Religious War and the Martyrs of Orlando
You knew this editorial was coming. Excerpts:
As the funerals are held for those who perished on Sunday, lawmakers who have actively championed discriminatory laws and policies, and those who have quietly enabled them with votes, should force themselves to read the obituaries and look at the photos. The 49 people killed in Orlando were victims of a terrorist attack. But they also need to be remembered as casualties of a society where hate has deep roots.
A fanatical Muslim closet case, son of Afghan immigrants, and registered Democrat, a wife-beater who, according to many people who dealt with him, was filled with rage and bigotry towards blacks and others, and who, according to eyewitnesses, spent the last hour of his life holding people hostage and ranting about the US bombing Afghanistan — this villain slaughters 49 gay people … and the New York Times finds a way to condemn Republican politicians for it.
we see that invocation of “hate” has become a way of dismissing opponents by suggesting that their beliefs are beyond the reach of reason. You can’t debate someone who hates, because hatred precludes thought; it’s in the bones. If Republicans are motivated by “hate,” then they are not legitimate political actors, because political life cannot be predicated on irrationality. Reason is our common ground.
But if opposition to same-sex marriage, to transgender laws, and so forth are arguable positions, if those beliefs are rationally defensible, if they are amenable to debate by reasonable people, then opponents cannot be dismissed, and counterarguments are necessary. Needless to say, this is a far more precarious position for people such as Zack Ford: They may lose the debate. Better not to have to debate at all.
Arguments against same-sex marriage and many of the Left’s pet causes exist, though. The work of Robbie George and Ryan Anderson and many others — whether or not they are persuasive — cannot simply be dismissed. Yet doing so has been the preferred course, because it’s easier than engaging those arguments.
This should be disturbing to anyone dedicated to a functional political life. The reduction of political beliefs to emotional impulses makes living together impossible; all that’s left are permanent tribal clashes. When the possibility of consensus, which depends on persuasion, is abandoned, because one side decides that the other is beyond persuading, the only recourse is force. As it applies to the contemporary Left, that should sound more than a little familiar.
It’s emerging that the best way to understand the Orlando aftermath in terms of cultural politics is as a religious war.
This occurred to me last night after reading a gay commenter refer to the Pulse as a “sacred space.” Think about it: using religious language to sanctify a bar. And if it was a sacred space, then all the dead inside are martyrs. Who killed them? An infidel, defined as someone who doesn’t dogmatically assent to the LGBT/NYT belief that there is nothing the least bit problematic about homosexuality and transgenderism, and that everything on the LGBT political agenda must be granted.
Was Omar Mateen a hater? No question. He didn’t target random Americans, but gays. He hated homosexuals. But as we have seen, his personal story and motivations suggest that he was a dark, demonized, complicated man. He was known to many for his at times uncontrollable rage and obsessive behavior. He is said to have beaten his first wife. He pledged allegiance to ISIS, and, as I said, ranted about the US bombing of Afghanistan as he held Pulse patrons hostage. And it is fairly obvious that he was either gay, or struggling with homosexual desires.
Like I said, a complicated man.
But religious crusaders don’t do complicated. It compromises the purity of the narrative that drives them into battle. If the struggle for gay rights has taken on the qualities of a religious war, then that explains why people like Zack Ford spurn expressions of sympathy from religious conservatives like Russell Moore. No matter how much love and solidarity he expresses towards the suffering in Orlando and those who mourn, he is tainted by the impurity of his beliefs. That also explains gay CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper’s bizarre inquisition of a Florida politician, putting the hot poker in over her failure to tweet support on the High Holy Month of Gay Pride.
It is, of course, perfectly fine to think ill of a politician for opposing a cause you support. But that does not account for the weirdly personal, obsessive quality of Cooper’s animus towards the politician. I was thinking this morning about how bizarre it is to hold a politician’s failure to tweet Gay Pride enthusiasm is evidence of her anti-gay hatred, and went back to social anthropologist Paul Connerton’s book How Societies Remember. His general point is that the stories that social groups keep alive across generations are those that they imbue with a sacred quality, and to which the group relates to with religious reverence (whether or not the stories are strictly religious). Excerpt:
For rites are felt by those who observe them to be obligatory, even if not unconditionally so, and the interference with acts that are endowed with ritual value is always felt to be an intolerable injury inflicted by one person or groups upon another. We may suppose the beliefs someone else holds sacred to be merely fantastic, but it can never be a light matter to demand that their actual expression be violated. And conversely, people resist being forced to pay lip-service to an alien set of rites, incompatible with their own vision of the “truth”, because to enact a rite is always, in some sense, to assent to its meaning. To make patriots insult their flag or to force pagans to receive baptism is to violate them.
And there is our answer. For Anderson Cooper, and no doubt for millions of LGBT Americans and their allies, a politician’s failure to express support for Gay Pride on Twitter is a violation of the ritual communal celebration of Gay Pride. Any expression of solidarity with the LGBT community or offers to help them in this crisis are taken as ritually impure. That politician, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, sounds like a real piece of work: a Sarah Palin-style “family values” Republican who is twice divorced, and who shacked up with her last boyfriend. But her messy personal life no more speaks to whether or not gays and lesbians should have the right to marry than it would if she had advocated for gay marriage rights. It could be that for all her sins, it would still violate Bondi’s conscience to be forced to assent to an “alien set of rites” that is Gay Pride.
This is why the issue is intractable. Many social conservatives see gay rights as primarily a political and a cultural cause, one that gays have largely won, both in law (with Obergefell) and in the culture. We try to argue on political grounds, and get nowhere.
LGBTs, though, seem to relate to their cause as more like a religious movement. And religious movements cannot be questioned by those who do not accept their dogmas. To LGBTs, the fact that conservative Christians cannot in good conscience assent to their cause and its rituals is evidence of their evil. To argue on political grounds with wicked people is to grant your opponents moral standing that they don’t deserve. To do so therefore may be felt as weakening one’s resolve, and indeed failing to keep faith with the martyrs.
The New York Times‘s attempt to smear the blood of the Orlando dead onto Republican politicians who have at various levels opposed gay marriage and/or transgender bathroom rights laws, should be seen as a religious act, a cursing of sorts, an anathematization, a disfellowshipping. When conservative Christian leader Russell Moore reached out to gays and lesbians in the aftermath of Orlando to express sorrow and solidarity, he was affirming our common humanity as prior to other divisions between us. But again, those sentiments, however genuinely felt by Moore et al., are taken as ritually impure. When gay activist Zack Ford refused those sentiments, and said that until Moore and those like him actually changed their views to fully affirm LGBTs, their sympathies are worthless.
This is a very dangerous position to take in a pluralistic democracy. Yet it’s one we see more and more on the cultural Left, which is quick to define as “hate” any thought, speech, or action with which it disagrees. Again, if you regard this as a fundamentally religious act — on campus, for example, casting out infidels for the sake of keeping the community pure — it makes much more sense.
But it also renders the conflict irresolvable. The religious crusader cannot abide the existence of the infidel. He must be either stamped out or made into a dhimmi, a second-class citizen fully aware of his inferiority and outcast state. This, to be fair, is how gays for many years saw Christians’ attitudes toward them and their quest for rights. In fact, as gay activist and law professor Chai Feldblum has argued for over a decade, when it comes to religious liberty and gay rights, it really is a zero-sum game when it comes to the law.
But does it have to be that way in culture and in civil society? I don’t think so. If we are going to keep the peace, we have to keep our eyes trained on our common humanity, and realize that it is prior to any other division. Doing this requires us to restrain our rhetoric, and to stop being so quick to demonize those who disagree as motivated by hatred, saving instead that powerful word for those who unambiguously are motivated by the kind of hatred that all decent people condemn — cretins like Omar Mateen.
I am not hopeful. The rhetoric of religious righteousness and purity is too emotionally powerful. An ardent feeling of purity, a sense that you are fighting not just opponents, but infidels, feels too good. When the most powerful newspaper in the world implicates Republican politicians (and by association any conservative who supports their views on LGBT rights) in what it regards as the martyrdom of 49 dead gays and lesbians at the hands of an Islamic terrorist, an important line has been crossed in the culture war.
You don’t tolerate murderers or accomplices to murder. You vanquish them. The Left is not going to call a truce. It’s going to pursue this jihad till the infidel is converted or humiliated and rendered powerless. Because that’s how wars of religion go.
Those who cannot capitulate without violating their religious conscience need to understand this phenomenon as primarily religious, not political, moral, or merely cultural. The crusaders hold all the high ground in American culture, especially in media. Conservative Christians should condemn the murders in Orlando, and they should condemn all acts of violence and dehumanization against LGBTs, even if that condemnation is refused. For Christians, gays and lesbians, like all human beings, however broken every single one of us is, are made in the image of God — and that fact doesn’t change if gays and lesbians hate us and refuse our expressions of sorrow and solidarity. Nevertheless, it is important for Christian conservatives to grasp the nature of this aspect of the culture war, and why all the winsomeness in the world will avail us nothing.