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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Christians Incite Hatred, Violence, Then Wash Hands of Complicity

Christians Incite Hatred, Violence, Then Wash Hands of Complicity
Image © Austin Cline
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The only thing truly surprising about the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas is that it's been so long since the last time anti-choice fanatics have engaged in violence against an abortion provider. Such violence is deplorable, yes, but it should be expected given the constant pressure of violent, eliminationist, and extremist rhetoric which the anti-choice movement is subjected to by its leaders and even many "mainstream" conservatives.

Why do you suppose conservatives are in such denial about the impact their language, rhetoric, and ideas? They certainly can't dispute the extent to which rhetoric and ideas can affect people's behavior — after all, aren't they among the first to complain about how they think American culture is negatively impacted by what people see in movies or hear in music? Aren't conservative Christians among the first to insist that there should be less profanity and sex in the media because its presence "coarsens" American culture?

Just in case someone wanted to argue that this is only a problem when it comes to godless, liberal matters, conservative Christians are also very vociferous in calling for increased public expression and promotion of Christianity — especially when sponsored by the government. Why would these conservative Christians be so vehement in their belief that the government should erect Ten Commandments plaques and monuments everywhere, sponsor school and government prayer, fund faith-based programs, and so forth unless they believed that the constant presence of Christian rituals, symbols, and ideas would have an impact on people's beliefs and behaviors?

So conservative Christians in America definitely believe that the constant presence of the "wrong" ideas and images can negatively impact impressionable people, and they definitely believe that the constant presence of their own ideas and images can positively impact impressionable people. The only excuse they could possibly have, then, is that their ideas and images could never have a negative impact on people — that their ideas and images could only ever have a positive impact on everyone.

Of course, that presumes that killing an abortion provider is bad and these anti-choice activists rarely say anything that suggests they believe this. They may condemn the murder of George Tiller in vague language, but they often go on to say how glad they are that he's dead and/or how he's responsible for what happened to him. I really don't think that this excuse can be treated as credible, assuming that anyone tried to get away with using it, but that leaves us without even a weak excuse for why the extreme rhetoric of anti-choice activists would not be complicit in anti-choice violence.

Part of the problem in my mind is that it's the relative absence of violence which seems to be more in need of explanation, not the occasional outburst of violence. Let's ignore the bulk of extreme anti-choice rhetoric and focus on a single, basic, and common anti-choice claim: abortion is murder. If people really, sincerely believed this, why aren't they acting like it?

If you saw adults walking children into a "death camp" to be murdered, would you be content to just hold silent protests outside the killing chambers or outside the homes of the killers? If you knew that thousands of young children were being killed every year, would you be content to wait for politicians to ban it? Would you even be satisfied with taking action against a single killer who specialized in eliminating older children while ignoring many more killers who eliminated infants and toddlers?

None of that would make sense. Only a tiny fraction of the anti-choice movement acts like they truly believe that abortion is murder: those who engage in a lot of direct, non-violent intervention and those who actually take violent action. Those who merely apologize for or try to justify violent action are little more than posers and cowards — people who might like to see violence, but don't have the personal or political courage to act on the beliefs they are promoting (though I'll bet they hope to profit from others acting on them).

Of course, the anti-choice movement does a lot more than calmly say "abortion is murder." The anti-abortion rhetoric goes much, much further in the demonization and dehumanization of abortion providers, ramping up the emotional reaction to abortion and hatred of those involved. They have done everything possible to ensure that their audience doesn't treat "abortion is murder" in a purely intellectual manner; instead, the rhetoric is clearly designed to encourage strong emotional reactions which people will act upon — and the only sort of reaction we should reasonably expect in this context is active, direct, and often violent.

Yet there is still so little violence, relatively speaking. Even if we include actions like putting glue in locks and spreading "Baby Killer" flyers in neighborhoods where clinic workers live as "violence," there is still little in the way of violence that is proportional as a reaction to the sincere belief that "abortion is murder." I don't mean to dismiss or underestimate how much pressure and stress abortion providers have to live with; instead, I'm pointing out how little anti-choice activists really believe what they are saying because this may help explain why they are so vehement and extreme in their rhetoric.

First, the extremist rhetoric may be an attempt to convince themselves of something that they have trouble believing and accepting — they are unable to regard a pregnant woman walking into a clinic as the equivalent of a mother carrying an infant into a clinic, so the extremist rhetoric is necessary to arouse the negative emotions that would be there automatically otherwise. If they really did believe that abortion is murder, they wouldn't need to go to such lengths to demonize abortion. No one goes to equivalent lengths to demonize Nazi concentration camps — a simple description is more than enough to create a moral and emotional revulsion at what happened.

Second, and more importantly, I wonder if the extremist rhetoric is also deliberately designed to incite and inflame unstable people so that they will take the violent action which some anti-choice leaders wish would occur and which they are unwilling to engage in themselves. To what extent do they wish there were more anti-abortion violence and are too cowardly to do something on their own, yet are nevertheless willing to encourage others to take violent action instead? There is a lot of history in America of such rhetoric leading to violence, assassinations, and even riots, so they know what the effects of their language is likely to be.


  1. Comrade Klinenshickeldorfbergmanfeldskigold:

    Hey, Posterboy, you're incitin' people right now. Boy talk about the pot callin' the kettle stupid!

    Look, it's pretty simple. Killin' babies, even when they're only a size 2 to the minus 7th power is MURDER, you loozer! Harvesting the unclean soul of an evil abortiocidalist is GOD'S work. Don't ever forget that!

  2. Comrade Kline, All I can say is, for Pete's Sakezzzzzzzzzzzz, too may words. You missed the real issue brought up over at the Seattle Times (http://tinyurl/qoh6b8) al-beit in relation to the gay rights issue and privacy rights of those working against it.

    Don't you See, "across the country thousands of people who contributed to the campaign banning gay rights in California... have had their their names and addresses permanently ascribed to an internet site, along with the amount they gave and their place of employment."


    "[this] is generating debate inside and outside the gay community and raising questions about privacy in the democratic process and WHETHER SUCH PRACTICES AMOUNT TO INTIMIDATION." (capitals supplied)

    Even though you do a lot of just "wondering" it would appear that you're trying to intimidate some of the good people on God's side of this issue. I think the General ought to at least consider sending the "Deacon" out to beat some sense into you. That could also serve as penance for some of his lesser language transgressions.

  3. P.S. "Beat some sense" Linguistically speaking of course, everybody know the deacon excels in that respect.

  4. Why do you suppose conservatives are in such denial about the impact their language, rhetoric, and ideas?

    Where do you get the cockamamie idea that they are "in denial"? They *want* shit like this to happen. When they deny that they intend shit like this to happen as a consequence of their language, rhetoric, and ideas, they are *lying*.

  5. the priests clutch their knives
    they nod their heads and blood flows
    thus crops are renewed


  6. and the sun comes up in the morning:

  7. Who will rid me of this meddlesome abortion provider?

  8. I kinda sorta teach philosophy for a living, and an occupational hazard of that is a tendency to think rationalistically about everything. We overestimate, and over-esteem, the role of reason in human behavior and the ideal of cogency and coherence in people's belief systems. There's really nothing unusual about ignoring the implications of belief or rhetoric.

    In this case, too, one might consider the parallels to Islamic fundamentalists, the militia and "sovereign citizen" movements, or the KKK. The KKK considers itself to be a "Christian love group," and systematically denies responsibility for violence committed by persons who claim to be acting on the basis of the same ideology.

  9. Run! Run! It's making reasonable, fact-based arguments!


  10. I have to agree that I'm kind of amazed that we have seen so little violence from this end of the political spectrum, especially considering how angry, fearful and convinced of their own righteousness they are.

    However, the disconnect between what a large groups of people hold an opinion that could sanction violent or radical action and the number of people that actually undertake that action is huge no matter what the movement.

    Until that action reaches a certain critical mass, at which time most people can justify turning to violence and also at which time you have an full-on uprising, this is the kind of thing you get.

  11. Cline, let me tell you a little story about when I was in college. I was living in a high-rise dormitory. Our section was full of manly, athletic jocks and fun-loving substance abusers.

    But there was one oddball, a dirty, long-haired hippie who didn't fit in with us all-American types. He had a scraggly girlfriend who stayed in his room a lot, played Greatful Dead music instead of Ted Nugent, and he had a puppy that sometimes shat in the corridor. Dogs in a seventh-floor dorm -- not a good idea.

    One weekend when the dirty hippie was away, I made a pile of toilet paper and other flammable material in front of his room door, soaked it with alcohol-containing aftershave (to counter the puppy stench) and put up a sign saying "Light Me!" Then I went to sleep. Strangely enough, someone (it wasn't me) set the pile on fire!

    Luckily, our sleep was not disturbed because someone (OK, it was me) had bashed the fire alarm out of commission during a false alarm, and a guy nicknamed "Captain Trips" had pulled the sprinkler system down while doing Tarzan moves while he was under the influence of LSD, so we stayed dry. And the flames were put out with an extinguisher that had somehow escaped the foam-fights we used to have in the halls.

    Now Cline, I ask you this -- who was at fault for that fire? Was it me, because I piled the kindling and made the sign? Or was it the person who threw the match?

    The answer is, Cline, that it was neither. That dirty stinking hippie was to blame! He just didn't fit in. When someone violates the norms of society, or at least gets on the nerves of aggressive males who are prone to irrational violence, well, they should know better than to do that. And if they don't know, then someone's gotta learn them. Because this is America, dammit! Or at least it was back then when that happened.

    America -- home of the free, land where you better not do anything that might upset a violent white guy. But if you do, what happens next is YOUR fault.


We'll try dumping haloscan and see how it works.