Monday, June 06, 2005

They May Be Your Parents, But Are They Also Proto-God-Botherers?

Max has cleverly brought to my attention this sizzling briquet of news from the Observer, in which Stephen Fry, Ultratwat, was shocked--shocked!--to discover that 'anti-semitic' vandals (he doesn't say how he knows they were a-s, he just says he 'discovered' it) had broken into and robbed his great-grandfather's grave in Slovakia. As Max eloquently summarized the ensuing drivel:
Guy finds a vandalised, robbed grave, and thinks it's "a kind of blasphemy" which "made him re-examine his views on whether the law should recognise blasphemy as a crime". Um, it's not blasphemy, it's vandalism and theft, which are crimes in the first fucking place.

Well, quite. He goes on to marvel, 'And this contribution to the religious-hatred-bill debate gets a half page in the Observer?' And this raises an interesting point. Indeed it does, and not merely because the Observer is a brightly-colored Playcare exercise designed to keep the Lil' Journos occupied on Saturday night while the grownups go out and get wankered.

There is a growing preoccupation with the religiose and speerchual in our public lives, on both sides the sea. I've been peering at it sidelong for some time, trying to get its measure, and it seems to me there are a couple of semi-independent factors at play.

The first can be characterized by my initial reaction to the Fry drool-puddle: Lord fucking save us from the middle-aged spreading-bellied suckling demi-return to religion of our parents. Yeah mate, you’re getting old, and you’re going to die after all, and nobody’s going to be on the other side to hug you when you get there. Get the fuck over it, and don’t be passing fucking laws trying to make it not happen by sympathetic magic.

Boomers, that great whingeing engine of middlebrow cultural migration, are getting older, sicker, more susceptible to a certain existential melancholia that murmurs singsong in the deep of night, 'What have I actually done? Where did I put down the ideals of my youth? Why don't my kids need me anymore? Didn't it all maybe look a bit more glittering from the other side of 40? Was that hole in my heart really Humvee-shaped after all?'

They're getting lonely for meaning, and guess who's waiting with open arms to provide it? Got it in one: Mother church/shul/mosque. All those values they still dismissed as square and retrograde when they were raising us--community, tribal identity, moral certainty, certainty at all--now exert a growing pull on their aging, aching hearts.

You may well feel for them, and be tempted to think 'more power to them, if that's what gets them through the long dark night'. But beware, because out of this particular solace breed dangerous impulses. Fry doesn't stop at conceptualizing the crime against his ancestor's grave as blasphemy: 'It made me question whether I really was quite so sure that blasphemy was an old-time law for an old-time statute book.'

See? See how short the step, and how slippery the slope below? They're still the people who (pace Meaders) run the show. We all know Tony Blair's just waiting till his resignation to formally convert to Catholicism.

Which brings me to the other, uniquely US-based factor in this trend: political manoeuvring. In America, where the culture war is quickly taking on the proportions of an ignominious rout, religion has become yet another of the Democrats' spectacularly ill-conceived modes of clutching at voter coattails by bellying up to the right's agenda. Irrationally convinced that the 2004 election was lost on 'moral values' (as opposed to 'expertly induced terror of imminent annihilation'), the Dems have been festooning themselves in Scripture for months.

Nancy Pelosi, vaunted bulwark of left-Dem feminism, recently addressed AIPAC and quoted Isaiah to illustrate her damn-the-torpedoes unconditional support for Israeli supremacy.

She Who Must Be Flayed totes around her King James like this year's Birkin bag, and joined John Kerry in sponsoring the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, which purports to safeguard individual liberties but is widely recognized as supporting the right of pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control and emergency contraception prescriptions.

These things backfire like clockwork, which represents the 'spectacularly ill-conceived' part of our program. Not only do they fail to convince anyone who previously thought the Dems reprehensible on religious grounds (who would trust such blatantly opportunistic, carpetbagging conversion?), but they alienate the established progressive base, at least that portion of it still sufficiently conscious to question what the DNC feeds them.

But beyond being cackhanded as political strategy, they also do active harm. Not content with merely rolling over in the face of Republican bills and judicial nominations, the Dems now go out of their way to preemptively cave. Bills like the WRFA are actively dangerous to women, are the kind of thing even the Dems of ten years ago would have opposed coming from the right, and are a fucking gift to the Republicans. Same goes for the infamous 'deal' over the filibuster. In their newfound religiosity, as in so much else, the Democrats are failing progressive Americans. They are failing them passively, through their epic incompetence, and they are failing them actively, through their cynical attempts to win heartland favor by adopting the Republican agenda.

In summary, beware of Boomers and Democrats bearing Bibles. No good can come of this spiritual upswelling on any front, mark my words.

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