[A version of this post was published at Secular Woman.]
I have long been interested in subverting the U.S. conservative movement, which I am certain is the root of all evil despite what you may have heard elsewhere. If you are not convinced of this proposition, consider for a moment precisely what it is that conservatives wish to conserve: a status quo that is violently racist and sexist, patriarchal and heteronormative, ubercapitalist and imperialist, ableist and classist, Christian supremacist and anti-intellectual, sadistically punitive and social-Darwinist—I could go on (and on and on).
Aw, crap. Two sentences in, and I've already bummed everyone out. :
But it's not all bad news! Having dedicated much of my adult life to the study of conservatives in the wild (and not coincidentally, much of my childhood to navigating those worlds to survive), I am here to provide you with practical tips that can save you a whole lot of time you would otherwise spend scratching your head in dumfounded bewilderment. The most important thing to know about conservatism is this: there is nothing new in any of it. Not one single thing. I have pored over tracts by Buckley, Schlafly, Will, Friedman, Rand, Coulter, Kristol and Krauthammer; I have listened to Limbaugh and watched Fox News; I have read The Wall Street Journal editorial page and countless right-wing blogs. And I have satisfied myself beyond any doubt that it always—always—boils down to a comically grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement. It doesn't matter whether we're talking about panty-sniffing Catholic bishops or reckless Wall Street traders, the entire "intellectual" basis of conservatism can be summed up thusly: “I’ve got mine, Jack. Screw you. And especially, screw them.”
Naturally this point of view leads conservative minds to spin increasingly bizarre rationalizations for their own privilege, and corresponding justifications for oppressing others. One of the more common manifestations of this phenomenon is psychological projection. Projection is a theory in psychology whereby people avoid acknowledging dissonant thoughts and unsavory impulses in themselves by attributing them to others. It is important to note that everyone is prone to projection, especially in times of crisis. But right-wing conservatives deploy it to such an extreme degree and with such a total lack of self-awareness that it borders on comic farce. Allow me to illustrate?
So some conservative Christians made a terrible movie based on a silly chain email endlessly promoted by a bunch of Liars 4 Jeezus™. (If you're a masochist, here's the trailer.) Of course I have no intention of seeing this film. (See: nothing new in any of it.) Happily, it turns out that none of us have to see it because some d00d named Neil Carter did and wrote about the film's egregious characterizations of atheists. For example:
Atheist professors are predatory, and they are out to convert everyone into ideological clones of themselves. Clearly the concept of people committed to “freethought” and “liberal arts” is utterly foreign to the writers of this flick. Ironically, while no secular university I’ve ever heard of would hesitate to fire a professor who demands a signed renunciation of religion from his students, I have heard of Christian schools which demand written statements of belief from both their students and faculty. In real life only one of these two cultures threatens people with everlasting torment for not believing the right things, and it’s not the group being caricatured in the movie.
Christian colleges require sworn statements of faith from their students, under threat of eternal torture in the next life [sic] and expulsion in this one. So the filmmakers conjure up a villainous atheist professor who demands Christian students renounce their beliefs under penalty of failing his class. (Okay, strictly speaking they didn't conjure him up. They heard about him from an awesome email.) Except that such a professor is complete fiction. Pure projection.
See? Lets try another:
Atheists are cocky, self-sure, and totally enamored with their own superiority.
Reminder: the entire point of this movie is to illustrate the superiority of Christians.
Projection: it's what's for dinner.
Atheists will openly threaten you, bow up, get in your face, stare you down, and even chase you down a hallway and grab you to force you to listen to their angry diatribes because your faith makes them so angry!
We don't have to imagine this is what some Christians would like to do to non-believers: they already do it—and worse. [TW: extreme bullying, violence, rape and death threats, animal cruelty.] Project much?
Atheists are clearly incapable of love. If you’re hurting or sick they’ll abandon you.
Translation: "I'd be a horrible person if not for...Jeezus nagging me not to be."
Atheists lack ethical boundaries, so they’ll date students against virtually every university’s rules.
Atheists have no basis for morality...If there’s no God, then there can’t be any good reason to follow rules or be honest or do anything moral.
Translation: "The only reason I'm not a murderous, thieving rapist is because of an invisible Sky Daddy.” Okay, player. Just stay away from me.
Obviously, none of this paints conservative Christians in a positive light. Frankly, it’s all pretty amusing—if you don’t think too much about the consequences for their children. But there is a frightening aspect too, and you don’t have to be an atheist to be concerned. For example, if the religious right fears Obama coming to put them all in FEMA camps for their beliefs, consider what that might mean if (when?) they obtain such power for themselves. Even now, while we laugh at their ridiculous claims of persecution, conservative Christians are busy enacting religion-based laws that harm, oppress and yes, persecute their fellow citizens.