1/07/2004

Is it time for my rant?

Religion is supposedly gonna be the big culture issue of the ’04 election – at least that’s the one the press is banging on about right now. It’s a broad category – abortion and gay rights can be subsumed under it. Forget about all this ‘trading up’ all the devoutly religious folk of our great, God-fearing nation are doing. Christ never once mentioned abortion or fags, not once, but he sure banged on a lot about the poor. Yet, oddly enough, that’s one issue none of these so-called Christians are apparently all that concerned about.

I don’t want to sound like my great uncle Xavier, with his own brand of liberal self-righteous indignation. I mean, hypocrisy is nothing new. It’s just the absence of any voice of reason, the totality and the banality of the evil. There is no way to engage the issues of the day without thinking and speaking in outright lies. This is probably why people rush to take sides. It’s easier than recognizing your complicity in the evil. There’s a guilt reaction too, that seeks its outlet in scapegoats. Seems to me that the greater the cognitive dissonance, the more naked the hypocrisy, the more necessary some sort of purge will be, because that’s how a people cleanse themselves, especially when the guilt is so widespread, when the evils are woven so seamlessly into the fabric of our daily lives. Of course spectacles from the Scott Peterson trial to the invasion of Iraq are purges on certain levels.

Anyway, we are approaching a point where truth is banished from public life completely. If you read the papers – particularly the op-ed page of any newspaper you see a reality made of whole cloth. There was an absolutely insipid editorial by Nicholas Kristof in The Slime about what role religion’s bound to play in the 2004 campaign that provides a good example:

"Religion may preach peace and tolerance, yet it's hard to think of anything that - because of human malpractice – has been more linked to violence and malice around the world. And now as we enter a new campaign year, it's time to brace ourselves for a new round of religious warfare and hypocrisy at home.

"America is riven today by a 'God gulf' of distrust, dividing churchgoing Republicans from relatively secular Democrats. A new Great Awakening is sweeping the country, with Americans increasingly telling pollsters that they believe in prayer and miracles, while only 28 percent say they believe in evolution. All this is good news for Bush Republicans, who are in tune with heartland religious values, and bad news for Dean Democrats who don't know John from Job.

"So expect Republicans to wage religious warfare by trotting out God as the new elephant in the race, and some Democrats to respond with hypocrisy, by affecting deep religious convictions. This campaign could end up as a tug of war over Jesus.

"Over the holidays, Vice President Dick Cheney's Christmas card symbolized all that troubles me about the way politicians treat faith - not as a source for spiritual improvement, but as a pedestal to strut upon. Mr. Cheney's card is dominated by a quotation by Benjamin Franklin: 'And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?'

"It's hard not to see that as a boast that the U.S. has become the global superpower because God is on our side. And 'empire' suggests Iraq: is Mr. Cheney contending that in the dispute over the latest gulf war, God was pulling for the White House and fulminating at Democrats and others in Beelzebub's camp?

"Moreover, Mr. Cheney's card wrenches Ben Franklin's quotation from its context and upends the humility that Franklin stood for. If you read the full speeches Franklin gave to the Constitutional Convention, including the one with the sparrow line, you see that Franklin is not bragging that God is behind him but rather the opposite - warning that the framers face so many difficulties they need all the help they can get, including prayer.

"Meanwhile, Howard Dean is grasping for faith in a way that is just as tasteless as Mr. Cheney's Christmas card. Dr. Dean bragged to reporters that he knows much about the Bible - and proceeded to say that his favorite New Testament book is Job. Anyone who cites Job as a New
Testament book should be scolded not just for religious phoniness but also for appalling ignorance of Western civilization - on a par with Mr. Bush's calling Greeks 'Grecians.'

"After talking to Mr. Bush's longtime acquaintances, I'm convinced that his religious convictions are deeply felt and fairly typical in the U.S. Mr. Bush says the jury is still out on evolution, but he has also said that he doesn't take every word in the Bible as literally true. To me, nonetheless, it seems hypocritical of Mr. Bush to claim (as he did in the last campaign) that Jesus is his favorite philosopher and then to finance tax breaks for the rich by cutting services for the poor. If Dr. Dean should read up on Job, Mr. Bush should take a look at the Sermon on the Mount.

"With Karl Rove's help, Mr. Bush has managed a careful balance, maintaining good ties with the Christian right without doing so publicly enough to terrify other voters. For example, Mr. Bush doesn't refer in his speeches to Jesus or Christ, but he sends reassuring messages to fellow
evangelicals in code ("wonder-working power" in his State of the Union address last year alluded to a hymn).

"Republicans are in trouble when the debate moves to the issues because their policies often favor a wealthy elite. But they have the advantage when voters choose based on values, for here Republicans are populists and Democrats more elitist.

"As we move into the religious wars, I wish we could recall how Abe Lincoln achieved moral clarity without moral sanctimony. Though often criticized for not being religious enough, Lincoln managed both of the key kinds of morality - in personal behavior, which conservatives care about, and in seeking social justice, which liberals focus on. To me, each seems incomplete without the other.

"Or there's the real Ben Franklin - not the one counterfeited by Mr. Cheney - who warned each of the framers of the Constitution to 'doubt a little of his own infallibility.' That would be a useful text for Mr. Cheney's Christmas card next year."

You know, it’s absolute malarkey, starting with the very first sentence. Yahweh, the Hebrew god, is a god of war. Judaism is not a religion that gives precedence to peace, but to the survival of the Jews. Mohammed was a warrior. And while Christ was clearly pacifist, Christianity once adopted by the conquerors became, understandably enough, a conqueror religion. The statement that the great religions of the world are about peace and tolerance is utter hogwash, but here it's set forth as a bedrock assumption.

Kristof is talking about Christianity here, but by substituting the word ‘religion’ for it, whether because it’s expedient or out of ignorance, or whatever, betrays a belief that Christianity is, indeed, The Religion par excellence, that it is Religion itself.

The bit about the polls, and only 28% believing in evolution, well, it’s simply not possible. Enlightened liberals would like to believe it, in a way, by the same illogic that makes them I-told-you-so giddy when another soldier is killed in Iraq, but it’s an outright lie. But Kristof wants to avoid the dreaded liberal bias, so in the battle of the Bible-thumpers it’s Democrats who are the hypocrites, apparently because they don’t believe in the Republicans’ God, who at least the Republicans believe in.

First of all, he’s setting the stage nicely for the debate he’s warning against by giving credence to the notion that there is a conflict between belief in God and insistence on separation of church and state. It’s really a moot issue. He’s treating the wrong side with kid gloves, I guess because the polls say only 28% of the population knows its ass from its elbow, and he doesn’t want to offend the reigning religious majority.

Kristof is one to talk about hypocrisy. He probably considers this the civilized approach, and it is more civilized than, say, his fellow op-edders’ Mo Dowd on the left and William Saffire on the right, who’re all name-calling and taunts. I guess what cheeses me off is basically trying to take the high ground by not impugning the morals of men who have none to speak of. It’s straight out of Yeats again: The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. Bush is forgiven because at least he seems to earnestly believe in what he is doing – that Clinton seemed not to is part of the reason why even those who supported him didn’t like him. But since when is a person’s passionate belief in his own morals a measure as to what’s moral. Even if 72% of the population agrees with him (especially if 72% of the population agrees with him). I mean, just because fully three-quarters of the population believes the sun revolves around the earth doesn’t mean it’s true.

I’m not sure how Democrats are elitists as for values, either, and Kristof doesn’t elaborate. But apparently he has his finger on the pulse of America, so he must know. Again, what he obviously means is that Democrats are often perceived as haughty and high-handed, and ordinary folks don’t like that. But that’s not what he says. I guess what he means by populist is giving lip-service to self-styled, self-proclaimed (and how they love to proclaim it) evangelical Christians, which is a far cry from what populist used to mean – it used to have something to do a living wage, with worker’s rights, with public institutions that actually served the public.

By playing into the notion, patently false, that Republicans have a monopoly on ‘values’ Kristof perpetuates the notion of not only politics as theater, which after all it is, but as government itself as nothing but slogans and posturing. That’s politics, not governing. We have to assume that populist issues are the pledge of allegiance in schools (‘Under God’ was not added to the pledge until 1954, by the way), a ban on partial birth abortions, a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, none of which address traditionally populist issues like big business versus the little guy, medical insurance, and worker’s rights, and none of which will impact in any significant way the populations Kristof’s New Populists claim to represent. But my beef here is with Kristof, because he is perpetuating the evil of clouding the very waters he claims he wants cleared up.

In his favor, Kristof is only reflecting the extreme cognitive dissonance that most ordinary folks seem to be dealing with these days. There was a particularly poignant ltte in the Indianapolis Star this morning:

"My son is with the 101st Airborne in Mosul, Iraq, and we have a friend who is with a military police detachment that just came home. They tell me the Iraqi people are concerned only about what we are going to give them. If the Americans have a handout for them, they like them. If the Iraqis want a handout and there is none, Americans are pigs. Our MP friend was there a month before the war started, and my son arrived in Kuwait on March 1. These are the people who really know what is going on. When members of Congress or missionaries go to Iraq, they are shown what their guides want them to see. Whether it is sympathy or anger, this war is more than the general public knows. I hope my son and all others return safely. But to let those of you who don't have someone over there know, neither my son nor our friend has any desire to re-enlist because of what they have seen."

Now, I doubt seriously that the man who wrote this letter is communist pinko liberal scum, as Archie Bunker or Rush Limbaugh might say. Sounds like a God-fearing all-American dad from the heartland to me. That any of what he’s written should have come as a surprise is surprising, and shows how susceptible folks are in general to propaganda, and all wars involve their share of that. Like scenes of these Iraqi cunts jumping up and down and cheering in the streets. It was, look what a great thing it is to have liberated them! Look what a great thing we did! These ignorant motherfuckers were that segment of the population that would go out in the street acting like asses. Think about it. I mean, this is the Iraqi version of football hooligans, or LA rioters. I mean, come on. Didn’t they end up looting garbage for, like, two weeks? These are the ones you need someone like Saddam for in the first place. But people like this poor sod bought the line that they were dancing around like monkeys out of love and gratitude for their liberators. Like the Central Europeans rejoiced at being liberated from the Germans by the Russians? I mean, come on.

Then, you know, the other day you heard about this explosion that rocked some upscale restaurant in a chichi neighborhood in downtown Baghdad, and you’re like, say what? Upscale restaurant? Chichi neighborhood? That’s the first I heard of anything like that over there. Kind of obscene, isn’t it? And are we supposed to feel sorry for these sods? Who are dining out at fancy restaurants while millions of their countrymen are living in squalor? Is this the freedom we’ve pledged to preserve there? The freedom of the elite to wine and dine? Well, we would certainly be building a nation in our own likeness then, anyway, wouldn’t we? Yes, it’s obscene all right. And who do you suppose these rich motherfuckers are? Do you suppose there was anyone with wealth who was not in bed with the old regime? Either that or they are opportunists from abroad.

You remember when the Iraqi Press Czar kept hammering home that word ‘mercenary’? Turns out it wasn’t just name-calling after all, was it?

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