Saturday, September 10, 2005

the threat from the radical right

Another spot-on article by journalist Bill Moyers, posted at the Common Dreams website (see the link at right).

I gotta say, whenever I read his prognostications about the so-called Christian right's invasion of American politics, I feel a decidedly creepy, hair-raising-on-the-back-of-the-neck feeling.

How can the (I hope) majority of Americans--- those who support the separation of church and state and don't use their faith as a weapon against others--- compete against religious zealotry? We can't outreason them because faith, by definition, is unreachable by reason (though any rational Christian will allow that reason, as a God-given faculty, can and should be used to support one's faith).

Stir up the religious zealotry in an unhappy populace and you're in for a rough ride. Add into the mix a little us-against-them religious rivlary, and you've got the makings of an incendiary situation.

What irks me most is that most people here (religious or not) are reasonable, rational people; their faith is being used by right-wing powermongers like Karl Rove and religious wackos like Pat Robertson as a leash to lead them to the polls to enact those freaks' political agendas. Why are Americans so easily duped? is my question. I used to think we were a generally skeptical, show-me lot; but I find in fact that we're readily manipulated, especially when charlatans appeal to our emotions--- and so many people here confuse faith with emotion. Maybe that's true of people everywhere....

sigh.

5 Comments:

At 9/17/2005 1:16 AM, Blogger tess said...

Algy,

You raise some interesting points, and ones that I have been thinking about a lot lately.

I think it's interesting to notice the language contrast between the left and the right; the right is steeped in absolutes and extremes, while the left -- Michael Moore and Al Franken aside -- tend to take more moderate stances.

The two poles' frameworks do not overlay one another -- so when one encounters the other, it is more like a two-way funhouse mirror than a meeting of the minds.

For a little flavor of what I'm talking about, pick a rightie author -- O'Reilly, say -- and search for his books on Amazon.com ... then jump to any of the associated links of "more like this..."

The right-wing books feature extremes like "slander" and "treason", often as a single damning epithet. They reveal a distaste for the left that verges on, and often dives merrily into, outright hatred.

The left's chosen standard bearers are a slightly more thoughtful lot, at least to judge by the titles of their books -- slinging charges of lying and stealing at their intellectual opponents, rather than accusing them of the much worse crimes they could have chosen to focus on. (Just how many people have died, for example, directly as a result of the actions or inactions of BushCo? Now that would make an interesting book title! But I digress ...)

Even at the extreme left, a quick comparison reveals the same contrast: calling Rush Libaugh a "lying liar" or a "big fat idiot" pretty much pales in comparison to the right's habit of tarring all people on the left with the charge of being traitorous to the country.

 
At 9/17/2005 4:34 PM, Blogger Algernon said...

meant to put this into a separate entry (and may yet do), but it's germane to this thread:

my bro commented on the Bill Moyers speech (I'd sent him the link) to the effect that it is not, in fact, a case of the christian right taking over the political agenda, taking over the white house and congress. quite the contrary: the powers behind the present administration (and, arguably, the repub party) are using the christian right as a tool to further their own agenda.

here's how he put it:

I don't believe that fundamentalists have taken over the Republican Party. I believe that the Republican Party, like water flowing uphill toward money (at least here in the West), has moved to the Right seeking votes. The strategy seems to be working. But it is a strategy of appeasement, constant appeasement. Even [one with] a casual acquaintance with the history of Europe during the 20th century knows how dangerous and disastrous that strategy can be. As the Republicans move toward the Right (excuse me, toward the votes), they adopt the issues and attitudes of the voters as represented by people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell [emphasis his]. A political party begins to sound like something different, begins to stand for something different, not politics, not even for people, but for dogma. (Please raise your hand if you think the 2 gentlemen are not dogmatic). Christian dogma (as understood and interpreted by Mr. Robertson and Mr. Falwell) begins to replace political thought.
Finally I come to my point. It is this: that the people in control of the Republican Party and message do not believe in politics, separation of Church and State, a Free Press, independent judiciary –- all fundamental concepts that define an American whether she be Christian, Jew, Moslem or none of the above. [But] America is NOT a Christian nation, it is a nation defined not by a document that begins "In the beginning..." but by a document that begins "We the People..."


I tend to agree with him. It's not really some rampant rise of fundamentalism we're seeing so much as the right's insidious use of the Christian-identifying electorate--- through casting of focal issues as moral issues, and their demonstrably absurd characterization of any and all opponents to their desired ends as "godless" or "subversive" or "unpatriotic"--- as voting pawns to further those power-mongers' hidden agendas.

most americans want to protect the environment and avoid war and maintain checks and balances among the branches of government; but the right-wing power elite simply spins their causes in such a way as to raise the ire or indignation of large blocs of voters (in this case the Christian right) and to suggest that opposition to their (the right wing's) agenda is a moral failure, an anti-religious act.

the way some folks are flocking to the hideously distorted rhetoric coming out of the right-wing mouthpieces (including he-who-occupies-the-white-house), you'd think they have no minds of their own. that's because they're being led (frighteningly easily, I may say) by their emotions (and fears) toward someone else's goals. those goals are promulgated by an increasingly narrowly-owned and monopolized media, owned by--- you guessed it!--- the right wing power-mongers themselves.

 
At 9/18/2005 10:40 PM, Blogger tess said...

Yes! I agree. I think it's a bit subtler than people being led by the nose, though.

I think that people who have a lot of certainty about their worldview are naturally attracted to those parties and people who seem to share it (note, I say "seem to").

What do you think of this, from Clay Shirky, writing about ontology in the abstract but it sure struck me as relevant to the worldview clash we are discussing here:

"It comes down ultimately to a question of philosophy. Does the world make sense or do we make sense of the world? If you believe the world makes sense, then anyone who tries to make sense of the world differently than you is presenting you with a situation that needs to be reconciled formally, because if you get it wrong, you're getting it wrong about the real world.

If, on the other hand, you believe that we make sense of the world, if we are, from a bunch of different points of view, applying some kind of sense to the world, then you don't privilege one top level of sense-making over the other. What you do instead is you try to find ways that the individual sense-making can roll up to something which is of value in aggregate, but you do it without an ontological goal. You do it without a goal of explicitly getting to or even closely matching some theoretically perfect view of the world."

-- Clay Shirky, http://shirky.com/writings/ontology_overrated.html

Having had some exposure to the habitual thought patterns of the righties, the notion of a "theoretically perfect view of the world" put me in mind right away of the catchphrase that Christian fiction writers (and televangelists) love to sprinkle throughout their work: "God has a plan for your life." Viewed from the point of view of a fundie, this statement makes perfect sense even in the face of any and all evidence to the contrary -- because any and every part of life will be fit to the plan, no matter how awful, random, indefensible or messy it may be. (Perhaps, jumping to another topic here, this might explain the nonchalance of the Chimp in Chief and his ilk to the suffering of those on the Gulf Coast? "It's all just a part of God's plan for your life ...")

Another thought I had in reading your bro's comments: we are still playing out the Classical (Roman) vs Christian ideals here. A good citizen, by the classical definition, is one who participates in the life of the state -- which apparently was the biggest reason early Christians got in trouble with the Romans, because their religion taught them that there was something higher than the state to which they owed allegiance.

'Tis to ponder.

Tess

 
At 9/19/2005 11:04 PM, Blogger Algernon said...

The ontology question is interesting; as I give it a cursory thought, I can't say I'm solidly on one side or the other--- either a "the world makes sense"-er or a "we make sense of the world"-er.

At first, though, I think perhaps I'm of the former camp, because I recognize myself to be a strong idealist, to the point of having some rather dogmatic views of the way the world "ought" to be (and that seems closely akin to someone who holds a "theoretically perfect view of the world." I do identify with that. Granted, my dogma says the world should run on renewable energy and multinational corporations should be stripped of all political power and elections should be publically financed, but it's still dogma.

That kinship with the former class, however, doesn't seem to square with my self-perception as a person happy to live in a heterogeneous, multicultural society (such as modern, urban america) and the vast array of world-views that implies. I don't know, maybe I'm so far left I'm just another zealot in sheep's clothing.

Still and again, I'm concerned about all this left v. right rhetoric. we all have so much more in common than opposed that it seems patently absurd to dwell on the comparatively minor differences. our very emotional identification with one manufactured "side" or the other is being used--- by the power elite--- to keep us distracted, by means of an artificial conflict, from their self-serving machinations.

we must recognize this simple truth and rise above our neanderthal, conflict-loving natures to unite against these power mongers and thereby have a chance to recover our political discourse, our society, our world.

 
At 10/09/2005 12:44 PM, Blogger Algernon said...

at least some defense of mainstream christians is appearing. this joel mcnally op-ed piece, appearing in today's capital times (madison, wi), makes an effort to distance mainstream american christians from those identified with right-wing washington politics. I now believe that it is indeed a case of the right-wingers usurping a label to further their agenda, and not a case of some groundswell "christian" revolt after all.

 

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