Karl Rove, Full Interview
Glenn Beck University. No, really.

The Battle for America?

I try not to be explicitly political, patriotic, or partisan. My skepticism extends beyond religion to politics and history, so it makes sense that I'm not choosing a side in the current false polarity called conservative and liberal. No two words currently in use have less specific epistemic content than those two, except maybe faith. I distrust politicians of every stripe, and I dislike the attempt to bend history to suit a particular ideology. Ironically, I'm writing this days before interviewing David Barton. Three things got me thinking about this so-called battle for America or culture war or ideological conflict. (I'm so weary of war metaphors.) First was Daniel Radosh's excellent book Rapture Ready! that I reviewed recently. The second was this excellent article in Foreign Policy magazine (and thank you again, JJ, for that subscription!) that looks at the way Ronald Reagan's record and legacy have been twisted and misinterpreted, and only occasionally accurately reported. The third was a facebook status update from a friend this morning. Charles has been on the blog before, and I suspect he will be again, and I'll certainly give him the heads up that I'm posting about him. We can't seem to agree on much of anything, but he's faultlessly courteous, which is a rare gift in theist camps these days. Here's his status:
Happy 4th to my atheist and secular friends. I saw your folks 'handling' Sharia Law up in Dearborn, MI, over the past few years. You wouldn't last a second outside of a nation built on a Judeo-Christian consensus, unless you become bloody tyrants yourselves. Plenty to be thankful for, even if you don't have Anyone to thank but yourselves.

Where to begin with this? I have no idea what sharia he's referring to, and sharia law is a redundancy. I googled a bit and found this. Yes, they act like douches, but I can produce plenty of examples from down here in the south of how rednecks and Christians behave in similar fashion. All that aside, though, as I think it's a red herring, the real issues are related to the statement "wouldn't last a second outside a nation built on Judeo-Christian consensus," and becoming "bloody tyrants" ourselves. The irony here is so thick, and Charles is usually a little more sensitive to irony, another rare feat in ideologues. Let's go one point at a time, shall we, and I'll get to the deep ironies in points 4 and 5.

  1. Plenty of atheists and secularists living in nations not built on such a consensus. Much of Europe comes to mind. Since Jainists, Taoists, and many Buddhists are atheists, I think Asia is doing quite well too. Heard of Canada?
  2. Judeo-Christian consensus? Was America founded with Jews in mind? Not sure. How were Jews treated initially? And what sort of consensus? Jefferson, Franklin, Madison? Were they Christians or Jews? Possibly deists? The foundational documents have literally nothing to say about any such consensus. It's manufactured history.
  3. So if atheists and secularists are faring well in this country, it's because of the proud Judeo-Christian consensus/heritage? That must mean that all minority groups fared well in this enlightened Christian experiment. African slaves, women before suffrage, African Americans post-slavery, Chinese immigrants during westward expansion, and let's not forget the Native Americans. Glad our founders brought them a healthy dose of Christian freedom.
  4. Am I to believe that Christians have never engaged in "bloody tyranny" themselves? Seriously? This is just silly. The history of Christendom is a who's who of bloody tyranny, from Constantine's edict converting the empire, to the Crusades, to Torquemada, to Calvin's cynical murder of Servetus, to Bloody Mary and the Catholic/Protestant bloodlettings in Britain, to Southern Baptist defense of slavery, to the slaughter of Native Americans, to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the implementation of Jim Crow, Christianity has produced more tyrants than any secular state I know. Of course, they've had nearly 2000 years of practice.
  5. The richest irony is that the plight of all the minority groups in the United States has improved as America has become less Christian. The secularization of government has actually advanced the cause of women, African Americans, and other minorities. We're still waiting for the old folks in the religious fringe to die off so that the GLBT community can have equal rights and privileges. As with the Puritans who gave birth to their movement, fundamentalists and evangelicals always define freedom according to their own criteria, and disagreement always leads to castigation, legalism, exhile, and a redefinition of what they mean by freedom.

Well, Charles is right about one thing. I'm not thanking god today for freedom, but I'll happily say thanks to men and women who worked and fought and died for it, including my father who did his tour in Vietnam and retired from the U.S. Army, and while I'm at it, I'll thank myself for doing my stint as a Russian linguist in the USAF back when there was a Soviet Union to fear. I wonder how many of these flag-wavers have actually signed up to take the risks they so fetishize. Anyway, I guess that's my Independence Day meditation. I do love this country, but I'll happily criticize her faults and hope that her people live up to their better angels. And it wouldn't hurt if they told the truth about history every once in a while.