Where she is now I can only guess

Where she is now I can only guess December 12, 2023

• I almost missed this post from back in August. Always good to see anyone covering the LaHaye-blogging beat: “Beyond Left Behind: The Lost Legacy of Tim LaHaye.”

Jared Stacey studies American right-wing white evangelicalism from a safe distance at the University of Aberdeen. He focuses there on LaHaye’s John Birch Society roots and the influence of the Council for National Policy.

It’s hard to discuss that latter group without sounding like a conspiracy theorist, but maybe that’s the best way to think of it. LaHaye, after all, was a full-gonzo Illuminati guy, imagining that much of history had been shaped by a small, secretive cabal of powerful men operating behind the scenes. He envisioned CNP as a kind of counter-Illuminati. He hoped and intended for it to work the same way he imagined the Illuminati worked — as a secretive, small cabal of powerful men operating behind the scenes to shape history.

• Here’s a more recent piece from the Anxious Bench, from Malcolm Foley, “Please Think Better About Race.”

Adolph Reed, Jr. gives what I still think is the best definitional framing of race: he calls it “a taxonomy of ascriptive difference”, an ideology that creates and solidifies a social order by “legitimizing its hierarchies of wealth, power and privilege, including its social division of labor, as the natural order of things.”

The clearest understanding of what all that means — “social order,” “hierarchies,” “difference” — may be Frank Wilhoit’s definition of conservatism:

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

Conservatism creates a “natural order of things” that, in turn, prompts two main reactions. The first is to realize that it is obviously preferable* to belong to the in-group, protected but not bound by law, and therefore to do everything one can to maintain one’s status within that in-group. The second is to reject this construct, insisting that there ought to be no such distinction between in-group and out-group and that the law should both bind and protect all, equally.

The white Christians that Foley is begging to “think better about race” are, overwhelmingly, responding in the first way. That response defines not just their politics, but their Christianity, which is why, for the sake of accuracy, it is necessary to employ terms like “white Christians” and “white evangelicals.” As long as they insist on clinging to their in-group status and defending its legitimacy, that status will be what identifies, shapes, and defines them.

* Well, membership in the in-group is obviously preferable in every way except one. But the question “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” also has an obvious answer: The whole world, duh. And once you’ve made that soul-surrendering choice, preserving the status of the in-group and your place within it becomes the obvious course of action.

• I can’t believe that Sandy Patti’s live album, More Than Wonderful, is now 40 years old. Time flies.

My friend Amy bought the Violent Femmes self-titled debut on vinyl when it first came out in 1983. She knew she’d be grounded if her parents caught her with it, so she kept it at my house where I recorded it onto a cassette for her. Just to be safe, we labeled that cassette “Sandy Patti: More Than Wonderful” and filled in the track-listing section with all the songs from that record (which also wasn’t bad, by the way — Sandy had some pipes).

Hearing that first Femmes album when you’re 15 is almost perfect timing, but 40 years later it still sounds just as fresh, even if we’re not a bunch of young punks anymore.

• Jon Dunwell is a Republican state lawmaker in Iowa. Given that he is still willingly aligned with the Donald Trump White People’s Party in the year 2023, I’m confident that he and I disagree about a great deal and that he is very, very wrong about some very, very important things.

But Dunwell’s response to the Satanic Temple’s festive trolling in the Iowa State Capitol is pretty good. He’s a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor, but he sounds commendably Baptist in his insistence on religious pluralism and to both of the complementary clauses of the First Amendment. (Dunwell does not make the foolish claim popular among white Christian nationalists that the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses are somehow in tension. He understands both religion and the Constitution well enough to realize that you can’t have one without the other.)

I also give Dunwell props for reminding his fellow white Christians of this: “The display is an inanimate object that has no real power in and of itself. We have nothing to fear.”

Dunwell echoes Rabbi Hanina and Regino of Prüm there because, like them, he is a monotheist. This is why his words were unpersuasive to many of his fellow white Republican Christians in Iowa. They are not monotheists, but rather monolatrous polytheists who are sure that the threatening presence of numerous other malevolent Gods means they have everything to fear.

Those Christians think Baphomet is an actual being who possesses terrible powers. They imagine they live in a world haunted by multiple pantheons of competing, warring deities, demons, demigods, and Jezebel Spirits. And so they cannot tolerate toleration. They cannot commit to the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise and freedom from establishment for all religious believers (and non-believers) because in their polytheistic universe, religious pluralism would empower the Enemy Gods in their war with the Biggest Strongest God.

That would be dangerous, they believe, because this war amongst the Gods is fought by proxy in the lives of us mortals. Like, last week, I was running late and so I was really just, Lord, really just praying, Lord, that you would let me find a parking space, Lord, that was just, Lord, close enough that I’d still be on time. And God gave me that parking space. But if we let them start putting up Baphomet statues in the state capitol then maybe the next time I’m running late God will be too busy fighting with Baphomet to be able to do that for me. Instead all of the good parking spaces will be taken up by my evil neighbors who don’t worship the Biggest Strongest God the same exact way I do and who are probably Satanic baby-killers who kill babies for Satan.

(If you think that last paragraph is unfair mockery by exaggeration, check in with whoever is answering the phones at Rep. Dunwell’s office.)

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