Sunday, April 08, 2007

The View from Next Door

Hullaballoo is running a good series right now on the homegrown American theocrats, the types who believe that their God really does have a political position on everything from taxation to Communism. It's definitely worth checking out, although if you've been more or less keeping up with the literature, you don't so much have to read the text as the editorial commentary (much of the text is approaching word salad anyway).

It's important to realise that these people are influential in their own way in the US political spectrum, and they're genuinely masters of using the Overton Window to inch their ideas surreptitiously into the public discourse. They don't actually need as much help with this as you might think, because they share deep ideological roots with much of the dominant US hard right (regardless of their intrinsic motivations), so their in-practice political positions are not too far off the "mainstream" of hard-right pseudofascist thought anyhow, even if their rationale for supporting these positions is completely different. They also represent another faction in the concerted action that has been pulling the US rightward for about 35 years now.

I have to take a slightly different tack on this than most bloggers who are writing on the subject, because I'm not a US citizen, so the concept of my defending US Constitutional rights just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I do believe that there are valid rationales for opposing US theocracy, even without doing it from a US-Constitutionalist perspective. First of all, from the point of view of a minoritarian civil libertarian (small-l, since I'm politically most closely aligned with the libertarian socialists, it's the right thing to do. Secondly, and this falls on the shoulders of the people actually living within the US' borders who can, say, vote in elections and petition elected representatives (and expect a response), a theocratic US would be very bad news politically and economically for the rest of the world.

I collect variations on an aphorism, heard in roughly the same form in various satellite countries of the US. In Canada, we say, "If the US sneezes, Canada catches a cold." In Australia, they say, "If the US sneezes, Australia gets covered in mucus." In Israel, they say, "If the US sneezes, Israel gets pneumonia."

What then if your country comes down with dancing mania, or, dare I say, Jerusalem syndrome?

If the theocrats take over, a US economic crash is almost inevitable (after a quarter-century of neoconservative rule, and yes, I'm counting Bill Clinton in there, since, despite accruing a surplus, he basically let the Republicans set his fiscal and domestic policy -- it's looking less and less avoidable anyhow). And if you go down, you take down practically the rest of the world with you. Canada, your second-largest (for years, the largest, but has now been superceded by China) trading partner, goes. The UK, the third-largest foreign holder of your Treasury securities, goes. Australia goes, albeit to a lesser extent. Israel, which is already on the brink of financial ruin, having first destabilised its functioning collective-based economy in an orgy of privatisation, and is now pumping vast amounts of treasure and blood into maintaining its war machine, goes. You'll probably hurt Japan, India, and China, too, although you won't destroy their economies quite as thoroughly. Remember how the Asian Currency Crisis basically caused a worldwide nuclear winter in the financial and employment sectors? If your economy crashes, multiply that by about ten.

Not only that, but you'll also destabilise world political relations. Who would want to deal with you? On the other hand, who would want to risk antagonising you, either?

Unfortunately, you, as US citizens, own this problem. There's very little the rest of us can do about it, since (surprise, surprise) we can't vote in your elections or petition your government effectively. What we can do is try to make you aware that the big world out here does actually give a damn about the problem (from where I'm sitting, being conversant in US politics isn't a hobby, it's a survival skill), and can point you to the bigger, non-US-centric issues.

Good luck.

A Brief Tangential Note: That reminds me... A friend of mine put a lovely quotation up on his LiveJournal today about how the true practice of Christianity is love, and how anyone who doesn't practice this isn't really practicing Christianity and so on. Peachy sentiment, but unfortunately, it really chaps my ass. My first reaction, speaking as an atheist and religious conscientious objector, is to say, "I'm sorry, what? And all true Scotsmen wear kilts."

You moderate liberal Christians, I love you all individually, but I'm sorry, you really don't get to cop out like that. Those guys, the Rushdoonys and the Peter Paces and Jerry Falwells of the world, they all self-identify as Christians. You can have all your private little doctrinal struggles, but from where I'm sitting you own those guys. You need to deal with them too, since they're interpreting your religion as their prime motivation for doing the crazy evil shit they're up to.

There isn't a damn single atheist you can say that about, and I don't want to hear any bullshit about either Stalin or Pol Pot, since neither of them did what they did because of atheism; they happened to be brutal, genocidal dictators who followed a political philosophy that had atheism as one of its minor tenets. Re-write the historical context of The Communist Manifesto so that organised religion wasn't an active collaborator in the oppression and suppression of labour (funny how that works, isn't it?), substitute a collective state religion, and it would have come off precisely the same way.

You own these folks, and you'd better damn well start standing up to them with Scripture in hand, because from where I'm sitting, the evangelical funnymentalist megachurch mindset is taking over, and that's not too far removed from Sinclair Lewis' formulation, "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."

You've all got some work to do. We'll keep up our end if you keep up yours. Good luck, again.


Blogger Theo Bromine said...

You own these folks, and you'd better damn well start standing up to them with Scripture in hand, because from where I'm sitting, the evangelical funnymentalist megachurch mindset is taking over, and that's not too far removed from Sinclair Lewis' formulation, "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."

Been there, done that, it's a thankless task, and possibly an inherently unsustainable position. After converting from Judaism to fundamentalist Christianity in my teens, I regained enough sanity through my 20s and 30s to become a socially conscious liberal Christian, and spent considerable time and effort in person and on Usenet newsgroups trying to explain to the atheists that not all Christians were like Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson (with some measure of success) while simultaneously trying to talk some sense into the fundies (with success measured largely in Sisyphean terms).

Over the past few years, I have given the whole mess up and become an atheist. Which just goes to prove that the fundies were right all along - hanging around with atheists and thinking liberal thoughts (or perhaps just thinking at all) is a clear threat to faith.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Interrobang said...

Well, thank you for trying. See, it isn't completely thankless.

I don't think all atheists think that all Christians are just like Falwell et al -- if you notice, I didn't say that; I said that liberal Christians owned the problem that is Jerry Falwell et al. Even conservative sane Christians own the problem, so it isn't just liberal Christians. I still don't want even moderate Christians setting public policy in accord with religious tenets and ignoring facts, but that's a whole 'nother discussion. I do think that a lot of atheists think that all religious people are nuts to some degree or other, but I'm not really in any position to throw stones at anybody for being nuts to some degree or other, since I'm a mostly-walking bundle of neuroses myself.

On point, heretics like me have no standing to even attempt to address the problem.

4:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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4:59 PM  
Blogger Theo Bromine said...

I appreciate your thanks - perhaps futile might have been a better description than thankless, since from my current atheist perspective, I'm not sure what the point of all that arguing turned out to be, in the end.

liberal Christians owned the problem that is Jerry Falwell et al.

Liberal Christians may own the problem, in that it colours perceptions of Christianity, but in my view, the proper solution to this is for them to very strenuously and publicly *disown* Falwell and his ilk. (When I was a Christian, I often said that I did not even seem to believe in the same God that Falwell did.)

As for "conservative sane Christians", I doubt the existence of such an animal, depending on your definition of "sane".

9:06 PM  
Blogger Interrobang said...

I think "disown" is an ok phrasing, as long as by "disown" you don't mean "go around saying 'so-and-so is not a true Christian" etc. To me, speaking as someone who has never considered themselves a Christian, that sounds like more intra-Christian doctrinal squabbling, and finger-pointing. I mean, the Catholics say that about everyone else, evangelicals say it about non-evangelicals, conservative sects say it about liberal sects; it's tired. It's plum worn out.

I do accept the existence of conservative Christians who are sane, actually. I've met some extremely religious Christians who I would describe as "religiously conservative" who are sane. That said, the paramount example of a conservative religious person who is also sane that springs to mind is a fellow I know who is Orthodox Jewish, and very much so. (He's also a scholar of ancient languages and cooks so well I once asked him if I could be his shabbes goy if he'd feed me in return!) I'm not sure there are very many religious political conservatives who are also sane, though.

As to ownership, I do think there's something to that. If I were in a historical context where it actually mattered, I'd probably be one of those anticommunist socialists, like Theodore Seuss Geisel was, once upon a time, or Yevgeny Zamyatin, or even Upton Sinclair. Since there are currently no ideologues and despots working under colour of socialism trying to take over the US or Canadian government who actually have a credible shot at doing it, I'm not really sure I have a problem at the moment. There are, however, ideologues working under colour of Christianity who do present a very real threat of taking over at least the US government and remaking it in their own image, or their psychotic image of their god. That is a problem, or at least should be to anyone who considers themselves a non-theocratic Christian.

1:40 AM  
Blogger Interrobang said...

Comment spam deleted. Swan, you've been posting that crap all over the blogosphere. Cut it out.

1:41 AM  
Blogger Theo Bromine said...

Speaking as someone who was a Christian for 30-odd years, the problem is that deciding who is a "true Christian" is very important to most Christians. Yes, it's doctrinal squabbling (and by the way, you left out the "liberals say it about conservatives" part). The point is that Christianity is about being right - there's a reason why Christians often call their religion "The Way".

Which leads to the question about "sanity" of Christian believers. Let's start by leaving aside any clinical diagnosis (dammit, Jim, I'm an engineer, not a psychiatrist). Let's continue by agreeing that someone can be sane (but incorrect and/or deluded) while at the same time having a relationship with an imaginary being (I don't think I was less sane while a Christian). But if you are defining a "sane Christian" as one who is non-theocratic, I will agree, though I would be more likely to call this "perspective" rather than "sanity". For example, I know conservative Christians who personally believe that sex between homosexual or unmarried heterosexual people is morally wrong, but they also believe that it is not up to Christians to impose morality on non-Christians. Jewish people are even more likely to take such a position, since even (or perhaps especially) for the Orthodox, Judiasm is intended specifically for Jews, and there is no expectation that non-Jews should be bound by their rules.

So, maybe what we need to do is be explicit - challenge liberal Christians (and even conservatives with sanity/perspective) to disclaim and disown theocracy. But, I have no idea how they might do that. Perspective is a dangerous thing for a Christian - very threatening to their faith. To an atheist, a threat to faith looks like a silly trifle, but to most Christians, it's like the difference between life and death.

11:35 PM  

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