Monday, March 27, 2006

The War on Christians by Christians

Yesterday's USA Today had an opinion piece on the upcoming "War on Christian" conference being attended by America's most virtuous people, meaning people like Tom DeLay and Jerry Falwell. Yes, they are actually holding a conference with the title "War on Christians". That is how crazy and fanatical they've become.

The opinion writer at least gets the basics right: The whole idea that there is a "War on Christians" is so much overwrought nonsense that makes its promulgators look like paranoid fools. But equally as important, it's also deeply immoral. Aside from promoting hatred and divisiveness by wrongly accusing some shadowy secular/liberal conspiracy of declaring war on Christianity, they also denigrate the plight of those who have suffered and still suffer genuine persecution in this world (much of it inflicted by the type of people who are attending this conference).

Beyond that, the USA Today piece irritates me in its toothlessness. Much of the reason why Religious Right is holding a conference with the absurd title of "The War on Christians" is that playing the victim helps to manipulate the media. This constant whining and hectoring encourages more coverage and more credible treatment from the media than the RR deserves, and it also gets the media to treat them with kid gloves. Which is exactly what this piece does. Consider this bit:

Certainly, liberals and secularists must concede a kernel of truth to the religious conservatives' charges. To the eyes of conservative Christians, much appears to have changed for the worse in American society in recent decades.
Talk about spineless. I for one concede nothing. If conservative Christians don't like the fact that most of society isn't on board with their repressive, patriarchal attitudes, then they're welcome to complain about it to whomever wants to listen. But it does not mean that there is a "kernel of truth" to the wild and irresponsible charge that there is war being committed against them. All it means is that they don't always get their way, something that the rest of us have to deal with too.

What's worse, however, is how the notion that these people represent "Christianity" is allowed to pass unchallenged, which is easily the biggest problem in how the media (which gets accused of being at war with them too) deals with the Religious Right. Here's something that I would dearly love to see mentioned just once whenever Pat Robertson and his ilk start crying about how "Christians" in this country are being treated: They don't represent the vast majority of Christians.

Perhaps they think it's just too obvious to mention, but the media have consistently allowed the far-right to define the Christian religion as something that automatically includes their extreme belief system. These are beliefs, by the way, that are completely at odds with what most Americans, Christian or otherwise, actually believe. Yet for some reason it's always Hollywood or the "liberal elite", whatever that is, who get called to the carpet for being out of touch with mainstream values.

Consider the following poll results. Approximately 80% of Americans self-identify as Christian. That alone makes it totally implausible that there is a "War on Christians" going on, unless you're dumb enough to think that the remaining 20% of the populace, who have effectively no representation in government (how many agnostic Senators can you name?), are somehow controlling everything behind the scenes. Yet in spite of America being overwhelmingly Christian, somewhere between 50 and 60% of Americans are in favor of keeping abortion legal. A strong majority favor allowing gays to serve openly in the military, close to half favor gay adoption, and opposition to gay marriage has receded to a mere 51% and is trending down. A whopping 61% of Americans think that politics and religion shouldn't mix, a clear rebuke to the Religious Right. When asked about church-state separation directly, only 20% think there is no need for it. Yet church-state separation is routinely denounced as a "liberal myth" by the Religious Right.

The point here being that while the vast majority of Americans consider themselves Christian, most do not support the politics of the "Christian Right". This means that not only does the Christian Right not speak for most Americans, they don't even speak for most Christians. And they certainly don't represent "mainstream values". The mainstream of America is generally tolerant, favors a secular government, and wants the government to keep its nose out of their sex lives.

Yet the RR persistently pretends to represent Christianity writ large, and the media let them get away with it. Even worse, they pretend to represent not only "mainstream values", but values, period. They have the nerve to call themselves "values voters", and in spite of the fact that the media helps spread this meme rather than scoff at it, the RR attacks the media for being insufficiently deferential to their dishonesty. It's high time the media started calling them on their bullshit rather than bending over backwards to appease them. This "War on Christians" conference deserves more than just mild-mannered disapproval, it needs to be roundly savaged as the hate-filled display of demagoguery that it truly is.