Monthly Archives: January 2011
On a beautiful, unseasonably warm day in Madison Square Park this past Fall, while trying to detach myself from the world by catching up on some reading, I was approached by young girl who couldn’t have been more than 16 years old. She tactfully lowered my insular New York City defenses with a polite smile, and asked me if it would be O.K. if she asked me a question. Without letting on that she had, in fact, already asked me a question, but fearing that she might be lost, I acquiesced only to have her hand me a pamphlet and ask me “If I’d found Jesus”? Indeed, she was lost.
Having lived in, and around NYC for my entire life, I have seen many cults disguise themselves as (among other faiths) Christianity. One cannot walk through the tunnel that connects the Port Authority and Times Square without being inundated with cult volunteers who collect money from sensibly susceptible passer-bys for some feckless ringleader with a dynamic, albeit unscrupulous personality. Somehow cult leaders tragically manage to convince their misguided flock that righteousness and dedication to the “cause” will one day be rewarded.
Likewise, I was saddened when confronted with this fearful, vulnerable young girl who was also being emotionally victimized by a ruthless, profiteering ideologue. To me, this type of predatory exploitation is beyond contempt. However realizing that since I was a complete stranger, even a rational dialogue about her pamphlet would most probably be met with scornful distrust. So I smiled back, thanked her, and suggested she read the bible and not take anyone else’s word for it’s content. After all, that’s how I began my journey into Atheism. Beyond that, nothing I said could possibly undo the psychological damage that has already been done to this poor kid.
As she meandered through the park handing pamphlets to anyone willing to engage in conversation, I watched with the concern of a Father who has a daughter around her age… and I sat heartbroken.
But I have come to learn that not all cults are strictly about “religion”, at least not as we have come to think of it. Many of us are more gullible than we’d like to believe. Sometimes cults are cleverly disguised as something else. The differences between someone shaving their heads, donning a robe and selling flowers on a street corner and someone who waddles through Walmart regurgitating cable news catch phrases is not as distinctive of a line as one might think. Being the subjective creatures that we humans are, cult members don’t always recognize when they have been sucked in. Like this pamphlet touting young girl, many of us are naive, and helping someone become wealthy by reciting what we’re told.
Such is the case with the Tea Party.
Would-be patriots across America are having their justifiable anxiety exploited by dynamic, verbally lyrical political televangelists. What was once a bi-partisan, grass roots gathering of citizens voicing concerns over the size of government, and taxes …has become a cult-like collection of fundamentalist Christian revisionist historians. Like cult leaders before them, fear is the oxygen which feeds the Tea Party fire.
To be fair, it was not always this way. The “Ron Paul” Tea Partiers — who tended to employ a more rational approach to social and fiscal policy — have all but evaporated back into the GOP from whence they came. While the “Sarah Palin” Tea Party has emerged as a national force by using acrimonious rhetoric, acerbic hyperbole, and evangelical indignation in order to create a frenzy of vitriolic cultists. Nevermind that the Tea Party is now short on substantive solutions, and long on apocalyptic, factually challenged narratives… the easily coerced have found a cult which makes them feel safe. And while the “Hell Fire and Brimstone” approach to public speaking is an age old practice, the Tea Party has put a new spin on it… the end is approaching because your liberal fellow Americans are the enemy.
…and by enemy, the Tea Party does not mean just America’s enemy, but God’s as well.
It is a dangerously combustible combination of God and country. Wrapping themselves in “Old Glory”, the Tea Party are creating a “New Glory” which revolves around a less than factual historical perspective in which Jesus co-wrote the Constitution with our Fundamentalist Christian Founding Fathers. Like any cultists, Tea Partiers believe what they want to believe. Like any other cultists, they have become the vehicle by which their leaders profit.
Self righteous indignation allows the Tea Party to rationalize a revisionist Jesus, and his right wing politics. But like the predatory opportunists who coerce 16 year olds to ask for donations in a city park, this brand of Tea Partiers are Christians in name only. But the “Tea Party message” is not what the Tea Party is truly about anymore. As it is with any cult, the leaders are in it for profit, and the flock just wants to be a part of a ‘family”. It’s a perfect synergy of self promotional, morally bankrupt, capitalist pontiffs, and people seeking a socially acceptable venue to vent pious ignorance.
The list of biblical and constitutional contradictions in the Tea Party platform are, in fact, staggering. It’s a brilliant, albeit dishonest way to use the first amendment to circumvent our political process in order to make a profit. The truth is we will never know if Rev. Jim Jones actually believed whether or not he was a messiah … just as we will never know how or why Glenn Beck connects the “Nazi dots” in his head. A cult leader’s sincerity is incidental to the amount of lives which they negatively effect, and the amount of blood money they accumulate.
This much is clear: The industry of fear is grinding on. Irrational infighting among our fellow Americans at the urgency of the Tea party — while it might make us feel as if we have some control over our lives — actually puts that control in the hands of Tea Party politi-vangelists. Forsaking independent thought in order to regurgitate socio/political platitudes might make a Tea Partier feel righteous, but in reality it accomplishes just the opposite. It makes Tea Party members essentially the same as any other cult members… gullible, and easily led.
Americans with varying political views may, or may not be wrong on certain issues, but our biggest enemy is how we respond to our own fear, not each other. If you believe that cult is too strong of a word to describe the Tea Party, then visit this site to which I have NO affiliation: http://www.howcultswork.com/ …and judge for yourself whether or not it applies.
It is human nature to gravitate towards venues which advocate our predispositions.
As Americans cultivate their views about morality, religion, politics and the social sciences, it becomes incumbent on the intellectually ill-equipped to seek out media that will support their uninformed suppositions. All but few Americans have relegated themselves to reciting inane platitudes, and regurgitating other people’s insipid blather so as to affirm an intellect they do not possess. As the sensibly susceptible align themselves with one political party or the other — not to mention the accompanying cable news networks — they’ll eventually learn “a few things about a few things”. And in their severely limited scopes they’ll feel as if they now have the solutions to the Nation’s problems locked away in their tragically under-developed frontal lobes. The payoff for this, is a simple rationalization that their collective bias’ is actually socially discerning politics, and feigned relevancy.
So we Americans venture forth into the intellectual abyss, clinging to misrepresentations which comfort us. We’ll adhere to the social dogma that our political affiliations mandate, while disregarding other — sometimes valid — interpretations which might refute their affirmations. We’ll wrap ourselves in the security blanket of denial… insulating ourselves from the cold, hard truth that most of us are simply too emotionally immature to be candidly introspective, let alone honest with ourselves. All too often, we’ll pick and choose our “truths” based –not on facts — but on what we *want* to be true.
The real truth is that we believe the lies we want to hear.
However, selective fact gathering can neither provide truth, nor wisdom. As John Adams so astutely affirmed, “Facts are stubborn things”… When seeking truth one cannot begin with a conclusion, and gather facts to support it. That is not how valid resolutions are made. We must go where facts lead us, and make our determinations thusly. Even if they are uncomfortable, or contradictory to what we’ve always been led to believe. We simply cannot choose what is true, and what is not. The only thing we can choose, is which side of the political aisle we want to affiliate ourselves with based on whether the Left, or the Right’s version of the truth best suits our own astigmatic — if not bigoted– presumptions.
Which brings us to the recent shootings in Tucson, and how they have sparked passionate dialogue, and finger pointing around the country. It seems that anyone with a platform, and an opinion about any socio/political issues peripheral to these shootings has taken this opportunity to prattle on about “who” they believe is responsible for “what”. The vitriol between the Liberal Left, and the Conservative Right has been brought into the spotlight and portrayed as particularly villainous, even if not specifically about this particular set of circumstances. Still, the brainwashed constituents of both parties continue to laughably place blame on one another as being the source of this toxicity, and the reason that the political landscape now resembles “reality” television rather than the beacon of democracy that we’ve always been able to boast… The practice of the irresponsible, self serving leveling of accusations has become an American political institution, as has an utter lack of accountability… or tether to reason.
Similar to how America handles every other crisis, where is concerns the Tucson shootings, we are reactionary. As we did with the “underwear bomber”, we wait for something to happen, and then respond irrationally. In this instance, rather than fondling citizen’s genitals to ensure their safety, there are those both in politics and in the media who have capitalized on the National heartbreak over these senseless shootings… and who are actually suggesting that we legislate censoring symbols, metaphors, and the way we talk about one another.
They are responding to the problem of acerbic rhetoric, with politically correct rhetoric. While it might seem admirable to ask those in the national spotlight to choose their words more carefully, “dial back” the acrimony, or to avoid needlessly antagonistic contention, that is something that must occur organically if it ever hopes to last into the next news cycle. Even if they were to ban certain words from the National dialogue, that won’t change anyone’s true feelings, or the intent behind the words they *are* permitted to use. If history teaches us anything, it’s that it is impossible –not to mention prolifically stupid– to even try to legislate how people feel.
It would be like putting a coat of paint on a rusty car.
When we seek politically correct solutions — especially when it comes to language — it inherently motivated by political grandstanding, and it always comes at the expense of the truth. If there is legitimate animus between political rivals it needs to be expressed, and in their own chosen verbiage. If an emotional response is honest, and one feels it, they should be able to say it. That is how we can determine who we vote for, or even watch on television. But the operatives here are “legitimate, and “honest”… not “animus”.
Whenever I see high profile Liberals and Conservatives debate one another, it has always been my contention that as long as they critique the other, their arguments will remain substantially convincing. Indeed, there is so much perfidy within both Left and Right politics that there is a virtual bottomless pit of ideological assault points. But it is when the political apologists try to defend their own parties abhorrent disregard for both civility, and reason that the perfidiousness of their agendas become clear.
So the problem has become, “How do we manage ideological differences of opinion which will contribute to the Democratic process rather than hinder it, while not infringing on anyone’s First Amendment rights, let alone their honest expression?”
It is not altering language or symbols that we need… nor do we need to re-examine the First Amendment. It is not censorship we require, but rather journalistic, and political INTEGRITY. When the Founders wrote the First Amendment, they did so with an understanding of the necessity of having independent press in a free society. They recognized that even setting up three branches of government wasn’t enough to ensure that corruption wouldn’t find a way to creep back into men’s souls, and that we required a system whereby the citizenry would have credible advocates working on their behalf, and reporting on the activities of the politicians whom we elect.
That sacred trust has since been betrayed. Journalism is all but vanished from the American landscape, and what we have left are editorialists shilling for politicians, and their respective lobbies. This is what now passes for news… and the cerebrally bankrupt — albeit frightened — proletariat rush to choose sides, ignorant of the fact that the people they have put their trust in have no credibility.
The malicious bombast which has grinded our legislative process to a virtual halt exists because Left and the Right continue to police one another’s language, and speculate on how they perceive each other’s intentions. That can’t work, because of the source of the criticism. All that will accomplish is to further the divide between otherwise (potentially) conciliatory differences of opinion. In order to create a more civil public discourse, we need to require more from those who steer public opinion.
We must require that both Democrats and Republicans demonstrate integrity, and chastise the fringe elements of their own respective parties, not the others. Rather than placating incendiary, irrational, and purposely deceptive hyperbole when it comes from someone with whom they allegedly align, both pundits and politicians need to behave like the adults in the room, and not excuse the failings of *anyone’s* illogical ravings, regardless of party affiliation. This problem is much less about what we say of one another, but what we fail to admit about ourselves. The lunatic fringe would be far less powerful if their own parties called them out when they are behaving irrationally.
The more reasonable method of addressing the toxic political environment is not to seek censorship over what we say about one another, but rather to cease censoring ourselves when it comes to what we say about the extremists within our own respective parties. Perhaps then, we can go back to being Democrats and Republicans — and moreover, Americans — instead nation of the bitter, warring Liberals and Conservatives that we have become.
This article is dedicated to those who have the capacity to think critically… especially congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Please get better soon, Ms. Giffords.