10/15/2012 06:39 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

The Layers of The Onion

Satirical news outlet The Onion recently featured a piece with the headline "Gallup Poll: Rural Whites Prefer Ahmadinejad to Obama." The article explained how a majority (77 percent) of rural Caucasian voters would vote for globally disdained Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over U.S. president Barack Obama, based on the belief that Ahmadinejad "takes national defense seriously, and he'd never let some gay protestors tell him how to run his country like Obama does." There was also mention that 60 percent of rural whites "at least respected that Ahmadinejad doesn't try to hide the fact that he's Muslim." Totally absurd or outrageous-but-true? As is often the case with satire, it could go either way. Anyone familiar with The Onion would immediately realize that this is a tongue-in-cheek announcement of the fictional results of a nonexistent poll. However, Iran's Fars News Agency ran a word-for-word reprint of the article as a legitimate news item. Once the error was discovered, Fars removed the story from its site, with the explanation that it hadn't regarded the piece's content as so outlandish as to be unbelievable.

It's relatively easy to understand how Fars could be duped into assuming the Onion story was genuine. Satire, to be an effective form of constructive social criticism, has to be based on some truth, albeit exaggerated to the point of being ridiculous. When you take into account that most rural Caucasian voters identify as conservative Christian evangelicals, the actual premise of the Onion story isn't really all that far-fetched, particularly when it comes to gay rights. President Obama has been very supportive of gay rights and has been vocal about his belief in marriage equality. In 2007 President Ahmadinejad stated that there were no homosexuals in Iran. This sort of head-in-the-sand denial falls in line with the popular evangelical belief that homosexuality is a choice. If being gay is a choice, then homosexuality as a valid sexual orientation doesn't exist. Therefore, there are no actual homosexuals, just people who make bad choices. In Iran such people can be imprisoned and, in some extreme cases, put to death. Most recently, in an interview with Piers Morgan, Ahmadinejad referred to homosexuality as an "ugly behavior" that "ceases procreation" and compared it to thievery. We often hear from evangelicals that gay marriages shouldn't be legally recognized because gay couples can't procreate. After all, the only reason people should be allowed to get married, or even have sex, for that matter, is to produce offspring. And I can't count the number of times that I have heard evangelicals lump homosexuality into a laundry list of undesirable behaviors that also includes stealing, polygamy, murder, pedophilia, bestiality and incest. During the Piers Morgan interview, President Ahmadinejad also asserted that "proper education must be given" to quell homosexuality. This line of reason is akin to the evangelical belief that reparative therapy is a cure for homosexuality.

Imagine an America where the president is a radical Muslim socialist immigrant; the Bible is more esteemed than the Constitution; an education automatically makes you a snob; science is evil and climate change is completely natural; the poor, sick and elderly should fend for themselves; war is the answer to everything; homosexuality and abortion are the biggest threats to civilization; and prayer is the ultimate panacea. It's difficult for most of us to envision, but this is the world in which conservative evangelicals live. Truth really is stranger than fiction, and The Onion knows it.