July 07, 2003
Enemies In Need, Indeed
More on fanaticism.
Radical fundamentalists often strike me as insecure people who use fanaticism to bolster an unacknowledged lack of confidence in their beliefs. Sometimes I see atheists behaving the same way.
Personal attacks mischaracterizing those who disagree are all too common; atheists characterize people who refuse to solemnly assert atheism as "religious" while fundamentalists call anyone not sharing their fundamentalist philosophy an "atheist."
What is behind this insecurity? Whenever you state an absolute belief in something that is almost by definition unknowable, you're biting off more than you can chew. Chutzpah -- in the form of fanaticism -- is oftentimes the best way to conceal massive insecurity. Fundamentalists and atheists share an absolutist view of things which, while it may be charming to others and comforting to them, is often precisely this sort of cover.
That said, I want to come to the defense of atheists, for they are generally braver and more honest than fundamentalists. They reject the need for the security which a belief in God offers, and they are willing to face a certain and absolute death. This takes quite a bit of bravery. Religious people are often motivated by fear of death. People want answers and they do not want to die. Atheists fear death too, but they face it without the comfort of religion, which is braver. I have more respect for an honest atheist who accepts his ultimate nothingness than someone who subscribes falsely to a religion simply because he is afraid to die.
Motivations behind belief systems, of course, have nothing to do with truth. Whether there is a god has nothing to do with the motivations of believers, and whether the human soul simply enters a vast nothingness has nothing to do with why an atheist wants to believe that.
Hey don't look at me to prove or negate God, or gods, or infinite spirituality!
That ain't my job!
I wouldn't tell you even if I thought I did know. Asserting that kind of stuff only leads to trouble. Too many people get all pissed off and kill each other that way.
What does bothers me right now is the ferocity and hatred being exhibited by people claiming to follow one ancient Jewish rabbi who came along, tried to moderate some of the harshness of the Mosaic Law, and was executed for his efforts. I cannot claim to be a witness to anything, but taking what I have read at its face value, he was a good man.
Why the hell are radical fundamentalists determined to make Jesus Christ out to be a bigot on the level of, say, Mohammad? (I am not saying Mohammad WAS a bigot, mind you, because I don't know, but many of his followers behave as if he was.)
At the center of the sodomy debate are Medieval interpretations of Mosaic Law, which was originally intended to govern the ancient Jews. Sodomy was condemned along with a variety of other things, including breaking the Sabbath, talking back to parents, astrology, screwing around with menstruating women, wearing the wrong hair styles, and so on.
How is it that the followers of an early rabbi who wanted to simplify the law managed to reinterpret that law not only to govern non-Hebrews, but in such a way that it is enforced more harshly than the way the Jews themselves enforce it?
Will someone tell me the logic behind this?
Another thing which bugs me: How is it that "fundamentalists" get to pick and choose so that homosexuality becomes the most important principle of Mosaic Law? What about breaking the Sabbath, cursing one's parents, or practicing sorcery? The only logically consistent fundamentalists I know of are the followers of R.J. Rushdoony, who called for the execution of not only homosexuals, but liars, drunkards, sorcerers, and children who curse their parents.
Why do the others, the pickers and choosers, focus upon homosexuality? They are insisting right now that God will punish the entire country because of the actions of six members of the Supreme Court. Remarkable, really. I don't know what to make of it. Certainly, there is no way to reason with these people.
Not to be outdone, the atheists have come up with a new label for themselves: bright. (The implication is that all who disagree with them are dumb.)
Why this need to be better than others? To be saved, more worthy, brighter?
This apparent insecurity is making me feel insecure.
What's making me feel even more insecure is the need to divide the world into only two camps: ATHEIST versus RELIGIOUS. "Religious" is coming to mean "fundamentalist" as is the word "Christian." When I was a kid, fundamentalists were simply one particular, kooky, variety.
I hope they're not working in an unholy alliance with each other. That would be almost as bad as collusion between fundamentalists and gay activists.
It must be comforting to divide the world into those who agree with you and those who are your sworn enemies.
If I refuse to do that, whose enemy am I?
Fanatics tend towards what Marx and Hegel called the dialectical struggle. Thus, while they always oppose with a special passion those fanatics on the other side, they regard them as kindred spirits -- much the same way that soldiers engaged in protracted battles tend to understand (and even admire) their mortal enemies -- sometimes even more than they admire the peacemakers and bureaucrats who end up in charge after the cessation of hostilities. The world is an easier place when it can be divided into two camps: you and the enemy, and of course the goal of every fanatic is to somehow force everyone into either being "with us or against us" -- meaning that the slightest disagreement can land you in the enemy camp -- regardless of how you might feel about the enemy.
Ann Coulter will serve nicely as an example, and at the outset, let me say that for the most part I agree with much of what she says about Communism and the supporters of that wretched, evil, and failed ideology. Doubtless all Communists will now consider Ann Coulter to be the Devil Incarnate. Many liberals will too, as they have fallen into the line of Ms. Coulter's withering fire. Her objection to liberals -- that they enabled Communism -- is well founded. But to say that this makes all liberals traitors is as unreasonable as the claim that all of Weimar Germany's political leaders were traitors to their country for cooperating with (or at least acknowledging the superiority and inevitability of) the forces which had defeated Germany in World War I.
I am fascinated by the fact that genuine fanatics -- and real ideologues in general -- detest pragmatists and compromisers even more than their ideological enemies. Perhaps this is because the pragmatists are so often the ones who end up holding power; perhaps there are other reasons. In a recent post, Ms. Coulter lists five much-maligned figures: Joseph McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Nixon, Whittaker Chambers and Ronald Reagan -- all those men "who did the most to defend our freedom in the last century."
For a moment, I was taken aback, because I never thought I would see Richard Nixon, true pragmatist that he was, fiercely defended by such a staunch ideologue as Ann Coulter. But then I read the piece, and saw that Nixon was barely mentioned. The right wing does not like Richard Nixon, because he was the author of détente with Russia, normalized relations with China, and ended the Vietnam War. Watergate is an uncomfortable issue with them too.
Nixon was so bitterly hated by fanatics of both sides that I naturally find myself attracted to him. When I discovered that he was brought down by hidden skullduggery never made known by the major media, I naturally assumed that "the left" was behind it all. It took years for it to sink in that Nixon was a victim of collusion between fanatics of the right and the left working together. That in bringing down Nixon, they had established a new power elite which upped the ante and pushed this country much closer to a real Culture War instead of the cute media variety characterized by long hair, patchouli oil, and bellbottoms. Everything was henceforth to be politicized.
I came to realize that Nixon was indeed brought down by the forces of the Culture War -- much to this country's detriment. A new and ugly spirit took over, transforming America into a land of media heroes and villains, liberals and conservatives. And not old style liberals and conservatives, but newer, meaner, infinitely more in-your-face, ad hominem, varieties. "You're either with us or against us!"
Nixon's Great Silent Majority (which tends now towards live-and-let-live libertarianism with a small "l") has been sitting out the elections since. They are not fiercely partisan "McGovern Democrats" for Hillary Clinton nor are they the "Moral Majority" ushered in by right wing ideologues.
My life has been largely wasted opposing fanaticism. This does not mean I have no opinions. I did what little I could to persuade Big Media to take a second look at Watergate, and I tried to get a pardon for the much-hated, much-stereotyped G. Gordon Liddy. If fanatics attack something, I feel obligated to examine it closely. Maybe I'll defend it. Likewise, if they promote something, I'll also feel skeptical.
As Glenn Reynolds points out, President Bush is now attracting favorable attention from left-leaning types who ought to know better than defending an evil Republican. Liberals generally hate him, but these days so do many conservatives. His efforts to fight AIDS in Africa is seen as too altruistic (something which hasn't earned him too many points with Objectivists, either).
It's funny that Bush's behavior here hasn't gotten more attention from mainstream media. I guess it's because it doesn't fit the heartless-Republican stereotype.
Bush had better watch out, because if he keeps this up, he'll win by a Nixonian landslide, and fanatics of all stripes will be out to get him.
Nixon, clever politician that he was, was so preoccupied with his enemies on the left that he failed to anticipate the fatal course of events which would be set in motion by his "friends."
Paranoid, but not paranoid enough...
(Et tu, Brute?)
posted by Eric on 07.07.03 at 11:53 PM
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