Originally posted on Townhall.com, in November, 2007, co-authored by Vassar Bushmills and Bernard Chumm
Note: Brian Hibbert just posted a diary on the same theme which I recommend. It's near and dear to our hearst as wel, as I will set out below.
(For your consideration, with some updates since, in Nov 2007, Barack Obama was still working on his 100- day resume to become president. Who knew?)
Bernie touched on this subject when I first "diaried" here on RedState, and it was received rather cooly, especially by the gate keepers who apparently don't like trolls. (Yes, I know there are good reasons, still...hear me out. This is explanatory, not plaintiff in nature.)
I remember the Baptist preacher who told me how much he would love to see a total stranger step into one of the back pews in his church, just once. He said he had a separate sermon saved up, all ready for that fellow...if he would just show up. I've poked a lot of fun at that old pastor over the years, but he was ever the missionary, still had the fire, only to be handed his last twenty years a flock of choir members in about as settled, near-asleep congregation as one could imagine, not a one of them needing saving...at least in their own minds. Preaching to the self-contented can be about as thankless a task as one with "the fire" can endure. It can wither up a younger man and make him old, and it did with him. His handicap never got below 24.
So, as for your trolls who come in from time to time to sit on the back pew, Bernie and I think a little two-step quiz can quickly get most of them to remove themselves, without any intervention from any editor...but in the process, for say, what, one in ten, one in twenty? can perhaps begin marching off in a little different direction toward self-inquiry, all because of a brief encounter with someone at RedState. I see a lot of missionary zeal here, but guess what, you're mostly talking amongst yourselves, the choir. I've seen you write and argue amongst yourselves, so I know you can convince the stripes off a 'coon's tail...if only you'd put your whole mind to it for strangers. It takes only a slightly different approach. From what preachers tell me, there is no greater joy than to see that stranger on the back row slowly stand, then walk down the aisle. Never forget what Pascal said about those seeking to be found...
This is just a set-up, for someday Bernie will write about the "disputation-style" (it's a passion with him, there may be a book in it) of give and take, not dissimilar to the Socratic method, made known to him by a martyred Spaniard, Ramon Llull in the 13th Century, as he tried to engage the Moors. He was so good at disputation they hung him. (And he was so good at going his own way in this sort of evangelizing...as a kind of charismatic, and scientist...the Church never beatified him.) But rather than tell them stuff, he asked questions...which drew them down a path of inquiry he knew their own teaching had denied them. Llull knew the Q'ran and Hadith as well as any Muslim. Simple enough, huh?- We can all take lessons from Llull. VB
With that in mind, my target today is the the pseudo-atheist, where he comes from, what made him who he is, and how to engage him. Just don't ignore him.
Bernie and I both believe that true atheism is not on the rise in America, still hanging around 1%-2%. What is rising is religion-hating, and in a big way. There's a difference, as I'm sure you have already figured out. While there is a lot of overlap between the run-of-the-mill hate-blogger on the internet and the anti-religionist posing as an atheist, I think a special note needs to be written here to any of you who may want to jump into the anti-religion battlefield, a la D'Souza and Hitchens. As I said, with Bernie, it is a passion. (There are snippets of that debate, and the full debate, 90 minutes. I recommend it just to set the mood, but I'll be talking about the bottom-feeders we most often see on the internet in this essay.)
I say this because this is a war fought by proxy in many ways, and many of those souls are genuinely searching for something bigger in their lives than that which state-sponsored pop culture and public schools have provided. In fact, most of them are, considering their youthful age and rank on the hate-anger totem pole. Remember, most of them are no more than the useful idiots of Game-masters and handlers, much like the sellers of dime-bags on the street corner. They only distribute evil, they don’t manufacture it. Even if their side wins, they will still be the first ones eaten.
So, engaging them requires a special touch if you are a person of faith, for while we all want to retake the public highway in the name of Truth and Virtue we don’t want to jerk the hook of civil and spiritual salvation from their mouths in the process. Christians bear a special, and personal, responsibility in this regard, I think. While I sometimes wonder about their Puppet-masters, these pottykinder do have souls and it would be a terrible thing to push them deeper into the abyss without at least first casting out a line.
So take a very close look at your mission, so as to insure you do not make them hate more. Rather try to make them think twice about who and what they hate. Then walk away with the peace that you tried, and may have succeeded...but will never know for sure. You plant a seed whose fruit will be picked by someone else, a true anonymous gift.
(By the way, that is what true constitutional protectors do, ahem.)
This fight with pseudo-atheism has been a long time coming (the war with the real thing has been going on for ages), and it’s a fight for all of us, not just the religious. While organized religion in America has invited some of the vitriol now being heaped on its head, the timing of this new battle has little to do with whether religion is riper for the picking today than it was say, forty years ago. 80% of Americans still profess a belief in a Higher Being, covering a wide range of religions, but as Mark Twain noted when the Anglicans still ruled the political roost in America, there are professing and professional Christians, so it’s impossible to know how soft (or hard) that 80% is. An argument can be made that it is soft...in fact, mushy.
But this new anti-religion crusade has little to do with the outward professions of faith of say George W Bush, for it would be no different if Ronald Reagan, who rarely went to church, were president. In fact, I’d wager (has anyone documented this?) that Reagan publicly invoked God and prayer at least as often, if not more than Bush. And would anyone care to count the number of times Senors Clinton and Obama invoked God and faith, wink-wink?
It’s more a sign of the political and cultural times than the religious. The anti-religion Left just thinks the time is ripe, and this is in part because of the displayed anger of their newly-found power base among these shrill bottom feeders...who they can both feed...and be fed by.
How serious intellectual atheism came to be, or how it can best be combated, is not our turf. That is a battle that precedes even Darwin, and which is fought on a field much as Hitchens and D'Souza displayed; thrust and parry. Only recently has intellectual atheism allied itself with the political left, whose agenda was always to drive religion back into the catacombs, and for some very anti-intellectual and anti-constitutional reasons having little to do with the purposes of true atheism. (So, I'm a little surprised Hitchens jumped in, which tells me much about him he doesn't know I know.)
But this is where we do step in, for if it is about the Constitution, we jump in hard...with both feet.
How this army of pseudo-atheistic cannon fodder was forged is our turf, as the absence of religion in their daily culture is a major part of who and why they are. You see, they are the political snowball rolling down the hill toward civilization’s village, and while dormant once again, recently, they did help propel Barack Obama over the top one time, and can be mobilized again. Their handlers know their buttons. And demographically, they continue to grow, in fact, continue to be spit out like rabbits in a warren.
I think it’s important to try to get inside these childrens’ skins, especially if you are older, like me, because they view religion through a completely different lens than any kid growing up anywhere in America in the 1950s and early 60s. Maybe you never considered that. I didn't, until Bernie told me to.
I confess I was stunned. I thought I knew more than I did when I assumed they would see the world pretty much as I did. After all, I grew up in the original rock generation. Not so. The world has flip-flopped from my day, so we should all consider the way the cultural basis of religion has changed in the United States since the mid-1960s.
In the 1950s my world was permeated with the cultural signs of religion. My small town was predominantly Protestant, a standard mix of Methodists and Baptists, sprinkled with just about every other Protestant sect. In my world there were few Catholics and Jews, but in the cities not that far away that image was almost reversed, Protestants the rarer breed. And everyone wore a coat and tie to church.
So it was then that nearly every American heard a church bell on Sunday morning in the 1950s. Did anyone complain? Well yes, sort of, for there were always plenty of hangovers on Sunday morning, too. And during the holidays, virtually every person saw the bright colors, lights and symbols of the season regardless of religious faith, or lack thereof. Did anyone complain?...probably, but under their breath…and that may be the point here.
And, yes, it follows that religion was extended to the public schools. We had school prayer, and it’s true, some kids shuffled their feet uncomfortably. But not because they were Jews, Buddhists, or the children of atheists, when someone invoked a Christian theme. They were in the minority, for sure, but their minority was based on their pa, and maybe their ma, who “didn’t much give a damn” about religion. Those were the homes of children who’d never heard the name of God unless it was used as an adjective. And Christ was the last name of a brother and sister team, Jesus H. and Sheezus. But beyond that they knew little. Some fathers drank, or beat their moms and it showed up in the way those kids performed in school and the clothes they wore...and the way they smelled. But no, they weren’t always poor as the politician allow, I've known doctor's kids to come from this lot, and in my town every person worked, and every job was top dollar, so there were no layabouts, no poor.
There were just two classes, low-class and the rest, and the low-class were defined by “not giving a damn”...about a whole host of things, from personal hygiene to good manners to the value of a good education...to God. Everywhere there were men who got up and had Sunday breakfast with the family, and dressed for church while others cursed those g**-damned bells clanging against their hangover...never knowing someday they could call City Hall and there would be someone there ready to enlist them into a victim-constituency.
It was only natural the children of those parents had never heard a prayer, or the Bible read anywhere until they came to school. But then again they’d never heard words like “Please”, or “Thank you”, or “Yes Sir" or "No Ma’am” either. By second grade they weren’t a stranger to any of those things any longer, though pa still didn’t much give a damn and they’d still never seen the inside of a church. Their worlds had just gotten broader, that’s all. They were nicer, or at least knew nice when they saw it.
Up to around the mid-1960s, American cultural history was all about that 80% of us out there, swapping seasonal lights and festivals, and parades and cards every year. It was this culture that was beckoning assimilation for the “don’t give a damns” in the same manner, a generation earlier, it had millions of immigrants just clearing Ellis Island.
Since that time however America culture has been all about those 18% and their children, and their grievances against an over-bearing culture, and how Congress saved them from the evil machinations of the Methodist Women’s Garden Club. Americans gave money to missionaries overseas but every community knew that the real mission was just down the street, across the tracks, and those don't-give-a-damn parents and their kids. Think of the inhumanity of never letting those blank slates at least get a taste of the other side; good manners, a good book, the smell of a clean bath and clean underwear…and why not throw in a little God from time to time, thank you, Sir? Those children were the target of missionizing and civilizing zeal in America’s village.
Herself, Lady Disdain, often spoke through ghost writers about it "taking a village", but a cornerstone of our national village in the 1950s were these public displays of our villages’ many and varied religiosity. That was the American village…which she’s helped bury, if anyone’s bothered to notice, for the children were her side’s target as well.
Instead of propping up the village, as Lady Disdain claims, the state has turned Don’t Give a Damn’ism into the national model, subsidizing intellectual and moral laziness with rewards of easy, safe sex (which in 1963 I’d certainly have sold my soul for), videos, games, music and chips & dip. It’s mean old Mr Potter’s Bedford Falls…where the saloons are over-flowing, no one ever owns his own home, and everyone goes back to work on Monday broke.
This low, easy road is now America's public highway, so it was only natural that someone would come along and turn it into a secular religion. And, in a span of two generations it has prospered and grown. The physical culture of the child rules…notice what Honey Bunch is wearing for Halloween this year?...which makes us wonder how quickly the 80% today who profess a belief in a higher being will soften even more. It was always designed to be a snow-ball, you see.
So what hath Congress and their infernal bureaucracies wrought? Well jump forward and you see the brave new world turned upside down. The law of unintended consequences? I’m not so sure. The “don’t-give-a- damns” have been franchised into a genuine victim class…so much so they don’t even have to complain for themselves anymore. They have their own self-appointed ombudsmen to be the squeaky wheel on their behalf at very level of government. It’s their rice bowl that feeds the bottom feeders the schools are pumping out in record number and now infest the internet. Religion, like the free market, offers a ladder out of the hole of despair and poverty. But all the Don’t-give-a-damn’s have to do is act aggrieved, and stay put in that hole, and pagan bureaucracy will decorate and clean that hole up, and throw in a rug, a warm blanket and free coupons for Pepsi’s and chips down at Seven-Eleven. Only there is no ladder out, economically, spiritually, and now as we see from the internet, culturally. Don't-Give-a-Damn'ism has transcended both poverty and ignorance. It's now as educated and middle class as Cindy Sheehan.
That was always the game plan.
I liked the old ways betters, not only because of God but how so many of the children of the Don’t-give-a-damn’s turned out. That is what we care about, these pottykinder, how they turn out, isn't it? In those days, thank the ladies of the churches and the school board…run by the parents...that so many did cross over. (There’s a formula here worth remembering, by the way.) And today, thank the state that so many haven't. It wasn’t God so much as the village (versus the state) who lifted them out, only since there was no way to separate the village from God, the Left just got rid of both.
What Congress and its bureaucracies did (and I think intentionally, if you read the literature of the day) was break the generational chain of religion (or allow no new ones to be forged) just as it has done with so many other aspects of culture, and sanctified Not-giving-a-damn as the only officially recognized religion in America, led of course by an elite band of statists, more commonly referred to as modern liberals. Today, we are left with the ugly specter of public-school trained Wikipedia-thumping potty-mouthed know-nothings being led around by Cliff’s Note intellectuals.
Religion, unbreakable moral certitudes, are one of the cornerstones of the American House (according to Moses Sands), itself a cornerstone to the US Constitution, itself the keystone to human liberty. See the math? I don’t think I can out-talk Christopher Hitchens, but on this account the math is simple and undeniable, public religion is an essential plank in human liberty.
Mr Sands spoke about the chain in the House being broken by government and how hard it is to re-link it once broken, and the same is true about the religious chain.
The new pottykinder of the internet are the result of two generations of broken chains…no regular live-at-home father figure, or an abusive one, a doting or (the reverse) indifferent mother, so no House to carry forward, and no hope of blueprints to start a new one, thanks to the public schools, intellectual under-achievement, and of course, only the remotest first hand experience with people of faith, possibly an aunt, or grandmother, but certainly no one from their personal circle.
It’s the opposite of how I saw my world as a child. The average school kid today never sees or hears any sort of expression of religiosity in any public place, schools or the city square. (Which was always the plan.) True, 80% still say they profess a belief, but law and popular cultural scorn have caused true believers to hunker down, as if they'd committed a crime. Mom and Dad may be pushing for heaven, but the school yard is pulling for acceptance in the herd. Fifty years ago you sneaked out behind the schoolyard to whisper a dirty word to a close friend, but now you have to sneak out there to tell him about Jesus.
This generation sees religion only from arms-length. What they know they learn from stereo-types in the pop culture, videos and films…of either 1) a meek, milquetoast, wimpy, weepy and starry-eyed fool, or 2) a loud, obnoxious, pushy, redneck with high hair. These are Christians they can mock and easily ridicule. In funny, “humor videos”, e.g., eBaum’s World and Glumbert, where Christians especially are depicted comically, and where there can be direct unrestrained interaction between commenters, if a polite Christian comments (as a kind of troll), they first respond with a kind of quiet forbearance, as if to say “go away”, which many Christian in fact do, considering the language (rough) and tone (aggressive). If he/she persists, they up the volume. But if he stays and spits back, as one of our colleagues (Streamline) does, and continues to do, first they go ballistic, then recoil, then slowly modify their behavior and language. (Stream could write a book as well, as he is trained as a scientist, and ethicist. More than that, he is an evangelist working some really dark streets.)
This isn't necessarily a victory for our side as I’m not sure if they feel they’ve had their mouths washed out with soap, or been judged in a venue they thought made them invincible to judgment, or, perhaps, they just became acutely aware that they were being watched by third parties…but their behavior does change. Streamline had created his own following, you see, so now, the cuss-fests and put downs are less fun. No matter what they do there is always someone there to wash their mouths out. This is called "draining the swamp."
While this may explain a lot, it does not explain their anger entirely. You’d think pigs in shite would be more in harmony with their wet, warm environment. These kids aren't; they're angry and bitter, and while I have yet to determine what they truly hate (we're getting closer), I am quite certain it is not things they have to make up lies in order to justify. In other words, it isn’t George W Bush. Or Christianity. Another culprit might be Mom, for not having or keeping a Dad around (similar to the love-hate young black gang-bangers have for their mothers), or Dad himself, or it could be the pop culture, for making laziness so seductive and easy and so much fun...so easy in fact they can postpone going through the rite-of-passage door to adulthood…while hating those who have. We’ve witnessed a lot of envy-jealousy-hatred from these kids who still sleep in Mom's basement, against people who seem to have made it on their own, and yet who they feel infinitely superior to intellectually.
With Bernie Chumm's help my suggested approach to dealing with these pottykinder on the internet is to assume they are not true atheists. They don’t disbelieve God, they just don’t like Him. They don’t approve of Him. He is judgmental and they don’t like rules, especially unbendable ones. They like a world in which they can bend things to suit themselves…just like they always could with Mom (God bless her). This is a far cry from disclaiming His existence, just as it is a far cry, as Hitchens suggests, that by removing religion from political discourse, one can nonetheless keep morality in it.
They are sad and pathetic, but in truth they must eventually make their way on their own, without any of the reinforcements we have grown up with, and come to know as reliable support. They ain't got any, and most will fall by the wayside.
Like the corpus of left-wing bloggers, the pseudo-athiest is defined by who/what he hates, and in the end, although it may take a while to wring answers out of them, who they hate is generally hidden, possibly unknown even to themselves. I suspect a kind of self-hatred.
Still many seem to be searching, seeking to be found...and given time...
Vassar Bushmills and Bernie Chumm