Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
Readers may be surprised to see how easy I went on the Buddhists. The truth is, I got a soft spot for the Buddhists. Itís the only religion based on reason and insight rather than faith. It makes sense. Itís the one that was beginning to appeal to me back when I was a teenager and had lost interest in Christianity but had not yet been distracted by girls and drink. I like that theyíre the only religion that can seem to resolve a theological dispute without resorting to torture, pogroms, or massacre. The Dalai Lama explains that if they were to find that their metaphysical beliefs were to be contradicted by modern physics, why, they would simply have to alter their beliefs. Contrast this to the undignified and childish behavior of fundamentalist Christians, who are hysterically inventing convoluted explanations for how dinosaur eggs were stored on board the ark or bending over backward to demonstrate that the six days of Creation in Genesis, if you throw in the Doppler shift divided by quantum something-or-other, actually correspond to our Earth days times a trillion. And I will say that my personal experience with Buddhists has been exemplary: a Buddhist friend of mine, having had occasion to feel wronged by me, was neither reproachful nor vindictive; he felt sorry for me. One of my favorite jokes by the late comedian Bill Hicks was about some thuggish good old boys in Alabama who waited for him outside the stage door after one of his stand-up routines. "Hey, buddy, címere!" They yelled at him. "We didnít like that joke you told about Christians in there. We're Christians!" "SoÖ?" he said to them, in laconic challenge: "Forgive me."
A reader wrote in to the City Paper after I ran Part I of this series, about Christianity, to complain that I ought not to have depicted the crucifixion. In fact I had not depicted the crucifixion; I believe she had mistaken my pastiche of a stained-glass representation of the Annunciation for a Crucifixion. Later I hesitated before running Part III, Islam, and asked my editor whether he had any concerns RE potential angry chanting, firebombing of the paperís offices, or internet beheadings of editorial staff. He said that as long as I stayed away from any depictions of You-Know-Who (blessed be his name) we should be all right. I am therefore pleased that this weekís cartoon provided occasion to depict both the crucifixion and Mohammed. Itís a race: lynch mob vs. Fatwah! I await the winner.
This brings us to the conclusion of our series, "Contributions of the Worldís Religions." It was while I was drawing these cartoons that my colleague Tom Hart and I, over weekly Belgian Ales at Burp Castle, arrived at an unsettling insight: liberals now have more in common with conservative Christians than we do with swing voters. Evangelicals may be dingbats, but at least they believe in something. Like us, they have a clear ideology that shapes their opinions on the issues, they follow politics with passionate interest, and theyíre aggrieved because the only party thatís even an option for them pays lip service to them before elections and ignores them the rest of the time. I certainly have more respect for them than I do for those myopic, selfish suburbanites who predictably vote for the incumbent if the economy in their area is good and for the opposition if itís not, and havenít heard that habeas corpus was just rescinded.
One difference between us is that liberals have been looking for an alternative political party for about a decade and only vote for Democrats only out of distasteful necessity, while it seems to have dawned on the evangelicals only recently that theyíve been strung along and lied to by Republicans for years. This, if I may hazard an uncharitable hypothesis, is because fundamentalist Christians, as a group, are more inclined to blind credulity and self-deception than liberals, whose characteristic failings are dithering doubt and self-examination. Fundamentalists, conditioned from early childhood to accept baseless guarantees from authority, still feel betrayed that Justices OíConnor and Kennedy and Souter, whom they were assured were pro-life nominees, proved to be treacherous moderates. Now David Kuo reveals that the Bush administration has been indifferent to funding its ballyhooed faith-based initiative program, and privately regards evangelical leaders the same way the rest of the world always has: as "nuts." That Republicans do not actually care about poor people, or have any deep respect for Christian principles, could have come as shocking news only to people long accustomed to belief in things unseen. Now that it all turns out to have been so much cynical electioneering, evangelicals are as innocently outraged as a girl whoís just beginning to fathom that the guy whoís been sleeping with her for months may not necessarily care about her. I can commiserate. We liberals donít even get pandered to anymore. At least the Republican political strategists still remember to crack down on the gays every two years, which for conservative Christians is the equivalent of flowers on your anniversary.
The truth is that the current Republican Party is as awkwardly cobbled-together and untenable a construction as Iraq. Republicans couldnít win elections without the evangelical bloc reliably voting in obedient lockstep, but they couldnít even mount campaigns without millions of dollars in donations from their other major constituency, the obscenely wealthy. But those donors, the "haves and the have-mores" who George Bush once famously called his base, have almost nothing in common with evangelicals. Their only policy goals are: 1. Tax cuts, 2.) increased tax cuts, and 3.) making the tax cuts permanent. They donít want abortion outlawed; they could care less about putting prayer back in the schools or the Ten Commandments in courthouses; theyíre embarrassed to be associated with creationists and fag-bashers.
Look, I donít like Christian conservatives. I donít like them telling my female friend what they arenít allowed to do inside their own bodies or pushing my gay friends around or yammering about Intelligent Design when the grownups are trying to talk. And they would not like me either: I am a blasphemer and a drunkard and a fornicator, and I am hardly ever repentant for very long. But lately I feel an unwelcome kinship with them. Like my liberal friends and me, theyíve been relegated to marginality and irrelevance; our goals are just too far outside the political mainstream of this country. This government isnít going to overturn Roe v. Wade or outlaw homosexuality or put prayer back in the schools any sooner than itís going to limit the legal rights of corporations or institute national health care or ban handguns. And itís never going to implement real campaign finance reform, which is the only way any of our views could ever get a fair hearing.
Our powerlessness has made both liberals and Christian conservatives increasingly insular, shrill, and paranoid. Sometimes our rhetoric is indistinguishable from one anotherís; both groups are convinced that America is descending into fascism, liberals because of illegal spying, detainment, and torture, Christians because of abortion, gun control, and the official sanction of sodomy. We liberals expect the jackbooted thugs to kick down our doors any night now; evangelicals think that reading the Bible will soon be outlawed. Our common feeling of impotent frustration, the maddening knowledge that No One Cares What You Think, is what drives pro-lifers to bomb abortion clinics and liberals to vote for Nader.
Weíve both become alienated from America; we no longer feel like this is our country. A group called ChristianExodous.org is trying to organize a mass migration of Christians to South Carolina, where they intend to win majorities in the state government and restore a government founded on Christian principles. ("Our board of directors considers the values of this state to be very similar to the values held by our membership," explains their website. "Additionally, South Carolina possesses a rich history of standing up for her rights." It is hard to read this as a reference to anything other than the bold assault on Fort Sumter in heroic defense of slavery.) Liberals, who have already founded their own such autonomous enclave based on their peculiar utopian notions, called "New York," arenít making any overt plans for treason. But after our protests against the invasion of Iraq were waved off as the griping of "focus groups" and Bush was reelected on the strength of "moral values," a lot of us, me included, quietly mentally seceded from Red State America. Our unofficial position on Iraq is: "Good luck with that. Let us know how it turns out." This attitude is about as healthy for our democracy as the establishment of a cornpone theocracy on American soil.
Perhaps worst of all, our shared disenfranchisement has also made us misidentify each other as our greatest enemies, instead of the moribund two-party system and the powerful corporate lobbies that keep it propped up and paralyzed and useless. Christians imagine themselves a besieged minority fighting a losing battle against secularism and immorality, and liberals see the Enlightenment guttering out in a new Dark Age of ignorance and bigotry, while weíre both taken for granted and treated with contempt by the people who are supposed to represent us.
Evangelicals and liberals donít have to like each other. We donít have the same ends. Indeed, our respective principlesómoral absolutism vs. pluralism and tolerance--are fundamentally incompatible. Fundamentalists long for Armageddon and the Rapture; we just want Canada with better weather. And whoís to say?--it may even be that the swing voters are ultimately saner than either of us, preoccupied as they are with trivial realities instead of beautiful abstractions like the immanence of Christís Kingdom on Earth or the niceties of the Constitution. But we should at least all have the chance to fight it out fairly, like citizens of a free country.