Apocalyptic rhetoric of religious right is playing with fire

Apocalyptic rhetoric of religious right is playing with fire September 30, 2012

The religious right leaders and right-wing media predicting apocalyptic scenarios if President Obama is re-elected are just playing political games.

Photo by Graeme Jennings/Washington Examiner

When Robert Knight says an Obama victory will “push us over” the edge into “losing our constitutional republic,” or Matt Barber says the election is about “good vs. evil” and “may determine whether we as a nation sink or swim, live or die,” or when John Hagee says it will “bring absolute socialism,” they’re just talking out of their collective asses. They don’t really believe it.

That wild talk is just pep-rally hyperbole that they don’t really expect to come about any more than they really expected all of the horrific consequences they earlier predicted would come to pass when Vermont first allowed civil unions, or when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed.

But not everyone understands that it’s just a game. And not everyone understands that these over-the-top predictions and lies are just role-playing aspects of that game.

And when some of the people who listen to, and trust, these religious right spokespeople and right-wing media outlets hear what those folks are saying — and believe it, the consequences can be tragic:

Albert Peterson shot dead his wife and two sons hours after going to church because he dreaded the thought of Obama winning the election, a family friend has revealed.

A confidante of the family for the past 25 years has spoken to MailOnline about the strength and grace of the Peterson family, as well as the torment that plagued Albert which drove him to shoot dead his wife Kathleen and his two sons Christopher and Mathew at their suburban home [near] DC on Sunday.

A history of mental illness, the loss of a dear uncle, and a growing fear of Obama winning a second term in the White House took its toll on the mind of Mr Peterson, a wealthy defense contractor, the friend said.

The Washington Post has more.

The reckless rhetoric that this tormented man absorbed and latched onto is not directly esponsible for causing his actions. He was probably bound to latch onto something as a pretext for such destruction, and so the right-wing demagogues cannot be held directly responsible for making this man a powder-keg of violence and annihilation.

But they should take responsibility for flicking lit matches at that powder-keg.

I wonder if people like Knight, Barber and Hagee — like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Tony Perkins, David Barton, Rush Limbaugh and all the rest — ever pause after hearing stories like this and, even for a moment, contemplate the way their reckless words can lead to horrors for anyone frightened or foolish enough to take them seriously. I wonder if those folks ever lose any sleep over that.

I doubt they do. To them, it’s just a game.

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  • Fusina

     Ah, so not the sort that my children have been taught come with responsibility then. But yes to the lifting up of the second group.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    If a rational opposition party shows up, I’m sure they will be worth a listen.

    You mean like a left wing party?

  • Carstonio

    Thanks for the background. I knew some of that already. My question is about the criteria for deciding where a position or ideology falls on the spectrum.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    On the upside the right of our Tory Party isn’t characterised by religious fiundamentalism just extreme fiscal conservatism and classism.

    Which isn’t much of an upside if you’re poor.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    What makes Stalinism left-wing or libertarianism right-wing? Is the latter definition because libertarianism preaches economic just-worldism?

    The degree of government control of the economy.

    Total: left wing authoritarianism.
    None: Right wing libertarianism.
    A fair bit: Social democracy.
    Just enough for society to function: Classic liberalism.

  • Hexep

    Well, we got these two estates, sitting on opposite sides of the room, and naturally they have their own interests, and their own policies, and so each one had a fairly coherent ideology to it.  As democratic systems evolved in Europe, it proceeded much the same way, with new issues as they came up being allocated to one or the other side based on how, hypothetically, each of those two groups would feel about it.

    It’s possible to ‘break’ this system, of course, by introducing elements that neither one would have an automatic position on, and of course, there are times when both of them, or at least elements of both of them, came together to cooperate (like certain regimes that arose in Europe in the 20s and 30s, hm hm…)  It was also made dramatically more complicated by the rise of the new urban aristocrat, the merchant industrialist, whose loyalties were at first uncertain – since aristocrats were often interested in war, for nationalistic or ideological reasons, but those merchant industrialists (unless they made war supplies) often weren’t.  With the rise of labor unions, though, the relationship between urban workers and rural workers solidified in response to the solidified relationship between urban and rural aristocrats (since the urban and rural workers were often at odds due to food prices – urbanites wanted them down, ruralites wanted them up).

    By and large, though, the question boiled down to, what’s in the interests of  the aristocrats?  And what’s in the interest of the commoners?  When the system started, the aristocrats had a great deal of power, so they were the proverbial breaks on the system – they were the ones who wanted things to stay the way they presently were, hence them being the ‘conservatives’ in the sense of ‘wary of change.’

    There really isn’t a rule of thumb for these things, and all things being equal it’s a poor model (as is the 2D political compass, which is better but still isn’t really ‘good’) by the best guideline I can offer is, ‘is a given policy good to aristocrats?  If so, it’s right-wing.  Otherwise, it’s left-wing.’

  • aunursa

    So the Green Party is more in alignment with your values and goals than the Democrats.  It’s just that you want a party that can get people elected.  Do I have that correct?

    If that’s the case then your problem is not with the party; your problem is with your fellow citizens.  You (not just you specifically, but all those who share your values and goals) need to convince your fellow citizens to support the policies that you favor.  Absent that change, no party to the left of the Democrats will be viable statewide or nationwide in a winner-take-all system.  Alternately you need to change the election system so that seats are determined by proportional vote.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Thank you for the advice. We hadn’t thought of those at all. Tell us more, oh wise one.

  • Ben English

    Left and Right, Liberal and Conservative… They hardly have any real value as descriptors of someone’s political positions anymore. I consider myself a pretty conservative person: I’m not enthusiastic about the legalization of drugs, I think the free market is a good idea when the proper regulations and standards are in place, and I feel that Bush’s foreign policy was more of a fuck-up in the details than in the principles.

    Yet by the standards of the current GOP, I’d be radically left wing. I find the defense and exploitation of privilege against the less-privileged disgusting. I support marriage equality, don’t want pseudoscience bullshit taught in schools or given as health advice, support the first amendment protections against government-endorsed religion, and think that our tax system is vastly too regressive and needs to be overhauled. I don’t object to a single-payer healthcare system in principle but am skeptical that it could ever get anywhere in the US, and would settle for a government option or a bit more reform under Obamacare.

    Largely because of Fox News and religious extremism, nobody can call themselves a liberal in American politics and get anywhere. The terms ‘progressive’ and ‘social justice’ have been poisoned by guys like Glenn Beck. Hell, even ‘feminism’ gets you eyerolls because radical ‘wymyn born wymyn’ feminists have become the caricature the very word evokes–which is no accident, of course.

    And of course, the rhetoric not only renders facts, words, and ideas useless for political discourse, but also triggers horrible tragedies like the man in Fred’s post. My heart breaks for that family and that church. He wasn’t even a poor man, he was described as well-off. Obama’s reelection probably wouldn’t have noticeably changed his life: maybe even improved it, got him better health care.

    But now he’s dead. His wife is dead, and his two sons are dead.

    For no good reason.

  • David Starner

     There is no such thing as an objective political spectrum, especially if we tie ourselves to this one-dimensional right-left concept. People vary all over the place, especially by place and time, and the people of 14th century England or 21st century Iran aren’t remotely on what the people of the US or of Europe consider “the objective political spectrum”. It’s like maps; there is no objective map of space, and to the extent that there could be maps of the entire universe, they would be unusable large and biased simply by the projection to 2 dimensions. Any political spectrum, particularly one that reduces the huge variety of political views to a workable number of dimensions, is one arbitrary slice out out of the political universe, with bias being introduced in flattening.

  •  There is no such thing as an objective political spectrum, especially if
    we tie ourselves to this one-dimensional right-left concept.

    This is very true. While I’m not overly enamoured with their questionnaire, I do think that the 2-axis spectrum at PoliticalCompass.org is a good step forward, separating out the economic and authoritarian issues (as was alluded to earlier, with Stalin, etc).

  • The_L1985

    That’s the impression that I get, as well.  When I was a teenager, I found authoritarianism vaguely comforting, but as an adult, it terrifies me.

    However, that fits well to current events in the US, not so well to other times and places.

  • Fusina

    When I was a teenager, I found authoritarianism vaguely comforting, but as an adult, it terrifies me.

    Me too. It would be nice if someone had all the answers in nice compact book form, but no one does. Yeah, I know there are those who think they do, but they are all batshit crazy, and being someone who is an eyelash away from insanity myself, I kind of recognize crazy when I see it.

  • Carstonio

    By “objective” I mean evaluating political positions according to a single standard, instead of assuming that one country’s definitions of left and right should apply everywhere. I was looking for a word that’s the opposite of “relative.”

    The premise behind my question is partly what you and David rightly point out, which is that the left-right concept is misleading. Even the two-axis concept is misleading. The problem with looking at the degree of government control of the economy as a standard is that it doesn’t get at the goals behind specific types of control. The old USSR did arguably guarantee a bare minimum standard of living, but it was just as oligarchical as pre-revolutionary France or the Jim Crow South. Libertarianism either doesn’t recognize that its type of economic liberty inevitably leads to oligarchy, or else regards this as just another example of the world being a just place.

    I don’t pretend that my standard for gauging political positions – whether these reduce privilege or perpetuate it – should be the universal one. Among other reasons, it’s natural for people to have positions that would reduce privilege in some areas and perpetuate it in other. I’m more interested in having a standard that isn’t nation-specific. Others here have rightly pointed out that the folks who are normally considered liberal in the US would be considered center-right in Europe, and we shouldn’t assume that one is right and the other wrong. A roundabout way of saying that I think standards and principles are more useful than labels.

  • aunursa

    We hadn’t thought of those at all.

    The discussion has focused on the need for a viable party more liberal than the Democrats … or that an existing party simply needs to rebrand itself.  If you (collectively) accept that your actual need is either (a) to convince your fellow citizens to support your agenda, or (b) to change the election system,  good for you. Perhaps I missed the post on this thread that indicated that anyone had considered those necessities.

  • Lori

    Why oh why must you be such a complete and total tool about everything related to politics? No one discussed why the Green and Peace & Freedom aren’t viable parties when it comes to getting votes. It’s possible to answer the question of why they don’t get more votes without being nasty to/about voters.

    But I guess that”s difficult to grasp when one supports the party that’s working overtime to simply disenfranchise people who are electorally inconvenient to them.


    It’s possible to answer the question of why they don’t get more votes without being nasty to/about voters.But I guess that”s difficult to grasp when one supports the party
    that’s working overtime to simply disenfranchise people who are
    electorally inconvenient to them.

    I think it’s broader than that: it’s often simply difficult to engage with people who support something we oppose without being nasty to or about them, regardless of the particulars of the topic.

  • aunursa

    Why oh why must you be such a complete and total tool about everything related to politics? No one discussed why the Greens and Peace & Freedom aren’t viable parties when it comes to getting votes. It’s possible to answer the question of why they don’t get more votes without being nasty to/about voters.

    I’ve read these sentences three times slowly.  And I regret that your points elude me.  Reading through the thread I see that people have discussed why the Greens aren’t able to get votes.  And if you are implying that I was nasty to or about voters in my post above, I fail to see how.

  • There wasn’t an opinion poll for that, Lori.

     Also, Voter Fraud Writeup on BradBlog.

  • Lori

    I was saying that we can think that the Greens can’t get votes without thinking that the problem is with our fellow citizens (in the general sense).

  • Lori

    There ought to be a poll about what people think of the fact that the GOP is playing both offense and defense on voter fraud.

  • What everyone continues to tiptoe around is the freakishness of the evangelical right lining up behind a man they don’t (and I don’t, for that matter) consider to be a Christian.

  • aunursa

    I regret if I gave you the impression that I am arguing that the reason Green Party cannot get its candidates elected is due to a problem with your fellow citizens. 

  • AnonaMiss

    In other news, Glenn Beck asserts that Eve Online, the MMO, is actually a front for the CIA.
    To be fair, if any MMO were a front for the CIA, it would be EVE Online.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Since you seem to have missed my point earlier: my issue with you is that you assumed that our observing a problem and not in the same breath proposing a solution meant we had not put any thought into possible solutions, with a strong implication of we are too stupid to think of possible solutions. With or without the implication, that insults me. I doubt I’m the only one.

  • Tricksterson

    Ideally those are the functions of liberal and conservative.  One keeps things moving forward, the other keeps them from running off a cliff.  Unfortunately it’s currently the self proclaimed conservatives who are steering towards the cliff leaving the liberals in a role they’re not used to or comfortable with and thus not very good at.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Exactly.  I meant I’d like to see a party to the left of the Democrats be VIABLE.  As in, actually potentially getting elected.

    Step 1:  Cripple the Republicans.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     I’ve seen political compasses with 7 axes, I think that MIGHT be enough to start modeling politics beyond the US vs THEM level.

  • Step 1:  CrippleVanquish the Republicans.

    FTFY. They’re too dangerous to be left in a position where they can rise again.

  • Ben English

    Even if they rose again as a serious and thoughtful opposition to the Democrats instead of a frankenparty of various and sundry far-right interest groups? I mean, I’m not saying that’s likely, but it seems more likely than any sort of left-wing-but-not-off-the-deep-end party gaining traction.

  • Hexep

    I would love to see this.

  • Speaking of which, why are people all up in arms about registered Republicans or Democrats being switched in voter fraud cases?

    Your vote in the poll booth is anonymous and free. Whether you’ve been accidentally on purpose registered as a Repub has nothing to do with ticking off the (D) names.

  • Carstonio

    I tried ISideWith.com and got these results for agreement with my own positions:

    Jill Stein (Green) – 94%
    Obama – 89%
    Rocky Anderson (Justice)  – 78%
    Gary Johnson (Libertarian) – 66%
    Virgil Goode (Constitution) – 7%
    Romney – 3%

    What does it mean that a fringe party that explicitly endorses theocracy comes slightly closer to my views than a supposedly mainstream candidate?


  •  In some states, which party you are registered with determines which primary you can vote in.

  • Carstonio

    My state has closed primaries, so voters who aren’t Republican or Democrat can vote only for school board candidates, whose party affiliations are not listed on the ballot.

  • Well that hardly matters now; primaries are closed for the November elections. Granted, it’s still asshole behavior, but the way people are treating it, it’s like being Registered Republican somehow magically makes your vote at a secret ballot not actually appear in the box.

  • Lori

    I haven’t seen anyone up in arms about switching of (R) and (D) registrations, but I can think of a couple issues with it. Others have already mentioned voting in the primaries. That’s not relevant for this election, but most people don’t check their registration unless they change something (address, name after getting married or divorced, etc) so the switched folks could run into problems next cycle. There’s also the issue of which party is going to send you stuff in the mail making you aware of candidates and issues. I assume registration rolls are also used to recruit volunteers. So, it’s not the end of the world but it’s also not something that should happen on any significant scale.

    The thing I’ve seen people (justifiably) up in arms about is that the firm hired by the GOP to do registration was only registering Republican voters. They’d turn Dems away or toss their registration. That’s not only a jerk move, it’s illegal.