Saturday, August 22, 2009

Witch burning is good for the soul.

In Illinois there is an organized group of loons known as the Illinois Family Insitute. If you speak "fundamentalist" you know that "family" is their word for hate. "Family values" means valuing hating some people. The targets of these loons varies. One thing about witches and hunting them is that what is chic changes over time. It used to be very chic to lament the presence of Jews and our fundamentalist brethren and sisterns could hate Jews with the best of them. At another time in history hating blacks was perfectly acceptable, and the fundamentalists, of course, discovered that God, Jesus, the Holy Ghost and the Bible all sanctioned such hate. Many of them flocked to the Ku Klux Klan during that period.

Unfortunately some hatreds have gone out of style thus limiting the choices of bigotries that the born-againers can exhibit. They lament this loss of freedom quite loudly—after all, if God wants them to hate then, by golly, they are going to hate with all the life in their body. Ninety percent of the reason that people are fundamentalists is so that can pretend to be superior to someone, something that is almost impossible for them if they had an accurate appraisal of the situation. So accuracy is not imporant, hence the need for divine revelation. One of the virtues of divine revelation is that it doesn't have to be true to be useful.

The Illinois Family Institute has a witch in their sites and they won't be happy until they manage to rile up the villages to grab a pitchfork or two. That witch is Hermant Mehta. Mehta is in their sites because he is an atheist and a teacher.

If you read their attacks you will quickly discover one thing. At no point do they claim that Mehta, who teaches math, is promoting atheism in the class room the way fundamentalist teachers repeatedly are known to do. Mr. Mehta's great sin is that he is an atheist and expresses his views about fundamentalist loons on his blog. That is the reason that are pushing for parents to storm the school offices and demand that their children be removed from Mr. Mehta's math classes.

Now, were they to say that Mr. Metha was a bad teacher I might have sympathy for them. But they don't go there at all. Their entire fanfare is because he privately, outside school, expresses view which they claim are offensive. Reason is always offensive to the unreasonable. And in a world populated by irrationalists of various stripes, to not be offensive is to fail at being human.

When Henry David Thoreau was arrested for refusing to pay a poll tax he was visited in jail by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson asked Thoreau: "Henry, why are you here?" Thoreau responded "Waldo, why are you not here?" Similarly, if one were to ask me about offending fundamentalists my response would similarly ask: Why aren't you offending them? The reality is that these people are so crazed with their fanatical beliefs that mere human decency is enough to offend them. If you haven't offended a fundamentalist Christian then you have failed to be a decent human being. I am not saying we should go out of our way to act offensively, or to say offensive things. Such clownish tactics don't work. But in the process of daily living, and the expression of compassion for others, and a fervent believe in equality of rights, and equal freedom for all, you can not escape from offending such people.

I guess this is what bothers me so much about the faux "libertarians" like Wayne Allen Root, who bend over backwards to never say anything that fundamentalists would find offensive. They think this maximizes votes. It doesn't. It merely isolates them further from the mainstream public which is relatively decent and makes them appear to be pandering to the most intolerant bunch of assholes in the country. Pandering to assholes merely makes you look an asshole yourself -- though Mr. Root accomplishes that in a myriad of ways.

The loon at Illinois Family Institute leading this witch hunt is Laura Higgins, who as might be expected is a born-again fanatic. And she sent out an email urging people to complain about the evil influence of Mehta. As she wrote in an open letter to Metha: "If students search your name and come upon your blog, they will be exposed to your endorsement and promotion of ideas that some parents may find deeply troubling." It gets worse: "If students have you as their teacher, like you, and develop a relationship with you—as happens often in high school—they will be more likely to look favorably on and be influence by your ideas than those students who have little or no personal connection to you."

So, the problem is that students may like Mehta. If he were the stereotypical atheist, in the eyes of fundie loons, that would be one thing. But if people actually like him, and think him "cool" (the world Higgins used) then they may be more favorable to reason and logic and look down on the faith method of "knowledge."

Higgins is a bit dishonest in what she is doing. She insists that she isn't after Mehta's job. She just wants all the parents to pull their kids from his class and demand that that the school allow this, again not because of anything he has done in class. If the parents got upset by Higgins, and followed her instructions, and Mehta lost his students, how long would it be before his job followed? Consider a boycott of a business. The organizer says to the business owner: "I don't want you to go out of business. I just want people to stop buying from you." You don't get the one without the other. If you know the two are intimately linked together, to demand the one is to demand the other.

Mehta doesn't endorse fundamentalis "moral values." He completely fails to hate gay people. So that means he is unfit to teach children. In the mind of Higgins the loons who blame bad weather in Maine on gay marriage are fine, upstanding, moral citizens who should be emulated by children. A teach who teaches the logic of math is unfit because he, in his private life, doesn't hate those people that God wants hated.

One point I have tried to make is that the fundamentalist are inclined to hate. Right now gays are their convenient target and the one they think they can hate the most and gain the most. But, if they succeed, or clearly lose, they will turn their hatreds elsewhere. People inclined to hate always find scapegoats. What I find amusing is that the scapegoats they may turn to are currently allied with these people in the Religious Right movement. Ask a fundamentalist what he really thinks of Catholics or Mormons and sit back and enjoy the fire works. The only reason conservative Catholics and right-wing Mormons are allied with fundamentalists right now, is that they are united in their disdain and disgust for other scapegoats. Win that battle, or reach the stage when it is a lost battle, and the haters will need to turn on other witches. And that may well mean turning on each other.

I can hardly wait to watch the drama of it.

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