To judge from the way our news media has covered the story of what America’s going through right now, you’d think it was entirely political: Democrats want America to go one way – cos politics – while the Republicans want us to go another way – cos politics. “Both sides do it”, don’tcha see? Alas, that is what drops from the back end of a bull. The two sides – and there are two sides – to the American debate appears, on the surface, to be entirely political. The governmental system America’s founders laid out aspired to empower Americans on both a local level and a federal level – not unlike trying to make large scale physics and quantum physics line up under the same rules. It’s tricky. There are a lot of moving parts that need to be accounted for. What should our operating principle be as we engage with our government of the people, by the people and for the people? One side in the American debate regularly brings receipts to the discussion to back up everything they say. The other has no use for receipts. Their operating principle? Their own say-so. They feel it, so it “is”.
Their feelings, they insist, are every bit as valid as any fact.
Okay… in the sense that they (might be) feeling outrage, yes, they probably do feel “outraged”. But at what? The thought of abortion? Maybe they’ve convinced themselves that they care about babies – or life in general – but, again, that’s just their feelings. The receipts – and there are receipts – paint an entirely different picture. The fundamentalist Christian compulsion to save the unborn did not emerge from any concern for life. It was a cynical tack away from the school bussing issue when it went belly up (fundamentalist Christians were vehemently opposed to school desegregation; they used the Bible to justify slavery and miscegenation laws).
In his piece “The Real Origins Of the Religious Right” (published by Politico on May 27, 2014), Randall Ballmer – a professor at Dartmouth College – tells the story (with receipts) about how conservative activist Paul Weyrich “seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools”. In fact, before this cynical switch, “evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject, which they considered a ‘Catholic issue’.” Further, “in 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976.”
Did the facts change on evangelicals & fundamentalists? They didn’t change for anyone else. No, the only thing that changed here were peoples’ feelings. And the thing motivating those feelings wasn’t concern for babies or life. It was racism – and nothing but.
The problem with receipts – if you’re a right wing Christian – is that they reveal how un-Jesus-like every one of these Christians is. The culture Jesus came from didn’t outlaw abortion. Jesus himself never talked about it. But then, Jesus wasn’t trying to invent a new religion. He was born, lived his whole life and died a Jew. Paul, on the other hand, DID want to invent a new religion. And a new Jesus to go along with it.
Atheist though I am, I’m willing to acknowledge that a Jesus-like figure must have been because the Apostle Paul was reacting to something real. His vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus was entirely inside his own head. When the former Saul (now Paul) returned to Jerusalem to try and sell HIS version of Jesus to the people who actually knew Jesus (they were related to him or had actually heard him speak), he was roundly rejected. So was his version of Jesus because it did not ring true to those who knew the man – and carried around those “receipts”.
That’s why Paul left Jerusalem and took his version of Jesus – and Jewish messiah mythology – to the Gentiles. To Gentiles, everything Paul told them was brand-spanking new. Whereas the Jews in Jerusalem could contradict Paul with the actual texts – the Gentiles could ONLY rely on Paul and what he said the texts said or meant.
If you really want to understand the potent sway feelings have over facts to this day, look no further than the Catholic Church and all the Protestant churches that wanted to reform it. Hey, Jesus’s most radical teaching wasn’t “Do unto others”, it was the idea that one doesn’t need a corrupt temple or its corrupt priests in order to relate to God. One can talk to “the father” directly. One can have a personal and direct relationship with the “all-mighty” without a church or any kind of institution. So, why was Paul’s first order of business to “build churches”? Because Christianity and Jesus have almost nothing to do with each other.
If Jesus is a fact, Christianity is a feeling about Jesus and nothing more.
If a person walks in the door with such a massive contradiction at the center of their “thinking”, they’re not actually capable of thinking. They are prisoners of their feelings. What other basis do they have for their decision-making since receipts can only ever contradict their feelings?
So, when an American conservative – almost guaranteed to be a white Christian – insists that human beings become fully human at conception, that argument does not (and cannot) be equally true as a ton of science that says “no, it ain’t”. A devout, dogmatic Christian’s feelings are NOT as equally valid as the facts that contradict those feelings!
That’s why literally every conservative (Christian) argument sounds like rubbish being manufactured on the spot. It’s why Christian arguments hide behind the “unknowable mystery of God”. It’s the ultimate “get-out-of-receipts-jail” card.
Next problem: the Catholic version of God is not the Protestant version of God is not the Jewish version of God is not the Muslim version of God. And yet, in theory, they’re all the same God. Is that because God is too complex a concept for our simple human minds? Or it because bullshit is bullshit is BULLSHIT?
It’s this simple. Would a single devout fundamentalist get on an airplane or prepare for brain surgery knowing the pilot or their surgeon had never trained for what they were about to do because their feelings convinced them they could do it without? Does such a Christian exist?
You got any receipts on that?
Photo – Creator: Anton_Sokolov | Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto