Thursday 4 July 2013

The night they drove Old Dixie down

Earlier I pointed out the irony that religious people in America, seeing America rejecting their beliefs on abortion, gay marriage, contraception and other social issues, are now insisting they are being persecuted. Despite the fact that they are hard at work persecuting their saner neighbors, using school regulations to torment non-conformist children, ramming their views down everyone else’s throats in the form of legislation, making it impossible for nonbelievers or even moderate Republicans to run for office, selling fear and hate, declaring war on the Boy Scouts for not hating enough, screaming hate at military funerals, going totally bonkers when people say “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas”, losing their minds when Obama figures out a work-around to allow women to get contraception. As though their religious liberty includes the “liberty” to deprive everyone else of their liberty. And then screaming “Persecution!” when they aren’t allowed to persecute others.

But there is another, even more appalling sign, to remind us of who is really persecuting whom.

Throughout history, an easy way of figuring out who is being persecuted, is looking for signs of “mental reservation”, or “mental equivocation”. That means that in a time of persecution, a person says out loud that they agree with the prevailing tyrant, while making a “mental reservation” to the effect that “no, I don’t really believe that, I’m just saving my neck”. Lying to man but saying the truth silently to God. Victims of persecution have been using this dodge since Roman times. Francis of Assisi used it, not to save himself, but to save another man who was about to be killed. By the 16th century there was so much religious persecution, that mental equivocation became epidemic, and widely discussed. .Shakespeare even made a joke about it – read the porter’s speech in the Scottish play. The philosopher Kant wrote about it.

Throughout history, the people being persecuted hid their beliefs. The Roman Christians hid in catacombs to pray. Jews in Nazi Germany professed Christianity or else hid in people’s cellars. Today, gays and lesbians still hide in their closets.

Today in America, only about 21-26 percent of Americans actually go to church each Sunday, essentially unchanged from when the nation was born two centuries ago. Lower than you thought, isn’t it?

But there is another 20 percent of Americans who claim to go to church, but really don’t. That’s 60 million people, lying about their religion. Because they know that if they admit they don’t believe, their neighbors are going to, here’s that word again, persecute them. Ostracize them. Beat up their kids at school. If you think I’m kidding, trying going down to Alabama and starting an atheist club for the local high school kids.

If religious people are so persecuted, why are non-religious people so terrified of the church people that they lie about their beliefs? Sixty million people, living in fear and embarrassment, right in the land of the “free”.

Even more striking, this pattern is not spread evenly across the country. A huge proportion of this is happening in the red states: the south and the Great Plains. And it’s not just nonbelievers, either: all across the south, there are atheists and agnostics, but also members of other faiths, and gays and lesbians, and moderate Republicans who don’t really believe the Fox News nonsense about Obama and gays and abortion – isn’t it astounding that moderate Republicans in the south, who were all over the place in the 1980s, seem to be totally extinct in just 30 years? They’re not extinct: they’re hiding until the purges and pogroms stop. Also in the closet down there, are the people who might want their daughters to receive sex education and HPV shots to prevent cancer, or want to buy contraception or Fifty Shades Of Grey without getting nasty stares at the store, or have their kids taught evolution without getting the Jesus-on-a-dinosaur lecture too. Or reopen the Planned Parenthood clinic so they can get their mom a mammogram again.

But what if all these closet moderates and liberals, all across the south, all came out of the closet at once?

What if they all proclaimed their true beliefs, and began organizing? What if they start registering people to vote: women and gays and blacks and Hispanics who want equality and fair treatment?

What if they decide to take over the south?

And what if moderate Republicans joined them? What if people like Dick Lugar and Susan Collins and even John Boehner finally said “screw it, I can’t keep repeating this Fox-Limbaugh hogwash for the cameras anymore, I’m abandoning the conservative extremists! Who’s with me?” What if the non-crazy half of the GOP got fed up and bailed out like Arlen Specter did?

All we need to do is ask them. Go down south, like Red Cross volunteers in a hurricane, hold out a metaphorical blanket and a cup of coffee to the moderates, the nonconformists, the people who are fed up with the hijacking of our country by the extremists, and say “Try leaving the extremists. Nobody is going to hurt you. Because the extremists are bullies, and all bullies are cowards. Like Harry Truman said, the Klan is a brave bunch, but they are only brave when they’re IN a bunch. Once they see that we have a bunch of our own, and that it’s going to be a fair fight, they will bluster and make some noise, but then they will run away. And then you don’t need to be afraid anymore. And we can begin cleaning up the mess they made.”

America’s conservative revolution has been a thirty-year Hurricane Of Stupid, but it’s blowing out to sea, and now it’s time to round up the survivors, and make the nation as though the hurricane had never happened.

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