims. We could do nicely without either one.

So from the perspective of the rest of the world, I don’t think it matters at all whether a demagogue promoting bigotry is sincere or insincere. But for the demagogue himself I think it does matter. I think it matters for — for lack of a better word — his soul.

The soul of a sincere bigot is a sad, shriveled, broken thing in need of what all such broken souls require — repentance, forgiveness and liberation. The sincere bigot requires the liberation that comes from repentance and forgiveness because he — like all of his followers — is a prisoner of the lies he is spreading. He is deceived, but the truth could set him free.

The insincere demagogue is less a prisoner than a jailer. Or maybe a corrupt trusty. He has the keys to his own cell door but chooses not to leave so long as he can profit from inducing others to accept the bondage he’s selling. He knows the truth, but he refuses to allow it to set him free. He has, willingly, exchanged his soul for money.

Jesus himself said that was always an option. “What profit is it,” Jesus asked, “if you gain the whole world and lose your soul?”

What profit?” the insincere bigot says. “You just said you gain the whole world. There’s your profit right there.”

So for the rest of us, it probably doesn’t make any difference whether or not the Liar Tony Perkins or the Liar Glenn Beck or the big, fat freaking Liar Rush Limbaugh are sincere in their bigotry or not. I don’t think any of them is sincere. And I think, for each of them individually, that makes matters much, much worse than if they were.


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