Clap Louder, You Swine!

Daniel over at Crooked Timber has a nice little post on the financial crisis and how, contrary to popular opinion, it wasn’t the result of stupid bankers banking stupidly, but from far more complex issues, as financial problems tend to be. As an aside, he linked to this article in the Spectator by Melanie Phillips, who blames the bankers (of course) but also casts the whole predicament in the frame of the culture war, so that it isn’t just the fault of an army of incompetent professionals infiltrating the highest echelons of the financial industry, but also the fault of all us atheists. Again. Our moral perfidity is so far reaching as to have touched even the sacred halls of the banking industry, which, until Richard Dawkins came along, was lily white and motivated purely by Christ’s injunction to take what thou hast and give it to the poor at an adjustable, 30 year rate with high yield dividends.[1]

Financial crisis? Moral lassitude? Clap louder! Because the refusal by 10% of the population of the western world to believe in the literal truth of bronze age shepherd myths brought down the 21st century banking industry. Nevermind how.[2] But wait! There’s more:

The link between all that and the US presidential election is – as Oliver himself acknowledges – the figure of Sarah Palin. It seems to me that the reason she has sparked such an unprecedented campaign of lies, smears, abuse and dangerously unhinged hatred (if you think that’s an exaggeration, just look at the readers’ posts on this very site) is because, as I wrote in the Mail on Monday, she stands against the tide of secular nihilism in the culture wars. Oliver and I dare say Hitchens (although I have not discussed this with him) may be shoulder to shoulder with me on foreign policy but they stand on the other side from me in the culture wars – what I see as nihilism, I suspect they view as progressive — and it is no coincidence that they both stand also for militant (or in Oliver’s case, rather less militant) atheism which they assume (falsely, in my view) is synonymous with rationality. Palin’s evangelical Christianity, and the moral and social positions that flow from that faith, would therefore strike them as beyond appalling. That’s why Oliver sees her as embodying

“anti-intellectualism, insularity, social intolerance and anti-rationalism.”

For me, by contrast, although the nature of her faith and the churches with which she has been associated certainly make me uneasy, they do not alarm me. That’s because I regard evangelicals as allies in the fight to defend authentic liberal, and thus moral, values which I believe are rooted in Judeo-Christian thinking.

If you think the Evangelicals are in any way allies with liberal Christians, then you have taken the express elevator to Cloud Cuckoo Land. One or two might be, sure. But they are outliers.

Sarah Palin is the beating heart of a nascent folk religion that is exclusively American. This folk religion doesn’t have a name yet, but is most often referred to as American Evangelicalism[3] and it bares about as much in common with mainline Christianity as Voodoo does with Catholicism. As in, they have a shared lineage but somewhere along the line, evolution had its way with a few true believers, who ran off and shed their scales in favor of feathers. It’s all very complicated, this evolution business.[4]

Due mostly to complex social issues,[5] American Evangelicalism has become wholly devoted to the prosperity doctrine, that creepy and altogether anti-Christian idea that God wants us all to be rich, tan and beautiful and we all can be if only we admire Saint Reagan and do away with the capitol gains tax. And abortion. And women’s rights. And minorities. Which is where all this gets creepy. But that’s not really the point. Philips doesn’t much care about the substance of Palin or any one else’s beliefs, just as long as they have them, loudly:

I don’t much care whether Palin believes in a hundred ridiculous things before breakfast — because what she stands for is a defence of bedrock western moral values against the nihilistic onslaught.

Oh, Nihilism! That’s right, I forget atheists don’t believe in fairy tales and hokum and are therefore dour, brooding, soulless beasts, ruled by animal desires. We also talk in fake German accents and listen to techno. But not this Sarah Palin! Some of the hundred ridiculous things she and other American Evangelicals believe in would drive the Pope to drink, but at least their beliefs are silly and geared towards traditional hierarchical power structures that should never, ever be challenged. atheists question authority and everyone knows that leads to hairy palms or, failing that, a second Great Depression. Either or.

Never mind that American Evangelicalism is militantly nationalistic, barely literate and obsessed with money in a way that would cause a street preacher to knock over a few tables in despair. It beats that mamby pamby multiculturalism. I mean, who has time to learn all those langauges or talk to people with funny names? And sure, morality is no longer a set of guiding principles, but a stick to beat people with for nonconformity. But different people are different!

These beliefs would be merely tragic but benign in your crazy uncle or some functionally retarded neighbor. Except it isn’t just rubes from Alaska who believe this bullshit, but a fair selection of our policy makers in Washington and on Wall Street at least feign belief in it enough to use it for their own ends.

And so greed is not just good, but Holy. America is exceptional and so doesn’t have to follow the rules. America is both a Christian nation led by pious and Godly men, and the land where Christians are an oppressed minority.[6] American Evangelicals have been given their cake and eaten it too and demanded more cake and get exceptionally irritated when you point out that hey, you just stole my cake and my sister’s pie and that guy’s muffins, you prick, cut it out.[7]

“But God told me during a meth binge that all the cake belonged to me! You don’t believe in God and think my drug-fueled hallucinations are a side effect of my unstable psychological make up and repressed existential fear? Well fuck you, Darwin! Your theory of evolution is dangerously deficient in angels, what do you say to that?”

But I’m sure you’re right, it’s really just us atheists refusing to go to Sunday School that is the cause of all this financial/moral mess and as soon as we all bow down to Saint Ron the Teflon-coated and his band of merry dingbats, it’ll all go away.

Maybe we should clap louder, too, just in case.

1. It’s right there in the Book of John, who as I’m sure you’re aware, was a tax collector and therefore concerned with how the teachings of Jesus would effect middle income, small business owners. Plumbers, mostly.

2. Blowjobs, probably. And abortions. Minni skirts contributed as well. And of course, Rock n’ Roll.

3. Also referred to by Fred at Slacktivist as Pre Melinial Dispensationalism, or PMD. He has pretty thoroughly examined the ins and outs of this nest of weirdos in his Left Behind critique. Highly entertaining and informative, and he’s one of those liberal evangelicals that Melanie Philips seems to think we’re just lousy with here in the US. If only.

4. But I’m sure if you ask Richard Dawkins, he’d explain it to you, slowly.

5. Think the Finical problem is hard to wrap your brain around? Try explaining to someone with a toddler’s understanding of the world how religious belief in general has been slowly on the downward curve for the last three centuries, ever since public literacy and education became a priority in civilized society. I take that back, it’s not really complicated, just ironic, since it was liberal ministers who started to teach people to read, under the notion that if people could read, they would read morally uplifting poetry and the Bible instead of, you know, something fun. Like pornography. Or that new pamphlet by the guy who says we don’t need kings or taxes any more. Changing social morals tend to move towards more freedom, not away from it. And people, if given the choice, would rather eat barbecue and take a nap then get up early and go to Church.

6. See, we are exceptional! Just not in a way that makes sense. But that’s OK, too! Sense is for those dirty atheists who like icky science and not being burned at the stake. Pussies.

7. I was going to go with, “the cake is a lie” here but really that would just be overkill.