30 August 2010

Glenn Beck and the threat of theocracy

Christine Vyrnon has a post up on Glenn Beck's religious-revival rally yesterday, asking readers for their assessments of the threat of theocracy in the US and what can be done about it. My own response:

I'm a lot less worried about the threat of theocracy than I was in the late 1990s when the Christian Right had a lot more momentum and support.

Consider what's happened over the decade from 2000 to today. The percentage of fundamentalists in the population has declined and the number of non-religious people has roughly doubled. Public support for gay marriage has risen steadily and, according to one poll, recently passed the 50% mark -- something which would have seemed incredible a decade ago. The recent NOM anti-gay-marriage bus tour had pitiful turn-out for its "rallies", and supporters were outnumbered three-to-one by pro-gay counter-protesters, even in places like Iowa and Missouri, even the day after Judge Walker's ruling in California.

(I cite attitudes toward gays and gay marriage because they're a useful barometer of how strong fundamentalist ideology among the general public actually is -- more likely to be accurate than things like self-reported church attendance, which is greatly exaggerated -- actual counts show attendance much lower than what people tell pollsters.)

The increasing agitation, anger, and occasional terrorism on the religious right reflects the fact that they know they're losing the culture wars. The election of Obama was the last straw, not because he's black (I don't buy the "all teabaggers are closet racists" line), but because when the Republicans lost their control of Congress and the Presidency, it meant that power had slipped from the grasp of the fundamentalists' allies.

When an ideological movement is shrinking, it tends to become more and more shrill and extreme, because that's the kind of people who stay when others lose interest or give up. That's what's happening to the Christian Right.

As for Beck's rally specifically, he claimed he was going to get 300,000 attendees and actually got 87,000, by the only neutral estimate I've seen. Yes, he and Limbaugh and the rest of them do have an audience, but an audience of 20,000,000 can seem huge and yet still be only a tenth of the adult population.

The Republicans' prospects for large gains in Congress this year rest entirely on the fact that unemployment remains high. The nomination of extremist candidates in teabagger-dominated primaries is hurting them, not helping -- Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio may well lose races that more moderate Republicans would almost certainly have won.

What can we do? Keep doing what we're doing. Keep speaking out against religion and educating people about it. Keep telling the truth about the Republicans' extremism and obstructionism (many people are genuinely not paying attention).

And don't feel disappointed if there's no visible result. I never expect that any blog post of mine is going to convert a Christian reader to atheism in one fell swoop. That's not how it works. What I hope is that my writings may move 100 people each 1% of the way towards giving up religion. Other things that those people encounter will help them a little further, and so on.

But in the long run, I feel very confident of victory.

To add your own input to the discussion, go here.

Update 1: For another view of the rally, here's a report from a blogger who was there.

Update 2: Beck's present rhetoric must be judged in the light of his record.


Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Infidel: Buenos Dias Amigo!

This is a fairly decent posting looking at something that I havent put much focus on, but understand the reality. Religion's are a hard topic to discuss, for me ... being that it's so sensitive to some ... but the reality must be faced. If you look throughout history, religion's have alway's evolved to conform to the time's and change's, yet you maintain a certain amount of those die hard cultist's, out to save the world, who in actuality destroy the human race because they decline to progress, and we only lose. From this stem cell research to this issue of who get's to marry who,etc. Even the 10% figure you gave of the 20 million or so ... is even less than 10% looking at the math ...you called them before a "death cult" ... and I agree, they are. But even though their number's are fairly small statistically ... you cant let down your guard against these few, these are the type's .. who if you give any slack .. or an inch, they will take a mile. They get to pop up from time to time, and take advantage of whatever current miseries pass by ... they are miseries best friend actually, economic time's get a lil rough, they run to help saying they have answer's, or any other difficulty we face, you name it, they never fix a damn thing, but alway's claim to have the snake oil to do the trick, their so simple and transparent ... you can be psychic and place bet's on it, and come out a winner every time. Now these parasite's are getting even a lil financial backing by corporate special interest's to sway economic condition's and move's, not even seeing that they are being used like red headed step children as idiot's ... an interest ... that is more like the majority and dont give a rat's ass about their set in stone morality, only about keeping power over this cesspool they want to continue. Even if their number's decline to 5% ... never let down your guard, against these parasite's ... these same inbred bastard's, would corrupt your constitution and every goddamn right you have as an American if they were given the opportunity. I may not talk about religion as much as I should in my posting's, but not out of fear, I have no fear of them or their manufactured mytholigical figure's, or ever gave a rat's ass about their morality. This sudden heroism and mission of Beck's is just to Beck's goal's, not the peoples, and he just happen's to have a few miserable folk's of a dying force, that are grabbing unto him, or anyone else with a mouth that spew's the nonsense they want to hear, basically you summed up perfectly in the desperation you pointed out. And if it were up to me ... I would tax every goddamn chuurch in this nation ... they dont have to worry ... using their own word's "God will provide" .. good! Let God do it! Doesnt do any other goddamn thing!

30 August, 2010 05:05  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

I would also like to add here if I may Infidel ...

I realize that some of your reader's are NOT atheist's, and believe in God, whether they attend a pop culture institution or not(church)... even the Christ figure Jesus didnt care much for the church according to the Gospel's, being more of an adversary than a supporter. I know many really cool folk's that are believer's in God, they pray, etc ... even if they dont attend a pop church to look good. I'm a spiritual man myself, with my own idea of spirituality, as well as moral's, that I share with those like me as well. I just dont cram my moral's and belief's down everyone else's throat's ... if someone ask's me about it, I will share ... if they dont ... they dont ... to each their own. I am not in opposition to one's belief's ... but how these institution's that havent a damn thing to do with spirituality, but gaining mass control and promoting slavery and death ... thriving off of misery, etc. ... are those that bother me ... and should bother even every believer or even follower of the teaching's even of Jesus for that matter, or any other brand of spirituality, all any of them do is degrade nature and humanity ... for personal power and wealth ... I dont hate christian's at all ... and as far as these who do thrust their morality culture's down everyone's else's throat's ... I only wish they would excercise the same discipline as some of us other spiritual folk's do ... and not try to hamper our well being and progress, and force feed all of us, or try to violate what right's we do have is all.

30 August, 2010 07:50  
Blogger Sue said...

this was a positive slanting post and it made me feel better about our future Infidel! I think with each passing day and another teabagger candidate is added to the group, our chances of progressing in America are doubled. We will do it!

30 August, 2010 09:43  
Blogger Christine Vyrnon said...

Infidel - I appreciate the optimistic approach to this - and you provide some very reasonable scenarios by which to measure the long-term vitality of the Tea Party. I do have some "faith" in the democratic process - I just hope people resort to actively practicing their democratic rights before resorting to more extreme options. I'm of the Use It- Or Lose It mentality with regards to democracy.

I'm pretty sure tea-party caucus instigator Michelle Bachmann will be reelected here in Minnesota. But she might not. She has a ridiculous amount of money pouring into her coffers from all around the nation. The margin of her win or loss will be very telling.

You maybe you're right - like Sue says - each new teabagger means one more step toward a more reasonable, more energized, more progressive America.

Also - I like the 1% rule of blogging - that maybe 1% of 1% of 1% will gain a larger worldview, a new perspective. Does the same happen going the other direction? Does it all even out in the long run?

Thanks for the link to the blogger who attended the rally - it looks like a very good read!

Thanks for contributing to this discussion!!!!

30 August, 2010 10:46  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Thanks for the comments. RC gives an important reminder that not all religious people are part of the problem here -- we all know some liberal Christian bloggers who direct their fire at the theocrats and bigots, not at the atheists or gays -- the threat here comes from a small and shrinking sub-set of the population.

In politics, as in everything else, rational skeptics must be guided by hard data and evidence, not by gut feeling. All the actual evidence shows that the fundamentalist wave is receding, and has been for at least a decade. The increase in its militancy, hysteria, and even violence is a by-product of that, as I explained in the post.

31 August, 2010 05:17  
Blogger tnlib said...

I just so hope you're right but I'm getting pretty discouraged these days. I'm not big on polls or, frankly, the discrepancies in attendance numbers. But I do pay attention to things like the Koch brothers financing the buses and hotel rooms for those deluded fools to gather around the new messiah. What else have they financed?

Good post.

31 August, 2010 08:08  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Polls in general do have a track record of correctly predicting election results in a large majority of cases. Political campaigns spend millions on polls -- they wouldn't do that if they weren't providing valid information.

31 August, 2010 09:17  
Blogger tnlib said...

That may be, but they've been off base many times -

31 August, 2010 09:29  
Blogger tnlib said...

Left here only to find an interesting comment that Ron Chusid made after his own post.

"No, the Gallup poll means little. It has been fluctuating wildly every time, suggesting limited reliability. In addition, similar polls which break it down by region show that the Republicans lead nationally because of a huge lead in the south but Democrats still lead in most of the country."


31 August, 2010 10:16  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Polls in general depict public opinion fairly accurately as verified by subsequent election results, even if there are some outliers -- also, note that Chusid is interpreting a national poll in the light of more detailed local polls.

31 August, 2010 16:30  
Blogger SJ said...

How's the saying go?
I have no problem with God,
religion on the other hand...

31 August, 2010 19:40  
Blogger Ahab said...

I agree that changing the minds of theocrats is not what success will look like. Rather, success on our parts will manifest as solid church-state separation, equal rights for the LGBT community, equal rights for women, sound science teaching in schools, and saner public discourse. Progress will come if we work for it (I hope).

31 August, 2010 20:21  
Anonymous Tim said...

Good perspective. I often times feel I'm sort of preaching to the choir.
I care not what people believe in as far as comfort for themselves. Hell believe in a juniper bush if it makes you feel better. I just want that"Bush" believer telling me I should. Tnlib touched on something I'm in the middle of, writing about the Koch brothers. A small note here,daddy Koch was a founder of the John Birch Society of the 50s. That evolved into the teaparty movement which is funded by Koch. As always,follow the money.

01 September, 2010 01:23  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

SJ: True enough. God, being imaginary, can harm no one. Those who believe God is telling them to do things, on the other hand.....

Ahab: Sounds like a good program. We can't convert all the theocrats, at least not in the immediate future, but the crazier (and fewer in numbers) they get, the easier it will be to isolate them and keep them out of public policy.

Tim: TN-Lib did a historical series on the JBS on her blog a few months ago -- well worth looking up if you didn't see it at the time.

01 September, 2010 03:30  
Anonymous NickM said...

My experience of the USA is mainly the SE from the mid-90s. The "Christian Right" were on the slide then. Yes, even in Georgia.

Just before I clicked over here I by chance found this:


It's old but I think it's still relevant.

01 September, 2010 07:03  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nick: I had the impression they were declining even as far back as the late 90s. What revitalized them was the election of Bush (despite the fact that he failed to win the popular vote). They felt they had an ally in power and things were going to move their way after all. Another reason why the Republicans' drubbing in 2006 and 2008 knocked them for a loop.

01 September, 2010 08:37  

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