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April 30, 2005

Go ahead. Force me to make a choice.

Balloon Juice reports on overt proselytizing by evangelical instructors at the United States Air Force Academy. Can you imagine for a moment what the reaction would be if it had been reported this was islamist proselytizing? What in heaven's name is wrong with us that the evangelical version of absolute religious truth should be naturalized in this context? This sort of behaviour is why many of us who have supported the fight against fascist theocracies abroad are worried about its strident counterpart at home in the democratic West. Yes, there is a difference between Islamic fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism: the latter have not achieved their aim of taking power. And it is only sensible to believe we should do everything in our power to prevent that from happening.

I do not know how many times I have been told by otherwise sensible people that gay marriage is unimportant and that I am wrong to be worried by the populism and the pandering that is the new face of conservatism in the United States and Canada. I am sick of being chastised for drawing attention to the would be theocrats among my fellow Christians when those doing the chastising so evidently believe their own freedoms are not at risk. But I suppose it seems a small thing to trade away someone else's liberty. They are wrong and they should know better.

Not that there is any surprise in citizens of Western democracies looking the other way when someone else's rights are at stake. After all, that is what we have all been doing in our trade with mainland China and our military support for the Saudis and every other compromise of someone else's freedom in the name of national sovereignty or convenience or utter indifference. When we discount the freedom of others it is all too easy to forget to safeguard our own. Look at photos of public life in Iran or Afghanistan before the mullahs came to power and understand there is nothing natural, nothing inevitable about the freedoms we enjoy here. They can be taken away. There are people whose religious ideology is such that they think of nothing but taking our freedoms away. Most Canadians, thank God, seem to share my concerns.

I am particularly dismayed by the people who want to pooh-pooh these groups, claiming they are just a fringe element that should be ignored. Many want us to believe that all of these groups are individual actors- even people like Jay, who can clearly recognize the political ties between George Soros, Media Matters, America Coming Together, etc., but wants to pretend there is not a coordinated effort to impose a specific brand of Christianity on everyone.

Andrew Sullivan is sometimes over the top in his rhetoric, but he has an excuse- he is homosexual. They are gunning for him, first. You and I are phase two. We ignore these folks and abandon Andrew at our own peril, and if we do not confront these people, you can kiss goodbye the coalition that has swept Republicans into power.

When faced with a choice of this loose-knit coalition of frauds, bigots, hucksters, and letting the 'evil' loony left in charge, well, suddenly MoveOn doesn't seem that damned scary anymore, particularly when you consider how marginalized the Cynthia McKinney crowd is. They may tax the hell out of me and leave us with an impotent foriegn policy, but I can count on them staying out of my bedroom, my science classes, my pharmacy, my marriage, and my Doctor's office.

Go ahead- force me to make a choice.

Update: A comment at Balloon Juice asks a question:

"If you are secure in your own beliefs why should it matter what someone else says about religion?"

I am utterly certain of my religious beliefs. My certainty arises from being born again, saved by Grace. I know what I believe is true. It is precisely because of the certainty of my convictions that I find it so offensive that government officials should attempt to impose their erroneous beliefs upon me. Christians used to be thrown to the lions to avoid just this fate. What on earth makes you believe it is appropriate for us to endorse such an imposition in a Western democracy?

Update: The snark has started for this post. All I can say is that if it isn't your marriage the government is planning to negate then you have nothing to say. If you are gay, a resident of one of the seven Canadian provinces (plus one territory) where you currently have the hard won right to marry and think the separate-but-equal apartheid solution on offer from the Conservatives is just dandy then I will be curious to hear from you. Otherwise, it is not your right to give away. Something I have learned from publishing the Flea is that there are people who will scream bloody murder if I deny them the "right" to leave a comment at my blog but who don't blink an eye at disordering the life and dignity of their fellow citizens. What on earth can I say to a display of such staggering self-absorption? It beggars description. Are some people empathically retarded? Or do they share a sneaking satisfaction to see lives turned upside down? I have more respect for the fundamentalists because they - at least in theory - are trying to save souls.* For the rest who think this is a joke because they might miss out on a tax cut... feel free to read something else. I can only pray people care more for your fate when it is your basic rights on the line. I will still be here to write in your defense but I will not forget where you stood when you had the choice to defend people weaker than yourself. Not only that, I am going to remember where you stood once, as it will, the Conservative party belatedly comes to its senses. There are going to be plenty of revisionist personal histories on offer come that day. But I will not forget. History both ancient and contemporary offers many examples of just such indifference so I cannot say I am surprised. Only disappointed.

*And the people who think the government should not claim the right to "marry" anybody. But how much can I work into one paragraph? After all, same-sex marriage is not even gay marriage. There are plenty of folks out there who are bi or do not base their identity on their sexual orientation or who have yet to figure out what they want. Heck, there are a large majority of folks who will never want to marry someone of the same sex or who may decide never to marry at all. Their choice as free adults is still to be taken away for no good reason at all. This is not an acceptable alternative to the criminal enterprise running our country. It is not a conservative alternative but a radical, factional position that seeks to impose itself at a moment when the country is weakened by corruption and resurgent separatism. We need better but I am beginning to fear we do not deserve better.

Update: Good question (via INDC Journal)

When ever anybody told me that schoolchildren should be led in prayer in the classroom, I would agree, and say the children should face Mecca and pray, but could the school system afford the cost of the prayer mats? Almost always got a reaction.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at April 30, 2005 02:22 PM

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*** Do people this uptight really exist? Thanks for the reminder, Bill. *** In between posts featuring her characteristic understated yet withering sarcasm, Florida Cracker is dishing out the earnest schmaltz lately. I'm not complaining. *** Don't forg... [Read More]

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Tracked on May 3, 2005 12:57 AM


Furthermore, many of the same faith that would impose it through the state believe it is up to God and the individual as to when the individual will have the triggering experience of faith. How can this key act of free will be evoked through the state? Protestant jesuits is supposed to be an oxymoron.

Posted by: Alan [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 1, 2005 08:09 AM

Well, now. This is something entirely new.
I've spent my time in and have many relatives in the armed forces [enlisted and officer], but never have I heard even vaguely of anything similar to these sorts of sectarian impositions.
And it is an imposition more than anything else, I'm sure. I would have a much greater sense of forboding if I were to hear reports of harassment or career threats, bias in evaluations & the like. So far, I'm not seeing that- but I'll certainly keep an eye upon it.
Something in the air these days.

Posted by: urthshu [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 1, 2005 12:00 PM

Flea, I've a few things to say about judicial activism -- watch for a post on my blog in a day or two. (Have made a hypothetical with a much different focus -- property rights. :-))

I'll just say that I'm a lot more skeptical about shadows and penumbras and newly discovered constitutional rights than you and Andrew Sullivan seem to be, even though I like the end results right now. And so, on procedural and institutional grounds, I'm rather disturbed at the methods the judiciary is using. And that being so, I find the level of outrage people are hitting to be... well, not something I can share. Not yet.

Posted by: Ben [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 2, 2005 01:08 AM

Yes, there is a difference between Islamic fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism: the latter have not achieved their aim of taking power.

Sorry, Nick, but that's unworthy of you. I think it was Ross Douthat of The American Scene who pointed out a few weeks back that even if the religious Right were to achieve all its goals, the clock would be turned all the way back to...well, the 1950s. The Christian "Dominionists" (as I believe they are called) might desire to see something like Levitical law imposed in the United States, but they have far less influence on American policy than, say, the Green party.

Now: the 1950s may not be a time to which any of us would want to return, but to claim that Ozzy and Harriet = Taliban doesn't pass the horselaugh test. To put it mildly.

I have some experience in these matters, as I grew up in an exceedingly fundamentalist environment. I know quite well what makes these people tick.

And Wahabbists they ain't.

Posted by: Anthony Perez-Miller [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 2, 2005 01:59 AM

To clarify: I'm not saying that the religious Right has negligible influence, only that the likes of the Dominionists, who might—might—be analogous to Islamists, are indeed a fringe element. And that they will remain so.

Posted by: Anthony Perez-Miller [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 2, 2005 02:08 AM

Ben: And I find no shadows and penumbras in the courts doing their appointed duties either in the United States or Canada no matter how much people on the right would demonize them for reaching decisions that are not lock-step with Levitical law. It is no shadowy threat to people's marriages that is on offer in the Conservative party platform. If you think it is a reasonable position to support gay marriage - as you have often written - and support the CPC platform but do not like the way this has been reached through the courts then you have your own party to blame as much as Liberal prevarication. The Conservatives spent ages hectoring the courts for producing phantom rights - a trope that I see has yet to die - and insisting on the sovereignty of Parliament yet when C-38 has been put to the test the same Conservatives have used every procedural trick to avoid an up or down vote. Parliament's will is sovereign, it would seem, only when it is in lock-step agreement with Levitical law. Or rather the bits of it that suit current prejudice. But then that is the real agenda of the clique that has taken control of the Conservative party and it has nothing to do with the courts or Parliament but a convenient rhetoric.

Let me be absolutely clear on this point. I know this is not a rhetoric of convenience on your part. I simply believe you have misread the situation. This is, of course, why we have reached different decisions about whom to support. If I read Stephen Harper's intentions as you do then I would be reaching broadly the same conclusions. I pray you that in the event of a Conservative majority (not likely) that you are right and my concerns have been mistaken.

Anthony: I will be the judge of what is "worthy" of me. That includes my honest assessment of the dangers we face whether or not you have an honest disagreement with it. I will thank you for continuing to make your disagreements known without telling me what opinions I hold are worthy of some idea of who you imagine me to be. Perhaps I am stupider than you give me credit but it would be best to let me get on with it rather than making a disagreement a matter of my honour. On that latter point I do not have a reasonable bone in my body. As for the Taliban: gay men were imprisoned in Canada in the 1950s. If that is truly the era the to which the "religious Right" wishes to return then my point has not been made forcefully enough.

Once again, I welcome the opinions of people whose marriages are being threatened or, in the case of Alberta and elsewhere, continue to be denied entirely. I would also welcome the insight of people in "traditional" marriages on the prospect of a government that would overturn the Charter to annul the legal standing of your relationship. We have plenty of historical precedents - including in my own Quaker tradition at the hands of some of my Anglican ancestors - of some marriages having no standing in law and with that injustice all the horrors of separation from children and property. And once again, if you think that future is not possible here then we are one step too close to its becoming a reality. I understand my talk here is alarmist because chances are your marriages are safe. The marriages of many of your fellow citizens are not and the very idea should make conservatives boil over with outrage.

I am delighted to see the United States Air Force is taking the situation at the Academy seriously. I believe it is an attitude representative of what I regard as the genuine core of conservatism: honour, duty and the defense of justice. I shall continue to do my level best to articulate those values here. Also, pop music.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 2, 2005 07:03 AM

One point to dispell. When the legislatures of 1980's Canada agreed to grant the judiciary the power to find analogous grounds under the Charter, the fact that the judiciary finds analogous grounds under the Charter is not activism - it is the courts doing what the legislature told them to do. It boils down to a transfer of the dirty work the legislatures were too gutless to do and conservatives (who signed on at the time) are hypocrites for boo-hooing now about the process and the result that they signed up for. If you have issue with that blame Loughheed and Davis, the co-conspirators in this crime.

Posted by: Alan [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 2, 2005 07:57 AM

To second Alan's point. The Conservatives are not alone in their hypocrisy. The federal Liberals hoped the courts would make the decisions Parliament should have made just as much as their Conservative counterparts in Ontario before them. And lest Mike Harris stand alone I want to remind everyone of the stunning spinelessness of our last provincial NDP government in Ontario over Bill 167. The only reason I am even considering a vote for the NDP in this coming election is that it would be the federal and not the provincial party I would be supporting.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 2, 2005 08:59 AM


My intent was not to impugn your honor, and I apologize for implying as much.

On my own point of honor, however, the religious Right against which you so firmly object includes still includes many members of my own family. I could not allow what I (still) regard as an egregious slur to stand unchallenged, especially coming from someone who I do respect.

And yes, I mean that last bit as a compliment. No penumbras there.

Posted by: Anthony Perez-Miller [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 2, 2005 11:34 AM

I had so hoped there might be a independent Monster Raving Loonie on the ticket for you, Nick.

Posted by: Alan [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 2, 2005 11:42 AM

It is amusing to realize how much heat we take for saying the CPC should be on the side of extending equal rights to all Canadians.

Or, to be more exact, for saying that we will not vote for a party which proposes to curtail rights already extended.

Harper's struggles in the polls - when he should be walking away from the flailing, corrupt Liberal Party - partially reflect the fact that the CPC's stand demanding the creation of second class Canadians ensures large numbers of socially moderate voters are simply going to stay home this election...or vote Green.

Morally and legally the Tory position on SSM is indefensible, politically it is asinine.

Posted by: Jay Currie [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 2, 2005 01:14 PM

I can't take that list very seriously. A chaplain encouraging people to go to church is doing his job, & a general endorsing Natl Prayer Week is not establishing a state religion. When I was in boot camp, they bent over backwards to let us go to whatever service we wanted to on Sunday. I'm not sure about Jewish grunts, but I wouldn't find it shocking if the military couldn't fit 2 days of worship into the schedule for boot camp, which is a very intense, concentrated course to change the way people think from civilian to military.

Andrew Sullivan is a crackpot who seizes on any small town mayor who makes an anti-gay slur as evidence of a Vast Anti Gay Conspiracy. If anyone ever needed a punishing course of psychotherapy, it's Sullivan; maybe after he gets his own house in order, he'd feel less threatened by mythic right wing conspiracies. Polls have repeatedly shown that the same majority of Americans who disapprove of gay marriage are themselves tolerant of gays. As a homo myself, I don't buy the gay marriage argument, but believe in civil unions. And as we have lost the battle for gay marriage, gay activists would do well to refocus their energies more productively.

The Religious Right is to the Republicans as MoveOn is to the Dems. There's no danger of them taking over the party, only of hobbling the party so that the opposition can win. Hillary has a real chance in 2008, because the Republicans will be playing to the Religious Right in the primaries & so commit hari kari.

The Republicans took a huge PR blow with the Schiavo debacle. The public didn't like their grandstanding, their machinations, or their religious zealotry. And now you see the Republicans backpedaling. Deja vu to 1994, when Newt Gingrich came to Clinton's rescue. Social conservatives will always overplay their hand.

But the 'they're coming for us' arguments are silly. (Margaret Atwood's worst novel is far & away her hamfisted Handmaid's Tale, which reads like the whining of Reagan-era academic feminists, & as prophecy has proven to be nonsense. There's only one religion in the world that treats women the way Atwood's mythic evangelicals do, & it's the one religion she'd never dare write about. Ditto Joyce Carol Oates, who post Sept 11 announced she was working on a novel to explore that kind of blind hatred, but the villains in Tattooed Girl are not Islamonutters but neo-Nazis, because Oates teaches at Princeton & wouldn't dare write about militant Islam)

Posted by: beautifulatrocities [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 2, 2005 01:34 PM

Jeff: It is the Air Force itself that is investigating the matter. I think the examples cited merit at least as much concern as the excesses at, for example, Columbia or Concordia pointed to regularly at LGF. As a Balloon Juice commenter put the following imaginary example of equivalent behaviour at a public university:

"Yep. Isn't it horrible how they schedule finals on Christmas and Easter?! Don't you hate it when a prof. insists everyone recite a brief statement denying the existence of God before an exam? Or worse, before mandatory meals? Or when the official university newsletter publishes a Winter Holiday greeting with numerous faculty announcing their belief that atheism is the only hope of the world, and to contact them if you want to talk?"

I teach at a publicly funded university. My feeling is that it is not only possible for me to both oppose the kinds of excesses and duplicity you cite and the reported instances from the Air Force Academy. I believe it is necessary for me to oppose both.

As for civil unions... this is one place where the Canadian and American situations may not be strictly analogous. While the incremental approach for which you argue may be entirely reasonable south of the border our situation in Canada is quite different. Gay marriage is the law in most of the country. What we are faced with is a political party proposing to reverse the law and negate existing marriage laws by fiat. The only time I can think of existing rights being taken away in the United States would be under the Eighteenth Amendment.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 2, 2005 03:05 PM

I'm sure the charges will (& should) be investigated in today's PC military.

As for gay marriage in Canada, was it voted on or decided by judicial fiat? If the latter, then voters have a legitimate beef with it. Why not leave the issue to the voters? I support first trimester abortions, but think that issue too should be left to the voters, not the imperial courts

Posted by: beautifulatrocities [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 2, 2005 05:04 PM

Yea - let's have a referendum after each court ruling. So practical...no I'm sorry, I mean stunned. There has never been a democratic society without an independent judiciary using its full powers throughout its jurisdiction and constitutional review was granted to our SUpreme Court by the legislatures. Suck it up. But if you want to experiment with some wacked new order, try on someone else's country, please. Legoland might be a good start.

Posted by: Alan [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 2, 2005 05:40 PM

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