In today’s ScreedBlog, James Lileks writes of those impute ‘religious fascism’ to American Christians:
It’s curious that this word should re-enter domestic politics at the same time we are not only fighting actual religious fascists, but are embroiled in a controversy over the mistreatment of the tome they regard as their instruction manual.
It may be curious, but it is far from surprising. Surely this is a textbook case of psychological displacement. As Psych Central puts it (with a name like that, they ought to know), displacement refers to “an unconscious defence mechanism, whereby the mind redirects emotion from a ‘dangerous’ object to a ‘safe’ object. For instance, some people punch cushions when angry at friends.” Indeed they do, and I know someone who used to smash burned-out lightbulbs on the bathroom floor and then carefully clean up the bits: she found it helped her equanimity if she took out her hostilities on a worthless inanimate object now and then. Some children feel more comfortable worrying about a monster lurking under the bed or an evil monkey who lives in the closet than an alcoholic mother or brutal step-father. And many Americans (and even more Europeans) feel more comfortable pretending that they are in grave danger from ‘religious fascists’ who will at worst reduce their access (oh no!) to pornography and liquor, or try to make their children (eek!) pledge allegiance to the flag in school, or even (the horror! the horror!) refuse to lower their tax rates when they marry someone of the same gender, all while actual religious fascists are trying to kill or enslave them and all their descendants.
Some displacements are more harmful than others. Punching a pillow instead of a friend is generally a very good idea. Redirecting childhood fears about grownups over whom you have no control onto imaginary horrors may conceivably be the best available option until you are old enough to move out of the house. But making enemies of Christians who will at worst inconvenience or annoy you, and who are your allies against the Muslims who are trying to kill you, is shortsighted, stupid, and deeply immoral.
It’s not quite the same thing, but I am reminded of something A. E. Housman wrote, explaining why so many readers prefer to believe that the manuscripts of ancient authors are better than they are:
The average man, if he meddles with criticism at all, is a conservative critic. His opinions are determined not by his reason, — ‘the bulk of mankind’ says Swift, ‘is as well qualified for flying as for thinking,’ — but by his passions; and the faintest of all human passions is the love of truth. He believes that the text of ancient authors is generally sound, not because he has acquainted himself with the elements of the problem, but because he would feel uncomfortable if he did not believe it; just as he believes, on the same cogent evidence, that he is a fine follow, and that he will rise again from the dead.
(This is from Part IV of the preface to his edition of the first book of Manilius’ Astronomica, London, 1903, on line here.) Similarly, those who believe that Christians are more of a threat to their way of life than (some) Muslims believe that not because they have investigated the problem, but because they would feel uncomfortable if they did not believe it.
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