Progressives in this country have always maintained a kind of fuzzy belief that fundamentalists will eventually just disappear, as if by magic, that the phenomenon of grown men and women believing in devils and witches and angels will inevitably be outgrown, the way children outgrow Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Marx. When some pastor in rural Alabama takes the pulpit to denounce SpongeBob Squarepants as the agent of the Evil One, we figure no response is really necessary—folks will figure out the joke on their own, somewhere down the line.
Because of this, nothing like an organized resistance to this buffoonery has ever taken root in America. Though fundamentalists themselves imagine their secular opponents as a great and unified conspiracy, in truth the only weapons trained on Christians in this country are the occasional lawsuit by the ACLU (a group which normally opposes not religion itself, as I would prefer, but some ostensibly unconstitutional intrusion of religion into the public sphere) and the sarcastic barbs of ineffectual heathen media figures like Maureen Dowd and Jon Stewart.
Our pornographic pop culture, seen by religious conservatives as a coordinated, premeditated military offensive against Christian values, is as indifferent to Christianity as it is to environmentalism. It is not a true opponent of fundamentalist Christianity, because it doesn't give a shit about fundamentalist Christianity—or about anything else for that matter, except ratings and sales.
What organized political resistance fundamentalists do encounter comes in the form of groups that oppose their political objectives, not Christianity itself. Even pro-choice groups like NARAL, which come into direct and often violent contact with Christians, restrict themselves to agitation for abortion rights, and leave the issue of their opponents' religion alone. In general, there is almost no public figure, anywhere, who has ever suggested publicly that fundamentalist Christianity, as a thing-in-itself, should be opposed. The strongest suggestion most critics will make is to say that it should be contained, and indeed that seems to be the best-case strategy of progressives: that the God-fearing set can be boxed in, kept from being a nuisance and from meddling in areas where they don't belong, just long enough for them to eventually die out of natural causes.
This is a mistake, and it is the same mistake people have made for centuries: underestimating the American zeal for superstition, for boobism, for living the intellectual lives of farm animals. A large statistical majority of Americans would rather live their whole lives in perpetual fear of the devil than listen to ten minutes of common sense. When you consider where these people live intellectually, the idea that the Democratic Party can somehow succeed in Middle America by making small tactical changes, by waving a few more flags, seems absurd. You either believe in the devil or you don't; and if you don't, you're never going to fool these people. The Republicans, for all their seeming "confusion," understand this now better than ever. Their seemingly open attempts in recent months to radicalize and embolden their evangelical base may have had a temporary desultory effect with regard to their poll numbers.
But this current crew of Republican strategists has always understood American thinking better than the Tom Junods of the world. They know that most political trends are fleeting. Liberalism vanished at the first sign of trouble; pacifism disappeared one generation after Vietnam; even fiscal conservatism is easily forgotten. The one thing that never disappears in this country is stupidity, and if you court it, you'll always have votes down the line. Especially when it lives on unopposed.
Saturday, June 04, 2005
Common sense and the need to defeat religious conservatives
Thanks to Chuck for pointing this out. Matt Taibbi over at the New York Press has written an excellent article on the importance of confronting religious conservatives in America: