Last month, my college classes had an assignment to write a problem/solution essay. Being young adults, almost all of them wrote from a politically liberal perspective. Now, some of those papers were clever, articulate, and well-written, even if I personally disagreed with their premises and conclusions.
But not many of them. Many of them were angry, juvenile rants with no more basis in reason or reality than the most fevered stereotypes of leftist loonies. One guy wrote three pages about how global warming puts “all life on earth in danger of destruction very soon,” for example. Several wrote about cheerfully banning anything they don’t like, from fast food to cigarettes to belief systems. One student summed up that philosophy like this: “If people can’t make the choice to stay away from it themselves, it should be banned.”
I admit, I find this tendency to automatic tyranny scary.
But wait, belief systems? They wrote that they want to ban belief systems? Yes. The most popular subject was gay marriage, and some writers were quite assertive in their condemnation of anything that wouldn’t agree with them. By far the scariest lines in any paper I read were these:
“[He] was picked on because of his sexual orientation and now those who believe that his sexual orientation does not go along with their religious beliefs can bully him. Apparently Al Qaeda was completely okay and the Holocaust can be justified too. Al Qaeda occured because of religious beliefs…Then the Holocaust killed millions of Jews simply because of Adolf Hitler’s moral beliefs.”
You read that correctly. This young woman thinks that Christian beliefs are just a license for mistreating others; she considers simply holding any belief that does not embrace her own ideas, including gay marriage, to be de facto bullying–hateful and evil–and in need of immediate extermination. Such people are no different, she writes, from terrorists and Nazis.
The irony of her tone must have been lost on her.
I actually agree that as American Christians, by and large, we need to do a better job of being kind towards gays and anyone else with whom we have any difference, and that there likely have been verbal and other abuses towards gay people because of religious beliefs, and such behavior is inexcusably wrong. But to say that merely not falling into total ideological lockstep with the prevailing youth philosophy is tantamount to running a concentration camp? That’s insane.
And yet, such extreme vitriol is hardly limited to the fringes of college campuses.
Just a few days ago, I was listening to NPR’s Fresh Air. The interview was with Dustin Lance Black, about his script for the new J. Edgar Hoover movie. Turns out that Black grew up Mormon. Sadly, it appears his father and then a stepfather were neglectful and abusive. He also tells a story about going to a Baptist Bible camp as a kid, and attending a class about the LDS Church as a cult. That, he says, is when he started to lose faith. So he isn’t Mormon anymore.
[By the way, why does disaffection with a religion somehow confer upon someone a greater authority to speak publicly about it? How is that a valid method of conferring scholarly credentials? Also, why don’t more people in the intellectual mainstream worry that their problems with the LDS Church–“magic underwear,” “golden Bibles,” “gods of their own planets,” etc.–are the same prejudices that have also historically been promulgated by the same fundamentalist evangelicals they disrespect even more than Mormons? Shouldn’t that be a clue to the Bill Mahers and Christopher Hitchens of the world that their quick dismissals of Mormons may not actually be rooted in facts?]
I’m sorry that Mr. Black grew up in circumstances that our beliefs were cast in such a poor light, but at one point in the interview, as he discussed his disappointment in the LDS Church’s involvement in California’s Proposition 8, he interrupted himself to lecture about intolerance. “We think of religious extremism as an overseas problem,” he said. His comments made the connection clear: not wanting to change marriage laws is a radical danger to society, and Mormons who oppose changing marriage laws are in the same category as terrorists who perpetrate random mass murders of civilians.
This in a sanctimonious speech about intolerance.
Mr. Black held out hope, however, that the LDS Church would “make progress” in their views about gay marriage, though. I can’t think of anything more arrogant than equating progress and improvement with “becoming more like me.”