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The Psychology of Christian Fundamentalism
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 17, 2006 8:40 am    Post subject: Spanking the Alpha Monkey Reply with quote

Spanking the Alpha Monkey

Virginia Sen. George Allen (R)

Well, good ol' George Allen really put his foot in it, didn't he? And here we were, just now having this talk about men with high social dominance orientation and why they make piss poor leaders. With his brilliantly arrogant and thoughtless characterization of a native-born Indo-American as a monkey, Allen's just sewed up the 2006 nomination as the poster boy for this particular social disease. (An impressive achievement it is, too, considering the number and quality of candidates in the running this year.)

Make no mistake: this was an aggressive act of social dominance, an intentional effort to humiliate and degrade a person based on his race and ethnic background, and his position on the other side of the political fence. Allen didn't appear to think twice about publicly insulting S.J. Sidarth, a native-born Indo-American traveling with Allen's campaign to tape events for his Democratic opponent. (Allen had similarly embedded one of his staffers with Jim Webb's campaign.) Sidarth was a kid with a camera -- just another part of the crew, hardly above the attention threshold of a senatorial candidate who's spending his days mingling with the rich and powerful. So what on earth inspired Allen to call him out, in the middle of his campaign speech, to the assembled crowd?

It was simply this: He thought he could get away with it. He thought that a southern Virginia crowd would be friendly to such ideas, maybe even grateful to hear a politician unafraid to speak them out loud. He believed, as militia members and perpetrators of hate crimes often do, that he was merely expressing the community's tacit values.

You have to wonder where Allen, who grew up in California, got this idea. By the mid-60s, not even George Wallace or Strom Thurmond would dare say stuff like this in front of the cameras (though we know that Nixon, among others, wasn't shy about saying it in private). They knew better. Everybody in politics, in both parties, knows better. How did George Allen fail to get the message?

Salon's Michael Scherer has a very well researched, thoughtful article up this morning (Salon Premium subscription may be required). While Allen's been acting like the word "macaca" just fell out of his mouth -- "as if he had suddenly been taken over by an evil spirit and spoken in tongues," Scherer says -- he presents the etymology of the word "macaca," (or "macaque"), a North African word for "monkey" that's long been used by Europeans in Africa as an alternative to the n-word. Scherer points out that Allen's mother was raised in Algiers and speaks five languages; she almost certainly knew the word.

Scherer lays the blame squarely on high social dominance gone wild:

To understand the full import of Allen's gaffe, it is worth taking another look at the video, which will live for eternity on the Internet and in political attack ads. It is not just a matter of what Allen says, but very much a matter of how he says it. He has singled out one member of the audience, a 20-year-old volunteer whose ethnicity already distinguishes him in a former bastion of the Confederacy. Allen is smiling. He is enjoying himself. It is exceedingly difficult to see Allen as doing anything other than connecting with the crowd by attempting to humiliate another human being -- to make him feel like an outsider, like he doesn't belong, like he will never belong. "Let's give a welcome to macaca, here," the senator crows. "Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."

The performance strongly suggests Sheriff's definition of "interpersonal domination" at work. Allen is being a bully.

Scherer goes on to lay out Allen's resume as a bully, charting a typical path that begins in a family of wealth and privilege, rough-and-tumble play with siblings, "alpha jock" status as a high school football player, and his early (and apparently continuing) affection for the Confederate cause. According to Scherer, Ryan Lizza, a reporter for The New Republic,

asked Allen about the Confederate flag pin he wore in his senior photo at a tony California high school. Allen responded by mentioning the funding he is seeking in Congress for historically black colleges. Lizza asked about Allen's initial opposition to Martin Luther King Day, the noose he once hung on a ficus tree in his law office, and Allen's support of a Confederate History and Heritage Month that did not mention slavery. Allen deflected all the questions, while hinting that he was a changed man. He said he recently went on a "civil rights pilgrimage." He cares about genocide. He recently passed an anti-lynching resolution....

This new person is the one Allen wants America to see. But it is far from clear if that is the person he is. Political scientist Larry Sabato, who remembers Allen as a tough-guy jock back when they were undergraduates at the University of Virginia, said he thinks the gaffe last week shows the real candidate. "In these unguarded moments, Allen does show his true self."

Another look at John Dean's list of high-SDO traits puts it all in clear relief:

Typically men
Intimidating and bullying
Faintly hedonistic
Cheat to win
Highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic)
Tells others what they want to hear
Takes advantage of "suckers"
Specializes in creating false images to sell self
May or may not be religious
Usually politically and economically conservative/Republican

The American people, to their credit, will usually refuse to put such people in positions of power -- if they have a chance to clearly see them for what they are before it's time to pull the lever. We're fortunate that S.J. Sidarth was there with his camera to catch Allen showing us his true colors.

“We all obeyed George. If we didn't, we knew he would kill us."

The following excerpts from George "Macaca" Allen's sister's book are kind of awesome:

Explaining why she is scared of heights, Ms. Allen writes that “Ever since my brother George held me over the railing at Niagara Falls, I’ve had a fear of heights.” [Fifth Quarter: The Scrimmage of a Football Coach's Daughter, page 43]

Referring to George’s relationship with one of her boyfriends: “My brother George welcomed him by slamming a pool cue against his head.” [Fifth Quarter: The Scrimmage of a Football Coach's Daughter, page 178]

Referring to George’s early leadership skills, Jennifer wrote: “We all obeyed George. If we didn't, we knew he would kill us. Once, when Bruce refused to go to bed, George hurled him through a sliding glass door. Another time, when Gregory refused to go to bed, George tackled him and broke his collarbone. Another time, when I refused to go to bed, George dragged me up the stairs by my hair.” [Fifth Quarter: The Scrimmage of a Football Coach's Daughter, page 22]

Referring to George’s early career aspirations, Jennifer wrote “George hoped someday to become a dentist. George said he saw dentistry as a perfect profession - getting paid to make people suffer.” [Fifth Quarter: The Scrimmage of a Football Coach's Daughter, page 22]

Referring to George’s habit of terrorizing a Green Bay Packer fan in their neighborhood, Jennifer wrote that the fan’s mailbox often “lay smashed in the street, a casualty of my brothers' drive-by to school in the morning. George would swerve his Mach II Mustang while Gregory held a baseball bat out the window to clear the mailbox off its post. . . . Lately, the Packers fan had resorted to stapling a Kleenex box to the mailbox post to receive his mail. George's red Mustang screeched up beside us, the Packers fan's Kleenex mailbox speared on the antenna.” [Fifth Quarter: The Scrimmage of a Football Coach's Daughter, page 16]
It appears George has always been an asshole and a bully
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 28, 2006 5:24 am    Post subject: Tunnels and Bridges, Part I: Divide and Conquer Reply with quote

Tunnels and Bridges, Part I: Divide and Conquer
August 25, 2006
David Neiwert Blog
by Sara Robinson

America's founders understood all too well that would-be authoritarians would always be among us; and that holding on to our democracy would involve a constant struggle against their ongoing efforts to control us. That's what Ben Franklin was talking about when he said that we have "a republic -- if you can keep it." And what Tom Jefferson was alluding to when he told us that "the tree of liberty must be watered occasionally with the blood of tyrants and patriots." They knew that democracies are not established once, but re-created continuously as each generation reasserts its freedom against fresh generations of would-be rulers. It's an ongoing conversation about liberty, equality, and power that's re-negotiated – sometimes more peacefully, sometimes less -- every day.

They also knew that our homegrown wannabe kings and dictators have momentum on their side. High-social-dominance (SDO) authoritarian leaders are always among us, always pushing, always scheming, always looking for their next chance. There is no opportunity to take control, legally or illegally, that they won't fail to exploit, as long as the gains promise to outweigh the costs. As Edmund Burke did not say (but usually gets the attribution for anyway): all that's required for them to succeed in this endless quest for power is for the rest of us to do nothing.

Unfortunately, the ease and confidence of living in a prosperous society under a strong Constitution makes kicking back and doing nothing a very easy, attractive option. You can be blithely oblivious to these guys for years -- until the day comes when you've got a fundamentalist school board trying to teach your kids young-earth creationism; or militia guys jackbooting up Main Street at noon and performing blitz redecorating on the local synagogue at midnight; or a born-again president trying to bring on Armageddon for the profit of the oil companies and the acclaim of his Rapture-minded followers. On that day, we're jolted out of our reverie. Where did all these wackadoodles come from? Of course, they came from us -- because we didn't take seriously the threat they pose to the continued existence of our democracy, or our constant obligation to keep an eye out for the authoritarians in our midst, and take steps to prevent them from amassing followers and power in the first place.

In this next extension of the "Cracks In The Wall" series, I'd like to expand on the strategies outlined in Part III, and show how they might be applied in larger spheres – at the community and national level. What works to bring individuals back from right-wing fantasyland may also work to open large tunnels in the Wall, and build bridges over which the softer core of followers can make a safe return to the reality-based world.

An Authoritarian Taxonomy
Our discussion so far has looked at three different classes of authoritarians. I'd like to start with a quick review of these three groups, and the things that motivate them.

First, there are the high-social-dominance leaders, whose primary goal is to amass and expand their social dominance over others. To this end, they are dominating, overtly or covertly opposed to equality, focused on power to the exclusion of other concerns, and usually quite amoral. Rules don't apply to these guys (and they are almost always guys); they'll do whatever they think they can get away with to get what they want. Since it's extremely rare for someone with a high social dominance orientation (SDO) to ever really change, our only option is to isolate them.

Second, there are committed “hard-core” right-wing authoritarian (RWA) followers. These people were usually raised in authoritarian homes, or have spent so many adult years in the system that there's not a lot of hope that they'll ever be capable of operating outside of it. Some of these people do leave, eventually; but these are flukes at best. Generally, it's best not expect that they'll have too much interest in moving to our side of the wall.

Then, there's the third and largest group: “soft-core” RWA followers who probably came to authoritarianism during an episode of major life stress, or were seduced into it with heavy propaganda from friends and right-wing media. This group may form as much as half of the current authoritarian voter pool in America. These people usually weren't always authoritarians; and they're the ones we have the greatest hope of bringing back around to a full embrace of democratic principles.

Effective bridge-building begins with being clear about which of these three groups you're addressing, because the strategies and messages are very different for each.

Leaders: Identify and Isolate
My experience has been that we non-authoritarians -- especially more progressive ones -- tend to discount the central role leaders in authoritarian organizations. Generally (and especially compared to RWAs), we don't pay a lot of heed to authority in our lives. When we do encounter it, we take its measure, reckon its limits, and give it only the required level of credence and respect.

This loose approach to authority can lead us to underestimate the overweening power authoritarian leaders exercise within their organizations. If we're going to be effective, we need to understand their importance, develop radar that picks out these high-SDO personalities quickly and accurately, and understands the subtleties of how they're operating. Books like Dean's are a great basic education.

Get Out Your Shovel -- Once the leaders are identified, they need to be isolated. The best way to do this is to discredit them in the eyes of both the public and their followers. For that, you need dirt.

Fortunately, these guys seem to move more dirt than the Mississippi. The tediously predictable amorality of high-SDO authoritarian leaders means they've got piles of bones buried in their back yards -- many of which can be dug up with surprisingly little effort, especially in these days of electronic public records and global Web access.

Faithful Orcinus readers have seen this in action, as Dave regularly dredges up all kinds of pungent dirt on extremist leaders in various movements. Part of this is that, as an old reporter in the field, he's got a long memory and a tracker's knowledge of the terrain, and thus knows exactly where to pitch his shovel. But another part is that there's so much dirt that you don't always have to be skilled or lucky to find it. They really don't care about which laws get broken, where the money went, or who got hurt by their actions. Their future destruction can usually be found -- quite readily -- in their pasts. If you're even halfway lucky, you may even find a disillusioned and betrayed former follower or two who, for the price of a beer, would love to get a few fascinating stories off their chests. If you're looking for a trail, just follow the line of burned bridges behind them.

Once the leader's history of spousal assault is on the front page, or he's frog-marched into court on fraud charges, the followers evaporate like seawater on a hot day. Note that this applies to right-wing leaders at all levels: it's how scores of communities have put a stop to small racist thug groups; over time, it's also the way the entire Bush Administration is slowly being discredited.

Sandbox 101 -- Another way to isolate high-SDO leaders is to leverage their propensity for schism. If the movement has multiple leaders, look for the tension between them – and leverage it.

The greatest miracle of the Republican rise over the past three decades is the extraordinarily high level of cooperation the movement was able to get from so many high-SDO leaders. Most authoritarian leaders (literally) flunked Sandbox 101 in preschool: they don't like to share, and they only cooperate when the shared goals are compelling. Alliances between them only last as long as all parties are convinced that there's personal power to be gained by staying. As soon as that equation changes, they're instantly out shopping for a better deal.

The conservative takeover succeeded because of the sweeping scale of the goal: national, if not global domination. That's perhaps the only goal high-SDOs would regard as worth putting in a long-term cooperative effort for. Everyone involved understood the stakes -- and knew that they'd only get there if they set aside personal issues and stuck together for as long as it took. But, once the goal is within reach and it's time to discuss divvying up the spoils….ahh, that's when everyone's individual motives shoot back to the foreground -- and the follies really begin.

In most authoritarian groups, whether religious or political, schisms are so frequent as to be almost comic. Jealousy between leaders runs high, egos are prickly, tempers volatile, emotional intelligence not much in evidence. The more followers they get, the less stable alliances become. This internal instability is predictable -- and exploitable, in the hands of a smart opposition. (According to one experienced activist, if you've got good dirt on one leader, make sure it first gets into the hands of his most ambitious co-consipirator – then sit back and watch the fun begin.)

All we need to do is stick together better than they do. For some of us, that's not always easy; but victory belongs to the last team standing. Sometimes, with these guys, it's just a matter of waiting for their own hubris to finish the job for you.

Hard-Core Followers: Meet The New Boss
The inner circle of right-wing authoritarian (RWA) followers backing these leaders won't be impressed by your dirtpile, unless their guilt-evaporation mechanisms are totally on the fritz. If their leader has an incest conviction in his past, yeah, you may get their attention. Otherwise (as we've seen), they're already primed to forgive. It's a mistake to count on their outrage.

Once their leaders have been isolated and discredited, though, the hard-core followers usually just fade away quietly into the woodwork. However, be sure you get their names before they go: the odds are good that you'll see them again, years later, emerging under the banner of another charismatic leader. Longtime Orcinus readers are familiar with the ways in which militia leaders, for example, pop up over and over in different guises, different groups, and different areas of the country. Same old faces, same old story. They can't help themselves; they're just wired this way.

This is the group most likely to commit political violence. As these followers move away from their discredited leaders, it's especially important that strong community voices make it absolutely clear that aggression will not be tolerated -- and will be prosecuted, either in the court of law or the court of public opinion. In particular, they need to be told in no uncertain terms that, in the larger community, there is no such a thing as a righteous or acceptable violent act. We know who they are; we regard them as troublemakers; and they will not enjoy our support or mercy if they continue to create problems within our community.

Soft-Core Followers: Back Toward the Mainstream
Unlike the hard core, the softer core of followers is far more likely to be sensitive to public embarrassment. In fact, being caught in fealty to a real low-life scoundrel can feel a lot like a betrayal to them. Their leader has exposed them to the jeers of their peers, and made them look personally ridiculous. For people who believe in their deepest hearts that they are more moral and righteous than others, the public and humiliating loss of moral authority within the community can lead to a moment of re-direction.

During that shift, many of them will be looking for stronger, more stable authority to lean on. Remember that RWA followers respond to legitimate authority -- and for most of the soft-care, that usually still includes the cops, courts, and clergy. It's critical to have these authorities standing by to provide the rules and structure these followers crave, and who can model constructive behavior.

We see this in small-town fundamentalist churches caught in pastor scandals. When the church disintegrates, some members move to other churches; but there's always a solid percentage that loses faith entirely. On a national scale, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly have been losing listeners quarter over quarter since the news broke on their hillbilly heroin convictions and misplaced falafels, respectively. In all these cases, the followers who left were the ones “on the bubble,” with the strongest ties to the reality-based world. These are precisely the people we are most likely to welcome back over the Wall.

Looking at these three types in groups, and applying some of the lessons discussed earlier in the series, points us in some potentially useful directions when it comes to dealing with authoritarians at the local, regional, and national level. We'll look at some of those directions starting in the next part of this series.
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Sandy Price

PostPosted: Mon Aug 28, 2006 4:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There is a lot of reading to do in this thread alone and I have appointments to keep today. I will, however make a simple statement that much of what ails Americans today is simply a lack of rational and critical thinking taught from early childhood.

Americans have become lazy and apathetic due to a lack of curiosity in their lives and in their leadership of Congress. they want only to be left alone with certain safety nets placed under them so they do not need to know anything about anything.

Where I sit, their lack of survival skills will get us all killed. We are simply sheep waiting for the shepherd to tell us what we must do and if we stray there are always plenty of sheep dogs waiting to shove us in the right direction.

Some hard core academic scholastic curriculum introduced into the schools would help us all if only to make us able to communicate openly and accurately with defined terms to help us understand what it is we don't know.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 28, 2006 4:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sandy Price wrote:
There is a lot of reading to do in this thread alone and I have appointments to keep today. I will, however make a simple statement that much of what ails Americans today is simply a lack of rational and critical thinking taught from early childhood.

Americans have become lazy and apathetic due to a lack of curiosity in their lives and in their leadership of Congress. they want only to be left alone with certain safety nets placed under them so they do not need to know anything about anything.

Where I sit, their lack of survival skills will get us all killed. We are simply sheep waiting for the shepherd to tell us what we must do and if we stray there are always plenty of sheep dogs waiting to shove us in the right direction.

Some hard core academic scholastic curriculum introduced into the schools would help us all if only to make us able to communicate openly and accurately with defined terms to help us understand what it is we don't know.

I agree completely about critical thinking. I would add apathy to the equation also.
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 06, 2006 5:45 am    Post subject: Can Authoritarians change their beliefs? Reply with quote

Dr. Bob Has The Map
Monday, September 04, 2006
by Sara Robinson dneiwert.blogspot

It's been long enough now that nobody probably remembers this, so let me recap:

"Cracks In The Wall" and "Tunnels and Bridges" found their genesis in John Dean's summer blockbuster, Conservatives Without Conscience. Dean, in turn, based his book largely on the work of Dr. Bob Altemeyer, the University of Manitoba social psychologist who has spent the past several decades researching the social contour of authoritarianism.

Yesterday, both Dean and Altemeyer were at Firedoglake's Sunday book club discussion. Several participants asked Dr. Bob (as he likes to be called) what the odds are that right-wing authoritarian (RWA) followers can actually change their beliefs. Here's his reply:

Is there really nothing that we can do to change authoritarian followers? Well as I said, some things seem to work. I mentioned how high RWAs want to be like everyone else in many regards. Another thing that “works,”–and this truly astounds me–is that authoritarian followers do get affected by their experiences when you’d swear there was not chance. So I have found, both in surveys and in an experiment I ran one time using myself as the “target,” that once high RWAs meet a homosexual or learn that someone they knew was a homosexual, their attitude toward homosexuals becomes more favorable. (I’m not gay, but I told a class of my students one year that I was for the purpose of this experiment.) So despite all their preconceptions, the highs saw reality and changed. Another thing that works is higher education. Students at my large public university drop in RWA scale scores about 10% on the average over the course of a 4-year undergraduate education. But the students who drop the most are the ones who came in being very high. (I don’t think it’s the profs who cause this to happen, but simply the highs meeting a much wider variety of people than ever before.)

But as John Dean mentioned, normal approaches to changing someone’s mind (reason, discourse, exposure to scientific evidence) do not work with authoritarian followers, but instead provoke a dogmatic response. (The comment from the person from Cincinnati who says the conservatives he knows will change slowly, but not if they are treated with disrespect and humiliated) applies here, I think.) The dogmatism goes back to the way the followers have formed their beliefs, which has basically been to copy the beliefs of the authorities in their lives. They really don’t know why those are the right ideas; they’re taking other people’s word for it. Most people have done more figuring-things-out-for-themselves, so when they get challenged they can go back to the reasons they believe what they do. And if better reasons leading elsewhere come along, why not follow them? But the high RWA is poorly equipped to handle such a challenge. He can respond with the counter-arguments he has been inoculated with, but if they get swatted aside he is lost. And not only is that particular point lost, but the whole shooting match is now in jeopardy because of the simplistic way (”It’s all right or it’s all wrong”) he thinks. So dogmatism is his best defense, and he’s perfectly willing–as I suspect many of you have found–to end an argument he has lost by saying, “OK, you believe what you want, and I’ll believe what I want.”

That's a pretty strong corroboration of what I've been saying here. "High RWAs" are those who score high on Dr. Altemeyer's scale of right-wing authoritarian orientation -- the committed followers. As we've seen, reason doesn't reach them. But, he goes on to say, the very recipe I've been describing -- education, exposure to other people, better skills that enable them to process complexity, and experience in using and trusting their own judgment -- does.

And, yes, says the good doctor: RWA followers have more mental flexiblity than we tend to give them credit for. Just because they don't have great reasoning skills, it doesn't mean they're incapable of acquiring them.

It's a nice confirmation: we really do have good reason to hope that, with the right kind of support, these people can be persuaded to join the reality-based world.
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 07, 2006 12:28 am    Post subject: Heard on Randi's Show TODAY! Reply with quote

Quote from Hermann Goering

"Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on
a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of
it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people
don't want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in
Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the
country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to
drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist
dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no
voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.
That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked,
and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the
country to danger. It works the same in any country."
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 10, 2006 8:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think the three core traits of conservatism whether religious or secular remain the same: greed, deceit, and tribalism. The left needs to be less polite and/or naive and base any political discussion on the predicate that the great majority of conservatives are willfully mean-spirited and beyond redemption. Their antisocial policies are a matter of volition not ignorance so education and negotiation (and psychological analysis if that's its objective) are as useless with these cretins as they are with criminals.

It's a lie as well to address the Republican party as if it had any validity as a governing institution, when its agenda opposes the equitable allocation of resources and regulation of interaction and trade that form the foundation of the social contract. The support for military conflict that is almost universal among conservatives shows their true colors. War is the antithesis of civilized society, the tribalist might-makes-right state which arises in its absence, so why does society give any credence or respect to an organization which thrives on its destruction?

The sad reality I think is that evolution endowed humanity with a genetic continuum of malice and good will, one only weakly modified by environment. I guess it's understandable if not particularly noble that murderous and rapacious Republican traits would be adaptive in primeval times, but with the rise of civilization they became entirely obsolete. In short, conservatives are evolutionary throwbacks who have impeded and assaulted society since its inception.
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2006 5:05 am    Post subject: Tunnels and Bridges, Part IV: Landing Zones Reply with quote

Tunnels and Bridges, Part IV: Landing Zones
by Sara Robinson
David Neiwert blog with Sara Robinson as guest.

Inspiring people to take a look over the wall, then climb it, then brave the crossing is only the first half of the process. The second half is welcoming them and helping them find their feet here in the reality-based world.

Recent polls show that the rising chorus of strong progressive voices has already begun to intrigue disillusioned soon-to-be-former RWAs. When these people seek us out, and finally admit: "Yeah. I was sold a bill of goods. Now, tell me something I can believe," we should be ready to deliver the goods they need to integrate themselves into the reality-based world. This post offers some thoughts about what they're most likely to need, and how we can create landing zones that meet those needs effectively.

Culture Shock
For a while, they're going to be wobbly. In Cracks In The Wall II and III, we saw that people tend to join authoritarian groups to as a refuge from a world they find unmanageable on ther own; and they consider leaving when they start to acquire skills and discover unrealized inner strengths that restore confidence in their ability to manage. But these skills don't emerge overnight. We'll do best if we recognize and respect that the first year or two is a learning period, and deal with them gently while they're sorting out their new worldview.

Here are some of the issues we can expect to see among the newly-landed:

Information Hunger -- For many new arrivals, fresh information is the main antidote to the enforced ignorance of their old life. As they move away from an emotion-based worldview and toward a more evidence-based one, they may spend hours a day on the Web, change their TV habits from O'Reilly to Olbermann, and devour books that fill in knowledge gaps that are almost painful for them to acknowledge.

But raw data only goes so far. They also need to connect with live people who help them integrate this new information, show them the lay of the land, work through the implications of it, and make their new world friendly. The most urgent desire of my former fundie friends is simply having somebody understanding and non-judgmental to talk to while they process this avalanche of new data.

One of these friends, Karen, offers a caution: "Don't tell them it'll be easy or encourage them to chuck their past beliefs quickly. They're so used to being led, preached at, and dictated to, that reasoning and freethinking is all new - and liberating. They need to exercise that freedom little by little. (Some do plunge in all at once and come to their own conclusions quickly. But I think that's the exception, rather than the norm.)"

What our newest arrivals may need most is role models of how free-thinkers think -- how to approach the world in a way that is non-judgmental, how to put all this new information into a rational perspective, and relax and wrap the odd parts in humor rather than fretting about them. It's a skill that takes some learning -- but if they've come this far, they're already bent on mastering it.

A Craving for Community -- Careful readers of Muder will recall that new arrivals may bring with them very different expectations of family and community, which will also be under adjustment for a while. Former fundamentalists often mourn the hothouse intensity of their family and church ties -- even when they're simultaneously grateful not to be under the constant watchful eyes of all those intrusively "caring" people, and free of the manipulations used to keep them in line. On our side of the wall, that level of intimacy is harder to come by. What feels like an appropriate respect for other people's boundaries to us may feel fairly cold and uncaring to them, and it may take a while before they become accustomed to the more temperate social climate that prevails on our side of the wall.

Says my wise friend Karen, a lifelong fundamentalist who made the leap in her late 30s, "Make yourself available when they need to vent, cry, question, cower in fear and spew in anger. It's an extremely emotional process and one that is SO isolating. The person's traditional support group is no longer available for them and this may be the first time in their lives they are thinking for
themselves, so they need reinforcement."

Self-Respect and Self-Expression -- Emerging RWAs may have sublimated their own needs and desires to those of their leaders to the point that they may not know how to ask directly for things that they want and need. In fact, they may not even be aware of their own physical, emotional, or practical needs at all. This can make them easily frustrated and angry. Learning to consciously identify their own desires and express them honestly and appropriately may take some time, practice, and solid role models. This is especially true of those who grew up in authoritarian homes.

Boundary-Setting -- Authoritarian systems are, almost by definition, obsessively nosy attitude about their followers' personal lives. There's no detail so small or intimate (right down to your choice of underwear, breakfast, and sexual position) that the leaders won't attempt to make and enforce rules regarding it, and attempt surveillance to ensure the rules are followed. Right-wing authoritarian followers tend to be very submissive to these incursions -- the more intimate, the better, in fact -- and accept them as a sign that their leaders care.

Liberals, being liberals, have a much stronger respect for the place where one's personal life ends and the public sphere begins -- and thank no one to cross that line, or to try to tell them how to run their private business. They can handle that just fine on their own, thanks.

These different understandings may lead to culture clashes in the early phases. A newly-emerged leaver may make inquiries that they regard as simply pleasantly social, but we see as just plain nosy. They may respond to our misfortunes with a generosity that we find a bit unsettling; or, conversely, they may expect us to become involved with theirs to an extent that's frustrating to us and disappointing to them. It's best to remember that what's really happening here is a bit of cross-cultural miscommunication, and deal with it in that same multiculti spirit. It's something we're supposed to be good at.

Negotiation -- Authoritarian leaders do not negotiate with their followers. Leaders give commands; followers follow them. The farther down you fall on the Great Chain of Being, the less power you have to negotiate for your rights; and the harder the retribution will fall on you if you try. Which is why RWA women children, and low-status men may never learn to stand up and argue for their own interests at all.

Given this, it's not surprising that exiting RWAs are often frightened, puzzled, and astonished at the way reality-based folks negotiate with each other for things. The free and easy give-and-take we enjoy with our spouses, bosses, liberal clergy, civil authorities, and so on may be viewed as shockingly transgressive (confirming, perhaps, the belief that we're a bunch of unwashed hippies with no respect for authority or the rules of society). They can't imagine themselves having such egalitarian conversations with the authorities in their lives.

On their side of the wall, authority is to be feared and followed. Confronting it is always dangerous; better to shut up and deal rather than speak up and buy almost certain trouble. Defiance, if you dare, will almost always be covert and passive-aggressive. The kinds of conversations in which adults meet as moral equals to dispassionately consider and resolve a problem may very well be entirely outside of their life experience. It takes kind mentors, and a few positive experiences, to show them how it's done.

Reason Over Emotion -- One of the most important psychological traits that separates our side from theirs is that, while reality-based people tend to prefer arguments based on facts, evidence, and logic, RWA followers assess arguments on the basis of their emotional appeal. Facts just don't carry the same weight as the deeper sense of personal truth that they feel in their gut. (This is the origin of Stephen Colbert's "truthiness," which he defines as "something that isn't factually true, but feels true.") Politicians who give up on facts and speak to their emotional truth always do better with this group. Conversely, if you argue a point with them, you will likely hear an appeal that's long on passion and short on evidence -- because on their side of the wall, passion is what scores points and wins debates.

Here in the reality-based world, though, acquiring the ability to identify the real issue, separate it from the emotional content, line up the evidence, and argue calmly for it is one of the hardest lessons an ex-RWA will have to learn. For many of us, this lesson was learned in a series of examples -- meetings with enlightened authority that went extremely well, conflicts with friends or co-workers who were able to model rational resolution methods, and so on. The light goes on: there are other ways of resolving things besides avoidance, passive aggression, creating a dramatic scene (there's that love of passion again) or storming out in a huff. And the winner is not the one who can bring the most emotional persuasion to bear.

Tools for Troubled Times -- It seems likely that humans have an innate instinct to fall in behind their leaders in times of stress. (I'm expecting history to record this as the "9/11 effect," after the way Americans of all persuasions automatically lined up behind George Bush in the days following the tragedy.) From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. For a new arrival to the reality-based side of the wall, though, it's a habit that particularly hard to shake.

Among former fundies, we see people tend to return to the church in times of great personal or cultural stress. It's natural for any of us to reach into the old toolbox for the familiar coping strategies our families and churches taught us -- especially when you're overwhelmed, tired, lonely, or scared. Almost always, former fundies flirt with this for a few weeks or months before realizing that they really can't go home again. At that point, they get serious about investing in a new toolbox with better real-world coping tools that allow them to address their fears and problems more directly and effectively.

We need to expect that individual leavers will regress in times of stress, and accept this as a natural part of their process. At the same time, we do them a great service when we stick around and show them other ways of dealing with trouble.

Perhaps most important of all: we need to remain keenly aware of the human biological tendency to follow the leader during times of stress. If there should be another 9/11, the fate of the country may depend on how effectively the reality-based world can address people's fear responses, and provide them with strong models of firm, resolute calm.

Whose Job Is This?
A lot of us in the blogosphere are activists. We're eager to take the fight to the RWA leaders and their hard core, to face them down and push them to the fringes where they belong. It's an important and noble piece of the fight, and one that my friend Dave has covered with depth and thoughtfulness here and elsewhere through the years.

But the more subtle task of finding and courting would-be former RWA followers is at least as important in the long run. Without legions of the faithful supplying votes and money, the leaders quickly deflate to nothing. Going into this fall's elections, when vast numbers of Americans are reckoning with the consequences of their support for RWA leaders, we need to get good at talking to these people -- individually, in large groups, and fast.

Local groups play the front-line role here. Mainstream and liberal churches, unions and veterans' groups, parent and school groups, community and service groups, and other places where people share non-political common ground are logical landing zones for the newly-escaped. Local Democratic offices should also play a central role in this. (If you don't know where your nearest one is, find out and give them a call.)

Those of us who are active in these organizations should be keeping our eyes open for new arrivals, and have strategies in place for receiving them. We are performing a huge national service when we become enlightened witnesses to these new arrivals, and offer them safe havens where they can explore and validate their personal desires and needs, learn to draw boundaries and negotiate for them, grow in trust and skill, and learn to operate in the reality-based world.

Strategic efforts to find and engage those interested in change might focus on people in transitions -- young men and women just leaving home, newlyweds, new parents, moms at home, men and women in midlife , the lately divorced, immigrants, those who've lost their jobs, recent arrivals, those who've lost parents or spouses, the recently retired. These people are usually looking for new ways to engage with community. If we don't find a way to put their energies to work, our local fundie churches and right-wing groups very well might.

At the same time, we need to invest in restoring community, family, social, recreational, and personal support networks. It's benefited the authoritarians in our midst tremendously to have these gone. These things are essential social capital: their very existence increases the relative liberality of our culture. It's not going to be easy while we're working 60-hour weeks for falling dollars -- but these networks are valuable resources that make tough times more emotionally and financially survivable, as any oldtimer who remembers the Depression can tell you.

Finally, remember that what we're spreading here is memes -- which are, Dawkins' original formulation, a form of virus that propagates and spreads. My recovered fundie friends report that weeks, months, and years typically elapsed between the casual comment, the sudden observation, or the unignorable fact that sparked the very first doubt; and the moment they finally decided to head over the wall for good. Often, the person responsible was never aware that they'd done or said something that had changed that person's life forever.

You never know what little cognitive seed is going to take root in somebody's head and sprout like a weed long after you've gone. The ideas in this series are just a little pocketful of such germinators, to be sprinkled wherever we see someone starved for a bit of sustenance, and with a growing appetite for change. It will take time, persistence, and practice; but we will change the world only when we find ways to speak to the madness and persuade reason to answer us back.
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 31, 2006 5:35 am    Post subject: Adult Supervision Reply with quote

Sara's Sunday Rant: Adult Supervision
Sara Robinson

OK, so it appears that we are all pretty much over George Lakoff and his parenting frames. Given the number of peevish comments I got here and elsewhere for simply responding to a commenter who asked a question involving these ideas, there are apparently a lot of people on the progressive side who are beyond ready to move on.

With that in mind, there's another potentially useful frame emerging that may have more resonance at this particular political moment (and has the added benefit of dropping the gender baggage inherent in Lakoff's frame). It seems to me that the discussion we need to be having is not about Mom versus Dad anymore. In 2007, the real frame that best describes our political alternatives may be Grown-Ups versus Children.

This is, very admittedly, a political retread from the 70s, when it was one of the sturdiest wheels under the GOP's ride to power. They offered themselves up as the Adult Supervision, clear-eyed and responsible, the only ones who could be trusted with authority. This frame drew a strong contrast between these stalwart conservatives and the liberals of the time, who were (unfortunately, all too easily) portrayed as childish, impractical, given to magical thinking, irresponsible with money, too caught up in instant self-gratification to plan for the future, and generally untrustworthy. The GOP, under the avuncular guidance of people like Ronald Reagan (who'd demonstrated as governor of California that he knew how to give those UC brats the spanking they deserved), would restore the proper order in the national family, and put the grown-ups firmly back in charge.

That worked out very, very well for them. So well, in fact, that they've been riding that image as The Adult Supervision for three long decades, mostly without having it questioned anywhere, by anyone.

But maybe it's time we started asking those questions. I mean, just take a look at what's going on out on the playground these days. We've got:

-- People in the White House who spend their days waiting for Big Daddy In The Sky to get home. (He's promised to come back any minute now. Really.)

-- People who think their Big Daddy is bigger and smarter than the Muslims' Big Daddy, and can beat him up.

-- A White House with a First Lady -- and several Office Mommies whose job is apparently keeping Junior in milk and cookies.

-- Public policy on reproductive health that basically amounts to telling kids, "Just don't touch anything down there. Not yours. Not anybody else's. If a grownup touches you, shut up about it. That's all you need to know. No, we will not answer any more questions -- what kind of evil child are you, anyway?" (Evidently, nobody in America is grown-up enough to be given adult-level information about sex.)

-- A president who plays dress-up -- baseball hero, cowboy, jet fighter pilot, army man, massage therapist, Decider -- every chance he gets. (The vice president's favorite fantasy character is evidently Elmer Fudd.)

-- The same "It's OK -- if I wreck it, Dad'll just buy me a new one" attitude toward the environment that's so infuriating in spoiled sixteen-year-olds.

-- The same befuddled theology that drives us to put 12-year-olds in confirmation class, in the hopes of instilling the beginnings of moral maturity.

-- A war-financing plan that's apparently based on the same budgeting strategies used by 10-year-olds with unlimited supplies of Monopoly money.

-- A political spoils system based on the same "you're his friend, so you can't be my friend" in-group rules that govern access to your eight-year-old's treehouse.

-- The same "Nuh-huh. Not me. I didn't do it. Nobody saw me, you can't prove it, it was broke when I got here -- and anyway, Billy did it" approach to responsibility characteristic of six-year-olds.

-- The same "If I close my eyes and cross my fingers and wish really, really hard, the hurricane will turn the other way" faith-based emergency planning style of four-year-olds.

-- The same kind of public (and private) tantrums -- sometimes including words that would make Grandma blush -- that get well-parented two-year-olds sent directly to their rooms for a proper rest.

In a post last week, I quoted Indian psychiatrist Salman Aktar who pointed out the infantilizing effects of authoritarian religion. He said:

Fundamentalism [seeks] to offer a world of simplicity, lack of personal responsibility, immortality, purity and simplicity. These are notions of children. This is how two-year-old and three-year-old children think. This is not how a grown-up, adult person thinks. Fundamentalism turns us from adults into children, turns us from individual units of flesh, psyche and spirit, thinking, pulsating, changing, constantly struggling with choices, decisions, tragedies, losses, mishaps, triumphs and victories….Fundamentalism removes us from such war, from such complexity, from personal responsibility, from impurity, from handling looking death right up front in the eyes and then adopting to live in a more responsible manner.

Fundamentalism lulls us into a sleep of childhood, a sleep of simplicity but it is worse than childhood because a child is always questioning and attempting to come out of its innocence bit by bit. Fundamentalism is worse than childhood because it takes us backward, not forward. And with fundamentalism comes its twin sister, prejudice, and its evil brother called violence.

Robert Altmeyer's work, as presented by John Dean in Conservatives Without Conscience, suggests that this childlike -- or childish -- view of the world is as characteristic of political authoritarians as it is of religious ones. As a result, we have become a nation led by moral children ("whiny-assed titty-babies" or WATBs in the emergent phrase of the left blogosphere) -- people whose total refusal to accept responsibility and inability to empathize with anyone's interests but their own would have rendered them unfit for any kind of paying work (let alone leadership positions) if more sensible heads were in charge. Accountability makes them whine. Consequences make them cry. They are not above holding their collective breath until they turn blue. And it's all your fault for being so mean!

It's almost impossible to imagine how these people could have ever been taken seriously, how they could have gotten away with presenting themselves as people of unshakeable principle. We were promised the kind of ethical stalwarts who could be trusted to do the right thing, regardless of the difficulty or the sacrifice required of them. They'd pay the bills, plan for the future, keep the roof over our heads, get up every day and do what had to be done on behalf of the family. Because that's what grownups do.

But we now see them for what they are: impulsive, selfish, often aggressive emotional children whose actions come roaring straight out of an untamed id. They are not governing this country so much as using (and abusing) it as their own private tree fort and clubhouse -- one that we are paying to prop up, every day, in treasure and lives, while they pull up the rope behind them and pass around the kewl torture pictures, order in pizza delivery from Haliburton on our credit card, and talk about how stupid those moralizing grownups are and how sucky it is to have to live by their idiotic made-up rules.

It's gone on long enough, this Kindergarten Regime. In fact it's deja vu all over again, as the GOP has become everything it once accused the Democrats of being: childish, impractical, given to magical thinking, irresponsible with money, too caught up in instant self-gratification to plan for the future, and generally untrustworthy. Which means it's not about Mom versus Dad any more. It's about the grownups, all together, prying little Georgie's fingers off the levers of power, and showing him that yes, we do mean what we say. And it's about discipline, self-control, and putting the lines of family authority back in their proper order.

The language that proceeds from this frame will come naturally -- nay, almost automatically -- to anyone who's ever been a parent:

"Don't hit. Use your words."

"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. And if wishes were buses, 3,000 people in New Orleans would still be alive."

"I don't care if Saddam's mom lets him do it. In this house, we don't torture people."

"Someday you're going to be invited to eat dinner with the Prime Minister -- and you're going to thank me for teaching you some table manners."

"Stop blaming Billy for everything. He hasn't been around here in months."

"That's all the money I'm giving you this week. Don't come back around next Saturday telling me you need more."

"Put that thing away. You'll shoot your eye out."

"I don't care how big you are. You can't go around taking stuff that doesn't belong to you. You give that country back to the Iraqis. And I mean NOW."

The government of the world's leading nation is not a treehouse. It's not a birthday party. It's not a game of army men in the woods after school. It's serious business, best left to grownups. And the Republican Party doesn't appear to have a single grownup left.

Cultural conservatives like to sing the praises of Tough Love. It'll be interesting to see if that enthusiasm for it holds when they're the ones being told to that their behavior is unacceptable, that every moment they stand before us is an "accountability moment," and that their actions have brought about consequences that have ruined the prospects for the entire family.
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Bill Frank

Joined: 29 Jan 2007
Posts: 3159
Location: Room #101 Allentown, PA

PostPosted: Thu Mar 15, 2007 4:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There is no difference between a fascist dictator
and a communist dictator. They act the same, they
treat thier people the same way, the people under
them have no rights, no privilages, just the
allowence to exist. Only if they are not percieved
to be a threat, can they be in the presence of either.

Alan Berg
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 12, 2007 8:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Some Are More Equal Than Others
Friday, August 10, 2007
-- by Sara

God with us

Dave writes below:

Ever notice how, for some Christian fundamentalists, freedom of religion means the freedom not only to discriminate against other religions or other beliefs, but to actively promote hatred of them, to advocate their exclusion and oppression?

Yes, I've noticed. In fact, I've been noticing this a lot lately -- and it's been worrying me. This attempt to warp our traditional notions of "discrimination" is an emerging meme with accelerating momentum within the Dominionist right. I'm glad Dave brought it up, because I've been wanting to pick at it a bit further.

A Charge To Keep Have I
Evangelical Christians of all political gradients have always considered it their first duty to convert the world to Christ. In fact, that obligation to spread word of their faith is perhaps the core definition of what it means to be "evangelical." Different sects have different thoughts on why spreading the Gospel is important; but they all think it is important -- the most important work of their lives.

However, historically -- at least, since the Revolution -- American Christians (of all stripes) have gone about their conversion efforts in fairly low-key way. Before the Revolution, too many of the original colonies had state churches that were overweening in their use of government -- via taxation, zoning, ordinances, and so on -- to hobble the activities of other faiths. These persecutions fell particularly heavily on the Baptists --who as a consequence have, for most of their history, had a visceral understanding of what's at stake when the wall of separation falls, and thus have a long and illustrious tradition of being strikingly militant in its defense. But it's fair to say that the Revolution was almost as much about liberating religion from the colonial state churches as it was about getting out from under a bad king.

For a long time after the Constitution put an end to these persecutions, proselytizing churches continued to cherish the protection of that hard-won wall of separation. For 200 years, most of them have clearly understood that their freedom to practice their faith is a reciprocal deal -- they are only free to follow their faith as long as (and to the extent that) others are free to practice theirs. This understanding has, through the years, made Evangelical ministers some of the country's most persistently loyal and passionate defenders of the wall of separation. More often than you can recount, local Evangelical ministers have usually been the first ones on the scene whenever religious freedom was being threatened. They understood, all too well, that whatever persecution they allowed in their towns could, sooner or later, be loosed on them as well.

That sense of reciprocity also informed their conversion efforts. If you don't want to be coerced, you don't coerce others. If you want the right to raise your voice in the town square, you cannot silence others when they do the same. The only authentic conversions are the ones that result from mutual respect -- God doesn't want forced souls bowing before him, and no church wants people who are there under duress. And because most American Christians understood religious freedom in these reciprocal terms, small towns like mine (6,000 people, 22 churches) found it easy to co-exist for centuries; and big cities could edge over to make room for Jews, Muslims, and many other faiths as well. This mutual respect is a deep and cherished part of the American religious landscape. It's one of the things that has made this country special.

But that consensus has been shifting over the past decade, largely due to the Dominionist movement's ability to move extremely radical anti-Constitutional memes down the transmission belt and into the center of the national consensus. They've been working on this one since the 80s (it took awhile, because it's so contrary to everything we stand for); but, over the past three or four years, it's begun to take root in places you might never have expected. The idea that our traditional reciprocity no longer applies to Evangelicals -- that their special relationship with God endows them with more rights than the rest of us -- has been gathering a serious and unmistakeable head of steam. The implications of this one idea for the country's future are many and frightening.

The Corporatized Church
Part of this casual attitude toward the wall of separation may stem from the long decades that religious fundamentalists have now spent in bed with their free-market counterparts. It's inevitably American that this impulse to sell one's religion to the masses would, in this day and age, evolve into a sophisticated and complex (and cynical, when you think about it) marketing campaign; and that the Evangelical churches who launched such campaigns would, in turn, become not so much houses of worship as vast sales organizations incorporated for the main purpose of attracting eyeballs and moving product. (The TV preachers led the way in the 60s; but the techniques they pioneered are now used in megachurches from coast to coast.) In the minds of many of these church "executives," the right to freely proselytize wherever, whenever, to whomever, is nothing short of the right to dominate their market and stay in business -- another form, if you will, of free market fundamentalism, protected by the same laws that allow secular corporations to profit as they will, unchecked by silly regulations or the demands of any other common good.

(The fact that these religious marketing organizations are now run like secular corporate businesses also leads them to completely ignore the IRS restrictions on political speech. Tell a corporation that it can't support candidates and lobby for its own interests? What kind of Commie are you? A 501(c)3 religious tax exemption is a just another nice loophole offered by the government -- and if you use it well enough, you can afford enough lawyers to keep that same government off your back, and buy you a political voice, too.)

This bottom-line business perspective also transforms these churches' view of other religions. No longer are other churches seen as sharing the broad shade of that almighty Constitutional wall; no longer are you bound to them by the common duty of maintaining it. If a church is a business, then those other churches are nothing more than competitors horning in on your territory. They're obstacles to be destroyed in your quest for total market domination, a task these leaders approach with the same ruthlessness Borders brings to shutting down the local bookstore. As such, they have no rights worth respecting.

In this straight business perspective, the wall of separation is just another restrictive government regulation. And if pulling that wall down on top of your competition is what it takes to wipe them off the map -- well, then, let's go get the ball and tackle and bring 'er on down.

9/11: The Wrath of God
Given that we're talking about religious communities, it's natural that the justification for this kind of marketplace Darwinism would be expressed in theological terms. But, since 9/11, there've been some new twists in fundamentalist theology that have turned up the level of group hysteria to the point where the emotions are much harder to contain -- and have, in turn, added an urgent sense of pressure behind this new and expanded assertion of rights.

The Christian right (as Falwell and Robertson told us the very day after 9/11) believes that America has a unique covenant with God, who founded the nation with a special mission. To wit: we were to be the paragon of Christian nations on earth. They also believe that 9/11 is God's indictment on America -- the direct result of the Evangelical movement's own failure to fulfill that covenant. They sincerely believe it was all their fault: they had 200 years to win the entire nation to their beliefs -- and now God's tired of waiting. If they'd only worked harder and saved more souls, he wouldn't have had to send that wake-up call.

Now, the only way to atone for this catastrophic lapse is to stop messing around with ecumenical cheek-kissing, and get serious about stepping up their efforts to establish theocracy. Their God doesn't require sacrificial virgins or kings; what he does require is that we sacrifice the Constitution on the altar of national religious purity. There is no room for reciprocal niceties and walls of separation and mutual tolerance any more, not when God is visibly pissed and the whole world is about to be lost to Satan. In the meantime, those other churches are blasphemers and heretics, sowing deadly confusion, questioning our divine intentions, and distracting us from doing what only we know must be done to truly safeguard the nation.

About 15% of your fellow American believe, to at least some degree, that they will be at personal physical risk -- from Muslims, from the Devil, and from God himself -- until the theocrats finally and firmly take in charge of everything. If the rights of non-believers get trampled in the process, that's too damned bad. Rights are a luxury we can no longer afford. Those people had their chance at salvation, and they made the wrong choice. In doing so, they forfeited their place at the table of the Elect, and affirmed their status among the subhumans that neither God nor Christian is bound to care for. Now, they'll have to live with the consequences -- which, if we have our way, will mean living at our meager mercy until they finally relent and submit to conversion.

And so our Air Force Academy cadets are (per Mikey Weinstein) treated to brown-bag lunch lectures with titles like "Why We Cannot Let You Have Your God While We Have Ours" -- which are officially sponsored by our tax dollars. Roy Moore still tours the country with his rock, crying discrimination wherever the laws limit religious speech in public venues like streets, parks, schools, courthouses, and legislatures. The Southern Baptist Church -- the second-largest Christian denomination in America after the Catholics -- has strayed far from its illustrious Baptist history to mobilize against hate-crimes laws, claiming -- with a straight face -- that such laws would unduly restrict their "freedom of religious expression." (Translation: they believe that God wants them to commit hate crimes.) And Christian fundamentalists everywhere have picked up the trope, screaming that they're being persecuted by hateful secularists whenever they are "forced" to associate with gays, treat non-believers as equals, subsidize public schools that teach real science and history, or view media that don't conform to their narrow "values."

And as long as there's a single doctor left performing abortions -- the health of the mother be damned -- we're all just asking for God to smite us again. He's done it once. He could easily do it again, just as suddenly and even more horrifically. These people are gripped with the existential terror known only to five-year-olds: Daddy's mad, stuff got broken, and somebody's gonna get a spanking for it.

An Ominous Direction
The fundamentalists among us have, simply, jumped the track -- and are now heading off in a radically new direction that is, very pointedly, re-defining our historic understanding of the First Amendment. Suddenly, in their minds, "justice" is no longer defined as merely having exactly the same rights everybody else does. They are claiming that their religious doctrines absolutely require them to harass other people about their beliefs, take over the government, co-opt the military for religious ends, bomb clinics and kill doctors, demonize gays, oppress women, and dismantle the Constitution. It's not hard for the more paranoid among us to imagine a day when they will assert a "religious freedom" right to commit genocide for God as well. That is, after all, where the heinous logic of all this leads.

Anyone who objects to that agenda and seeks to limit it via public speech, the press, the law, or the courts is now immediately denounced as being un-American. How dare we infringe on their sacred, inviolate, legally-guaranteed freedom of religion? God requires this of us. It's what we believe. You cannot argue with that, let alone take action to stop us. The Constitution says we have this right -- and any liberal who says we don't is just revealing his or her true hypocrisy and intolerance. Yet when we invoke that same Constitution in defense of our own rights, we are -- by their definition -- committing yet another act of Nazi-like persecution against them. In their minds, the Constitution is valid only as long as it empowers them, and silences the rest of us.

Ironic, isn't it -- they way they defend their radical intentions by scurrying right back to the shelter of the very wall they're so intent on tearing down? Unfortunately, though -- that, too, will serve their agenda in the end. After all, there's more than one way to nullify a law you don't like. One is to make rational and emotional arguments against it (even if it involves rewriting history, which, of couse, they are), eventually persuading your fellow citizens to change it. The other is to simply misuse the law in ways that mangle it beyond recognition, ultimately rendering it ineffective and unenforceable. And that's what's happening here. Dominionist Christians are deliberately and willfully warping and bending the entire First Amendment -- with its guarantees of free speech, free press, and freedom of religion -- around their own bizarre arguments in ways that will weaken it, re-cast and distort our understanding of its guarantees, and eventually destroy it.

This is a new and ugly phase in the history of Christian America. Whenever one group begins to assert a legitimate, God-given, government-approved right to dominate and deny rights to others, it's also another ominous sign of creeping proto-fascism. We are now sharing this country with a substantial class of people who not only harbor the fierce belief that they are superior to the rest of us -- yes, a master race, and their rhetoric is starting to work that meme as well -- they also believe that the future of the country is at immediate risk unless the non-believers are restrained and subdued, placed under total control of their betters. Further: they believe that they are justified by God to do this by any means necessary -- within or without the Constitution.

That's what's going on in the minds of people like Congressman Sail when he tries to exclude Muslims from Congress. Sail, no doubt, believes that the Christian God requires this of him; and that he's failing his duty to the nation if he doesn't do what it takes to silence heathen voices and keep them out of government. But he's far from the only one: this belief is now everywhere on the dominionist right. We need to start being aware of it, and calling it out whenever it raises its voice to assert that some of us are more equal than others. Because that voice is very much what fascism sounds like.

Update: Talk2Action discusses an article from Christian commentator Stephen Mansfield that appeared in USA Today last week. Mansfield's one of the promoters of the above argument: in a recent Focus on the Family interview, he said that it'll be a "much, much better country" when Congress and the judiciary get off their duffs and start legislating his way. And why will it be better? Because "It's less open to the cults. It's less open to the non-Christian religions."

And this guy is being taken seriously by the editors of the nation's largest paper.

Just go read it. This is exactly the kind of stuff I'm talking about.
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