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Thursday: June 16, 2005

Lileks on ‘Religious Fascism’

Filed under: — site admin @ 8:11 PM GMT-0500

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.


  1. 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.

    Perhaps, but from where I sit, literally, my likelihood of being savagely fucked by Jesus nuts is a lot greater than being killed by Islamic terrorists. Your mileage may vary according to circumstance of course, and it’s not to say that the odds on either are especially high, but I know which I’m more frightened of all told. You can laugh and hoot all you like, as a straight white male, but that’s how it is from my end, and I think I know better than you would. I don’t know where you stand vis à vis the Christianists or any other domestic elements of discontent but I’m quite sure nonetheless that you, like me and the vast majority of Americans, stand very little chance of being seriously inconvenienced, let alone killed, by any Islamic screwballs. Hardly worth getting too excited over, however much mayhem they may stir up around the globe. It’s been almost four years since any Americans were killed domestically by that sorry lot. How long are we expected to shit our pants over these pissants?

    Comment by fidus achates — Monday: June 27, 2005 @ 1:47 AM GMT-0500

  2. Where to begin? Our anonymous commentator is cowardly, foul-mouthed, bigoted, and fond of moral equivalence (“Jesus nuts” ~ “Islamic screwballs”). He’s also pretentious, not only assuming a Latin name (“fidus achates”) but spelling it in e. e. cummings/bell hooks minuscule. Not to mention presumptuous, presuming that I’m a straight white male who couldn’t possibly understand anyone who doesn’t fall into all three categories, while omitting information essential to his argument: are we to assume that he is non-straight, non-white, non-male, or some combination of the three, or is he just claiming greater enlightenment? A clue would be nice, in more ways than one.

    Then there’s the incoherence: does “literally” in the first sentence modify “from where I sit” or “savagely fucked”? The first seems nonsensical, especially since he can’t be bothered to say what city, state, or country he writes from, while the second would be an obvious lie: even the most bigoted Christians don’t generally go around raping gay Americans.

    The main point of this little squib is unconvincing. He doesn’t seem to have noticed that Muslims living in Western countries are already killing gays (Pim Fortuyn) or beating them up (lots of other Dutchmen). He also seems to have forgotten that it’s been less than three years since an “Islamic screwball” shot up the El Al counter at the L.A. airport and killed a couple of people, before being killed himself by an alert security guard. That killer seems to have been a freelancer, so saying that there have been no successful organized (i.e. ordered by Osama) acts of terrorism on U.S. soil since 9/11/01 is true, but there have been quite a few unsuccessful attempts and at least one successful freelance job. I notice that our commenter can’t bring himself to given Bush any credit for the relative safety of Americans in America: perhaps he thinks it’s just a coincidence that we haven’t had any equivalent of the Madrid train bombings.

    Further communications from “fidus achates” will be deleted if they contain any more obscenities, or if they do not provide a coherent arugment and some sort of valid e-mail address. HotMail should be anonymous enough for anyone.

    Comment by Dr. Weevil — Monday: June 27, 2005 @ 11:36 PM GMT-0500

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