Sunday evening, phierma and cos_x took me to a showing of Jesus Camp at their church, moderate-liberal Overland Baptist Church, the same church whose food pantry kept me alive, even knowing I'm a Pagan, while my disability claim was being processed. Jesus Camp was something I'd meant to get around to seeing while it was in theaters, and hadn't yet. And they knew I'd be interested, and were curious what I'd have to contribute to the discussion afterwards. You see, what most of you who've started reading this journal since I discussed it last don't know is that from 1976 to 1983 I was a Biblical literalist Christian fundamentalist (Plymouth Brethren) myself, and that I graduated from one of the founding schools of the Christian fundamentalist private school/home school movement, Faith Christian Academy, founded and then still run by Dr. John A. Stormer, conspiracy theory author, most famously of the then-bestseller about the Soviet Communist takeover of the US State Department None Dare Call it Treason (which, when we got to read the KGB archives, turned out to be pretty nearly dead on), and the less well read similar book that kicked off the fundamentalist movement to home school any kids that couldn't be safely sequestered in fundamentalist-run schools, about the supposed Soviet Communist takeover of the US Department of Education and the National Education Association, Death of a Nation (which turned out to be a lot of hooey and hokum).
Jesus Camp is more or less introduced by liberal Methodist Christian talk-radio personality Mike Papantonio, and it almost exclusively profiles Pentecostal Christian youth minister Becky Fischer; the big denouement of the film comes at the end when Becky Fischer calls into Mike Papantonio's radio show, and he manages to get her to say something really stupid on the air that, while true, I can pretty well guarantee you she regretted saying before she even hung up the phone: that she loves America, but she doesn't believe in democracy, because "then you have to give everybody freedom, and it all collapses." But as crazy as Becky Fischer sounds to most of you, as far I can tell Mike Papantonio doesn't come off as any saner. Look, when somebody describes their opinion of how the world works and says, in the middle of it, "this is not tinfoil hat stuff, it's real"? It means that they wear a tinfoil hat, and Papantonio does. That's the thing that he and Fischer couldn't see about themselves, about each other, and that is that they have something very important in common with each other that most people don't have: a deep and abiding and almost completely unwarranted political paranoia. That paranoia, from both the left and the right, struck me as the single most vivid and interesting thing about the whole movie. (Well, other than my envy of the Pentecostals' skill at music, theater, choreography, and ritual, which is unequaled by any other religion in the world. I wish my religion had ritual authors and musicians and choreographers even 1/10th as good as theirs. But that's not my point, here.)
The most interesting thing about the whole movie was to me is that it clearly and unambiguously documents something very important about the so-called Culture War, and that is that both sides have an unshakable certainty that they are losing to the other side. No, that's not strong enough: both sides are completely terrified, deeply convinced to the very root of their being that they have already lost, that the other side's lock on American culture and politics is so deeply entrenched that it is all over for them, barring some unforeseen and unforeseeable miracle; that the end of everything they hold dear is already going on around them and there's nothing to do but hope for a better world after everything has gone up in flames.
That both sides feel this way is something that's been bothering me for years. I've put a lot of effort into trying to understand how they could both be so convinced that the other side has won and they've lost, while the other side feels that the exact opposite has occurred. I'm still not sure that I understand it. But I do understand this much: I've tried to explain the parts of what I do understand about why lifestyle liberals are so convinced that social conservatives have completely steamrollered them to social conservatives, and been roundly mocked; what I'm saying simply can't be true, because nobody could be that stupid. And when I've tried explaining to lifestyle liberals why social conservatives feel that they have been knocked back onto the ropes by the lifestyle liberals and the final count has begun, I have been just as aggressively mocked, and maybe even more so, for not seeing how stupid what I'm saying is, so stupid that not even a social conservative could possibly believe what I'm saying that they believe.
Why Lifestyle Liberals "Know" That They've Already Lost: For at least 25 years now, a tiny minority of religious fanatics has had an unbreakable veto over all national candidates for the country's majority party, the Republicans, and over all state-wide candidates for that same party in all but maybe 3 or 4 states. That veto is so extensive, and so little challenged, that even the minority party now vets its candidates by the same standard, demanding that they not be completely offensive to that tiny religious minority, or else they can't run with national or state Democratic Party backing. Because of this heavy handed veto, they have also had an almost complete veto over every judge appointed to our supposed-to-be neutral, independent judiciary. That not all of those judges have voted the way that they promised those religious fanatics doesn't disprove two important and indisputable facts. For one, sooner or later they will fill the federal and state appeals bench with religious fanatics. And secondly, even if that bias is not a monopoly on the bench and in the state and federal legislatures, it is so close to one that issues that lifestyle liberals believe to be matters of settled fact going back a hundred years or more are suddenly being re-opened. There is no plausible scientific ground on which to dispute the theory of evolution, it has been a proven scientific fact for over 150 years, and yet the 25% or so of the voters who are Christian fundamentalist have already gotten the teaching that evolution isn't proven mandated in many states, and are well on their way to making that teaching universal. That harm reduction strategies are essential to containing any disease epidemic is something that scientists have known since Victorian times, and no epidemic has ever been contained without harm reduction being part of the response, but suddenly harm reduction is not only under question, but in many epidemics (including cancer, for crying out loud!) completely off the table. But the single most important piece of evidence that lifestyle liberals have for believing that the social conservatives have already won the war is that no more than 5%, at most, of the electorate feels any outrage over this. If the Biblical literalist Christian fundamentalists can overturn 150 years of scientific findings and sound public policy and have this met by near-total public apathy, then forget it: it's over, and all that remains is to wait for America's scientific pre-eminence in the world, and our productive economy, to be such a total thing of the past that the country ends up steam-rollered by our enemies, and hope to build a smarter world out of the ashes. They won, and we lost.
Why Social Conservatives "Know" That They've Already Lost: When militant atheists conquered the world's two physically largest, and first and fourth most populated, countries back in 1917 and 1949, and it took 72 years for first one to be overthrown and the second one hasn't yet, religious people knew from the very beginning that they were in for the fight of their lives. They've been using every tool at their disposal since at least 1918 to keep the same thing from happening here, to keep Christianity from becoming powerless and unpopular at best or effectively illegal at worst. They've spent every penny they could raise to educate and train and support the best missionaries and evangelists that the world has ever seen, and spent even larger sums to put those people in front of the American public in every communication medium that has been invented yet. But that didn't stop the country from sliding into almost militant secularism by 1950, or from overturning things that every religious person of almost every religion in the history of the world has known should be illegal, especially almost every form of pornography and perversion known to man, stuff more rugged and hideous than the stuff that brought down the Roman Empire. So, without letting up on the public evangelism even one bit, they doubled down their efforts and took over what was then the country's minority political party, and almost entirely through their infusion of volunteer manpower into that defeated and defeatist party made it the majority party, demanding in exchange that they get, if not control of the party, at least the de facto right to veto candidates that are pro-pornography and pro-perversion or otherwise anti-religion. And here it's been 30 years that they've been putting politicians that were loyal to their cause into power, and because they can't persuade the majority of Americans to feel any sense of urgency over this country's slide into perversion and decadence, those politicians have been completely powerless to give the social conservatives anything important to them. Not only did they not get pornography outlawed, but more pornography is available today than ever in the history of the world; even children have access to stuff that would have sickened Caligula. Not only did they not get homosexuality bans enforced, they saw them completely overturned. Not only did they not get the legalization of contraceptives overturned, they weren't even able to stop abortion from being legalized too; not only were they unable to get that legalization overturned, but they can't even stop pornography, contraception, and even abortion from being subsidized, not even with a president who's entirely loyal to them and his party's hand-picked judges and legislators in the ascendant. During that whole time, in an attempt to stop the erosion of their support among the voters, they took as many of their children out of the secularist-controlled schools as possible and put them in strict fundamentalist schools or home-schooled them from fundamentalist textbooks. Not only did that not help their movement, but despite God's own promises to the contrary, those kids have the highest apostasy rate in the history of any religious movement, measured at between 70% and 78%, something never seen before in human history. They have nothing left to try. They have no money or effort left unspent. And even their own children are turning against them. It's over. All that remains is to wait for God's judgment on America to leave us open to conquest by our enemies, and hope to build a better, smarter nation out of the ashes. We won, and they lost.
Can They Both Be Right? About America being doomed? Probably not. About them both having lost? Maybe. I'm reminded of something the late lamented Robert Anton Wilson said about the California welfare system. He said that it ended up being designed and run by two opposing political forces. Neither one of those forces was powerful enough to get their own way, on anything. But both sides were just barely powerful enough to stop the other side from getting their own way, on anything. The net result was a system in which nothing worked.
If there is any one thing I've stood for my whole life, no matter what my religion has changed to over the decades, no matter whether I've been up or down, no matter which political party I've been in, it's been this: the other side isn't anywhere near as scary as you think they are. On the contrary, they're just as scared of you as you are of them. You can see how silly it is for them to be scared of you. Now take a smarter look at them and realize that it's just as silly for you to be scared of them. Both sides, no matter what the issue is, desperately need to stop being afraid of each other. I don't know what will happen if I ever get my way on that. But I do know this: it'll be better than what we get now.