Falsehood is not a matter of narration technique but something premeditated as a perversion of truth…. The shadow of a hair’s turning, premeditated for an untrue purpose, the slightest twisting or perversion of that which is principle—these constitute falseness. But the fetish of factualized truth, fossilized truth, the iron band of so-called unchanging truth, holds one blindly in a closed circle of cold fact. One can be technically right as to fact and everlastingly wrong in the truth. (Urantia Book 48:6.33)
~ ~ ~
Among some astronomers and even more astrologers, Copernicus’ claim won converts. But in 1615, the Roman Catholic Church declared the idea a heresy and in 1632 condemned the scientist Galileo Galilei to life in prison for disseminating it. — Ken Zimmerman, RWER : More on what’s missing, 9/1/2020
[T]he great Galileo, at the age of fourscore, groaned away his days in the dungeons of the Inquisition, because he had demonstrated by irrefragable proofs the motion of the earth. — Voltaire, “Descartes and Newton” (1728)
[T]he celebrated Galileo … was put in the inquisition for six years, and put to the torture, for saying, that the earth moved.
— Giuseppe Baretti, The Italian Library (1757)
[T]o say that Galileo was tortured is not a reckless claim, but it is simply to repeat what the sentence says. To specify that he was tortured about his intention is not a risky deduction, but it is, again, to report what that text says. These are observation-reports, reports, not magical intuitions; proved facts, not cabalistic introspections.
— Italo Mereu, History of Intolerance in Europe (1979)
The trial ended on June 22, 1633, with a harsher sentence than Galileo had been led to expect. The verdict found him guilty of a category of heresy intermediate between the most and the least serious, called “vehement suspicion of heresy.” The objectionable beliefs were the astronomical thesis that the earth moves and the methodological principle that the Bible is not a scientific authority. He was forced to recite a humiliating “abjuration” retracting these beliefs. But the Dialogue was banned. (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Kindle Locations 757-760). Kindle Edition.)
The lengthy sentencing document also recounted the proceedings since 1613, summarized the 1633 charges, and noted Galileo’s defense and confession. In addition, it provided two other extremely important details. The first described an interrogation: “Because we did not think you had said the whole truth about your intention, we deemed it necessary to proceed against you by a rigorous examination. Here you answered in a Catholic manner, though without prejudice to the above-mentioned things confessed by you and deduced against you about your intention.” The second imposed an additional penalty: “We condemn you to formal imprisonment in this Holy Office at our pleasure.” (Kindle Locations 760-764)
The lengthy sentencing document also recounted the proceedings since 1613, summarized the 1633 charges, and noted Galileo’s defense and confession. (….) The text of the Inquisition’s sentence and Galileo’s abjuration were the only trial documents publicized at the time. Indeed, the Inquisition sent copies to all provincial inquisitors and papal nuncios, requesting them to disseminate the information. Thus news of Galileo’s fate circulated widely in books, newspapers, and one-page flyers. This unprecedented publicity resulted from the express orders of Pope Urban, who wanted Galileo’s case to serve as a negative lesson to all Catholics and to strengthen his own image as an intransigent defender of the faith. (Kindle Locations 760-767)
(….) The impression that Galileo had been imprisoned and tortured remained plausible as long as the principal evidence available about Galileo’s trial came from these documents, the sentence and abjuration. The story remained unchanged until—after about 150 years for the prison thesis and about 250 years for the torture thesis—relevant documents came to light showing that Galileo had suffered neither. (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Kindle Locations 775-777). Kindle Edition.)
The new information about imprisonment comes from correspondence in 1633, primarily from the Tuscan ambassador to Rome (Francesco Niccolini) to the Tuscan secretary of state in Florence, and secondarily that to and from Galileo himself. The Tuscan officials were especially interested in Galileo because he was employed as the chief mathematician and philosopher to the grand duke of Tuscany, had dedicated the Dialogue to him, and had successfully sought his help in publishing the book in Florence. Thus the Tuscan government treated the trial like an affair of state, with Niccolini constantly discussing the situation directly with the pope at their regular meetings and sending reports to Florence. Moreover, Galileo was on very friendly terms with Niccolini and his wife. (Kindle Locations 777-781)
(….) With the possible exception of three days (June 21-24, 1633), Galileo was never held in prison, either during the trial (as was universal custom) or afterward (as the sentence decreed). Even for those three days he likely lodged in the prosecutor’s apartment, not in a cell. The explanation for such unprecedentedly benign treatment is not completely clear but includes the following factors: the protection of the Medici, Galileo’s celebrity status, and the love-hate attitude of Pope Urban, an erstwhile admirer. (Kindle Locations 792-795)
(….) In view of the available evidence, the most tenable position is that Galileo underwent an interrogation with the threat of torture but did not undergo actual torture or even territio realis. Although he remained under house arrest during the 1633 trial and for the subsequent nine years of his life, he never went to prison. We should keep in mind, however, that for 150 years after the trial the publicly available evidence indicated that Galileo had been imprisoned, and for 250 years the evidence indicated that he had been tortured. The myths of Galileo’s torture and imprisonment are thus genuine myths: ideas that are in fact false but once seemed true—and continue to be accepted as true by poorly educated persons and careless scholars. (Kindle Locations 839-843)
~ ~ ~
Simple stories are poor vehicles for complex nuanced historical truth. The Catholic Church — like all human institutions — is full of justifiable blame for the errors of evil and sin, even iniquity, but let the blame be laid on firm evidentiary foundations and not half-truths of simple stories careless with fact and truth, lest we be guilty of twisting hairs and casting shadows of half-truth for untrue purposes.
In 1950, McCarthy gave a routine speech at an obscure forum in Wheeling, West Virginia, in which, according to audience members, he claimed:
I have here in my hand a list of 205 … a list of names that were made known to the secretary of state as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.
McCarthy possessed no such list and apparently made up the number 205, which changed with further iterations. But no matter. McCarthy had struck a match in a political climate that was saturated with the fumes of suspicion and fear, and in the media explosion that followed he became the most famous man in the country. Over the next several years, he falsely accused numerous people—government officials, journalists, Hollywood writers, lawyers, professors—of espionage and communist associations. McCarthy did not possess any solid information that any of them were communists, just rumor and innuendo that had long ago been checked out by the FBI and other government agencies. In a series of committee hearings, he and his colleagues bullied, smeared, and humiliated a long line of witnesses—none of whom was ever convicted of a crime in a court, but many of whom lost their jobs because of skittish employers. Hollywood screenwriters drawn into the net were blacklisted.
The social media site Nextdoor has implemented a Good Neighbor Pledge. The evidence above in which Nextdoor user Brandon Kask posts— without a shred of evidence of who said what when and where — accuses collectively the Black Lives Matter movement, protesters, his neighbors, and elected officials of being part of a “communist” conspiratorial plot to bring about a “coup” simply by changing the sheriff’s position from an elected position to an appointed position. As with all hate speech, it is meant to incite others to follow on and amplify the malicious hate rhetoric that is meant to result in elimination of those who are targeted. It is not meant to foster intelligent discussion of informed citizens, but merely to demonize the “other” through hate speech rooted in fear mongering, racist and eliminationist rhetoric exhibited in Scott Neiman’s response in which he refers to those who hold a different view on the issues as being followers of “leftism,” “extreme leftism,” “commie’s,” and advocating “authoritarianism.” These are examples, detailed below, of eliminationism and eliminationist rhetoric — a form of hyper-partisan political hate speech.
It is clear that Nextdoor has no intention of fulfilling its phony Good Neighbor Pledge. It is the same cast of characters, like Greg Robel, who engage in debased and degenerate form of demeaning communication to others on Nexdoor’s platform. And when such hate filled bile is posted on Nextdoor and it is reported (as Robel was) it sits there despite Nextdoor claiming that such hateful rhetoric has no place on its platform.
Bad social media platforms (e.g., Nextdoor) need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men and women (aka paid employees of ND) should look on and do nothing, or worse, publish greenwashed falsehoods while bile is still pumped into our social fabric.
— John Stuart Mill, Updated for Modernity
This is evidenced in the fact that Nextdoor relies on volunteer moderators that are so incompetent that they remove Scott Neiman’s hateful eliminationist rhetoric but leave Brandon Kask’s original eliminationist hate speech that makes baseless accusations without a shred of evidence aimed at anyone who holds a view different from his own that they are communists part of a communist plot to bring about a coup. How ludicrous considering the issue would be voted on and only implemented if passed by a majority, a very democratic thing to do and which alone refutes this hateful rhetoric.
The fallacious absurdity of Brandon Kask’s claims is evidenced in the history of King County Council itself. The post of sheriff was changed from an elective position to an appointed position in 1968 and then back to an elective position in 1996 all by a democratic process of free and fair elections just as this initiative too will be decided. (See King County — Thumbnail History)
Brandon Kask and Scott Neiman are through their words revealing they are intellectual parrots of AM Hate Radio and the rhetoric of eliminationism that has been pumped into American minds over the last thirty years of a fratricidal culture war that eschews intellectual political discussions grounded in mutual respect of one’s neighbors and restrained by reason and logic and evidence. That Nextdoor allows such hate speech to pass as civil reveals how dangerous it is as a social media platform, not unlike Twitter or Facebook, in that it allows toxic hateful messages to pass as neighborly conduct when it is anything but neighborly to call, without evidence or proof, one’s neighbors, one’s elected officials, and entire groups of people “communist.”
Brandon Kask and Scott Neiman (and since it is allowed to pass as “neighborly” discussion, Nextdoor too) are no different than the Nazis who used hateful and malicious false labels of those they viewed as the “enemy” and didn’t agree with politically to demonize them and thereby make them the target of group hate. This is exactly how the Nazi’s used anti-Semitism:
The Nazis equated all opposition movements—socialist, liberal, communist, humanitarian, cosmopolitan, individualist, democratic—to the Jewish cabal. (Tsesis 2002, 24)
The truth and facts have absolutely no place in Kask’s and Neiman’s rhetoric. Its purpose is to incite hatred and nothing more. And Nextdoor as a social media platform amplifies such hateful rhetoric and undermines our neighborhood’s social fabric by treating such as good neighborly forms of communication when it is anything but good for our social well being. Such rhetoric as Kask and Neiman post is a form of prejudice and scapegoating perpetrated through hateful stereotypes.
Stereotypes may be words specially formulated for disparaging a particular group or may simply be natural language expressions that channel hatred against an outgroup. These communications are geared toward representing the victims as objects of derision and designating a course of action against them—be it judicial unfairness or job discrimination. In Kantian terms, stereotypes are schemas for memory, retrieval, evaluation, and understanding. Concepts assigned to outgroups, such as lasciviousness, greed, immorality, and infidelity, become integral parts of vernacular descriptions and imaginings about them. Stereotyping eases the processing of information because it furnishes an already established scheme for compartmentalizing sense stimuli. After having been exposed to negative images of blacks, people are more likely to anticipate that blacks are dangerous. Completely innocuous events—for example, a black man approaching in the middle of the street at night—are often interpreted as perilous even when no factual reason for fear or added anxiety exists. The event may be recorded in the memory as having been a hazardous situation even though no evidence substantiates such a conclusion. (Tsesis 2002, 87-88)
Prejudices are means for convincing oneself why it is appropriate to act in ways that contradict basic ethical standards against inflicting harm. They are instrumental for excusing behavior that undermines the underlying structure of well-ordered society. Supremacism has profound consequences both when opportunities to discriminate are present and in conditioning sentiments that can be conducive for later unfairness. Ethnocentric people recognize that oppressive acts are not humane. So, derogatory images portraying outgroups as inferiors help them dismiss the notion that the others are by nature worthy of compassionate treatment, too. A violation of ethical norms is easier to explain away if the victims belong to an outgroup and are widely portrayed as demonic adversaries who are purportedly menacing to the population. (Tsesis 2002, 91)
In July of 2008, a graying, mustachioed man from the Knoxville suburb of Powell, Tennessee, sat down and wrote out by hand a four-page manifesto describing his hatred of all things liberal and his belief that “all liberals should be killed.” (Neiwert 2016, 1)
When he was done, Jim David Adkisson drove his little Ford Escape to the parking lot of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville. A few days before, the church had attracted media attention for its efforts to open a local coffee shop for gays and lesbians. Leaving the manifesto on the seat of the car, he walked inside the church carrying a guitar case stuffed with a shotgun and 76 rounds of ammunition. (Neiwert 2016, 1)
The congregants were enjoying the opening scene from the church’s production of the musical Annie Jr. when Adkisson, in a hallway outside the sanctuary, abruptly opened the guitar case, pulled out the shotgun, fired off a harmless round that startled everyone, then walked into the sanctuary and began firing indiscriminately. Witnesses report he was saying “hateful things.” An unsuspecting 61-year-old grandmother and retired schoolteacher named Linda Kraeger was hit in the face with a shotgun blast. A 60-year-old foster father named Greg McKendry got up to shield others from the attack and was hit in the chest. (Neiwert 2016, 1-2)
(….) A detective who interviewed Adkisson and examined his four-page manifesto reported to his superiors that Adkisson targeted the church “because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country’s hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of media outlets.” (Neiwert 2016, 2)
When the detective interviewed Adkisson, he said he’d decided that since “he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement that he would then target those that had voted them in to office.” (Neiwert 2016, 2)
Knoxville’s police chief told reporters the next day that Adkisson was motivated by his “hatred of the liberal movement” and “liberals in general, as well as gays.” He was also frustrated by his inability to get a job, a problem he also blamed on liberals. His neighbors in Powell described Adkisson as “a Confederate” and a “believer in the Old South.” (Neiwert 2016, 2-3)
When detectives went to Adkisson’s home in Powell, they found—scattered among the ammunition, guns, and brass knuckles—books written by leading conservative pundits: Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder by Michael Savage, Let Freedom Ring by Sean Hannity, and The O’Reilly Factor by Bill O’Reilly, among others. Adkisson’s manifesto, released some months later to the public, was largely a distillation of these works, ranting about how “Liberals have attack’d every major institution that made America great. … Liberals are evil, they embrace the tenets of Karl Marx, they’re Marxist, socialist, communists.” (Neiwert 2016, 3)
(….) The events that sunny Sunday left the church’s pastor, Rev. Chris Buice, with a shattered congregation. “People were killed in the sanctuary of my church, which should be the holy place, the safe place. People were injured,” he told PBS’s Rick Karr a couple of weeks later. “A man came in here, totally dehumanized us—members of our church were not human to him. Where did he get that? Where did he get that sense that we were not human?” (Neiwert 2016, 4)
Such incidents—the nasty personal encounters, the ugliness at campaign rallies, the violent acts of “lone wolf” gunmen—are anything but rare. If you’re a liberal in America—or for that matter, anyone who happens to have run afoul of the conservative movement and its followers—you probably have similar tales to tell about unexpected and brutal viciousness from otherwise ordinary, everyday people, nearly all of them political conservatives, nearly all directed at their various enemies: liberals, Latinos, Muslims, and just about anyone who disagrees with them.
What motivates this kind of talk and behavior is called eliminationism: a politics and a culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through suppression, exile, and ejection, or extermination.
Rhetorically, eliminationism takes on certain distinctive shapes. It always depicts its opposition as beyond the pale, the embodiment of evil itself, unfit for participation in their vision of society, and thus worthy of elimination. It often further depicts its designated Enemy as vermin (especially rats and cockroaches) or diseases, and disease-like cancers on the body politic. A close corollary—but not as nakedly eliminationist—is the claim that opponents are traitors or criminals and that they pose a threat to our national security.
Eliminationism is often voiced as crude “jokes,” a sense of humor inevitably predicated on venomous hatred. And such rhetoric—we know as surely as we know that night follows day—eventually begets action, with inevitably tragic results.
Two key factors distinguish eliminationist rhetoric from other political hyperbole:
1. It is focused on an enemy within, people who constitute entire blocs of the citizen populace. 2. It advocates the excision and extermination of those entire blocs by violent or civil means.
(….) Eliminationism—including the rhetoric that precedes it and fuels it—expresses a kind of self-hatred. In an American culture that advertises itself as predicated on equal opportunity, eliminationism runs precisely counter to those ideals. Eliminationists, at heart, hate the very idea of an inclusive America.
— David Neiwert (2009, 11-12) The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right. Routledge.
From the early stages of his campaign and right
into the Oval Office, Donald Trump has spoken harshly about the institutions
and principles that make up the foundations of open government. In the process,
he has systematically degraded political discourse in the United States, shown
an astounding disregard for facts, libeled his predecessors, threatened to
“lock up” political rivals, referred to mainstream journalists as “the enemy of
the American people,” spread falsehoods about the integrity of the U.S.
electoral process, touted mindlessly nationalistic economic and trade policies,
vilified immigrants and the countries from which they come, and nurtured a
paranoid bigotry toward the followers of one of the world’s foremost religions.
(Albright 2018, 5)
(….) He is president because he convinced enough voters in the right states that he was a teller of blunt truths, a masterful negotiator, an effective champion of American interests. That he is none of those things should put us on edge, but there is a larger cause for unease. Trump is the first anti-democratic president in modern U.S. history. On too many days, beginning in the early hours, he flaunts his disdain for democratic institutions, the ideals of equality and social justice, civil discourse, civic virtues, and America itself. If transplanted to a country with fewer democratic safeguards, he would audition for a dictator, because that is where his instincts lead. (Albright 2018, 246)
Spreading Group Hatred
The psychic health of a society can be measured by the extent to which its policies and laws exclude and constrain prejudices. One sign of social stability is the degree to which a community and the individuals who compose it are willing to acknowledge the humanity and learn from the cultures of other people. Many cultures have resorted to discrimination and prejudice despite their self-destructive consequences. Dehumanizing representations of minorities disseminated through social discourse [e.g., social media] are integral to the formation of movements bent on harming outgroups. (Tsesis 2002, 99)
The victims of hate speech are at
greater risk form groupwide threats than from personal attacks. Counterspeech
is less effective against a group with deeply held beliefs, which feels the
power of its numbers and the passions of its hateful convictions, than against
an individual expressing only his or her biased ideas. Labels reify prejudices
through stories that exaggerate and falsify outgroup traits and extol the
presumed advantages of excluding minorities from ingroup privileges. The broad
dark strokes that are then applied to scapegoats make for an auspiciously
hostile environment filled with slights and vilifications. Aggressive names
schematize the world into groups of good guys and bad guys…. Destructive
messages are the main vehicles for spreading ideology. Hate speech is an
essential means for popularizing hate groups. (Tsesis 2002, 1010)
Hate Speech qua Free Speech
Freedom of speech is critical to the growth and maturation of societies and is a much vaunted benefit of living in the United States. However, that freedom has not always led to the collective improvement of all citizens. History is littered with examples of harmful social movements, in various countries and cultures, employing violent racist rhetoric. Such hate-filled ideologies lie at the heart of human tragedies such as the Holocaust, U.S. slavery in the antebellum South, nineteenth-century Indian removal, and present-day slavery in Mauritantia. (Tsesis 2002: 1)
Propaganda [link] is essential for eliciting widespread cultural acceptance of exclusionary and supremacist ideologies. When hate speech is systematically developed, it sometimes becomes socially acceptable, first, to discriminate and, later, to oppress identifiable groups of people. Racialist rhetoric has been effectively harnessed to formulate and spread racism on national and even international scales…. Bigots have rationalized all these biases through threads of thought that are subtly woven into the fabric of everyday language [i.e., dog whistles]. (Tsesis 2002: 1)
Speech plays a pivotal role in communicating ideas—both progressive and regressive. Over time, the semantics of a language will mirror the historical development of a people. The context of phrases and the subtle nuances of demonstrative messages can contain the kernels of a cultural worldview. Traditionally accepted perspectives permeate the unconscious and form an often unquestioned social “reality.” Prejudices that reflect collective outlooks gradually find their way into laws. (Tsesis 2002: 1)
People intent on maintaining power [such as demagogues like Trump] manipulate stereotypes that echo their followers’ preconceptions. Orators [and demagogues] and authors strategically exploit imbedded cultural meanings not just to create grammatically sentences, but also to persuade their audience. They use repeatedly uttered, dogmatic imagery to influence attitudes toward particular groups of people. Large audiences more readily recognize tenets when they draw on deeply held beliefs. (Tsesis 2002: 2)
Hate speech and the prejudice it fosters deny individuals [like the] fundamental rights like autonomy and tranquility…. “Misethnicity” [i.e., the institutionalized hatred of ethnic groups, something Trump has facilitated] …. is sometimes preferable to “racism” and “ethnocentrism.” “Racism” is the diminished respect and unequal treatment of people based on their biological particularities. “Ethnocentrism” is the sense of superiority of one’s own ethnic group. “Misethnicity” is more specific in recognizing that ethnic prejudice is a groupwide hatred. (Tsesis 2002: 2)
Misethnicity is deeply nestled within conventional practices [such as Donald Trump’s full-page ad in the Daily News on May 1, 1989 calling for the death penalty for five innocent black teenagers]. By drawing attention to the centrality of language in perpetuating discrimination, we may be able to dislodge some deep-rooted racist thoughts and behaviors. Charismatic leaders can harness subtle and explicit misethnic statements to instigate active or complicit participation in hate crimes. Expressions such as these create an atmosphere of combustible intolerance: “Most Indians are drunks, but he’s a hard worker”; “He may be a Jew, but he’s not greedy”; “I’m usually careful around blacks, but he can be trusted.” These statements reflect the same animosity as their more flagrant counterparts; “Indians are drunks,” “Jews are greedy,” and “blacks are dangerous.” Studying the linguistic development of Misethnicity and its relation to socially destructive conduct is critical to realizing, anticipating, and thwarting its potentially catastrophic consequences. (Tsesis 2002: 2)
(….) Historical analysis is crucial because it exposes the association between hate propaganda and discriminatory action. Oppressors justify inequities by making their targets out to be less than human, unworthy of fair treatment or even of mercy ordinarily shown to animals…. Negative stereotypes and ideological schemas, designed to rationalize power in the hands of dominant groups, precede crimes against humanity such as genocide. Many lives may be ruined before the views of those who rebuff popular prejudices trickle into the community conscience. Even societies striving for equality, steeped in natural rights theory, and vigilant against intolerant majorities are not wholly immune from becoming havens for supremacists promulgating aggressive ideologies. (Tsesis 2002: 2-3)
Pondering the effectiveness of anti-Semitic and racist messages brings into stark relief the dangers that purveyors of hate pose to representative democracies. Scrutinizing the foundations of genocidal hatred in Germany and of dehumanizing and devaluing dogma in the United States yields abundant information about how, particularly in times of social and economic unrest, hate speech builds upon established ideologies. By understanding the progression from hatred to destruction, we can know better how to prevent Misethnicity from being exploited by provocative rhetoricians intent on generating dangerous social movements. Studying how unjust political movements, such as the National Socialist party or the Confederate Nullificationists [or Donald Trump’s “America First” rallies in which he incites the “angry mob” with such rhetoric like the free press and democratic party are the enemies of the people, or his attacks on the justice system and separations of power, etc.], manipulated cultural stereotypes is instructive in avoiding future calamities. (Tsesis 2002: 3)
How did we get from John F. Kennedy’s eloquent speech at the Rice Hotel in Houston on September 12, 1960, in which he urged voters effectively to bracket a candidate’s faith out of their considerations when they entered the voting booths, to George W. Bush’s declaration on the eve of the 2000 Iowa precinct caucuses that Jesus was his favorite philosopher?
— Balmer, Randall. God in the White House: A History. New York: HarperOne; 2008; p. Preface.
Trump wears religion like a John wears a condom. And the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there isn’t much of any mind … Or much of any soul, or moral integrity, or spiritual truth, or compassion, or empathy, or love, or fruits of the spirit. They have slid drip by drip from evil, into sin, and having made sin habitual, fully embraced the cup of iniquities and are drinking Trump’s spiritual blindness and venomous bile to the full as they scream “Barabbas! Barabbas! Barabbas!” crucifying the living Christ as they worship an abomination incarnate in Trumpism.
— God Mocking: Be not deceived; God is not mocked. Whatever Social Media sows, this our Social Fabric all will also reap. (Galatians 6:7)
What was emerging from this and similar meetings was a political force — the so-called Religious Right — that injected into the Republican Party a new emphasis on the promotion of religious morality (an area of concern which most early Goldwater activists thought belonged in the private, not public, and not political, arena). The focus of this new religion-centered “conservatism” was not on liberty and limited government but on what Russell Kirk had called the “transcendent moral order.”
By 1989, the Moral Majority, the late Jerry Falwell’s organization which had emphasized religious values across sectarian lines and often shared a common purpose with many conservatives and orthodox Jews, had all but disappeared. In his place rose the Christian Coalition, led by Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed. The Religious Right had become the overtly Christian Right. (Edwards 2008: 40-41)
(….) Through aggressive grassroots activism the movement’s members and supporters won elections, took over party organizations, and dominated party conventions. Later, when George W. Bush’s political advisor Karl Rove would speak of “the Republican base,” this was who he had in mind. (Edwards 2008: 41)
The Christian Right was hardly the Republican base (the party’s voters were often much more moderate in their views than were Robertson and his followers), but because Robertson’s forces tended to dominate conventions and primaries in which voter turnout is often low, they exerted influence far beyond their numbers. In the process, they transformed the republican Party and indeed the conservative movement itself into an arm of religion, precisely the outcome the First Amendment of the Constitution was designed to prevent. There were instrumental in galvanizing the conservative opposition to death with dignity laws in Oregon, private medical decisions in Florida, and scientific advances in the nation’s medical laboratories. (Edwards 2008: 41)
A wall was erected between church and the state … as an extension of the founder’s experience with religious persecution in Europe. Placing religion in a position to dictate, or heavily influence, national policy had led to sanctions, torture, murder, and war. European battlefields were littered with the corpses of men sent to war on behalf of one religious sect or another. In a nation founded on Lockean principles of individual rights, there would be no place given to sectarian terror. (Edwards 2008: 64)
The wall between religion and statecraft serves an additional purpose. The enemy of civility (a necessary ingredient in the governance of a diverse society) is certitude. And nothing breeds certitude more than religious belief. Religion is often a positive force in the lives of individuals, but when the true believer feels compelled to impose upon the whole of the society the truths that have enriched his or her life, the threads that bind us as a nation begin to fray. (Edwards 2008: 123)
(….) Conservatism’s central philosophy has long been based on the regard for the individual rather than the collective. Yet today many are willing to support the imposition of the personal beliefs of some, be they a majority or a minority, on others, who do not subscribe to those beliefs. The title of Sinclair Lewis’s novel about a politician who rose to power on a wave of religious fervor was ironic: It Can’t Happen Here. Its message was: yes, it can. (Edwards 2008: 124)
Because the Constitution’s central premise is liberty — it is a document designed for a free people–it was created to prevent both the concentration of power in a few hands … and the ability of the majority to impose its will on the minority… The rule of law, not the rule of the masses or rulers, defines American constitutional government. But that is a lesson conservatives have forgotten. (Edwards 2008: 128-129)
The Constitution is for all Americans — Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, and nonbeliever alike. We are free to practice or not as we deem fit. Religion is a personal thing; government is what we hold in common, and that distinction lies at the heart of American conservatism [opposed to extremist fundamentalism as exhibited above]. Community is not the same thing as government. The U.S. government is a secular institution, and its policy decisions should not be required to conform to religious doctrine. (Edwards, Mickey. Reclaiming Conservatism. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2008; pp. 40-166)
Now is the time to remember that our great religious traditions, notably Christianity, once upon a time could not even conceive of reducing religious engagement with public life to a narrow list of hot-button issues. They were too concerned with the whole person and the whole of society to limit their reach to a handful of questions. Now is the time to heed the call to social justice and social inclusion embedded deeply in in the scriptures. (E. J. Dionne Jr., Forward, in Lew Daly (2009) God’s Economy: Faith Based Initiatives & the Caring State. University of Chicago Press)
America has seen her share of demagogues before. But never before has an aspiring demagogue made it to the highest office in the land. The two-party system has effectively, up until now, refused to turn its future over to a demagogue. But with the GOP’s endorsement of Donald Trump this history of keeping dangerous demagogues out of the highest office in the land was overturned with the rise of Trump to the United States presidency. All demagogues share common characteristics. A demagogue eschews reason and facts, making appeals primarily to people’s irrational instincts, prejudices, and fears—frequently scapegoating religious and/or ethnic minorities as the cause of their follower’s economic and/or social problems. Demagogues promise all things to all people without hope or intent on making good on such pledges. Demagogues use “exhibitionism” and circus like “Barnumism” poisoned with violent rhetoric to whip up their followers into an “angry mob,” frequently inciting violent behavior. Demagogues pose as a professional “man of the people,” and popularize and even encourage anti-intellectualism and distrust of educated men and women as citizens and public servants. Demagogues are the enemies of the free press and free educational systems. In the past demagogues have failed in America because they were unable to reach a level of national appeal that transcended isolated “localism,” but this has changed with the rise of Trump; none before approached nation-wide appeal and potentialities of a Mussolini, a Hitler, or a Stalin. But today America is witnessing the rise of a demagogue into the highest office in the land with a nation-wide appeal. Indeed, we may be witnessing today a proto-fascism that could well bring into a reality a culture of fascist intolerance that is anti-democratic and hostile to American ideals of democracy:
A Kulturkamp may well take place in which rival totalitarianisms clash, violently perhaps, to mobilize consent and enforce political order. Under less dire circumstances, after all, as it was predicted a decade ago, “Christian doctrine, made an adjunct to right-wing and capitalist policies, could provide the necessary self-imposed order that a fascist movement in America would require to maintain control over the country.” And more recently, “a state religion, compulsory in character, authoritarian in tone, ‘traditional’ in outlook,” has been seriously foreseen. “America would be ‘socialized’ not in the name of Marx but of Jesus, not in the name of communism but of Christian republicanism.”
None of these possibilities is inevitable, of course, or even likely. But one thing at any rate seems certain. Whatever shape the creationist cosmos may take at the hands of Protestant fundamentalists, it will break free from its flourishing subculture and hold sway over people and nations only when it is commended in its integrity: not as a mere science among sciences, but as the one religious answer, among uniquely religious answers, to the unfathomable mystery of existence.
Marty, Martin E. and Appleby R. Scott. et. al. Fundamentalisms and Society: Reclaiming the Sciences, the Family, and Education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 1993; 2 pp. 62-64. The Fundamentalism Project.