Here's another rant by Andrew Foster Altschul, a soon to be published novelist who does not happen to have a password to blog on the Huffington Post. I tried to get him an account but Arianna threatened to dock me two days pay if I kept bugging her about it, so I let it slide.
The One Who Brung You
I'm trying not to take too much pleasure in watching George W. Bush get fried by the Christian right for not being Christian enough. I'm trying not to gloat, or revel in the pain of my enemy. That wouldn't be Christian.
Not that anyone on the Christian right really cares much about acting Christian. Their religion, whatever you might call it, is more focused on word than deed, on obedience than tolerance, on the silly Shibboleths they invent than on faith, compassion, or cooperation. Receiving - obedience, faith-based funds, Supreme Court nominations, a holy war in Iraq - is to them much more important than giving.
"The president of the United States, we thought, is one of us," laments William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, excoriating W. because the White House greeting card - though it quotes the New Testament - wishes its 1.4 million recipients a "happy holiday season" rather than a Merry Christmas. "He's sending the wrong message," says Donohue.
"I threw out my White House card as soon as I got it," writes Joseph Farah, the microcephalic editor of WorldNetDaily.com, who calls the greeting card "junk mail" and "terribly insensitive to Christians."
Insensitive? In what way is it insensitive? How can it be insensitive to acknowledge that Christmas is not the only holiday celebrated at this time of year? How can it be insensitive to include everyone - Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, whatever - in the president's wishes?
"Certainly President and Mrs. Bush, because of their faith, celebrate Christmas," said Susan Whitson, the First Lady's press secretary. "Their cards in recent years have included best wishes for a holiday season, rather than Christmas wishes, because they are sent to people of all faiths."
May I be forgiven for saying it, but the White House is exactly right.
There is only one possible logic behind the claims of insensitivity, behind Fox News' John Gibson's hysterical clucking about a "War on Christmas" and Bill O'Reilly's gangsterish calls for shoppers to avoid department stores that don't explicitly refer to Christmas in their holiday promotions. That's the logic (and yes, I use the term loosely) that says that everyone must acknowledge, accept, and adopt the fundamentalist Christian worldview, at every moment that the fundamentalist Christians want them to. Farah, Donohue, and the other mental midgets - whose jihad also includes bullying public schools to call it "Christmas vacation" rather than "winter break" - presumably can't dispute that there are other winter holidays, that some Americans aren't interested in observing the birth of Jesus, or that "secularists, so-called humanists, trial lawyers, cultural relativists and liberal, guilt-wracked Christians," as Gibson labels them, might feel more inclined to a group hug than a secret handshake. They know this, they just don't care. What is important here is that the superiority and dominance of their worldview be knelt before, its ring kissed, that even those who believe something different mouth the words of their beliefs because, after all, as John Ashcroft famously put it, "In America we have no king but Jesus."
Are Gibson and co. worried that Christians won't remember that it's Christmas if they aren't explicitly reminded? (Hanukkah happens to begin on December 25 this year - maybe some people will get confused and light a menorah instead of a tree...) Are they worried that unless the word itself is typed out and copied 1.4 million times, their prayers and their worship will be rendered meaningless? Could the Bible warriors' faith be so insecure?
No. There is nothing whatsoever at stake in the wording of the White House card, or the name of a school vacation, except the fanatics' ability to grind beneath their bootheels anyone who believes differently, to compel conformity with their official version of reality.
This is not piety, or even fundamentalism, and it sure isn't Christian. This is Totalitarianism.
We've seen this coming for some time. We could see it when Dr. Bill Frist looked at a videotape of Terri Schiavo and overruled the hundreds of specialists who had tended to her over the years, and when Jeb, Tom DeLay, and W. himself attempted to overrule the Florida Supreme Court and force her continued suffering.
We saw it when the Harriet Miers nomination was trampled by Sam Brownback and other simpletons who just couldn't be convinced that her Christianity was the right kind.
We see it in the travesty of "Intelligent Design," which insists that the rest of the world change its definition of "science" to accommodate the teaching of Christianity in biology classes, despite the globally unanimous view that ID does not even speak in the language of science; and in the sputtering vindictiveness of Pat Robertson, when residents of Dover, PA resisted: "If there is a disaster in your area," said Robertson, who apparently manages God's disaster-relief calendar, "don't turn to God."
We see it in the criminal negligence of pharmacists refusing to fill birth control prescriptions and the push for "conscience clauses" in state law that would allow them to put their religious beliefs before doctors' orders. If this succeeds, what's to stop the radical right from insisting on exemptions for public school teachers who claim it's against their conscience to teach black kids how to read? Or for hospitals which refuse to treat homosexuals, because AIDS is God's punishment? Maybe the lady at the DMV should have the right not to renew my driver's license, because I'm a Jew and am likely to drive on the Sabbath.
The solutions to all these issues are not complex: If you want to celebrate Christmas, celebrate it. If you want the Biblical creation story taught, put it in a religion or literature class. If it's against your conscience to dispense contraception, don't be a pharmacist. But no, in the United States of Christ that the Totalitarians believe in, it is we who must accommodate them, always, and there can be no laws, no scientific principles, no professional ethics, no common sense outside of what they proclaim them to be. In their America, there is no king but Jesus.
I've said before that I don't believe George W. Bush, in his heart, is a religious fanatic. Nevertheless, he deserves much of the blame. By kowtowing to the Christian right for five years, he's taught them to expect subservience. By mouthing their code words in his speeches, he has given them a taste of a government that speaks for them, in their language. And by ignoring dissent, tampering with the media, punishing disagreement, and resolutely lying in the face of evidence, he has paved the way for the rule of illusion and propaganda, ideology and spectacle and faith-based reality, all safeguarded by the iron fist. In a word: Totalitarianism.
So I can't feel too much pity, now that he's being stretched on the rack of his erstwhile business partners. Call it karma, or call it Judgment Day, George: You gotta dance with the one who brung you.
- Andrew Foster Altschul