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"The Handmaid's Tale" is stupid

No, Elizabeth Moss. Restricting the ability of American women to sentence their unborn children to death on a whim would not transform the United States into the misogynistic nightmare The Handmaid's Tale calls "the Republic of Gilead."

Neither Margaret Atwood's silly, paranoid tale about the Christians who are coming to get you or Hulu's adaptation of it is "timely" (Washington Post), "chillingly real" (San Francisco Chronicle), or  has any special "relevance to Trump's America" except insofar as through it the disconnect between reality and the lurid imaginations of the cultural left have demonstrated yet again that our delusional president isn't the only one who is bonkers.

No. The Christians are not out to get you. Not even the Fundamentalists. You could make a pretty good case that the "progressives" are, though.

If you go to a public university, you had better agree with the left or you will be in danger of not graduating. Far from being on the verge of a repressive cultural plunge into the Dark Ages, ours is a society in which one can be financially ruined for declining to bake a cake for a gay "wedding" for reasons of conscience when there is no shortage of other bakers who would have no problem at all doing so. Show the slightest reservations about the homosexual lifestyle and you are apt to be labeled a bigot. Don't dare come to the defense of women who are uncomfortable with the idea of people with penises sharing public restrooms with them, or you will find yourself vilified and perhaps boycotted.

It was Brenden Eich's reservations about gay marriage and not some enlightened "progressive's" endorsement of it, which proved to be grounds for dismissal at Mozilla. Google engineer James Damore was fired not for mindlessly insisting that there are no differences between men and women, but for daring to write a thoughtful memo, backed by science, to the effect that as a group, men and women may tend to have differing abilities because their brains are wired differently, and that, rather than discrimination, it might be such differences which explained some of the gender disparity in various Google jobs. True, there was a time when to be publicly identified as an atheist or agnostic or even a Jew or a Catholic could carry serious social consequences. But today, conservative Christians who seek nothing more than to freely express their beliefs and to comport themselves accordingly are far less apt to be the repressors than the repressed.

I suppose if one were desperate for an example of a "progressive" being persecuted for exercising his right to free speech, one might cite Colin Kaepernick's current unemployment due to a questionably appropriate but constitutionally protected mode of expressing his dissent over the state of race relations in America. But other than the current unemployment of a millionaire athlete, one would be hard-pressed to find an example of anybody being persecuted for his or her left-leaning convictions these days.

While we haven't quite reached such a state of lunacy in the United States,  across the border in Canada, in the United Kingdom, and in much of the Western world one can be fined or even jailed for simply offending somebody.  Enlightenment philosophy in general and the writings of America's Founding Fathers in general agreed that if the vilest and most reprehensible of what today we would call "hate speech" is forbidden, then as a practical matter no speech is free, since there is nothing which cannot by some gymnastics of partisan logic be labeled harmful to individuals or society and outlawed on philosophically the same grounds. It terrifies me that nations which share our democratic heritage and our rootedness in the values of those philosophers and the wisdom of the Anglo-Saxon legal tradition have so thoroughly compromised a right so fundamental to both at its very core. That so few Americans, especially on the left, understand that "hate speech" is not only protected by the First Amendment but must be if every kind of speech with which anyone might disagree is not to be put in danger is one of the most ominous developments in the history of our Republic.

Donald Trump, the first president to be elected on an explicit platform of authoritarianism, scares the daylights out of me. His followers frighten me even more. But for all his un-American posturing and anti-constitutional fulminations regarding freedom of the press, the rights of Muslims and other minorities, and even the propriety of dissent from his words and actions, the vast incursions on freedom of conscience and speech which have assailed our nation and the Western world in recent years have come consistently from the left, continue to be justified on grounds which the Founders would have found abhorrent, and unquestionably pose a far greater threat to the First Amendment than the current administration and its alt-right supporters do. Donald Trump has huffed and puffed and rhetorically threatened the house of free expression; the contemporary left in all the civilized democracies are actively engaged in blowing it down.

And one of the justifications for the left's assault on the First Amendment is the fascinating belief, which seems to be cherished as an article of faith by "progressives" despite its historical and logical absurdity, that to advocate a position on secular grounds which happens to coincide with one's religious convictions is somehow mixing church and state, or trying to turn America into a theocracy. Now, to be sure, there is a tiny fringe element in Fundamentalist Protestantism which does advocate "theonomy," the notion that God's law should apply directly to secular institutions not because it's sensible policy but because the Bible says so.  The Calvinist tradition does tend to blur the lines a bit between what we Lutherans would call "the Two Kingdoms," the realm of order and the realm of faith.  But not even the Presbyterians are out to get you. American Calvinists realize, as "progressives" apparently do not, that no political program based on "because the Bible says so" has even the remotest possibility of being adopted in a country as diverse as ours. Even if the common (though intellectually dishonest) pretence that orthodox Christians are the majority of Americans were true, and if the notion that American should be a theocracy were far more widespread among politically conservative Christians than it is- and in fact, it isn't widespread at all- it would pose exactly zero danger because the overwhelming majority of even conservative Christians would vehemently oppose it!

Yet the nightmare world of The Handmaid's Tale remains a lurid, if delusional, example of what "progressives" either believe or pretend to believe that politically conservative Christians want to establish in America. One would think that there are enough educated "progressives" that more of them would remember that religiously-motivated  Christians were the driving force behind the Abolitionist movement,  the Civil Rights movement, the movement to ban child labor, and all manner of historical causes of which they, themselves, heartily approve. And yes, under certain specific circumstances, biblical and theological language was used to advance them all. But the fundamental diversity of our society even in ages past meant that in order for any of those causes to succeed, a coalition had to be built in their support that transcended religious belief. Ultimately slavery and child labor were abolished and the ongoing battle for civil rights waged not because the Bible says so, but because a consensus of Christians and non-Christians, religious folks and non-religious folks, were mustered around the idea that they were right, that they were good public policy. That's the only basis upon which any movement can succeed in a pluralistic democracy and the bizarre and paranoid notion that The Handmaid's Tale is in any way relevant to contemporary America is patently ludicrous. Even more, it's fundamentally dishonest.

But as so many of us on both the left and the right have learned once again in trying to deal with the factually and logically-challenged supporters of the current president, one cannot reason somebody out of something they were never reasoned into.  The boogeyman of an American theocracy is one of the sillier delusions to haunt the minds of a substantial segment of the American public. But it's important to a great many "progressives" to believe it, or at least to pretend to.

Who knows? If they gave up the effort to frighten people with the imaginary threat to our way of life posed by people on the cultural right, the cultural left might actually have to engage their arguments. And nasty names and hysterical character assassination are, after all, a whole lot easier than engaging other people's ideas, particularly for the smug and the intellectually lazy.


Anonymous said…
The meme you posted undermines your point. I’m not sure you understand the meaning of theocracy sir
On the contrary, the fact that you think that the meme undermines rather than illustrates my point is absolute proof that you don't understand the meaning of "theocracy," Your Anonymity.

It is neither that religious believers get to live their lives according to their own beliefs (otherwise the First Amendment would be theocratic- a strange notion indeed), nor that ideas having their origin in religion should not be proposed on secular grounds as matters of public policy. If it meant that, then the abolition of the slave trade in England and of slavery itself in the United States, as well as the laws against child labor, the Civil Rights movement, and all of the other movements of social reform spearheaded and often initiated by evangelical Christians as a consequence precisely of their religious beliefs would have made America and England theocracies. Somehow I don't think you would want to argue that.

Ethics and religion overlap, but they are two separate things. In a theocracy, the beliefs of religion dictate the law. But in our system (at least as it's always operated and as the Founders intended it, whether the Left understands this relatively simple point or not) all ideas- whether they have their origin in people's religious convictions or not- are permissible in the public square, where they are debated by people of all religions, and none. Any proposed law based only on sectarian religious beliefs, as opposed to ethical or philosophical ideas with which people might agree or disagree on purely secular grounds, would certainly have theocratic tendencies- although, given the diversity of our society, it would have no chance of passage.

But there is not a single position of the mainstream religious Right-
whether on abortion, or same-sex marriage, or any other such controversial issue- which cannot be debated and either adopted or rejected on purely secular grounds. That being the case, the cry of "theocracy" boils down to nothing more or less than a dishonest attempt to rule positions the Left disagrees with out of bounds without having to summon rational arguments against them. And that's not only lazy and intellectually dishonest but kind of cowardly.

No, my nameless friend. The opposite of "theocracy" is not anti-religious authoritarianism, as you seem to think. To be a secular society is not to be one in which atheism or agnosticism is the established religion, and even if it were, there still would be no logical objection to a proposal of policy advocated on secular grounds even if its origin was religious.

Sorry. But words- including "theocracy-" mean things, and neither your failure to understand the meaning of the word "theocracy" nor Margaret Atwood's changes that.