Friday, 3 July 2015

Witch-Hunting, The Great Christian Pastime (Part 1)

posted on 7/3/2015 by the Salt City Sinner 

There are two definitions of “witch hunt,” one literal and one figurative.

Literal witch hunts still go on in America and abroad (primarily in Africa and the Middle East). They happen when a community succumbs to collective insanity and goes searching for “witches” (practitioners of magick or the occult) and/or evidence of witchcraft, blaming everything from failed crops to moral transgressions by “upstanding” community members or outbreaks of contagion on suspected witches. The victims of these hunts are often, but not always, people who have absolutely nothing to do with witchcraft – and who are certainly innocent of causing the harm they are held responsible for in either case.

Figurative witch hunts follow the same pattern of moral panic, a frenetic search for a conspiracy, and the persecution of people perceived to be members of a hated minority, but can happen when angry, panicked idiots set their sights on just about anything.

The metaphorical witch hunt that people in the United States are probably most familiar with is the infamous Second Red Scare that took pace during the McCarthy years of the 1950s, a panic that saw anti-Communist hysteria reach a fever pitch, culminating in a political climate characterized by loyalty oaths, theatrical tribunals, and the rise of the House Un-American Activities Committee, a collection of dour legislative inquisitors tasked with sniffing out commies and traitors within the United States government and elsewhere in positions of cultural influence (it's worth noting that Ronald Reagan got his start ratting out actors in Hollywood to J. Edgar Hoover's FBI in the late 1940s as this era was just dawning).

Cultures the world over that are heavily influenced by Christianity have always been unusually given to both the literal and metaphorical varieties of witch hunt (it is, of course, by no means the only religion that gives rise to this tendency). For about the last thousand years, witch hunts in the West have certainly been a Christian phenomenon. In Europe and North America, the “golden age” of literal witch hunts took place from 1450 to 1750, give or take, and resulted in around 50,000 to 100,000 executions. Of course, given the religious nature of these “trials” and subsequent murders, and the fear and god-craziness that accompanied them, it's a lot more accurate to call them “human sacrifices” performed in the name of a jealous deity than to refer to them as executions.

Fast forward a few hundred years, and even the Red Scare was in no small part a result of Christians deciding that they'd flex their muscles and punish the heathens polluting their country (whether the United States is, in fact, “their” country is a thoroughly depressing debate that goes on and on, seemingly with every cable news cycle).

Observe, for example, the motto 'In God We Trust' on paper US currency, which was added in 1957, and the phrase 'one nation under god' in the pledge of allegiance, which was added in 1954.

Both alterations were products of the Red Scare, and both were meant to distinguish the United States from the officially atheistic Soviet Union.

How atheists or polytheists might feel about such a blatant violation of the First Amendment's prohibition on the government officially endorsing a particular faith didn't figure very heavily (or at all) into the Christian effort on this question, since such people were and are obviously, as non-Christians, vaguely un-American if not overtly traitorous.

"Yeah, yeah, that's all well and good (and objectively true) but all of that is just New Atheism 101," I hear some of you grumble.

The thing is, this type of behavior by Christians in the West (and particularly, in recent years, in North America) is not some historical relic of barbarous behavior -- it's an unbroken chain, stretching from antiquity to, literally, a few days ago, when county clerks throughout Real America™ quit rather than issue marriage licenses to gay couples, or announced their intention to just straight up break the law and discriminate in the name of their hateful religious fancies, making them the direct descendents (literally, I'm sure, in more than a few cases) of the zealots whose opposition to desegregation and voting rights for Black people was firmly rooted in their faith. Persecution of nonbelievers and discrimination against those the faith deems unworthy are the core ingredients that give conservative Christianity its trademark flavor, not unfortunate byproducts.

Just as an aside, it's worth noticing that in the cases of both desegregation and marriage equality, this religious opposition was coupled with verbiage about "states' rights" -- a connection I'm sure is just a coincidence, since present-day Christian conservatives will swear up and down that, had they been there, they definitely wouldn't have been on the wrong side of the civil rights movement, no sir.

In Part 2 of this post, we'll take a merry journey through the libel, slander, and persecution that the Christian Right has visited upon non-believers more recently, from the rise of 'values voters' to the Satanic Panic to the question of 'religious liberty.'

Stay tuned!

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