Bearing fruit

Bearing fruit November 4, 2010

I think Frank Schaeffer oversimplifies and overstates his case here, but he's also right in identifying a major contributing factor to the American tea party movement and its influence on the recent election.

To understand this movement and this election, Schaeffer says, you have to understand "the End Times folks." Specifically, he argues, you have to understand the phenomenally popular Left Behind series written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins:

Jenkins and LaHaye provide the ultimate revenge fantasy for the culturally left behind against the "elite." The Left Behind franchise holds out hope for the self-disenfranchised that at last soon everyone will know "we" were right and "they" were wrong. They are waiting for Jesus to do to the world what the tea party just did to America.

They'll know because Spaceship Jesus will come back and whisk us away, leaving everyone else to ponder just how very lost they are because they refused to say the words, "I accept Jesus as my personal savior" and join our side while there was still time! Even better: Jesus will kill all those smart-ass Democrat-voting, overeducated fags who have been mocking us!

I don't think we should ever try to explain an entire election due to a single cause. Pundits performing post-election "analysis" would do well to learn from the business pages of the newspaper, where this same sort of task is a daily chore. The best market-beat reporters scrupulously avoid the language of cause-and-effect.

"Markets fell/rose today," they say, "after X, Y and Z," reporting the post hoc but not the propter hoc. They're aware that each day's trading consists of millions of transactions conducted for millions of different reasons and that oversimplifying all of that by attributing the final effect to a single cause would be inaccurate.

But Schaeffer's case that the 2010 elections, and particularly the rise of the tea party movement, can be traced back at least in part to the ideology and ethics of the Left Behind series make a lot of sense.

The tea party is the early-21st century incarnation of the same far-right backlash that spawned the John Birch Society. Tim LaHaye's ideology and theology are a direct product of that same John Birch Society.

Fifteen years ago, the Birchers were unwelcome in the Republican Party. Sure, some of them were still around, on the fringes and in the closet, but the explicit Us vs. Them paranoia and the contempt for reality-based government had been shouted down due to a combination of principle (by Republicans who were not unhinged, tribalist nutjobs condemning the Birchers for being unhinged, tribalist nutjobs) and pragmatism (Republicans who realized that unhinged, tribalistic nutjobbery was not a winning electoral strategy).

But today the Birchers are back. They've acquired a new brand name — "tea party" — but they're just as tribalistic and nutty as ever.

So what changed? Many things — wage-stagnation, an expanding participation in the rights previously viewed as straight-white-male-gentile privilege, etc. — but one notable development over those 15 years was the sale of more than 65 million books by Tim LaHaye. Those 65 million books promoted and propagandized for LaHaye's John Birch Society ideology and for the warped ethics that makes that ideology attractive.

It seems likely that a political movement that corresponds so precisely to the agenda of such a phenomenally popular propaganda campaign is at least partly related to or a result of that propaganda campaign. It seems unlikely that so many millions of people could spend 15 years imbibing this poison without effect, and then suddenly, due entirely to unrelated causes, begin exhibiting precisely the toxic symptoms associated with that same poison.

The tea party, in other words, is Tim LaHaye's army. It's his Tribulation Force — except in this case it's out to force tribulation on everyone else.

That tribulation is what most concerns Schaeffer in his HuffPo column. He's worried about the harm that these rapture-drunk neo-Bircherites of the tea party are doing to America. I am too, but I'm more concerned with the harm that they're doing to themselves.

Likewise, I share Schaeffer's concern with the damage and destruction to America being wrought by Tim LaHaye's vile propaganda masquerading as theology, but I'm more worried about the harm his books are doing to the church and, even more than that, the pain and misery that his books are causing to his readers and followers.

When I speak of their pain and misery, I'm not just making a joke about the unpleasant experience of reading these awful, slipshod books — although such a joke would certainly be appropriate because, good Lord, these books are just horrible. But I mean a pain, misery and harm that goes beyond that unpleasantness. I'm talking about real pain, real misery, real harm being done to the people who swallow this poison.

LaHaye's readers — those who finish his books and embrace their message — are diminished. They become cramped and stunted versions of the people God meant for them to be. Their capacity for love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control is reduced. Their potential for truth, beauty and goodness is hobbled.

It makes them unhappy. It un-happies them. That's bad.

Fill a congregation or a Congress with such un-happied people and they will have the power to un-happy others as well on a much larger scale.

Also bad.

So yes, like Frank Schaeffer, I'm opposed to the neo-Birchers and the tea partiers and the "End Times folks" and I'm determined to prevent their miserable agenda from being realized. But I don't only want to oppose them.

I also want to re-happy them. I want to help them escape the un-happying prison of Tim LaHaye's cruel ideology and sociopathic antiethics and to become again people capable of happiness.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Brandi

    Very weird when people keep interpreting the buzz of verminous insects as voices.

  • mmy – Where is the regimental headquarters? If the material is in Ottawa, I’d be willing to go and take a look at it for you – with some provisos (largely time frame, but also the scope of the research), but I have friends and family there I can stay with, and we try to get up there every once in a while.

  • @MercuryBlue — when in college, I belonged to a living group whose members considered themselves “counter culture” and the rest of the student body deemed “hippie weirdos.”
    Among our many regular anti-establishment rituals was the sponsorship of Tea and Croquet on the Quad before finals.

  • @hagsrus: Not exactly, I think – if only because the whole ‘hating the sin but loving the sinner’ concept is artificial and rather patronising (which I’m sure was what you were saying between the lines).
    The thing is, there’s a lot of stuff in this world that makes me very, very angry – injustice and oppression and abuse of power and suffering and comfortable majorities who remain silent in the face of all this – and yes, there are humans involved in all this, but it’s more than just the sum of their individual sins. You can’t really single out someone and blame any of this on them, because in many ways people are as much victims (of their own fears and insecurities and the evil things they have been taught simply by being born in a particular society), as they are perpetrators – including me.
    So, while retributive justice may often be good and necessary, it doesn’t satisfy me, nor does it ultimately change anything. But seeing people liberated of their fears and greed and petty concerns, opening their eyes, and realising that there is a much bigger world out there – that means the world to me. And I think everyone deserves this experience, no matter who they are and what they’ve done.
    Sorry for being incoherent.

  • @Mike Timonin: Where is the regimental headquarters? If the material is in Ottawa, I’d be willing to go and take a look at it for you – with some provisos (largely time frame, but also the scope of the research), but I have friends and family there I can stay with, and we try to get up there every once in a while.
    What a lovely offer Mike. The regimental headquarters is actually in the process of moving but the information I am looking for should also be in Ottawa (I think.) I will get more particulars and get back to you.
    And again — how really nice of you. If you email me at mmycomments at gmail dot com I’ll fill you on what it is I am looking for.

  • …’victims’ might have been the wrong word there, as I do think people have a responsibility to actively examine, acknowledge and move beyond their ingrained fears/privileges/stuff. It’s just that discarding a worldview, or generally leaving your comfort zone, is an insanely difficult thing to do.

  • Brandi: Very weird when people keep interpreting the buzz of verminous insects as voices.
    That’s how the Necronomicon got written.
    Speaking of Teapublicans cutting social services, here’s the latest from the National Bad Government Laboratory:
    “Some Republican lawmakers — still reveling in Tuesday’s statewide election sweep — are proposing an unprecedented solution to the state’s estimated $25 billion budget shortfall: dropping out of the federal Medicaid program.”
    WHARRGARBL

  • @CU5012: And then when taxes drop because nobody’s left in the freakin’ state, they’ll declare their job done and sink the rest of the government with the bathwater. *sigh*
    (I’d definitely move outta that state if I heard Medicaid was being dropped :O

  • Good grief. You know I try not to indulge in being pissy about how Texas is full of FAIL, and then they go and say something that’s so completely full of FAIL that they ruin all my best efforts. Ghah.

  • MercuryBlue

    (I’d definitely move outta that state if I heard Medicaid was being dropped :O
    Trouble is, the people who qualify for Medicaid are the people who, if they have jobs, absolutely cannot afford to move somewhere that they might not have jobs. And if they don’t have jobs, they probably still can’t afford to move.

  • @MercuryBlue: Lovely catch-22, isn’t it? :(

  • MaryKaye

    Loving someone can mean confronting them and saying “This is wrong. You must stop” when it’s a lot easier to sidle away and avoid getting involved.
    It fairly frequently involves dragging my emotionally disturbed child kicking and screaming to somewhere he doesn’t want to go.
    The idea that loving behavior always involves allowing the other person to go on doing what they want is a lie put forward by folks who want license to continue to do what they want. Certainly not all harsh and forceful behavior is loving, but there are situations where that’s the only way to go, and it’s important to recognize them.

  • @MaryKaye: The main problem I have with that is that the so-called “tough love” motif is abused by right-wing politicians as a way to justify and rationalize kicking people off welfare.
    What is appropriate for families is not appropriate for government policy and it behooves us to remember the distinction.

  • Lunch Meat

    I’ve been thinking all weekend about practical ways to “re-happy” people, and I have a couple of thoughts. First of all, I really can’t think of any way to get people who are older than me to listen to me. If they are to be rehappyed, it won’t be by me. But I do have a lot of younger college students who look up to me, and I think I can influence them. If I can influence them now, that’s a lot fewer people they’ll hurt when they’re older. The other thing is that unless someone actually approaches me and tells me that they’re unhappy, it’s hard to think of what I do as trying to make them more happy. What I do is instead try to give them an alternative to the authoritarian religion they’ve grown up with, to challenge the assumptions that a Christian has to act in a certain way. This encourages some of them not to feel guilty about “non-Christian” things they do, and discourages others from judging or telling people what to do.
    Sometimes, what that looks like is casually talking about what kinds of alcohol or dancing I like. It also means loudly and actively advocating for queer rights on our campus. Sometimes it means disagreeing with a given interpretation of a particular Bible verse. And–I hesitate to say this because it sounds so stupid–this weekend was the first time I actually openly acknowledged being a Democrat, instead of fudging it with “I’m an independent,” which makes me sound above the political process. I’m tired of Democratic affiliation being a shameful thing to acknowledge among Christians, and that’s how I grew up. But I want to show younger Christians that you don’t have to be ashamed of being different than the default, traditional way we’re supposed to act. I don’t know if I’m “rehappying” anyone, but I hope I am challenging people’s assumptions, and maybe next time they’ll think before they judge someone else for drinking alcohol, or feel guilty for disagreeing with a preacher. Really I just try to start conversations with people and hope someone thinks about it.
    I don’t know if that makes sense–I’ve got a massive headache and I’m about to go home and sleep.

  • @Lunch Meat: your post made me happy. It’s the little mustard seeds :). Good for you!

  • Lunch Meat: I don’t know if I’m “rehappying” anyone
    Well, let’s see:
    I hope I am challenging people’s assumptions, and maybe next time they’ll think before they judge someone else for drinking alcohol, or feel guilty for disagreeing with a preacher.
    Yep, I’d say that goes a long way towards increasing “their capacity for love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
    Sorry about your headache, but you make *me* feel a little happier by your posts.

  • MaryKaye

    Pius Thicknesse writes: “The main problem I have with that is that the so-called “tough love” motif is abused by right-wing politicians as a way to justify and rationalize kicking people off welfare.
    “What is appropriate for families is not appropriate for government policy and it behooves us to remember the distinction.”
    There are ways in which government must also be tough-love. But you can’t be loving to someone in ignorance of their actual needs, which rules out anything done based on stereotypes or preconceptions. Most of the “get them off welfare” rhetoric seems to be spoken from a distance, about faceless stereotypes, not about individual real people. This is dead wrong, and I feel no hesitation in condemning it while still acknowledging that sometimes government must do harsh things.
    I think about this a lot because I am parenting a child whom the State took from a parent who really wanted to keep him. I have to confront, nearly daily, the question of whether this was the right thing to do, and why. I also have to confront the issue of the sibling who was *not* removed–was that right? Why?
    What the State did was very tough indeed, and it has left a lot of scars. But I think I would probably have done the same; in fact the eight years of trying to keep that family viable have also left atrocious scars, and it might have been better to be ruthless sooner.
    Tough love gets used as an excuse for abuse. But it’s a necessary concept; we can’t lose it for fear of the abuse, or we fall into the opposite evil of enabling behavior. Quite often the opposite of a vice is not a virtue but another vice, and the middle way is where you actually need to be.

  • Raj

    Will Wildman: Genghis Khan supported religious freedom, public education, infrastructure investment, and scientific development.
    “Right, but apart from the religious freedom, public education, infrastructure investment, and scientific development, …”
    “And the intercontinental postal service!”
    “And it’s safe to travel from Asia to Europe!”
    “All right, then, but apart from the religious freedom, public education, infrastructure investment, scientific development, postal service across Earth’s largest landmass, and safe travel in notoriously dangerous areas, WHAT HAVE THE MONGOLS EVER DONE FOR US?!!!????”

  • Xavier

    Heh, Raj. Yeah, people often focus on the fact that Genghis Khan was a bloodthirsty bastard, and think he was a mass-murdering barbarian that pillaged everything in his way. The man was an enlightened despot, for the standards of his time, creating a empire with remarkable religious/cultural tolerance, peace, order and social progress. All his apparently mindless killing was carefully calculated, to scare his enemies into surrendering and his subjects into obedience. And he successfully applied those “shock and awe” tactics to conquer and govern the biggest land empire in history.
    But then he died, and everything slowly slipped into chaos, as those things usually go.
    (And good luck with your re-happing campaign, Lunch Meat.)