Credulity Breeds Mendacity

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Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash

How Liberals and Evangelicals are hurting themselves

Liberals and Evangelicals are not best friends. Liberals, in the American sense of the word, are the left of the political spectrum. Evangelicals — particularly white, Southern Evangelicals — are staunchly right-wing. The two groups don’t share much besides mutual hostility. They’re both hurting themselves the same way, though.

What shall it profit a movement to gain the whole world but lose its own soul?

In 2006 David Kuo wrote Tempting Faith, an exposé of the George W. Bush administration’s treatment of the Evangelical community. Kuo had started his career in politics with the firm belief that electing good, honest (Evangelical) leaders would save America. His experiences had changed his mind.

Cynical politicians had preyed on naïve religious leaders and offered them symbolic wins in exchange for their political support, while scorning their substantive needs and surreptitiously mocking them. His main example was the Faith Based Initiative, which would offer subsidies to religious-run social services but ended up completely unfunded. It had the symbolism the administration wanted, winning approval from allies and anger from enemies, so actually funding it had become pointless, and a possible Constitutional headache.

Kuo didn’t place the blame entirely on political operatives, though. In his view, Evangelicals had let themselves be corrupted by a political process that distracted them from their faith and focused their attention on political victories. They may have had a little push to that direction, from generations of perceived hostility and contempt from mainstream America, but it was ultimately their own fault for yielding to temptation. He liked to quote a section from The Screwtape Letters in which a young demon is taught to corrupt devout Christians by using patriotism to lead them away from their faith.

There’s another possibility that Kuo didn’t grapple with, however. Evangelicals pride themselves on their faith and their forgiveness. They try to keep an open heart towards something they can’t see, and towards those they consider sinners. In other words, they’re perfect marks for con artists. There’s a reason they’ve found it in their hearts to forgive Gingrich, a man with a troubled history with his wives, and Trump, a man with a troubled history with seemingly every woman he’s ever met.

“We’re ready to believe you!”

That was a catchy slogan for the Ghostbusters but an unwise slogan for liberals. For the last decade or so, activists have consciously adopted the rules of a support group as their rules for justice. Testimonials from people in apparent pain must be accepted at face value and left unchallenged.

This, predictably, has not gone well. Support groups have their own set of rules because they work for their particular goal. Politics and the justice system have their own sets of rules, too, because they have their own, different, goals. If someone lies to a support group there aren’t any negative consequences. Yes, the liar might not be getting the emotional support they really need, but perhaps by believing their lies we’ll give them the confidence to eventually tell the truth.

Politics is how different groups of people can reach compromises to live together in relative peace and stability. Justice is how we punish rule-breakers. Treating claims as sacrosanct makes both politics and justice impossible. We’re left with no way to agree on facts or distinguish between the guilty and the innocent.

If there’s doubt in your mind that liberals have a recent history of being too willing to accept claims, here’s a short list of high-profile examples: the UVA rape case, the Duke lacrosse case, the Covington Catholic child protestors, the Hofstra University rape case, and the most obvious hoax, the Jussie Smollet case. It’s reached the point where any alleged rape or hate crime that reaches the national news ends up proven false more often than not.

The typical response is that these hoaxes are a small minority of reports (which is probably true) and that there was no way to prepare for them or avoid them and, besides, there’s no great harm from believing them (which is probably false). Take, for example, this Vanity Fair article: their conclusion was that they’re proud to believe every accusation, no matter how ludicrous, and that they’re also better judges of the number of hate crimes than the FBI is. Those two claims are obviously contradictory. Either they can be credible judges or a credulous audience.

We create these con artists

It’s tempting to say that there are just bad people out there in the world and that their actions are completely inexplicable. In this case, at least, we’re letting ourselves off too easily. The way Evangelicals and liberals keep letting themselves get fooled, and even take a perverse pride in being made suckers, makes them a cause of their own problems.

People respond to incentives. Smollett wasn’t just a random grifter looking for a mark, who would have sold fake medicine to cancer patients if he couldn’t have sold his hate crime story. He was in a grey area where he was willing to act unscrupulously but only because he thought it could work. If people like the Vanity Fair editors were willing to think critically about claims like his, he wouldn’t have faked an attack to get a bigger paycheck.

After con artists like Gingrich and Smollett take advantage of their audience, a common refrain is “the real victims here are the honest people who won’t be believed.” That’s true. But the real accomplices here are those of us who fell for the cons.

Armchair historian, working class philosopher.

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