“We have had some success, although we sure as hell need more”: Greta’s Interview with Black Skeptics

Black Skeptics: In the book you stress the value of engaging in debates about religion with believers to encourage questioning and coming out. However, as you acknowledge, debating the validity of religious belief is only one part of the equation. For example, the vast majority of LGBTQ people of color and straight people of color are faith-aligned/identified precisely because mainstream America is racially segregated, faith (for many) is a form of cultural “home space” and social welfare resources in communities of color are extremely impacted. What further “intersectional” steps need to be taken to promote humanistic communities beyond just “coming out”?

Greta Christina: I’m surprised to hear you say that — I don’t think I did stress the value of debating with believers all that much. I mention in the book, but I don’t give it much space, and I mostly mention it because I actually advise against having those debates while you’re in process of coming out to people. I think that’s the wrong time for those debates. It is true that I think debating believers can be useful and valuable: a lot of atheists rag on other atheists for getting into those debates, insisting that they never work and are always a waste of time, so I think they deserve defending. And it can be difficult to draw a clear line between simply explaining your atheism, and explaining why you think religion is bunk. That’s one of the main reasons I talk about the topic at all. But it’s certainly not something I think everyone should do, I don’t think it’s a moral imperative or anything, and I think lots of other forms of activism are valuable.

So, with that being cleared up. The answer to your main question: Yes, for lots of people of color, faith is a home: it’s where people get social services, social support, a sense of identity and continuity and stability and history, and more. (It does seem that it can be a toxic home — that’s one of the takeaways I got from Candace Gorham’s book, “The Ebony Exodus Project,” I kept being struck throughout the book by how so many black women found their churches unsupportive and actually undermining. But it’s still a home.) So one of the biggest intersectional steps that godless communities can take is to make atheism a safer place to land for these folks. We need to look at what people of color are getting from their faith communities, and do more in our own communities to provide it. It wouldn’t suck if we did more to make some of these needs less necessary while we’re at it: to do political work on poverty and safety nets and institutional racism and so on. And no, that’s not “mission drift”: if local atheist communities can do blood drives and roadside cleanups and so on, there’s no reason they can’t do this sort of political work, too. And we need to be willing to take a hard look at the ways that we actually make our spaces unwelcoming: not just with racism of omission (e.g., failing to recognize what these folks need and provide it), but with more overt racism of commission. And all this actually does go back to the question of debates about religion: there’s not much point — strategically, poltically, or indeed morally — in arguing people out of religion if we don’t provide them a safe place to land if we succeed.


Coming Out Atheist cover 150Thus begins my interview with Black Skeptics. We talk about assorted issues with intersectionality: what intersectional steps humanist communities need to take, how we can shift the leadership of our organizations, whether atheist feminists need to focus more on ways that women of color are marginalized (hint — yes), how to prioritize our issues and get others interested in our priorities, and more. And, of course, we talk about my new book, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why — and how coming out fits into these intersectional interviews. Smart, thoughtful questions that really made me think carefully. (And they call the book “timely and insightful,” which makes me happy.) Enjoy!

“They’re supposed to be stand-ins for all people.”

noah still

Ari Handel, co-screenwriter of the movie “Noah,” on why the cast was all-white:

From the beginning, we were concerned about casting, the issue of race. What we realized is that this story is functioning at the level of myth, and as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn’t matter. They’re supposed to be stand-ins for all people. Either you end up with a Bennetton ad or the crew of the Starship Enterprise.

And then:

You either try to put everything in there, which just calls attention to it, or you just say, “Let’s make that not a factor, because we’re trying to deal with everyman.” Looking at this story through that kind of lens is the same as saying, “Would the ark float and is it big enough to get all the species in there?” That’s irrelevant to the questions because the questions are operating on a different plane than that; they’re operating on the mythical plane.

Because white people are “stand-ins for all people.” White people are “everyman.” Whereas people of color or a mixed-race cast “calls attention” to race.

He actually said this. In words.

Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

In case you were in any doubt about how whiteness is seen as normal and default, and non-whiteness is seen as other: This.

You know what? If the issue of race “doesn’t matter” and is “irrelevant,” then why not make a mixed-race cast? If it doesn’t matter, then how about not being a racist douchebag?

And the thing that really gets to me — well, a thing that really gets to me — is that they actually thought about this. This wasn’t just generic, unconscious, reflexive racism of thoughtless omission. They actually considered this question carefully — and after this careful consideration, decided to make white people the mythical, iconic stand-ins for all of humanity.

Oh, and for the record: There are, in fact, people who find mixed casts to be, you know, representative of humanity, and who find all-white casts distracting and weird.

Please Help Ed Brayton Fight a Lawsuit

It looks like Ed Brayton, of the Dispatches from the Culture Wars blog and co-founder of the Freethought Blogs network (and all-around great guy), is going to be sued by a white supremacist who doesn’t like it that Ed’s called him a white supremacist. Please help with his defense fund if you can. Even small amounts help — with these fundraisers, they really do add up. Thanks.

On Being Disillusioned By Heroes… or, No, I Am Not Bloody Well Happy to Hear Horrible Things About the People I Admired

The other problem here is confirmation bias: the tendency to see only what we wanna see.

-Brian Dalton, a.k.a. Mr. Deity, responding to reports of sexual harassment, assault and rape being made against prominent figures in the atheist/ skeptical community.

Brian Dalton isn’t alone. In many discussions about reports of atheist/ skeptical leaders committing seriously unethical behavior, this trope has come up again and again: “You just want to believe these reports! You were already biased against these people, and you’ll believe anything that confirms what you want to believe! You want to believe that Richard Dawkins blackballed Rebecca Watson from speaking at the Reason Rally! You want to believe that Lawrence Krauss has sexually harassed people at conferences! You want to believe that Michael Shermer committed rape! You’re only seeing what you want to see!” I’m using Dalton’s words as an example, since I’m starting to get weary of critiques that don’t point to an example of what’s being criticized (such as Phil Plait’s notorious “Don’t Be a Dick” speech)… but this is far from the only time I’ve seen this idea.

Here’s the problem with it:

I did not want to believe this.

I did not want to believe any of it.

Richard Dawkins is the reason I’m an atheist. Richard Dawkins is the reason I’m an atheist activist. Before I read The God Delusion, I was calling myself an agnostic, and was very occasionally writing about skepticism and religion. After I read The God Delusion, I was calling myself an atheist, and had decided that I needed to start making atheism the center of my writing career. Very few books have changed my life so rapidly, and so dramatically, and so much for the better. For years, Dawkins was my Number One atheist hero. The day I met him in person was one of the proudest days of my life.

Michael Shermer was enormously influential in my development as a skeptic and a non-believer. The way he laid out the case for cognitive biases — and more specifically, the way he laid out the case for cognitive biases leading to religious belief — strongly shaped both the way I thought about religion and atheism, and the way I wrote about it. In my early days as an atheist and skeptical writer, I cited Why People Believe Weird Things, and the ideas I got from it, all the freaking time.

Lawrence Krauss? Lawrence Krauss is freaking well trying to answer the question, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” Lawrence Krauss is the reason that, when religious believers ask me that question as if it were an unanswerable “Gotcha!”, I can answer, “Actually, physicists are working on that very question, and it seems like it might have an answer. Just like every other question in history that at one time was unanswered, and that people once thought was magic, and that turned out to be Not Magic.”

I admired these people. I looked up to them. My life and my work was shaped by them.

Why on Earth would I want to believe the worst about them?

When I started hearing bad things about these people, the last thing I wanted to do was to believe. It’s one thing to hear reports that your heroes are flawed human beings: to hear, for instance, that they cheat on their spouse, or that they’re a demanding diva backstage. We are all flawed, all human: I can deal with that, I don’t expect anything different. But it’s another thing entirely to see one of your heroes say appallingly racist and sexist things, and double down when they get criticized for it, and keep saying them again and again and again… and to then hear reports that they blackballed one of the people who criticized them most publicly. It’s another thing entirely to hear reports that one of your heroes committed sexual harassment. It’s another thing entirely to hear reports that one of your heroes committed rape.

It was extremely painful to hear this stuff. It was upsetting. It sapped a lot of the excitement and energy I had about the atheist and skeptical movements. It made me feel less optimistic about the future of these movements. It was demoralizing. I did not want to believe it.

I did not start thinking badly of these people until I started hearing bad things about them.

If anything, the confirmation bias worked in the other direction. When I started getting involved in atheism and skepticism, I started out thinking that these people were mega-awesome. I started out thinking that they were not only smart and articulate and insightful, but that they were rigorously ethical. I did not start thinking badly of these people until I started hearing bad things about them. Again. And again. And again and again and again, and again, and again. And again.

September 5 is not the first time I heard reports about Richard Dawkins blackballing Rebecca Watson. August 7 is not the first time I heard reports about Lawrence Kraus sexually harassing women at conferences. August 7 is not the first time I heard reports about Michael Shermer sexually harassing and even assaulting women. I have been hearing these reports for a long time. I couldn’t say anything about them at the time — people had told me these things in confidence — but at the time these reports started to become public, I had been hearing them for a while. In some cases I heard them second-hand; in some cases, I heard them from the horse’s mouth. And I heard a lot of them.

Again. And again. And again and again and again, and again, and again. And again.

Is it the case that right now, as of this writing, in September 2013, I’m more inclined to believe these reports than I once was? Sure. But it didn’t start out that way. I didn’t start out thinking badly of these people, and focusing on every possible piece of evidence that would confirm my bad opinion. I started out thinking well of these people. I changed my mind. It was painful; it was upsetting; it was demoralizing. But I let go of my cherished opinions — because I saw a significant and credible body of evidence contradicting those opinions.

Isn’t that what skeptics and atheists are supposed to do?

Angry Atheists and Equality: Greta’s Podcast Interview with “Life, the Universe & Everything Else”

LUEE logoPodcast time! When I was at the SkepTech conference earlier this year, I gave a podcast interview to Gem Newman of the “Life, the Universe & Everything Else” podcast, hosted by Winnipeg Skeptics. That interview is now up — along with the rest of a very interesting show.

In the interview, we discuss angry atheism, the role religious believers can play in fighting the harm done by religion, strategies of arguing religion with believers, the importance of coming out and atheist visibility, internalized atheist stigma, my favorite arguments against religion, challenging entrenched biases within skepticism, hyperskepticism (or what I’m now calling denialism) and treating ordinary claims as extraordinary ones, straw Vulcans and the notion that being unemotional about an issue makes you more rational, tone-trolling about misogyny, coming out bisexual versus coming out atheist, Twitter walls, self-publishing, and more. Enjoy!

Shorter JT

JT Eberhard has responded to Jen McCreight’s critique of his post on Bria Crutchfield’s critique of a commenter at a Q&A at the recent Great Lakes Atheist Convention.

He took 8,208 words to do it in, though. Here’s my summary. Shorter JT:

“I wasn’t saying that it’s always bad to express anger about racism. I am just taking it upon myself to tell an African-American woman how and when and where and in what tone she should express her anger about racism. I am doing this, even though it enrages me when religious believers do the same thing to atheists — take it upon themselves to tell us how to run our movement and our messaging, and consistently advise us to tone it down. I know when the intent behind a racist question is genuine and when it’s hostile, and other people should trust me on this. Also, the intent behind a question is the most important factor in determining how to respond to it.

“A white person being embarrassed at being called out on her racism — whether intentional or unintentional — is the most deserving target of my compassion, the one I should be spending thousands of words defending. The African-American people who were the targets of that racism are a secondary concern. Also, African-Americans’ suspicions of white people are equivalent to white people’s suspicions of African-Americans.

“If people don’t understand what I say, it’s their fault as readers, not my responsibility as a writer. Also, if people interpret my writing differently from how I want it to be interpreted, it’s not that they have a perspective that I’m not seeing — they’re just wrong. It’s a mischaracterization. They just don’t understand me. It couldn’t possibly be that they understand me all too well.

“Some people don’t like the harsh tone that some social justice advocates sometimes take. They are tickled pink to see bloggers take on religion and religious believers with passion, rage, invective, and biting wit, a la Christopher Hitchens — but they don’t like it when these tactics are turned on them. In some cases, the fact that some people will harshly disagree when they get stuff wrong is enough to keep them from speaking out about social justice. They would rather stay silent about injustice than speak out and risk being verbally smacked down if they get it wrong. And when speaking about social justice, avoiding offense should be our highest priority. People only ever change their minds on social justice when they’re spoken to nicely: harsh expressions of anger doesn’t change people’s minds — even though I say the exact opposite when it comes to speaking about religion. Therefore, social justice advocates within the atheist movement should tailor our tone to make sure it doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings — even though most of us get furious when religious believers tell atheists to do the same thing. The social justice advocates — “Jen, Greta, and their ilk” (that’s a direct quote) — are driving people away from atheism. People are being driven away or kept away from the atheist movement because of infighting — but me devoting several thousand words to criticizing other atheists somehow doesn’t count as infighting, it’s only when people disagree with me that it counts as infighting. Social justice advocates are ruining atheism. Despite the large number of people who say they have had their minds changed about social justice by those of us who are writing about it, we are still ruining atheism.

“And the fact that just about every feminist friend I ever had in this movement has called me out on my attitudes about this, numerous times… that’s not a problem. They’re just all wrong. If just about every quantum physicist I knew told me I was wrong about quantum physics, I’d probably pay attention — but I’m not going to pay attention to this.”

My response:

Your concerns are noted, and will be given all due consideration. Thank you for sharing.

When Firebrands Start Tone-Trolling

Like Greta Christina says, anger motivates us, but unchecked it can destroy us.

– JT Eberhard, criticizing Bria Crutchfield for what he saw as her overly angry and harsh anti-racist commentary during Q&A at the recent Great Lakes Atheist Convention. A critique that assumed, among other things, that he is best able to decide when a white person is being intentionally racist versus, unintentionally so; that when it comes to racism, he is best able to decide when it’s best to present an outraged tirade versus calm engagement; and that he is best able to decide who African-American atheists should see as their allies in the atheist movement.


Jen McCreight has already done a masterful job dismantling JT’s piece, and I don’t have much to add to what she said. But since JT used my ideas to bolster his case, I want to say this. It’s an excerpt from my Free Inquiry essay, Why We Need to Keep Fighting:

In all too many cases, the exact same atheists who applaud my passionate, uncompromising anger about religion will turn around and say that I need to be polite, diplomatic, understanding, non-divisive, and moderate when it comes to my anger about misogyny and sexism. At least, when it comes to my anger about misogyny and sexism within the atheist movement.

If it didn’t piss me off so much, I’d think it was hilarious.

You don’t get to have it both ways. You don’t get to be inspired and motivated by my uncompromising rage about religion… and then tell me that my uncompromising rage about sexism and misogyny in the atheist movement is divisive, distracting, sapping energy from the important business of atheist activism. You don’t get to cheer me on for being such a badass when I stand up fiercely against religion in society… and then scold me for being a bad soldier when I stand up fiercely against sexism and misogyny within the atheist movement. You don’t get to applaud my outspoken fearlessness when I demand that social and political and economic systems be made safe and welcoming for atheists, and when I point out the ways in which they are not… and then call me a divisive, attention-hungry professional victim when I demand that atheist groups and organizations and events be made safe and welcoming for women, and point out the ways in which they are not.

Now, please do a mental search-and-replace. Replace “my anger about misogyny and sexism” with “Bria Crutchfield’s anger about racism.” Or “Natalie Reed’s anger about transphobia.” Or “Josh Spokesgay’s anger about homophobia.” Or… oh, you get the idea.

It is especially distressing to hear this notion coming from a hard-core firebrand atheist: someone who’s made a reputation and a career out of his uncompromising rage at religion and religious believers, and his passionate use and defense of anger, invective, and insults… aimed not only at religious believers, but at other atheists who critique his hard-line approach. And it is especially distressing to hear my ideas used in defense of this. Yes, I have said that anger can be a difficult and dangerous tool. But just as it is not up to religious believers to tell atheists how and when and where and in what tone we should express our anger about religion, it is not up to white people to tell African-Americans — or any other people of color — how and when and where and in what tone they should express their anger about racism.

So JT, in the future, please do me a favor: Do not quote me in support of your half-assed, hypocritical tone-trolling about social justice. Please assume that nothing I have ever said could possibly be interpreted as supporting your perspective on social justice. I do not support it. I think it is beyond fucked-up.

On Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman Verdict — and What “Freethought” Does Not Fracking Well Mean

Please note: This blog post has a different comment policy from my usual one. It appears at the end of the post.

Other people have written about the details of the George Zimmerman case, and the verdict, more clearly and eloquently than I can. This piece does a pretty good job, as does this, as does this, as does this, as does this, as does this. But I feel that I need to get on the record about this. I may be disjointed, I may not be my usual eloquent self, but I can’t let this pass in silence.

Sometimes, I am deeply ashamed of my country. This is one of those times. The George Zimmerman verdict is making me physically ill.

I didn’t blog about the George Zimmerman verdict the day that it happened, or the day after, because I was out of town at my father’s memorial and the scattering of his ashes (and was then flying back home). And I can’t stop thinking about how I feel about my father’s death… and then thinking about how Trayvon Martin’s parents must feel. There have been moments when my grief over my father has felt nearly unbearable — and my father died at age 79, quietly in his sleep, after a long decline and years of very low quality of life from which death was a respite, of natural causes that nobody in this world could consider unjust. I cannot begin to imagine what it must feel like to be grieving the death of your teenaged child, who was hunted down and shot, whose death came from a systemic hatred and contempt of your race that you and yours have to live with every second of every minute of every day of every year of your entire life… and whose killer, in a grotesque travesty of justice, was acquitted.

I cannot begin to imagine. But it is my moral obligation to try.

It is also my moral obligation to do whatever I can to change the world, to do what I can to move this world towards one in which this would never happen, could never happen. It’s a tiny tiny start, not anywhere near enough, but it’s a start: I’ve signed the NAACP petition to the U. S. Department of Justice, asking them to file civil rights violation charges against George Zimmerman. You can sign it, too. If you know of other action that people can take, please make suggestions in the comments.

And in response to some (not all, not even most, but some) of what I’ve been seeing in the online discussions about this — largely among atheists/ skeptics/ etc., since that’s the Internet world I largely inhabit — I also want to say this:

I am sick to fucking death of the idea that “freethought” means “we have to treat all ideas as worthy of consideration, and debate them calmly and without anger, and treat people we disagree with respectfully.” Some ideas are morally repugnant. It is not antithetical to freethought to respond to morally repugnant ideas with rage. It is not antithetical to freethought to tell people with morally repugnant ideas that their ideas are morally repugnant, and that you will have nothing to do with them.

There are some issues that are worthy of calm, considered debate, issues on which people can reasonably disagree and still be friends. The question of whether a young black man should be able to buy candy at a convenience store without being hunted and killed is not one of them.

And I am sick to death of people looking at the national conversation about the George Zimmerman verdict, and acting as if “oh no, people are being mean to people who expressed views they find morally repugnant, they’re swearing at them and unfriending them and blocking them!” was the real issue here, the most important issue, the issue we should all be discussing. A young black man was hunted and killed for the crime of being a young black man, and his killer was acquitted. This is not an isolated case: it reflects the reality of millions of African Americans. And what some people really, really want to talk about is, “People are cussing people out and banning them on Facebook!” If those are your priorities, then please get the fuck out of my life. Do not comment in my blog. Do not read my blog. Do not follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Do not attend my talks. Do not buy my books. Go away, now.

And I am sick to fucking death of the idea that I am somehow morally obligated to host these debates — and these derailing meta-debates — in my own space.

I am not willing to host a debate about this on my blog. I am willing to host many debates on my blog, about many issues. I am willing to make my blog into a place for people to express many ideas and opinions with which I passionately disagree. This is not one of those issues, and this is not one of those times. If you have anything at all to say about this that even remotely hints at implying that what George Zimmerman did was remotely defensible, or that this verdict was anything short of grotesque… do not comment in my blog. Now, or ever. Do not read my blog. Do not follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Do not attend my talks. Do not buy my books. Get the fuck out of my life, now. Thank you.

Celebrate Same-Sex Marriage… and Demand a New Voting Right Act

Yesterday was a happy, happy day. The Supreme Court struck two powerful blows for equality: forcing the Federal government to recognize same-sex marriages, and effectively overturning Prop 8 and alloweing same-sex marriage in California. Yay!

But the day before yesterday was a fucking travesty. The Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, effectively gutting the act. The tl;dr: The Voting Rights Act recognized that some states have a lousy track record of actively and systematically stopping some people — most notably black people — from voting… and it required those states to get federal approval when they changed their voting laws.

That’s now gone.

So now these states (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia) can enact restrictive voter ID laws that placee a disproportionate burden on poor people, young people, and racial minorities… without any federal oversight. They can gerrymander their voting districts to disenfranchise poor people, young people, and racial minorities… without any federal oversight. They can set up different voting rules and regulations in different districts, making it easier to vote in rich, white, conservative districts, and harder to vote in poor, non-white, progressive districts… without any federal oversight.

And they’re going to. They’re already doing it. Within two hours of the Supreme Court decision, Texas passed a voter ID law that the Federal government had quashed after VRA mandated review.

Think this doesn’t affect you? Think again. To give just one example: You know Wendy Davis, the amazing Texas state senator whose filibuster stopped a draconian anti-abortion bill from passing? Republicans have already tried to gerrymander her out of her district. Now that the Voting Rights Act has been gutted, that’s suddenly going to be a whole lot easier for them.

This affects all of us. If you give a damn about citizens in this country being able to vote… this affects you. If you give a damn about the fundamental moral principle that citizens being able to vote, without pointless roadblocks being thrown in their way because they won’t vote the way the entrenched power interests want them to… this affects you. If you give a damn about the way that the principle of democracy in this country is gradually being chipped away at, bit by bit… this affects you.

We can’t let the happy news about same-sex marriage lull us into complacency. There is hard work ahead.

The NAACP has a petition in place already, pressing Congress to enact a new Voting Rights Act, one that the Supreme Court can’t gut on the specious grounds that the old one is out of date. Sign it. And then throw some money their way — every penny helps. And spread the word about it: tell your friends, spread the word on Facebook and Twitter, do whatever you can to raise the alarm. And get onto other ways to support them and take action.

And if you have other suggestions about hard action that we can take on this, or other organizations that are working on this, please speak up in the comments.

If you’re at all into this social justice/ intersectionality thing… put your money, or your time, or your voice, where your mouth is. Thanks.

American Terror: Excerpt From “Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels” by Sikivu Hutchinson

Godless Americana coverThe following is an excerpt from Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels, the new book by Sikivu Hutchinson. Available on Amazon and CreateSpace; coming soon on Kindle.


American Terror

A little white boy, a cherub with an impish grin, earnestly clutches a microphone before a church congregation in a blurry video of the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle in Greensburg, Indiana. He begins to belt out a ditty, “I know the Bible is right, somebody’s wrong…Ain’t no homos going to make it to heaven,” in a playful schoolboy lilt. The crowd erupts, rising to its feet, fists pumping, high fives extended, roof raised. The pastor beams proudly from the pulpit, deliciously pleased by this home team display of American Idol precocity.

The video generated thousands of hits and comments online, some praising, many condemning. Christians were slammed as hypocritical and un-Christian; detractors were piously directed to Bible verses smearing homosexuality. The mantra from tolerant Christians was that God doesn’t endorse hate, especially from the mouths of babes. Biblical condemnation of homosexuality was a remnant of antiquity, inapplicable to the complexities of the modern world, a distortion of God’s unconditional love.

Eavesdropping on the red-blooded zeal of the Tabernacle’s come-to-Jesus audience, it’s clear that the cherub has renewed its wilting faith. The straight backs of dark-suited men frame the furtive glances of silent little girls in frilly dresses peaking around the camera as whistles and applause ripple through the sanctuary. With the womenfolk tucked away, giving praise to Jesus is just another alpha male sporting event. The wisdom of heterosexual solidarity will not be lost on more tolerant corrupted generations. The cherub is no more than five years old. Soon, he will be new to elementary school, new to the savage dance of peer pressure and the playground rituals of gender. He is “innocent,” yet fully initiated into the culture of violence, permissiveness, and patriarchy that says “boys will be boys.” Western civilization revolves around this unbreakable sacrament. From the nameless, faceless American military drone victims of the Middle East to the expendable Jezebels of American inner cities, to be American is to always be innocent against the global backdrop of otherness. It is to accept as gospel that “they” hate us because of our freedoms while “we” are free to pillage the globe with American war machines and pipeline youth of color into prisons. Historically, conquering and “democratizing” savage foreign lands has been part of the U.S.’ foreordained Christian mission as an “exceptional” civilization. American exceptionalism was a key theme for the GOP and Religious Right in the 2012 presidential race. Former Republican congressman and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich amplified this theme in his book A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters:

The ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the unique American identity that rose from an American civilization that honored them form what we call today “American Exceptionalism”…President Obama, for example, simply does not understand this concept. In the past he was outright contemptuous of American Exceptionalism, deriding Americans as “bitter” people who “cling” to guns and religion…If the ideas in the Declaration were not new or particularly radical, then why did this single document fundamentally alter world history? The answer is this: no nation had ever before embraced human equality and God-given individual rights as its fundamental organizing principle.

Caricatured by the right as a socialist revolutionary, Obama sought to burnish his Americana credentials by trotting out the rhetoric of exceptionalism. In 2009 he maintained that it’s a “core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.” Yet, Obama’s identification with exceptionalism was not enough for GOP ideologues like Gingrich, who insist that Judeo-Christian might and right makes the U.S. superior to other nations. Predictably, Gingrich’s summary of the U.S.’ exceptionalist path contains only passing reference to slavery. For Gingrich, slavery was only a minor deviation from this “nation like no other’s” ascent to global leadership. If the Declaration of Independence invokes “unalienable rights” of liberty and equality granted by God, then the U.S.’ unique righteousness lies in this contract. According to this view, American civilization, as the most religious superpower on the planet, means God—white, Christian, straight, and pure. And even though the U.S. is the fount of freedom and individual liberty, God cannot be expected to bend to the whims and cultural relativisms of modernity. To do so would be a betrayal of his will, as manifest in “natural” law.

The little white boy of Apostolic Truth Tabernacle is the unofficial face of Americana, the spiritual inheritor of God, mom, and apple pie. This holy trinity was sorely tested by President Obama’s landslide victory in the 2012 presidential campaign. The GOP’s anti-government message of lower taxes and shiftless welfare queens, coupled with its attacks against birth control, abortion, gay rights and undocumented immigrants, was repugnant to many voters. Yet, although a majority of the electorate rejected the party’s Christian fascist rhetoric, those that would write the political and cultural obituary of fundamentalist Americana are premature. God has always been one of the U.S.’ primary afflictions. The performance of American national identity is steeped in this cancer. The right-wing backlash against democratic citizenship is fueled by it. Unleashed from its YouTube moment, the cherub’s folksy performance deep in the heart of this small Midwestern church reverberates in hundreds of so-called gay conversion therapy sessions throughout the nation. It provides the backdrop for the monster popularity of alpha male toys that give little boys license to prey and pillage. It fuels the suicides that claim the lives of hundreds of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth every year. It drives the she-asked-for-it rape culture that says women’s bodies are dirty, shameful, sinful, and always there for the taking.


Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels is available on Amazon and CreateSpace; coming soon on Kindle.