Proud to be Abnormal

We’ve seen some stupid stuff in the You-Have-to-Believe-in-God department, but this pile of steaming nonsense in Slate is really – well, hard to believe. Get this part, for example:

But in general, most Republicans and most Democrats are pretty religious. The stark differences are at the extremes of each party, and, as so often is the case, the big question is whether the extremes will define the party as a whole. Most Republicans aren’t conservative fundamentalists, although it sometimes seems that way given the proclivities of the leadership. And the Democrats have their own version of that same dilemma, and it’s affecting the most important arena there is-this year’s presidential race: Will Kerry’s Democrats act like the Party of Secularists even if they aren’t?

See? Catch the sly move there? Define secularism as ‘extreme’ – and bob’s your uncle, the job is half done. This is a very, very popular move in US public rhetoric, of course: invent two ‘extremes’ by deciding in the echoing vaults of your own mind that This is the Polar Opposite of That and that therefore the truth of the matter lies between the two. But of course that’s a ridiculous approach for a lot of reasons – reasons having to do with the arbitrariness and artificiality of the categories, just for one thing. But even more, that idiotic formula ignores the need to examine the issue on the merits – on the truth, and on political questions about secular versus religious government.

Of course, that’s not what the author wants to do with this article. He wants to coerce everyone to avoid ‘extreme’ secularism and head for the safe middle with everyone else. Moral blackmail, is what that kind of thing is. David Brooks went in for the same kind of moral blackmail the other day, and Steven Waldman quotes the very line that I quoted in the News link: ‘New York Times columnist David Brooks (who’s still my favorite conservative)) nailed it precisely when he said of his fellow countrymen, “Their President doesn’t have to be a saint, but he does have to be a pilgrim. He does have to be engaged, as they are, in a personal voyage toward God.”‘ But Waldman, of course, quotes it approvingly, whereas I quoted it with disgust. He has to be engaged, as they are, in a personal voyage toward a figment of their imaginations. Oh does he. Notice he’s not required to be engaged in a personal voyage toward Zeus, or Athena, or Ganesh, or Ra, or Ashtaroth – and that in fact if he were, that would not go down very well. Nor is he supposed to be on a trip toward Spock, or Hogwarts, or Julien Sorel, or Hamlet. No, there’s just one literary character that we’re supposed to pretend is not a literary character but Really Real and kindly looking after us in spite of all the evidence that nobody at all is looking after us in any way.

But then the article gets even worse.

First, if Kerry’s uncomfortable with religion then he’s uncomfortable with Americans. Media managers love having him photographed riding a motorcycle because it shows he can connect with regular folks, who apparently all ride motorcycles, too. If Kerry’s really secular, he’s abnormal.

Abnormal? Abnormal?? Is that really what he meant to say? Couldn’t he have chosen a slightly better word or phrase? You know – not like the majority, that sort of thing. Non-conformist, non-majoritarian, different. But abnormal? But. Perhaps it’s useful to know what they think of us.

Second, the fact that people view Bush as a man of faith is very much connected to their viewing him as decisive and steadfast, two of his strongest assets. A man of faith is a man of conviction, and vice versa. So, Kerry’s unwillingness to talk about his faith feeds into one of his great weaknesses, his reputation as a waffler.

Well, see, I would put that quite differently. I don’t admire Bush’s decisiveness and steadfastness, because it’s notorious that he’s unreflective and uninformed – that he prides himself on making snap decisions and then refusing to budge. Well guess what – that’s not always the best way to do things, especially not for someone who’s ignorant and unthinking to begin with. Viewed that way, Bush’s ‘faith’ probably gives him far too much confidence in his own judgment. He thinks God is helping him. Yes, but what if he’s wrong about that? Then that conviction is not such a great idea, is it.

Finally, he needs to talk about his faith because it would strengthen him on the most important issue of the campaign—terrorism…when the country is at war, people appropriately look for signs that the president has real strength. Americans believe that one of the most important sources of inner strength is faith.

One, no they don’t, because I’m an American and I don’t. Speak for yourself, pal. Even if 95% of Murkans agree with you, you still don’t get to speak for all of us. And two – inner strength is another one of those dual-edged swords, isn’t it. We can all think of some other people who got a lot of inner strength from their ‘faith’ too, can’t we. Enough inner strength to go to flight school, and buy plane tickets, and get through security with their box cutters, and – you know. No thanks. I prefer the kind of ‘inner strength’ (whatever that really means, in fact) that’s based on open eyes and rational thought.

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