Monday, October 27, 2008

Homegrown American Taliban Threatens Christian Evangelicals with Blame for Ruining America if Obama Wins

My friend Joel, in an effort to show the world just how well he knows me, sent me an article and asked for my thoughts on it. Now, one might think that only a total geek and a rabid politics junkie would enjoy receiving a writing assignment on a political topic from a friend. Well, Joel knows "total geek" and "politics junkie" pretty much sums me up.

Even more telling, Joel sent me something that he knew would make my blood boil faster and hotter than Ramen noodle broth in a microwave (which is what we lived on while we were college roommates). And boy, was he right. This piece is a doozy.

Posted on Dr. James Dobson’s “Focus On The Family” website, the piece is designed as an imaginary letter from a Christian, writing back to us from the nearly apocalyptic world of 2012, where, after the machinations of an Obama administration, the nation has gone to hell in a hand basket. Before I lay into the piece itself (which, it seems, no one who currently inhabits our particular location in the space-time continuum wants to take credit for by name), I have to ask: Joel, why in the hell are you reading this trash? Did some evil person send it on to you just to drive you crazy, too? Or do you regularly check up on the American Taliban for fun?

Okay, now to the piece, “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America”. It’s long (16 pages in a downloadable pdf), and though I’ll link to it in the name of fairness, I don’t recommend reading it unless you are a masochist who likes migraines, or a Dobson fan, which is itself a kind of socially acceptable sadism. I know I said I wished I could be more respectful to people I disagree with in a recent post, but I also said I can’t manage it, and if you were to subject yourself to this piece you would know why. The piece is particularly galling for me because I consider myself a Christian. For years I’ve admitted that with a great deal of embarrassment, not because I’m ashamed of Jesus Christ, but because I’m ashamed to be associated with many of his followers, especially those in power in my country. Lately I’ve begun to wonder about the term itself. The definitions of words are cultural constructions, and when I describe myself as a Christian I mean something so wholly different from what someone like Dobson would accept that I feel like a guy who says, "I'm a phrenologist, by which I mean that I live in Oregon”

“But that’s not what the term 'Phrenologist' means,” they say to me. “Phrenology refers to the people who study the bumps on people’s heads to learn about their personalities.”

“That’s not what it means to me,” I say. “I mean a person who lives in Oregon.”

“Well then you are ignorant of the term’s meaning, or crazy,” they say.

That's the same thing they would say when I describe myself as a Christian, if “they” were the kinds of people who treat James Dobson as an authority on theology, family dynamics, national politics, or anything more consequential than the location of his own backside, which he may or may not be able to find with both hands.

You see, when I say I’m a Christian, beyond meaning that I believe in and serve Jesus Christ, I extend that to mean:

I should reject violence and war;

I should love all of God’s children (and not just say I love them while advocating policies that do them great injustice);

that much of the Bible is allegorical and that allegory and metaphor can be just as meaningful, if not more so, than accounts of literal history;

that homosexuals are not sexual deviants who deserve to be disempowered, but an oppressed minority who deserve justice, protection from the majority, and yes, even admiration for their struggle;

that gender roles are products of the fall and thus sinful and to be done away with, rather than prescriptive definitions of who we should be as human beings;

that parents shouldn’t educate their children through violence…

I could go on and on. I have read enough of Dobson to know he would disagree with me on all these claims, but I suspect he (or at least many of his acolytes) would go further and say these beliefs make me something other than Christian. I’m tempted to say, “Fine. When somebody asks about my religious beliefs I’ll just launch into that tirade, because the label has been convenient but now requires so much explanation of what kind of person I’m not that I should just jettison the label altogether.” I used to say to myself, “Self, why should I let fundamentalists take the term away from me?” Now I wonder if, when asked, I should just say, “Well, I love Jesus and I love people, but I’m not sure what that makes me in America anymore.”

But I haven’t broken ties with the label enough to avoid feeling outraged when I read something like the garbage Joel sent me, so, baited, I’ll vent.

The piece starts out by saying it’s not real (thanks for that) but that it’s all based on the case law from liberal judges and quotes from Obama this writer has cherry picked to form his apocalyptic vision of the future. I thought about writing an equally petty piece about 2012 in a McCain administration as a form of satire, but I don’t think McCain is some diabolical agent of evil who would set out to reshape the social fabric of America in some terrible way. I disagree with him on many things, and I think that a McCain presidency would be a bad one, though probably not quite as bad as the office’s current occupant. But then, if McCain realized all my worst fears based on reports of his erratic temper, by 20012 we’d be living in a post-nuclear holocaust world which Cormac McCarthy has already described better than I ever could in his haunting book The Road, so any attempt to make light of the worst case scenario for a McCain presidency would involve making light of the end of humanity, and that’s just not my style. (Well, okay, maybe when I’m in the right mood, but not tonight.) So, rather than parody, let me just tell you about this fictional Christian’s argument, and by then end I think we’ll all agree it says a lot more about Dobson and his ilk than it does about Barack Obama.

First, the organization. The piece lays out the horrors of Obama’s America in big segments under bold headlines. These are, in order:

The Supreme Court
Same-sex marriage
Religious speech in the public square
Gun ownership
President Obama’s response to the Supreme Court
Military policy
Health care
Taxes, the economy, and the poor
Talk radio
Christian publishers
Prosecution of former Bush administration officials

Predictably, these things all go exactly the opposite of the way Dr. Dobson would want. But take a look at the order! Either these are in ascending order of importance or descending order of importance. If the order is ascending, one would have to believe Dobson (or the writer he publicize without attribution on his site, so let’s just say Dobson) thinks protecting W from a much deserved war crimes prosecution is more important than abortion, gun rights, and gay marriage (unlikely), or they’re in descending order, in which case Dobson thinks the danger of gay marriage is more serious than the terrorist attacks he threatens in the section on “Military Policy”. In fact, either way he kind of buried his lead. Terrorist attacks, a Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe, and a complete economic meltdown caused by over-taxation are in the middle, apparently less important than the ability of high schoolers to pray by their school’s flag poles, or less important than the ability of evangelical publishers to sell their books in Barnes and Noble. Yeah, because what’s on the shelves at the local big-box bookstore, or what the kids are doing around the flagpole (and trust me, I work at a high school, and they ain’t prayin’ now) demands an urgent warning sent back from the future, but FOUR terrorist attacks inside the US get tossed into the middle of the letter, almost as an aside? This time traveler is a douchebag. But wait, you say, maybe the whole piece is just a random list of grievances. Do you mean to tell me that four years in the future they don’t have a simple word processor program with Cut and Paste commands so writers can organize their thoughts? Did Obama outlaw that, too? Then that should be added to the random list. Maybe at the beginning. Or the end.

Now to the actual content. As you can guess, two dudes want to enter marital bliss, and that wrecks the country. Kids are told they can’t peer-pressure other kids into standing around listening to readings of Dobson’s sexist, bigoted interpretation of scripture, and that wrecks the country. A woman is allowed to make her own decision about whether she wants to risk her life to bring a tubal pregnancy to term so she can raise her rapist’s baby, and that wrecks the country. Adults are allowed to make their own decisions about what kinds of art they consider indecent, and that wrecks the country. Localities are allowed to take measures to make sure cops are more well-armed than crooks, and that wrecks the country. Obama says he didn’t want any of this to happen, but then he said he wasn’t a Muslim, too, so we all know what that’s worth. The U.S. pulls out of Iraq and so, AS A CONSEQUENCE OF LEAVING, NOT SHOWING UP IN THE FIRST PLACE, terrorist come into the country and people BEGIN to kill one another. (Oh, and, by the way, terrorists attack the U.S. four times.) Doctors and nurses are told they have to put the interests of their patients above the religious beliefs of one Dr. James Dobson, and so they all quit practicing medicine and it wrecks the country. Rich people have to pay the same taxes they paid in the nineties, (remember, back when all the rich people were leaving the U.S. to live in Burkina Faso and Haiti?) so they all leave (again?) and everyone left is poor, and it wrecks the country. Workers can easily join unions so they can have healthcare and safe working conditions, and of course that wrecks the country. People aren’t allowed to spew bigotry on the radio, which causes Americans to not know who to hate anymore, and the ensuing confusion wrecks the country. Christian publishers can’t get their books sold at Barnes and Noble (yep, the time traveler specifically mentions Barnes and Noble and only Barnes and Noble) and that wrecks the country. Bush administration officials are bankrupted by the court costs necessitated to defend themselves from war crimes charges, and though this doesn’t wreck the country it’s just so unbelievably tragic that we all wish we were dead.

The article then goes on to say that the people most responsible for this are the evangelical Christians who supported Obama in this election. Just to be clear, according to this time traveler if you are an evangelical Christian who votes for Obama you are responsible for four terrorist attacks, countless abortions, sodomy on every street corner, the collapse of the economy, the suffering of book publishers and radio talk show hosts, and the legal fees of that lovable Dick Cheney. Oh, wait, but not in that order. Damn you, centrist evangelicals, for taking away my ability to cut and paste that back into the order Dr. Dobson posted on his website!

Joel asked, “Who is the major voice in the Christian community that is rising up in opposition to what Dobson and his people say? Where are they?” It’s a fair question, though it’s also fair to wonder if Dobson himself is still a major voice in the Christian community. This kind of desperation shows his power is waning, at the very least. Maybe “major voices” are just letting him rant himself into oblivion. I have another theory, though. I don’t think there are any “major voices” on the left in the Christian community, not because no one will stand up, but because they have been effectively silenced and marginalized over the last twenty years. I wrote a book (a lot of research, a lot of time, and a lot of passion wasted) and was told it was good enough to publish but too liberal for a Christian publishing house and too Christian for a secular house. If the Christian right has set up it’s own parallel media world, and everybody else has said, “What, you want crazy talk? There’s a separate store for that down the street,” then it’s no surprise that some household name hasn’t stepped forward to repudiate this letter from within the ranks of Christians. Liberal Christians, apparently, can’t sell enough books to become household names.

This article specifically warns against hoping for suffering as a means to strength, but I’ve read a handful of conservatives who’ve pined for some down-time in the political wilderness to get their house in order. As a liberal, I can’t speak for those folks, but I can say I want the same thing for Christianity in America. As a Quaker, I’m a big believer in shutting up and listening for guidance from God. Maybe American Christianity needs to be saddled with this kind of lunacy just long enough that no one takes us seriously anymore, so we can stop making pronouncements about what all Christians think or how all Christians should vote long enough to figure out if that term has any meaning as a single, monolithic label. I think that should take ten or twenty years, but if Dobson is allowed to continue spewing this stuff he hastens the date when no one, including Christians, listens to “Christian Leaders” about anything more consequential than where to find the coffee and donuts between services.

So, God bless Dr. James Dobson, who willingly sacrifices his own dignity in order to embarrass all Christians into the Quaker practice of silence. Thanks.


@bdul muHib said...

Thank you for your sacrifice, Ben, in suffering for us, as Christ did, reading this, so that we don't have to.

I agree with you, I don't think a McCain administration would be as apocalyptic as the author of the trash thinks an Obama administration would be. But I think you could agree with me, that you could write an excellent article of The Letter from 2020 in Palin's America?

@bdul muHib said...

In pursuant of this, here's a good article from Newsweek, on how the future could have Palin basically leading us into the religious extremism of a Christian jihad.

Jamie said...

As a Catholic, my best hope is that he gets sent to Purgatory for eternity (I try to not hope for people to go to hell since it doesn't seem very Christian to do. But Purgatory seems okay, right?). I have many thoughts about all this but no time/energy/space to put them all down. Basically, the question that Joel poses is the same that I've had for years. I keep telling my one remaining athesist friend that "a change is a'comin'" and that the Christian Right is falling and will be replaced by people like "us". I just pray and pray and pray that I'm right. Then maybe I won't have any more athesist friends...
From one of your earlier blogs..."I want to feel that kind of respect for Republicans, and receive it from them in turn, but I'm not there yet, and the Republicans I know aren't there either"???? That makes me sad. I totally recognize you and your views as "informed, thoughtful, patriotic" even if I don't agree with all of it. Of course I'm very left-leaning in my Republician-ness but you need to realize that it's the same stupid Christian Right that has ruined the GOP and, just like I hope that the "real" Christians will step-up against the C.R., my hope is that as the the C.R.'s hatred and self-righteousness drags them into irrelevance that the GOP party will be restored back to Federalism being the largest, heaviest plank and NOT attacks on Individul's rights. I do admit that if the GOP can't shake the C.R. soon, I may have to switch to Independent. Because I do hate the Democrats thinking I'm stupid. Which they do... : ) ha ha

Jamie said...

P.S. Now I'm feeling defensive and have to clarify that although I may be a registered Republican, I never once voted for Bush. I refuse to have that put on my shoulders by anyone in any party...
And I'm not wholly certain who I am voting for yet this year but I am MUCH happier with the choices than I was in 2000 & 2004. That was just a major suckfest. Both candidates have positives to offer this time around.

Anonymous said...

I love the labels..."Dr. James Dobson, Jesus, Joel." Any point to that order? Just sent an email, but thought i'd post this here to see what you're readers thought...

According to this article American’s with $1M-$10M vote about 75% for McCain, while those with $10M+ vote about two-thirds Obama.

Apparently $10M is our culturally decided tipping point at which American’s feel their basis needs (recall maslow) are met and they can move on to thinking about social concerns. - Bill

@bdul muHib said...

Sojourners has a good response to the Dobson article.

Anonymous said...

This is sort of a side note, but I just read a book by Rob Bell that many would consider liberal within the Christian community.. maybe you could try his publisher?? Good luck!

Benjamin Gorman said...

Was that "Jesus Wants to Save Christians"? I just read the description, and I think I'll be adding it to my Christmas list. That being said, I'm back to writing fiction and I'm staying away from anything too timely. I've realized that without some big name it will take me years to get published, so I'd rather spend those years writing the best possible prose I can generate. I should have a query letter on agents' desks shortly after Christmas, but if they want to wait for then end of the series (it might be five or six books long) then that's okay as long as the final product is something I can be truly proud of. And when it's done, the company that publishes "Sarah Palin; A New Kind of Leader" and the "Faith-girlz" series probably won't want to touch it.

Catherine said...

I stumbled upon your blog from Sojourners. I can totally relate to your blood boiling... I can barely contain my anger and frustration recently with fellow Christians.

At an Obama rally two days ago, I and the other folks in line had to endure two hours of being told we're all going to hell for supporting Obama. We wouldn't if we really knew Jesus' voice, they said.

And then the ensuing email bombardment from my right-wing conservative "friends" who found out I went to (Gasp!) a socialist's rally! That was enough to push me over the edge...

Expect more from Focus on the Family. I have inside info that their Boundless Magazine is revving up to do a big article on Christians who vote liberally because they want to be cool. What an insult!

Benjamin Gorman said...

Thanks, Catherine. You get it. I know we shouldn't be allowing ourselves to fill up with anger, but c'mon! Liberal Christians are just trying to be cool? I have been trying to treat the other side of some of these hot button issues with respect, to not question their motives but to assume they are sincere. I also know I shouldn't lower myself to the level of an opponent who is clearly not motivated by the same desire for fairness and respect. Still, I can't figure out how to take the high road and do so with a smile on my face.

Jon Trott said...

Thanks, Ben. As you mentioned re the post I did on bluechristian, you are harsh. But at least you didn't use the word "fascist"! Hahahahaha...

Anonymous said...

I suggest that you hold on to that Dobson anecdotal letter so you can start checking things off as they take place. I know your blood is boiling already because of the first sentence and you can't think clearly any more, but do you realistically think any of the items in the letter are accurate? Is it 1? 5? 10?

While it's unlikely that all of them will happen, the story is completely grounded in reality. Which issues do you think will be a priority?

Benjamin Gorman said...

Completely grounded in reality? No, the piece is mired in the bile of a fearful, spiteful, and despairing ideology. Dobson's letter may turn out to be predictive in the same way the astrology section of you local newspaper is predictive; even when he's correct, he will be fundamentally wrong about the reasons those things have occurred. For example, if there are terrorist attacks, it will not be the fault of young evangelicals who voted for Obama. It will be because of, um, I'm just guessing here, terrorists. I could spend the next four years identifying the times Dobson was correct and illustrating why he was wrong about the causes, but instead I think I'll do two things most Americans will do: I will enjoy watching my country repair itself after eight long years of dismal, incompetent, and morally bankrupt Bush leadership enabled by people who advocated for hatred, warfare, and greed in the name of Jesus Christ. And I'll completely ignore Dr. James Dobson to the best of my ability.

@bdul muHib said...

Dear Anon:

I am afraid you confused the appearance of my blood boiling, with that of me curled up on the ground in uproarious laughter, unable to stand. (I think I just peed myself.) Seriously, consider the comedy tour circuit as a life plan!

Anonymous said...

BG, you nailed my point when you say, "identifying the times Dobson was correct and illustrating why he was wrong about the causes". I don't care about the causes, only the outcomes. I don't know enough about Dobson to have the obvious dislike that you've achieved. I was merely reading the text, cross-referencing the footnotes of actual Obama quotes and positions, and imagining how those positions could affect the US and the world. In that regard, I thought it was a creative way to make a point, based on the reality of the quotes and positions in the footnotes.

You may want to talk to @M about his denial issues, though. ;-)