How to Make People Believe Absolutely Anything (In 5 Simple Steps)

UFO-Cults-640x400

Anyone — yes, even you — can induce people, or at least a large number of people, to believe absolutely anything, no matter how absurd. And there is plenty of living proof out there. Consider Alex Jones, who has a huge following, many of whom believe that 9-11 was an inside job, that Sandy Hook was staged, that children are being abducted and shipped off to a slave colony on Mars, that pigs and gorillas have been given human brains and are running around talking, that a pedophilia ring is being run out of a pizza parlor, and that millions of people voted illegally in the last election. But perhaps the ultimate illustration of how preposterous persuasion works is a man who gets much of his “information” from Jones: his big fan and close ally, the man currently sitting in the Oval Office.

He is undoubtedly the most dishonest, corrupt and inept individual ever to occupy the White House. Yet he has a loyal cult following who still believe that he is honest, forthright and a successful businessman and brilliant leader who is somehow Making America Great Again — and even believe, perhaps most astoundingly of all, that he is a Good Christian. How did we get here?

Many people felt, and still feel, blindsided by the last election. But while the man himself seems to have come out of nowhere, it was inevitable that someone like him would be elected sooner or later. Because the way has been prepared for literally decades by a fringe media consisting of feverish AM talk show hosts, Fox “News” talking heads, and countless newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites. What they have done, anyone can do. And while it may require time and effort, it all boils down to 5 simple steps.

1. Tell them what they already want to hear

Savvy manipulators know that it’s easier to persuade people to wade in up to their necks if you can just convince them to get their feet wet first. Most of us are constantly seeking confirmation of what we already believe (the confirmation bias). When somebody reinforces our beliefs, we tend to regard them as more reliable and trustworthy in general. That’s why manipulators so often make a display of religiosity; committed religious individuals are especially prone to blind trust in anyone they perceive to be ardent followers of the One True Faith — otherwise priests wouldn’t be able to work their boyish charms so successfully. Begin with “Make America Great Again” (whatever the hell that means), and in no time you can work your way up to “millions voted illegally” and “I had a record-breaking victory”.

2. Stoke emotional responses, especially fear and rage

Ronald Reagan was gifted with that proverbial knack for faking sincerity; consequently, he is widely regarded, even today, as a man of impeccable honesty and character, even though he constantly lied through his teeth. (Indeed, with the exception of George W. Bush, it’s likely that no president lied more — until now, when the current White House Occupant dwarfs them both combined). But his sober demeanor was quite unusual among demagogues; they usually realize that while any statement carries more weight if delivered with emotion, the most potent emotions are fear and anger.

Typically, you just don’t hear demagogues speak in a calm, rational tone of voice; it’s more common to hear them sounding like fundamentalist preachers warning of hellfire and damnation than (like Reagan) kindly uncles delivering a homey morality tale. They will raise their voices, they will pound on their desks, they will relate little stories (factual or not) that supposedly validate their point, they will make their voices quiver, they will sometimes even bring themselves to tears.

The most effective message of all is “you are being threatened” or better yet “you are under attack”; particularly since these are messages that many people are already eager to hear. Thus the eternal popularity of silly narratives like transgender bathroom predators, the War on Christmas, and “they’re coming to take your guns”.

There is a part of our brain (the amygdala) that is constantly on the lookout for danger. In caveman days, it was conditioned to be suspicious of anything unknown; after all, that rustling in the bushes very well could be a lion scouting out lunch.  But even though the human race as a whole has long outgrown this mindset, there are still many people (we generally call them “conservatives”) who view the unfamiliar as something to be feared; and view people who promote, represent or advocate for acceptance of anything unfamiliar as enemies to be hated. Political opponents and ideological complements are no longer viewed as mere opponents and complements; they are mortal foes against whom you should prepare for “another civil war”.

3. Find someone to hate

It stands to reason that if you are going to control people effectively with fear and rage, then there must be a “them” to direct the fear and rage toward. You must find a suitable scapegoat to blame for all your (real or imagined) problems. It’s helpful to pinpoint specific individuals (e.g., Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton) but entire demographic sectors work even better. In the past, a number of groups have served this purpose well: Muslims, gays, African-Americans, communists, and most notoriously, Jews.

The current White House Occupant targeted brown-skinned foreigners, falsely claiming that Mexicans have driven up crime and that Muslims celebrated in the streets on 9-11. His cult followers certainly jumped on board with those sentiments, but they reserved their most venomous hostility for a much larger and longer established enemy that the right-wing media have hammered away at for years: “liberals”.

“Liberals” are always an ideal target because they are a motley and loosely defined assortment that constitutes at least half the population of the United States, including many people all around you — friends, neighbors, relatives and coworkers. Yet they are supposedly people who hate America, want to kill you and enslave you (not necessarily in that order), and want to sacrifice unbaptized babies on an altar devoted to the worship of Hollywood celebrities.

4. Project your own sins onto others

The quickest and most effective way to divert attention away from your true motives, flaws and misdeeds is to accuse someone else of the same thing — as loudly, and as quickly as possible, before people start realizing it’s really you who are the guilty party. Thus during the campaign the future White House Occupant made a point of branding his opponent as a liar and a crook, even while he himself was breaking all records for dishonesty and corruption. He was following the lead of his harbingers and cheerleaders in the right-wing media who have been howling for decades about how (all other) media is extremely biased and untrustworthy.

People with legitimate adult criticism usually focus on the specific complaint rather than making a broad generalization. When a person repeatedly applies derogatory labels or vague accusations to someone else, it’s usually a sign that you should examine the behavior of the person doing the applying.

5.  Lather, rinse, repeat

The more frequently people hear something, the more likely they are to believe it. So don’t just state your claims and make your case once. Proclaim them over and over and over, day after day after day. Crooked Hillary, crooked Hillary, crooked Hillary. Fake news, fake news, fake news. Liberal media, liberal media, liberal media. Worship me, worship me, worship me.

And there you have it. It may not be a quick and easy process, but this simple 5-step plan is guaranteed to produce results if you pursue it diligently and patiently. I look forward to seeing you in the White House.

 

 

 

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Fake Fake News, Real Fake News and Fake Real News

pizzagate

On a day in December, a would-be hero from North Carolina left his home and drove all the way to New York, where he fearlessly strode into a pizza parlor amid a barrage of pepperoni, pulled a gun and confronted the management. He was there to rescue the children, you see. The children who were being exploited in a sex trafficking ring by Hillary Clinton and her evil accomplices. He knew it was happening because he’d read it on social media. He’d no doubt even read about how the placement of symbols on the pizza joint’s menu was really an elaborate code for pedophilia practices.

The story sounds like it might have been scripted by writers at Saturday Night Live or maybe by the Coen brothers on acid. Yet it nearly led to violence because this fellow believed it totally. And he’s not alone. Millions of people out there buy into fake news stories. Facebook has finally taken measures to reduce the fake news traffic on its highways, but it’s too little too late, for it already hath wrought the election of Donald Trump.

Not surprising, then, that Trump’s cheerleaders, upon hearing complaints about fake news, shifted into gear with their defense of the phenomenon — which included ridiculing the complaints, redefining fake news and denying that it even exists. They’ve brushed it off with the glib comment that “fake news is a fake story”, and have even suggested that even if it exists, it’s harmless because most Americans recognize it when they see it.

Which does not jibe at all with the statistics: about a fifth of Americans think Obama is a Muslim, most think he has raised their taxes, about 40 percent believe in “death panels”, about 25 percent think evolution is a false belief,  about half think Saddam was behind 9-11, and 52 percent of Republicans believe Trump won the popular vote.

An ever-dependable, perennially flatulent AM talk show host characterized fake news as “satire and parody that liberals don’t understand”. Which brings up two questions: (1) Is he really so stupid that he can’t distinguish a Saturday Night Live skit from a supposedly serious report about “Pizzagate”? (2) Is he really so stupid as to think it was “liberals” who were taken in by all the phony (and often bizarre) stories about Clinton and Obama?

Like many other right-wing fanatics, he wants you to believe that the real fake news is actually the real real news — you know, CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, etc. etc. He even offers some examples of fake news stories:

[Quoting someone else: “You want to hear fake news?  Fake news is every story you read reporting Obama said you keep your doctor if you like your doctor. You get to keep your plan if you like your insurance plan. Your premiums are coming down $2,500 average, every year, under Obamacare.”]  That was fake news, and that’s exactly right.

Yes, you heard that right. Accurately reporting what someone said — at least if that someone happens to be someone you loathe — is what he and his kind consider fake news. Another example he cites of his brand of fake news is the Obama administration saying that a video helped inspire the attack in Benghazi — which in fact is quite true; but since it doesn’t support the right-wing narrative, it must be fake anyway. Got it?

He does the same thing for the “hands up” narrative. It’s fake news, he says, because an investigation later appeared to contradict the witnesses who had said Michael Brown was trying to surrender when he was shot by a cop. (He doesn’t mention that the investigation also found there were strained relations between Ferguson police and the African-American community, the real point of the “hands up” meme.) Even though the media accurately reported what witnesses had said, it was fake news, just because he says so.

Media Matters reports on this habit of turning reality on its head:

Other conservatives are even using fake news to describe reporting from credible news outlets with which they disagree. Fringe right-wing conspiracy site Infowars.com declared that “The mainstream media is the primary source of the most harmful, most inaccurate news ever,” and included outlets such as The New York Times,The Washington Post, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, and Politico (and Media Matters, for good measure) on their “full list of fake news outlets.” Fox contributor Newt Gingrich lamented the Times’ reporting on the fake news phenomenon, arguing,“The idea of The New York Times being worried about fake news is really weird.The New York Times is fake news.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham — a contender for Trump’s press secretary — lashed out at CNN while appearing on Fox News’ Hannity, stating “the folks over at CNN” and “the kind of little games they’re playing are so transparent … they’re the fake news organizations.”

 

These comments exhibit two tactics you will see reactionary propagandists exercising over and over and over again: projecting their own sins onto someone they want to demonize, and redefining terms to suit their purposes. “Fake news”, like any other word or expression, comes to mean whatever they want it to mean.

But despite such attempts by the punditocracy to muddy the waters, the complaint from “liberals” about fake news has never been about bias. Most “liberals” (and even a lot of “conservatives”) realize that news is always biased in some manner and to some degree. Nor is it a matter of accuracy; accuracy is certainly important, but errors invariably creep in from time to time, even in the most conscientious journalism. And fake news quite often is constructed at least partially with actual facts.

We previously mentioned an internet story claiming that President Obama took a separate plane along on his vacation just for his dog. Part of the story was true: the president did take two planes, and the dog flew on a separate plane from the family. But the plane was not deployed just for the dog; it was carrying crucial personnel and the dog just hitched a ride.

Fake news is determined neither by bias nor error; it is determined by a false narrative that serves as the spine to which bias and error  are so often attached, along with real facts. The “War On Christmas” narrative is a good example of fake news because it uses a phony narrative supported both by lies (President Obama, contrary to Fox claims, wished Americans a Merry Christmas on numerous occasions) and facts (some people really do say “happy holidays” instead).

It may not always be easy to classify a story as fake news. Should every false rumor be tossed into that bin? Sometimes false rumors begin with an honest misunderstanding of the facts. One likely specimen is the rumor that only 5 (or 6) percent of the Clinton Foundation’s proceeds actually go to charity. This probably stems from ignorance about what kind of organization the Clinton Foundation actually is. Despite its rather misleading name, it’s not really a foundation at all, but a public charity. That means, among other things, that it performs its own charitable services rather than acting as a conduit for funds (as a foundation would do). And 89 percent of its proceeds go toward that function. Additionally, the organization donates 6 (or 5) percent of its proceeds to other charities. Some people just assume that’s all it does, because that’s what they want to assume. (Incidentally, contrary to additional rumors, the Clintons don’t make a dime from it.)

It may be questionable whether that story should be classified as fake news or merely a false report. In many other cases, however, there is no doubt. These occur when the perpetrator either deliberately creates a false narrative or creates a narrative without due regard to whether it is true or not. This applies to all of the manipulative videos distributed by James O’Keefe. It also applies to a story recently posted at Breitbart about a mob of Muslims attacking a German church.

Breitbart is uquestionably one of the prime purveyors of real fake news.  And its chairman, Steve Bannon, is going to have a special role in Trump’s administration. Which is altogether appropriate, since the election of Trump is the culmination of the work that fake news and distorted news outlets have been doing for some three decades. They have created an alternate universe for their fans. And now the rest of us must live in it as well.

The “War On Christmas” in 4 Minutes

Jesse Dollemore

I regret that I didn’t discover it until Christmas Day, but Jesse Dollemore has a nifty little video that addresses the silly “War On Christmas” narrative that surfaces every year around November.

Dollemore shows a clip of Donald Trump proclaiming to an adoring throng that “we’re going to start saying Merry Christmas again.” (Does that mean he’s going to issue an imperial proclamation that everyone must say it?) And clips of the talking heads at Fox “News” reacting in a manner that (honest to Pete) brings to mind teenage girls screaming over The Beatles.

They declare that their War On Christmas has been won now that Trump is elected, and because of him people are starting to say “Merry Christmas” again (as if they’d been prohibited from doing so up until now), and even ask “When was the last time you heard a politician say” the taboo magic phrase.

Then, after presenting a few actual facts on the matter, Dollemore serves up a clip of President Obama wishing Americans a Merry Christmas 16 times — and Michelle Obama twice.

When was the last time you heard a politician say “Merry Christmas”? Depends on how much you’ve been paying attention.

 

The Christian Persecution Complex, and the Myth of the School Prayer Ban

Prayer in school

Christians really have it rough in America, don’t they? They have to purchase all their earthly goods using money with “In God We Trust” (the official national motto) emblazoned on it. They have to recite a Pledge Of Allegiance with “one nation under God” inserted into it. Most of their leaders at national, state and local levels are fellow Christians, and their president is sworn into office with his hand on a Bible. Milestone ceremonies such as weddings and funerals are almost always conducted by ministers. Witnesses in court swear to tell the truth “so help you God”. Christians control most of what kids learn in school and most of what citizens see and hear in the media — which just might explain why you hear so much about Islamic terrorists and almost nothing about the equally prevalent (and usually closer to home) Christian terrorists.

The nefarious War On Christmas limits their celebration of their favorite holiday to only three months out of the year– and even then, some wretched spoilsports insist on extending holiday good cheer to everyone instead of restricting it to Christians. Gays are trying to get married, which somehow would make Christians less married.  And oh yes, prayer has been “outlawed” in public schools. Which, as everyone knows, is why schools are failing so miserably, and kids have no moral compass, and the nation is rapidly going down the drain.

Except that the last named is a patent lie. Or, to be as charitable as possible, it’s at least a patent misconception. The continually falling crime rate suggests that Americans are finding their moral compass rather than losing it. More to the point, prayer has never been banned from schools, not by the Supreme Court, nor Congress, nor President Obama, nor Michael Moore, nor anyone else. What really happened was that the Supreme Court put a damper on (though by no means did it entirely eliminate) religious tyranny. And many Christians, deprived of their tyranny, feel that they themselves are being tyrannized.

To be sure, there are plenty of Christians who are perfectly decent human beings. Many of them even recognize the importance of separating church and state. But they, alas, are not the ones who have inherited the scepter and the megaphone.  It has often been the very worst representatives of Christendom who have risen to the upper echelons of society; consequently, mainstream Christianity, perhaps more than any other religion, has devolved with an arrogant attitude of unbridled entitlement; many Christians tend to feel that they have an unassailable right to control the world, to make their beliefs official policy for everyone– while at the same time whining about how much they are being persecuted and oppressed. We’ve already discussed how anyone who challenges their vendetta against gays is portrayed as being bigoted, hostile and anti-Christian.

Unfortunately, we already have a history — a very long and very bloody history — to illustrate what happens when the church is granted its desire for absolute domination. In the good old days when religion ruled the world with an iron crucifix, anyone who ran a little afoul of the official doctrine or lifestyle would be the recipient of a very special religious ceremony. It might entail, for example, having deep gashes cut into their limbs and chests, which then would be filled with hot lead. Or being skinned alive. Or having all their flesh ripped off by hooks. Or being dismembered at the rate of one joint per day. Or having all their bones broken and then being dragged through the streets.  Or, if they were very lucky, they merely had a hot iron mask placed on their face, leaving them blind and disfigured. Or were merely subjected to the heretic’s fork.

heretics fork

And this type of treat, mind you, was not reserved just for nonbelievers; quite often the victims were themselves pious Christians who happened to interpret the Bible in a slightly different fashion from whoever was in a position of authority at the moment. Cecco d’Ascoli, an Italian scientist, was burned at the stake in 1327 for calculating the date of Jesus’ birth using the stars. A  Spanish Protestant writing master was burned at the stake in 1676 for decorating his room with the (so-called) Ten Commandments. Nothing like a little fatal torture to teach people about the Love Of Christ and the Will Of God.

Incidentally, it’s another misconception that burning at the stake involved anything so merciful as merely setting someone afire. In reality, the “heretics” generally were slowly roasted alive. This became the preferred method of execution after some Christian or other began to worry that some Biblical passage or other prohibited the shedding of blood. So they came up with a prolonged and agonizing method of killing that didn’t spill a drop. Whatever it takes to keep God happy.

Note that the two incidents mentioned above occurred more than three centuries apart; so obviously, they weren’t just isolated outcroppings of a temporary hysteria. Christianity’s endorsement of torture and barbarism lasted nearly 1500 years — which rather neatly coincides with the era in which the church controlled government.  Fifteen centuries of unrestricted license to murder, torture, maim and commit the most vile acts the twisted mind can conjure up. And yet Christians today feel victimized because they no longer can force students to pray, and some people wish them “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas”.

This reign of terror more or less started winding down about the time the pious brought their faith to the New World, in a quest for religious freedom and tolerance — which included stamping out the native religions if not the natives themselves. In the Shangri-La of religious freedom and tolerance they founded, citizens might be horse-whipped or pilloried for missing a church service, and they might be hanged for being a “witch”, but at least they wouldn’t be burned a the stake for “heresy”. Maybe Christians so often feel persecuted because they so often have persecuted each other.

Eventually,  a more genteel social order developed in which a legal structure was in place to protect against these horrors; but that doesn’t necessarily mean that theocrats wouldn’t still do something comparable if they still could get away with it. They’ve still found plenty of other ways to lord it over the populace.

Those of us beyond a certain age (and mind you, I’m not all that old) grew up in an environment in which Christianity’s sway was still near-absolute and generally unquestioned. Church attendance was mandatory — sometimes literally so, as a judge could order people to attend church as part of their “rehabilitation”. Prayers and Bible readings were routine in school classrooms. Teachers could be fired for teaching scientific principles that the church did not approve of. Prospective graduates, in addition to attending a commencement ceremony to receive their diplomas, had to attend a baccalaureate to be given a final push toward a Christian life — just in case the previous 12 years of programming didn’t completely take.  Anyone who dared question any of this would become the target of relentless Christian bullying.

But this finally began to change in the Sixties, And the change was, in no small measure, the result of the actions of one incredibly courageous woman. It’s hard not to admire her sheer cojones even if you don’t approve of her actions.

mmohair

Madalyn Murray O’Hair (1919-1995) was an army veteran, a respected social worker, and a devoted single mother of two. And oh yes, she was also an atheist.  And that one little thing, in the eyes of her community and indeed her nation as a whole, more than cancelled any of the good she may have done.  “Atheist” had come to be synonymous with pure evil — an attitude many people still possess today. Good Christians often utter the word with the same kind of snarl with which you’d expect them to say “traitor” or “terrorist” or “pedophile” or “liberal”. Not surprisingly, then, she and her two sons were not very popular in the city of Baltimore, where they lived. And it became much worse after she initiated the lawsuit that would make her “the most hated woman in America”.

That all began in 1960 when her 14-year-old son Bill* begged her to intervene because he was being forced to participate in prayers at school. So she launched a lawsuit which eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. And she won. And how did the Good Christians react? Here’s her account of what happened, even before the Court delivered its ruling:

I’d been a psychiatric social worker for 17 years, but within 24 hours after I started the case, I was fired from my job as a supervisor in the city public welfare department. And I was unable to find another one, because the moment I would go in anywhere in town and say that my name was Madalyn Murray no matter what the job opening, I found the job filled; no matter how good my qualifications, they were never quite good enough. So my income was completely cut off.

The second kind of reprisal was psychological. The first episode was with our mail, which began to arrive, if at all, slit open and empty — just empty envelopes. Except for the obscene and abusive letters from good Christians all over the country, calling me a bitch and a Lesbian and a Communist for instituting the school-prayer suit — they somehow arrived intact, and by the bushel-basketful. Hundreds of them actually threatened our lives.

(There were) anonymous phone calls we’d get at every hour of the day and night, which were more or less along the same lines as the letters. One of them was a particular gem. I was in the VA hospital in Baltimore and I had just had a very critical operation; they didn’t think I was going to make it. They had just wheeled me back to my bed after two days in the recovery room when this call came in for me, and somebody who wouldn’t give his name told me very seriously and sympathetically that my father had just died and that I should be prepared to come home and take care of my mother. Well, I called home in a state of shock, and my mother answered, and I asked her about Father, and she said, “What are you talking about? He’s sitting here at this moment eating bacon and eggs.” Obviously, that call had been calculated to kill me, because whoever it was knew that I was at a low ebb there in the hospital.

Then they began to take more direct action. My Freethought Society office was broken into; our cars were vandalized repeatedly; every window in the house was broken more times than I can count, every flower in my garden trampled into the ground all my maple trees uprooted; my property looked like a cyclone had hit it. This is the kind of thing that went on constantly,constantly, over a three-year period.

But it was just child’s play compared to the reprisals visited upon my son Bill. He’d go to school every day and hand in his homework, and a couple of days later many of his teachers would say to him, “You didn’t hand in your homework.” Or he’d take a test and about a week later many of his teachers would tell him, “You didn’t hand in your test paper. You’ll have to take the test again this afternoon.” This was a dreadful reprisal to take against a 14-year-old boy. It got to the point where he had to make carbon copies of all his homework and all his tests to prove that he had submitted them.

But that’s nothing to what happened after school, both to him and to his little brother, Garth. I lost count of the times they came home bloodied and beaten up by gangs of teenage punks; five and six of them at a time would gang up on them and beat the living hell out of them. Many’s the time I’ve stood them off myself to protect my sons, and these fine young Christians have spat in my face till spittle dripped down on my dress. Time and again we’d take them into magistrate’s court armed with damning evidence and eyewitness testimony, but the little bastards were exonerated every time.

But I haven’t told you the worst. The neighborhood children, of course, were forbidden by their parents to play with my little boy, Garth, so I finally got him a little kitten to play with. A couple of weeks later we found it on the porch with its neck wrung. And then late one night our house was attacked with stones and bricks by five or six young Christians, and my father got very upset and frightened. Well, the next day he dropped dead of a heart attack. The community knew very well that he had a heart condition, so I lay a murder to the city of Baltimore.

These were, one gathers, the actions of True Believers who felt that they were being persecuted and oppressed because of their beliefs.

But please note that contrary to what you so often hear, the Supreme Court’s ruling did not — repeat did not — ban prayer in schools. On the contrary, in several cases addressing the issue over the years, the Court consistently has affirmed that prayer on school property is a constitutional right — provided it is performed at an appropriate place and time. But the appropriate place and time do not include during class or in any manner that might constitute a government endorsement of religion. It was not until the year 2000 that the Court finally got around to figuring out that this eliminates official school functions such as ballgames.

Students and teachers, however, have the right to — and often do — still pray on campus. They may pray between classes, at lunchtime, before school starts, after school is over, etc. etc.– so long as it doesn’t dovetail with official school business and doesn’t drag in unwilling participants.  In short, it’s an arrangement designed to satisfy everyone.

But Christian extremists absolutely refuse to be appeased. They want a battle, they want an enemy, they want power. They will settle for nothing less than complete dominance. In the words of one of the leading icons of the “religious right”, Randall Terry, founder of the (so called) pro-life group Operation Rescue:

I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you… I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good… Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a biblical duty, we are called by God, to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism.

For people like this “religious freedom” isn’t about having the right to pray; it’s about having the “right” to force other people to live by your beliefs.

We still have a long way to go before religious neutrality achieves anything like an equal footing with Christian authoritarianism; before nonreligious politicians have as much a chance to be elected to office as Christians do; before it is no longer the default mode for children to be indoctrinated into whatever religion their parents follow; before mainstream Christians are more concerned with following the teachings of Jesus than with demonizing non-believers; before the U.S. as a whole recognizes that true freedom of religion must necessarily include freedom from religion. But we have at least made some progress. And to fundamentalist reactionaries, that progress is construed as a personal affront. They no do doubt will even consider it a vicious attack to report the facts we’ve reported here; what they cannot do, however, is dispute that these are indeed facts.

Rather than acknowledge — and perhaps try to make amends for — the multitude of evils that have been done, and are still being done, in the name of their faith, they try to shift blame to their critics, portraying themselves as hapless victims of a secularist jihad. In doing so, they continually spread such dishonest narratives as the “War on Christmas” and the fabled “school prayer ban”.

(* Christians often delight in pointing out that as an adult, Bill converted to Christianity despite his atheist upbringing. The part of the story they tend to leave out is that he demonstrated his “Christian values” by abandoning his daughter Robin, whom his mother adopted and raised as her own.

Indeed, O’Hair may have been too generous for her own good. She made a practice of offering jobs in her organization to former felons — which probably made her considerably more charitable in that regard than most churches. In 1995, one such former employee and convict whom she’d fired for stealing from her enlisted two accomplices to abduct and extort O’Hair, Robin and O’Hair’s other son Jon Garth — both of whom were officers in O’Hair’s organization. All three eventually were murdered and dismembered. 

After learning of the crime, Bill responded by writing an article attacking his murdered mother, brother and daughter, with not a kind word for any of them. He characterized his mother — the mother who had bravely stood by him during his childhood years of being brutalized by Christian bullies, and had gone to bat for him in the courts at his own pleading and at great risk to herself — as the embodiment of pure unadulterated evil. He repeated as undisputed truth every unsavory rumor and allegation he could think of about his mother, including the accusation that she had a fondness for — horrors — pornography, and the suspicion that her organization was, like a good many churches, less than perfectly forthright with the IRS.)

Gay Activism and the Christian Persecution Complex: Ducking Responsibility

Duck Dynasty - A&E

By now you’ve surely heard more than you ever, ever wanted to hear about the whole Duck Dynasty flap (if you live in The United States). But chances are you haven’t heard anything at all about the important lessons to be learned from it. So here are a few observations for your consideration.

1. Disapproval is NOT censorship.

It’s become an automatic response of anyone on the receiving end of a backlash for expressing bigotry or general idiocy to say, “Hey, you’re trying to censor me”. Or “you’re trying to suppress my First Amendment rights.”  Poppycock, horsefeathers, balderdash and codswallop.

Duck Dynasty’s head mallard, Phil Robertson, expressed his mind (such as it is) and nobody tried to stop him. GLAAD and A&E expressed their disapproval. All were perfectly within their constitutional rights.  So was the network’s decision to suspend Robertson temporarily while reassessing its relationship with him.

The constitutional protection of the right to free speech was never intended as a shield against fallout if your speech is cloddish. If you call a guy a rotten sonofabitch and say his mother is a whore, he just might punch you in the nose. It’s not censorship. It’s not unconstitutional. It’s not intolerance. It’s Newton’s third law.

2. Overreaction has become the standard American reaction.

Let’s face it, we live in the Golden Age of the tempest in the teapot, an age in which any dumb joke or offhand whimsical remark triggers a hoopla of seismic proportions. The formerly innocuous neologistic verb tweet has become a synonym for “invite an avalanche of distortion and negative publicity”.

So did people overreact to Robertson’s crass self-righteousness? Maybe. After all, there was far less outcry to his comments in the same interview to the effect that he thought African-Americans had been perfectly content with their social status in the pre-civil rights South, and that a non-Christian outlook leads to Nazism and genocide.  (Hey, nobody ever accused him of being a history scholar.) And his remarks about homosexuality in the interview were really rather tame in comparison to his past sage utterances on the topic that also flew mostly under the radar.

But if the gay community and A&E were overreacting, their overreaction was blown to smithereens by the overreaction to that overreaction on the part of Robertson’s defenders.

Here’s GLAAD’s statement:

Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe. He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans – and Americans – who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples. Phil’s decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.

As you can see, it’s much more elegant and civil than Robertson’s. As is the statement issued by A&E:

We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series ‘Duck Dynasty.’ His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community.

And it’s certainly far more elegant and civil than the over-the-top reaction from Duck-lings, as typified by Fox “News”:

A&E is apparently run by a bunch of anti-Christian, bigots. Duck Dynasty worships God. A&E worships GLAAD. If Phil had been twerking with a duck the network probably would’ve given him a contract extension. But because he espoused beliefs held by many Christians, he’s been silenced. Perhaps A&E could provide the nation with a list of what they believe is politically correct speech.  Maybe they could tell us what Americans can say, think and do. Should the U.S. Constitution be amended to prevent Americans from holding personal beliefs that others might not agree with?… It’s not about capitalism. It’s about driving an agenda and shoving it down the throats of the American public. And Hollywood is beholden to an agenda that is anti-Christian and anti-family.

Good grief. They forgot to mention the  “Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids”.

You’ll notice that GLAAD and A&E (and most other people who objected to Robertson’s clueless crackerdom) limited their remarks to complaints about specific comments by a specific individual. They didn’t attack, insult, accuse or belittle him or anyone else. Not the rest of his family. Not duck hunters in general. Not Louisianans. Not guys who look like ZZ Top posing as GI Joe. And most certainly not Christians. But…

3. Americans desperately crave a narrative.

Have you noticed that people seem to find it increasingly difficult to view an incident as merely an incident? Everything has to be part of a trend, a movement, a plot, a conspiracy. Of course, the media do all they can to feed this attitude, and we could have an interesting chicken-and-egg debate about whether it’s more a matter of the media dictating or catering to the mindset; but in any case it’s pretty hard to deny that the mindset does exist.

In this instance, the overreaction to the overreaction tended to follow what has become a very popular narrative: that rejection of intolerance is more intolerant than intolerance itself. There was an explosion of rants about the oppressiveness of “political correctness”, whatever that is, on the part of the “Hollywood elites”. And always, such narratives absolutely and inevitably MUST lead to a scathing indictment of them librulz. This, the official spin goes, was another shining example of that ever-sought chimera, liberal intolerance. And oh yeah, it was a “war on Christian values”, as if all Christians were homophobic. (Quick, what did Jesus have to say about homosexuality?) But in fact some of them are actually too busy trying to improve the world to go around proclaiming that God is going to punish people for being the way He made them. And then there are the others…

4. Many Christians desperately want to feel persecuted.

They want it so much that they’re more than willing to pick a fight as often as possible in order to justify the paranoia.  One group they love to pick a fight with is gays. (See previous posts on Gay Activism and the Christian Persecution Complex: “Playing Chikin“, “A Tale of Two Legal Judgments” and “The Kirk Cameron/ Anita Bryant Delusion“.) But they’ll settle for other groups as well.

Not long before the GQ story broke, another Internet narrative began circulating about Phil Robertson, to the effect that Duck Dynasty producers had asked him not to pray on the show, at the insistence of “atheists and liberals” — a claim which turns out to be quite unfounded . In another interview, he specifically mentioned that they frowned on his ending prayers with “in Jesus’ name”,  possibly because it could offend Muslims. There’s no substantiation of this claim either, nor any reason to believe that in fact Muslims would be offended by such a thing.

It’s also interesting to note that this controversy erupted at time of year when the Christian persecution complex was already operating at full throttle. Every winter, one of the most inane of narratives, the “war on Christmas“, is as predictably conspicuous as eggnog and candy canes. Whenever someone says “happy holidays” or anything else except “Merry Christmas”, it’s taken as a sure sign that they’re out to eradicate the holiday altogether and ship all Christians off to a gulag in Siberia.

At about the same time the Duck Dynasty brouhaha was brewing, a woman in Phoenix who was collecting donations for The Salvation Army (which, lest we forget, is itself a Christian organization) was allegedly assaulted for expressing good will in an unauthorized fashion to a Good Christian. Is that censorship? Persecution? Political correctness? We don’t know, because The Indignant Guardians Of Liberty And Tolerance tend to become eerily silent about occurrences of this type. But maybe if Christians really are at war with the rest of the world, it’s because they’ve fired the first 5000 shots.

5. Many Christians try to duck responsibility for their own beliefs.

As we discussed in the previous post, they try to blame God for their bigoted and unenlightened doctrines, and quote cherry-picked biblical passages to buttress those beliefs. But this doesn’t work because (1) it’s very difficult to know exactly what the Bible says or intends; (2) the Bible often seems to contradict itself, and (3) you can find something in the Bible to justify anything you choose to believe.

One scriptural snippet the gay-bashing fundamentalists love to dredge up is Leviticus 18:22. What they fail to mention, however, is that the same book also states some other laws issued by the Almighty that most Christians wouldn’t want to live by. (At least let’s hope not.) And the Bible devotes even more wordage instructing you to sell your daughters into slavery, for instance. It’s the believers themselves who pick some biblical passages to live by and ignore others. And if there is a Guy Upstairs, he’s probably getting mighty annoyed at taking the rap for so long.

6. Americans love the lowbrow.

Duck Dynasty Clean

The above photo depicts the Robertson family in its pre-DD days. Chances are they wouldn’t have created such a media buzz if they’d continued grooming themselves like this. But fortunately for them, they underwent a savvy PR makeover, relinquishing an image that suggested the stereotype of the Homogenized Yuppie for one that suggests the stereotype of the Inbred Goober. And subsequently, their popularity has taken off like a skeet.

Americans have a fondness for, an infatuation for, an obsession with, the severely unsophisticated personality — not just the non-intellectual, but the anti-intellectual. Most people (hopefully) recognize that pop culture icons like Homer Simpson and Archie Bunker are meant to be satirical rather than exemplary. But there are real-life characters who are almost equally satirical, and they often end up in positions of power and influence: e.g., Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, and Dan Quayle. And did we mention Sarah Palin?

Phil Robertson was hired to be a buffoon, so nobody should be surprised by his comments in GQ. Or comments like this:

Look, you wait ’til they (women) get to be 20 years old, the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket. You got to marry these girls when they are about 15 or 16. They’ll pick your ducks.

Really, Christians? You feel morally superior for standing behind someone like this?

It’s also no surprise that he was reinstated on the Arts and Entertainment network, though he is neither very artful nor, for may of us, very entertaining. His supporters rallied to his defense, and he probably picked up quite a few more troops along the way — which is one reason why it’s probably not a good idea to make such a fuss about his comments in the first place. In fact, it wouldn’t be a big surprise to learn that the whole thing was a publicity stunt cooked up by the Robertsons and the network.

But the real question is, why do so many people even give a shit at all about what someone like Phil says? That they do surely reveals something significant about contemporary American “culture” — something that, like the Robertson clan decked out in its waterfowl-slaughtering regalia, ain’t very pretty.

 

Whose Holiday Is It, Anyway?

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Well, tomorrow’s the big day. The day that some look forward to all year, some dread for weeks, and others just think it’s a nifty day, but only one day so why drag it out for so long?

In addition to hearing about how people are supposed to be waging a “war on Christmas”, chances are you’ve seen bumper stickers or signs proclaiming that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”, so you should “Keep Christ in Christmas”. These cute slogans stem from the mistaken notion that Christmas originated with Christianity. The truth is that virtually nothing originated with Christianity. Everything about the religion, from its core principles to the supposed biographical details of its supposed founder to even its supposed founder’s name (in linguistic variance) are borrowed from and/or parallel to older traditions from other cultures.

Virgin birth? Already been done. December 25th? Likewise. Three kings bearing gifts? Old hat. Miracles? Ditto. Twelve disciples? Tell me something I don’t know. Crucifixion? Been there, done that. Resurrection? Ho-hum. No wonder they strung the dude up along with a couple of thieves!

Christianity has a long, bloody history of conquering, eradicating and stealing from other cultures. It didn’t begin with the relatively benign “civilizing” of Native Americans (which included wiping out their religious practices) by 19th Century missionaries after the more macho invaders had massacred many of them wholesale. It didn’t begin with the early European explorers to the New World who sometimes reversed the order – first converting and baptizing the natives before murdering them so they wouldn’t be sending them to hell, and wasn’t that considerate. Nor did it begin with the Crusades, or other medieval insanity that included branding pagan traditions as “devil worship” and spreading nutty rumors about evil hexes, black masses and human sacrifice.

Nope, it goes back almost to the very beginning, or to at least the 4th Century. Our history books (written by Christian historians) tell us that ancient Christians were ruthlessly persecuted, tortured and slaughtered by pagan authorities. The part of the story they leave out is that more often, it was the other way around. We hear a great deal about Nero supposedly feeding Christians to the lions, but we never hear about hot lead being poured down the throats of non-believers. Or Christians invading and brutally murdering entire cities of pagans – not to mention how they tortured and murdered other Christians who interpreted certain passages in the Bible a little differently. All done in the name of a mild-mannered mystic who taught folks to love their neighbors.

It was perhaps inevitable that Christians should adopt December 25th as the day to celebrate the birth of their prophet king. It was a date that already had been used for such purposes by other religions/ mythologies, and for very good reason. December 25 is the approximate date when the sun, having reached its greatest distance from the earth (at least so it appears) at the Winter Solstice and then having spent three days in relative limbo, begins it “resurrection”, its journey back toward us. (This is, of course, expressed from the ancient geocentric viewpoint.) In other words, it’s the true beginning of the new year.

The annual event was commemorated among the ancients under a variety of names, including Saturnalia and Yule, with customs that included lighting a log, decorating a tree, gathering mistletoe, singing songs and giving gifts. When early Christians took it upon themselves to convert the rest of the world to their beliefs, they shrewdly decided that it would help to blend their holidays and customs with those of the pagans. The strategy was so successful that for many centuries, much of the world simply called the date Christmas, with Yuletide becoming a mere synonym, and the origins of the festival were more or less forgotten. It’s only in fairly recent times that Western civilization has begun to remember that this time of year is a special occasion for everyone, and not just followers of one religion.

And now some Christians are insistent upon reclaiming what they stole fair and square. They’re pissed about all this PC “happy holiday” and “season’s greetings” crap, which they regard as a personal affront, and want everyone to say “Merry Christmas” the way God intended. And when places of business are so arrogant and intolerant as to wish the public good cheer in some manner except that prescribed by The One True Religion, they just might face boycotting until they acquire some godliness.

Compounding the irony is the fact that nobody has a clue when the real Jesus (if there was a real Jesus) was born. Not even what year, much less what date. But if there really was a real person to whom these legends and teachings are attached, and if he really was anywhere near as enlightened as what the Bible indicates, then he would not be such a petty megalomaniac as to approve of his followers stealing someone else’s holiday to mark his birthday, and certainly he wouldn’t approve of condemning people who don’t go along.

If you choose to believe that the biblical story of Jesus is literally true, you certainly have that right. And if you choose to follow the principles he allegedly laid out, power to you. But if you do, you should be aware that holiday chauvinism is not consistent with those values. There’s certainly nothing wrong with saying “Merry Christmas”. And if you want to display Jesus, Joseph and Mary on your lawn (all light-skinned and blue-eyed, of course, despite their Middle Eastern origin), no one’s gonna stop you. Put the faces of the Three Stooges on the wise men if it floats your boat. (On second thought, better not; they were Jewish.) But if you’re going to pass judgment on people who choose to observe this season in a more inclusive and/or more traditional fashion, you’re definitely not honoring the spiritual teacher whose birthday is probably not tomorrow.

And on that note, we wish everyone a very Happy Reconciliation Day.

Happy Holidays (Sorry)

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Today is Thanksgiving, and you know what that means: only a month left of Christmas shopping before we start all over again for next year. Notice we were very careful to call it “Christmas” instead of, oh, “some unspecified festive occasion falling one week before New Year’s Day”? That’s because another thing you can always count on at this time of year is the punditocracy getting on a soapbox to rant about how there’s a “war on Christmas” being waged.

It’s not enough that businesses start decorating with Santas and snowflakes almost as soon as the Fourth of July has passed, or that we have a bona fide holiday – oops – Christmas shopping season that begins the day after Thanksgiving, or that around Halloween, retail establishments start bombarding customers’ ears with Christmas carols, or that there are Christmas clubs to plan your shopping a year in advance, or that there are round-the-clock Christmas movies at least throughout December.

No, if you hear somebody say “Happy Holidays”, it’s a sure sign that practitioners of that nasty intolerant political correctness are waging a war on Christmas, and want to outlaw it altogether. And we should boycott businesses and force people to say “Merry Christmas”, the way Amurrcan freedom demands.

The harbingers of this holiday holocaust (Oops. Sorry, but “Christmas holocaust” just didn’t have the same alliterative appeal; I hope this won’t be too many points against me.) are invariably people with a political agenda; specifically, they are proponents of the extreme right-wing, or at least they always have been to date. Which isn’t surprising, because this faction is aligned with extreme fundamentalists, with whom they share the common bond of a persecution complex. And their propagandists know that to mobilize the troops, you need to convince them of two things at the same time: (1) Christians in America are an overwhelming majority whose every whim ought to be mandated into law, and (2) Christians in America are an oppressed minority in danger of being persecuted into extinction.

An astounding number of people have no problem holding both of these beliefs at the same time. As a result, the “War on Christmas” meme continues to sell year after year after year. It’s become as much a part of hol- of Christmas tradition as mistletoe, eggnog, Hollywood blockbusters and nativity scenes in inappropriate places.

So brace yourself for at least another month of it. In the meantime, here’s hoping that today and all of your holidays will be happy.

Oops. Are we waging a war on Thanksgiving here?