Saturday, October 30, 2010

Thank god for bigots.

In the last couple of days I have come to appreciate the bigots. Take the brain-dead fundamentalist from Arkansas who was vice president of the local school board and yet who posted a message about gay kids killing themselves by saying he would be happy if they all killed themselves.

That message was so raw and so ugly that it worked up a lot of people.

I come out of a fundamentalist background myself. I know precisely how ugly, cruel, intolerant and vicious those sweet, smiling Christians can be when given half a chance. I know first hand how small-minded they are and how prone they are to believe the most absurd and ridiculous thing about anyone that they despise.

The school I attended was associated with what was then the largest fundamentalist church in America. I don't mean denomination when I say church. I mean this one single church was literally the largest church in the world when it came to attendance. I am thrilled to say it is a shadow of its former self these days.

I graduated from their high school and moved on to the seminary. I look back on it and shake my head in wonder. How could I possibly have endured such morons for so long? But I did.

The schools were dominated by Right-wing extremists, often of some very ugly tendencies. The John Birch Society was considered fairly middle-of-the-road by these people even when the JBS started indulging in crazy Illuminati/CFR/Bilderberger nonsense. The far-Right author of None Dare Call It Treason, John Stormer, taught classes I attended, at least briefly. This sort of conspiratorial nonsense was taught as fact.

In addition the church itself had dozens of members who were active in the Klan. The school pushed Bircher theories. I got such theories directly from the leaders of the school and the principal was a key influence in forming the Moral Majority. I also heard him make some pretty racist comments in class about the inability of blacks to learn. He said reasoning was beyond them and that only memorization worked.

With top officials pushing the Birch Society I got involved in the organization. And while the JBS had a public profile of pretending to shun anti-Semites and other such bigots they didn't try very hard.

I was a young kid and these people were feeding me literature about how the Jews were the real conspirators and trying to take over the world. Yes, they actually believed in Jewish conspiracies. From within the Birch Society I was introduced to every extreme theory on the Far Right that you could possible find, at least at the time.

With the church and the school pushing similar ideas, I naively thought I had to accept them as true. So I did. All of it seemed to make a sort of consistent sense to me. Based on the false premises I got from the school, the JBS made sense. Based on what they taught about conspiracies the anti-Semites seemed to make sense. The racism seemed to make sense. And then they all would refer to the Bible for their proof.

I went to the summer youth camp that the Birch Society was organizing. I meet the top Birch officials and writers there. I ended up a youth leader in the American Party, an offshot of the bigoted campaign of George Wallace. I attended their conferences as well. Deeper and deeper it seemed to go. The loony consistency of all of it seemed to make sense.

And then one day something happened and I woke up. It was really pretty simple. I saw the real face of this movement and it terrified me. I saw what hate looked like when it was behind closed doors and allowed free reign.

Someone I knew from church invited me to a private meeting held inside a large garage at some one's house. I remember walking up this long driveway to the garage where there were around 50 chairs set up theater style. We sat down and the owner of the home welcomed us and then introduced the speaker. I honestly don't remember his name, it isn't important. It didn't matter who he was. What mattered was what he said and what he did.

From this door to the house come a group of men in full uniform, brown shirts, dark heavy black boots almost up to the knee, armbands emblazoned with swastikas, arms held out in the all-familiar "Heil Hitler" salute. The head of this clownish, in a Stephen King kind of way, band of Nazis stood at a podium. The uniformed would-be thugs he brought with placed themselves in a circle around the audience, as if they were watching us all very carefully.

This man then launched into a tirade about "niggers" and "kikes" and that come the revolution they all would be rounded up, tortured and killed. He gave a long, gruesome description of how those massive tree grinding machines could be used. The Jews, he said, could be tossed into them one person at a time and obliterated into a heap of bloody, fleshy pulp in a matter of seconds. He laughed about it. He found the entire depiction amusing and inspiring.

He did his best imitation of the Fuhrer, sputtering and spitting and hollering at the top of his voice his message of undying hatred. For years all this Right-wing bullshit had been fed to me, but it was all ideas and concepts. This hateful man made those ideas and concepts flesh and blood. He personified all that was wrong with what I had been taught. All the careful wording that used to placate the sensibilities of the media were forgotten that day. He said precisely what he meant and what he intended to do if ever given the chance.

I might have been just a teenager but this experience shook me up. It was so ugly, so inhuman. It started me wondering. I began questioning everything I had been taught, without exception.

I left that church, though not Christianity yet. I moved on to another, smaller church albeit one that was still fundamentalist. I was not yet ready to give that up. I started reading more widely and researching. I took all the conspiracy literature I was given and studied it, and all the books that were footnoted, and then read those books and their footnotes. I went through conspiratorial literature that went back two centuries. And the more I read the more clear it was to me how much nonsense it all was.

My new church disagreed with my old church on some key points. Yet each claimed to be following the infallible word of God. The more I studied the more I was unsure of any of this as well. And eventually I came to dismiss all theology and all deities as wishful thinking.

I was still in the seminary but having doubts. One day a kind and gentle Christian introduced himself and I was so thrilled that the semester was starting off with a new friend. Instead he merely wanted to know my name because he determined that my hair was about 1/3 of an inch too long. His feigned friendliness was a front in order to get my name so he could turn me in and get me in trouble with the school authorities.

At this time along came Anita Bryant with her very ugly anti-gay campaign. It reminded me of what I saw in that garage that day, the same kind of scapegoating. Instead of Jews in the cross hairs Anita was going after faggot and queers who "can't reproduce, so they recruit -- your children." Anita would speak but it was that jackbooted thug that I saw in my mind. Sure she smiled more and didn't want have them killed, just cured, or put back in the closet where they belong.

I wrote a letter to my local paper and signed my own name, opposing Anita and speaking out against her campaign. And from there the last ties I had with fundamentalism came crashing down. All these Right-wing types who saw me as their golden boy, as the teenager who understood their ideas, were furious. I listened to tirades from former friends calling radio shows to denounce me for criticizing Sister Anita. I packed my bags and left. I took a job writing and was soon spending a day with Anita and reporting on it. I went to a Moral Majority/Anita Bryant meeting called to demand that homosexuality be made a felony in the state. Jerry Falwell and Anita were the headliners. I reported on how I witnessed these "Christians" having their kids march around with signs calling for the murder of gay people. But hey, they didn't suggest tree grinding machines.

I may have forgotten the name of the jackbooted Nazi who spit out such hate and venom, but I will never forget the incident and tone and mental stench from the hatred. It started me on a journey, one that I continue every day. From that moment on, no belief I held was sacred, they still aren't. I continually reconsider and change views or modify them, and often reconfirm them as well. I also have moved more in a direction where I see the utter evil of hatred and of wielding power over others.

I don't know what would have happened had I never experience that jolting experience of seeing hate so perfectly illustrated in front of me. I like to think I would have evolved anyway, but I can't be sure. Yes, such things are ugly and horrible to consider but they do have their uses.

When Clint McCance went on Facebook and said he hoped all gay kids would kill themselves his venom was so disgusting that he lite a firestorm. Good for him. I'm glad he did it. In a sense he serves to others the function that Nazi wannabe served for me.

People want to think that the beliefs they hold about other groups or classes of people—gays, Jews, Mexicans, "illegal immigrants," or whoever is the target of the day—are reasonable and "moderate." Few extremists actually think they are extreme. Now and then someone takes their premises and follows them to the logical conclusion. And when that happens the moderates are shocked and horrified. They don't want to excuse it, but they aren't sure how to condemn it either. It causes them great discomfort because, for the first time, they see precisely where their beliefs are leading them.

That Nazi thug scared me because he was taking the beliefs I had been spoon fed by the church and school and moved them in a logical progression consistent with the premises held. He forced me to ask myself whether this was what I really wanted. And I didn't. I didn't want any of this. The images that day horrified me so much that I was terrified that if I said anything they might do some of these things to me. I only wanted to get out of there.

I did get out of there. And eventually I got out of the entire fundamentalist mindset. I became an atheist because I felt the entire god concept didn't make any sense. I abandoned the authoritarians of the Right and became a libertarian. The more I saw hatred the more I became concerned about oppression and people being harmed by the collectivist mob mentality of bigotry.

Clint McCance is a nobody whose ugly hate got him attention he wished hadn't have happened. Fred Phelps is a tyrannical minister filled with hate who abused everyone in his life, in one way or another. Yet his "God hates fags," and "God hates Jews" protest rally massive protests from every community he visits.

These bigots force people to see the logical results of bigoted premises. And that forces people to decided whether or not to cling to those premises, or to change them. We have seen huge shifts in public attention on issues relating to the state-sanctioned oppression of gay people. And one reason for this is because people like McCance and Phelps wake people up. They force them to see where the premises they hold are leading.

When it becomes clear that these premises are so ugly and so cruel, people begin abandoning them. I may not believe in a literal god but I can thank this mythical being for the existence of these bigots. These bigots are changing minds, just not in the direction they intend. Clint McCance got people in Arkansas thinking. He so shocked them that few would publicly defend him. After all, the man said he wished school kids would kill themselves, and he did so based on what he says the Bible teaches.

Today bigotry is weaker in Arkansas as a result. Just as the horrors of communism in practice discredited communism in theory, the horrors of bigotry in practice discredits the theories on which they are based. That also means that McCance made fundamentalism a little less appealing to some of its adherents. Like I did, some of them have now begun their journey away from hate because McCance made hate so real to them. And that is a good thing.

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