(October 2005) So. Scientists have determined that the 1918 flu pandemic was a bird flu that jumped directly to humans. Scientists also speculate that AIDS is a monkey virus that jumped directly to humans.
Now bear with me ‘cause I’ll come back to that. But, in the meantime, anthropologists argue that humans have survived as a species, in part, because our ability to communicate allows us to weed out, through ostracism or physical elimination, the bloodthirsty bullies who would destroy our communities.
Unlike chimpanzees, we homo sapiens manage to silence our bullies in an effort to sustain our species.
Yet homo sapiens engineered the Holocaust. The Crusades. Destroyed priceless cultural artifacts—destroyed thought—during the Dark Ages and beyond. Introduced untold atrocities in the twentieth century. Engineered the disasppeared. And Rwanda. And Darfur.
Now we have reached another juncture when the Christianists have become the arrogant, aggressive iron-fisted bullies who are attempting to silence alternative viewpoints, to silence diversity.
In our time, it is the Donald Trumps of the world—the people who say, with glee, You’re fired! as we sit on our couches eating popcorn and celebrating such meanness—not the Gandhis or Martin Luther Kings Jrs or Bobby Kennedys of the world—who are revered, some photogenic asshole on Survivor who flexes his abs for the camera while stabbing a teammate in the back who is lauded as the new American hero.
Meanwhile, we have elected a president who used his Daddy’s connections to weasel his way out of serving in the armed services but now dons war gear in an effort to pass himself off as a hero. And a mean-spirited, heartless preacher who shows up at gay children’s funerals waving a “God Hates Fags” placards and shouting to the boy’s mourning parents that their child is in Hell where s/he belongs is celebrated as a moral hero by people who consider themselves moral.
We worship the biz school detritis of suburban America—the glamorous, consumer-branded offspring of corporate CEOs and the idle rich who will do anything in the name of bidness and retaining their status among the economic elite.
So I guess it makes sense that the Christianists have followed suit and realized that American citizens want a mean Jerry Falwell-type and not some kind-hearted country bumpkin Will Campbell-type who admonishes us to fulfill Christ’s directive to love one another, damn it!
Evangelists who once proclaimed Jesus’s message of love and inclusiveness now strut their power on stage and their hatred over the radio waves, garner control from their tax-protected pulpits and rake in millions spreading hatred as God’s unerring truth.
Modernity, twentieth-century German Jewish philosophers Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno argue, is marked by a superstitious worship of oppressive force (and by a concomitant reliance on oblivion, poet Carolyn Forché would add).
I fear people who are convinced that they hold the only version of truth, perhaps because I grew up surrounded by too damn many fundamentalists who wanted to control my and everyone else’s mind, body, and soul. I fear people like Eric Rudolph who are so convinced that their god gives them the right to silence all other interpretations of truth that they believe they are justified in walking into a bar and spraying nails into fellow human beings.
And I fear the neighborhood Eric Rudolphs who spread homohate and misogyny across their kitchen tables and backyard fences.
Today, American universities, like universities in Tehran and other theocracies, are teeming with students who “have an unwavering moral compass that is not swayed by public opinion” (as several grad. students informed me before refusing to complete a writing assignment that required them to argue both sides of an issue).
It’s no longer paranoid to imagine American students reporting professors who don’t espouse the presidential administration’s iron-fisted policies to some thought Gestapo that will monitor library books and e-mail and telephone calls, hold us without cause for indeterminate periods of time without ever pressing charges because we spoke out in the name of justice, democracy.
Professors who dare discuss a controversial topic (or who insist that students stick to the topic instead of monopolizing discussion time with their repeated bigotry) are dragged through the mud in newspapers and punished for preaching reason.
Meanwhile, a university degree is something to be purchased, just a piece of paper that suburban parents buy for their children like designer clothes.
But what about knowledge for the sake of knowledge, enlightenment? That’s what kept me working to pay my tuition even when I was exhausted, what keeps my artist friends and me up nights reveling in new ideas and exploring new ways of thinking and seeing and interpreting and moving in the world, our place in it.
My mother used to threaten to send me to Bob Jones University when I mocked Baptist doctrines and I count my blessings every day that religious school vouchers were not available back when I was a kid. I try to remember to recognize how fortunate I am that I was able to attend public schools where—at least in some cases—such narrow doctrines were challenged.
But today Christianists are in a position to hold their children prisoner to these ignorant views, to define the conversation within the parameters of their own narrow world view. And, since Reagan did away with balanced reporting, Christianists can purchase television shows (on, say, the National Geographic channel) that assert their so-called Intelligent Design or whatever philosophy they’re currently espousing as scientific truth without justifying it.
Did you know that there are two different rafting tours down the Grand Canyon: one for scientists and one for people who espouse the theory of intelligent design? Ponder that. And even the once-credible New York Times spends far too much time furthering the president’s agenda instead of presenting objective news (but that’s a topic for another day).
What comes to us via our TV screens and the radio and in our newspapers today may not be factual, may instead be whatever message a sponsor paid for us to hear.
Or shall I just state the obvious: Our reality is determined by the market.
Christianists would argue that science is but an advertisement as well, but some of them have never even taken a legitimate science course from a legitimate scientist. Why then should they be allowed to lecture about this field of expertise?
So many Americans—like Bush’s current Supreme Court nominee—base their world view solely on what they define as the perfect word of God and insist that patterns found in our natural world are immaterial.
Carolyn Forché notes, in her introduction to Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, that
the gap between self and other opens up the problem of relativism that has bedeviled modern philosophy, politics, and poetry. Respect for otherness seems always to release the specter of an infinite regress. The language of religion therefore becomes quite important in this supposedly secular century, for religion traditionally makes claims for universality and unimpeachable truth.
And some of the most flagrant forms of institutionalized violence in our era, she notes, have been directed toward specific religions (during the Holocaust) or against religion in general (as in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe).
Religion in our age of atrocity bears substantial responsibility for human suffering.
I try to believe that most of us are reasonable people who are likewise appalled by the fact that we seem to be worshipping Donald Trump.
(Surely that must appall people at some level.)
I try to believe these people are grasping for morals in a world that feels increasingly out of control and meaningless.
The Christian church is an easy answer in such a world. It provides a social outlet for our children, still teaches the Golden Rule, offers up a (patriotic) version of the Ten Commandments, the promise of salvation, clear boundaries.
The problem is, the modern evangelical movement, the fundamentalists, are also attempting to introduce a new dark ages.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISTS SUCCEED?
A lawyer friend and I have long philosophical conversations as often as we can manage. Her lawyer husband was on Clinton’s shortlist to be the next Supreme Court justice and said, after the Meiers nomination, We’ve gotten it all wrong. We thought it was abortion, but it’s religion. The ultimate goal is not to overturn Roe v. Wade, but to force their religious beliefs onto the rest of us.
That writing’s been on the wall for some time now.
My friend is re-reading Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale now and it’s scaring the living shit out of her. She says she still can’t believe that we’re actually in a place where the possibility of waking up to discover that her bank account has been closed and her money placed in her husband’s account does not seem so far outside the realm of possibility anymore.
I think of the homeschooled Christianist children, the ones who never even get a chance to experience Enlightenment thought, in terms of Plato’s Parable of the Cave. They’re indoctrinated now, afraid, unable to turn their heads and acknowledge the light at the opening of the cave, and thus continue to insist that the world is black and white, without nuance, without subtlety. They’re rigid with fear and ignorant, yet insist that everyone else see the world through their narrow black and white lens.
There’s a reason Hitler went after the artists, the free-thinkers, first. A reason the Hungarian poet Miklós Radnóti was sent to forced-labor camp where his words were silenced.
Carolyn Forché notes that,
as North Americans, we have been fortunate: wars for us [provided we are not combatants] are fought elsewhere, in other countries. The cities bombed are other people’s cities. The houses destroyed are other people’s houses. We are also fortunate in that we do not live under martial law [yet]. There are nominal restrictions on state censorship; our citizens are not sent into exile. We are legally and juridicially free to choose our associates, and to determine our communal lives. But perhaps we should not consider our social lives as merely products of our choice: the social is a place of resistance and struggle, where books are published, poems read, and protests disseminated. It is the sphere in which claims against the political order are made in the name of justice.
Still, I stand by Bertolt Brecht’s belief: In the dark times ... there will be singing. About the dark times.
Yet (Medea says, finally getting back to those scientists and the bird flu that jumped to the human species and making a huge specious leap), sometimes I wonder if we should compare this cowboy Christianist mindset that now dominates our land to rogue chimpanzee behavior that threatens whole species.