Why you can’t trust a damn thing they say
Another day, another go-round with anti-choice nuts claiming there’s “no evidence” that they are motivated by hostility to female sexuality instead of pure fetal love. This time, I was arguing with them in the comments of a piece about how anti-choicers removed mandated contraception from health care reform. You do have to admire the audacity of a liar who is willing to stick to the lie in the face of clear-cut evidence you’re full of shit. That, or you have to assume they’re that stupid.
But I bring this up because in arguing with this dude, I had a revelation. I was reminded of a recent and fascinating episode of “This American Life” where they interviewed Jim Henderson, an evangelical who is critical of the standard tactics used to convert non-believers. Namely, he was upset by the bait and switch. He describes tactics such as using girls in bikinis to pass out fliers advertising a beach party, and then, when people show up looking for drinks (which of course were non-alcoholic) and entertainment, they got a whole faceful of Jesus. Or how he and his buddies were encouraged to pose as researchers doing a survey on religious practices, so that when people would tell them they don’t go to church, they’d use that as a hook to try to get them to come into theirs. Evangelical Christians are doing the live action version of being a virus inside an email that says “Check This Out!!” Henderson is more fond of building relationships and trust, and then bringing in the Jesus. Still not my ideal of people just making their arguments honestly and letting the chips fall where they may, but at least better than overt lying.
Talking to a full-of-shit anti-choicer, it occurred to me: According to Henderson, these sort of deceptive tactics are not only acceptable in evangelical circles, but they are eagerly promoted, and could even be called standard operating procedure. There’s some Biblical justification for it, and that’s all they need to know. In their mind, the end (saving souls) justifies the means (lying). In fact, I’d say that they are so invested in the belief of the all-encompassing rightness of their ends that they are inspired to up the ante on immoral means, to prove how fucking serious they are. (Certainly, that explains why evangelicals are so interesting in recruiting in China, where they and their converts are in serious danger if caught. A truly moral believer would figure that if sheer numbers of souls is the main thing, it’s better to go where you can do more converting with fewer consequences. But that’s not hardcore.)
What this said to me was that if evangelical Christians cannot be honest and straightforward about what they claim is the most important part of their lives—their faith and saving souls—then you can’t trust them on anything. Their subculture has inculcated a habit of not only justifying dishonest means to achieve dishonest ends, but in fact encouraging people to lie and feel better about themselves because they lied. Which makes a fucked-up sort of sense. Despite all the attention that immoral behavior gets, most people are mostly moral most of the time. Our society would come to a screeching halt if we couldn’t accept that most of what people tell us is true. For most people, the default is not to lie, steal, or harm. It actually takes some steeling of one’s self to complete a moral transgression like lying; most of us only do it if we feel we have to. Because of this, it’s easy to spin moral transgressions committed for a cause as acts of courage. (Think of how the military frames killing.) And so evangelicals have created a culture where people can applaud themselves as courageous warriors when they lie for Jesus.
But at this point, I think it’s beyond even that. Once you get into the belief that lying for Jesus is acceptable, then it’s easy to drift into thinking that truth itself is irrelevant, and that everything is means and ends. That’s why you get so many people like Sarah Palin, who say whatever they need to in order to get their way, but seem to be believing it at the time. Their frame of reference is “what you need to hear/not hear” not “what is true/false”. The latter drifted off on an ice floe a long time ago. Certainly, on the abortion issue you see this confusion. They’re obviously motivated by hostility to female sexuality, but doing things like proving this don’t even register. It’s been understood that fetuses are a good sales pitch, and the pitch is everything, and truth is irrelevant.