uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum -- Q. Aurelius Symmachus, 384 C.E.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bryan Fischer: One-stop shopping for all the arguments you thought no one made anymore

I know, I know. It's better to ignore people who are increasingly the fringe characters our children will puzzle over in detached bewilderment in their social studies textbooks, the way we puzzle over photos of the Ku Klux Klan and the angry faces that greeted the first blacks at school during desegregation. There will always be prejudice in the world, but it shifts with every generation as traditionalists defending the status quo eventually accept a wider circle of participation in this thing we call Society.

Until that time, when yesterday's George Wallace has fully become today's David Duke, during that liminal period where it's clear how attitudes are changing but there are still the strident some who wish it weren't so, we are treated to the increasing shrillness of those who, no doubt, know like we do that they represent the last thrashing throes of a dwindling ideology.

Such must be the case with Bryan Fischer, a "director of issues analysis" at the American Family Association, who tweets and writes regularly the sort of arguments you'd expect from old men grousing at the country store about the price of snap peas. Fischer's blogs on the AFA's website are like a strawman emporium for liberal commentators wishing to phone it in for the day -- a smorgasbord of arguments long since discredited that can be easily dismantled. I say they're strawmen only because they should be the sorts of things we don't have to argue about anymore. They should be the sorts of things a 10th-grade debate team captain regurgitates in his first speech in order to proudly denounce them in the effortless way they can be. Because like the strawman of L. Frank Baum's classic, these arguments don't have any brains. But alas, Fischer and his scores of followers keep on making them and keep on finding some sort of mysterious resonance in them. True, it would be perhaps better and healthier for one's blood pressure to simply ignore Fischer and his sort, were the AFA not hosting a prayer event that will be headlined by a serious contender for the GOP presidential nomination.

So perhaps Fischer's views are worth a look.

Most recently, when the world was still shocked and reeling from Anders Behring Breivik's murderous shooting spree in Norway, Fischer wrote a long blog post about how Breivik, despite the religio-cultural motivations he articulated for the act, was not really a Christian because he didn't line up with Fischer's own decidedly narrow definition of Christianity (incidentally, this is the same tack Fischer uses to suggest President Obama "cannot possibly be a Christian"). Fischer's strategy is to take things that Breivik (or Obama) said, and cast them against his own interpretation of scripture to suggest that neither is really a Christian. But of course, those doing the exact same thing to demonstrate that Osama bin Laden was not really a Muslim are afforded none the same courtesy by Fischer, who is on a campaign to prohibit the building of any new mosques -- "period." That is because to Fischer, only Christianity is a protected religion under the Constitution, which "was not written to protect the religion of Islam." Never mind the Treaty of Tripoli.

It's perhaps no surprise that religion is an area, broadly, where Fischer seems extraordinarily juvenile in his arguments, suggesting even at one point that Democrats are "the party for atheists pagans (sic) and secular fundamentalists." He even trotted out the old argument just two weeks ago that the "Constitution nowhere guarantees to anyone anywhere the right to be free FROM religion. What it guarantees is freedom OF religion," something I hadn't heard made with a straight face since 1992, when I was in high school. This is one of those fun things liberals mock in the backyard over cocktails, an argument I thought had so lapsed into the mythic past that I wasn't sure anyone had ever made it to begin with. But sure enough, there was Old Reliable, making the painful argument that there can be freedom of religion without freedom from religion. Let's pass a law forcing him to pray five times a day toward Mecca and then see if he still feels he has freedom of religion.

You might think finding all of these links took me a bit of time. Not really. I found and wrote this in about an hour -- once I found one stereotypical, timeworn argument seemingly fresh from the satirical frames of a 1990s "Simpsons" episode, all I had to do was type in some key buzzwords on the AFA's search engine to find more and more examples. It's a fascinating exercise in how true belief becomes caricature.

One could go on. When not fretting about Muslims, Fischer is (surprise!) wringing his hands about gays and lesbians ("Homosexual Bigots (sic) New Target for Hate" -- doesn't anyone at the AFA proofread these headlines?), about people saying "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays," about "feminizing the medal of honor,"  or "Obama giving America back to the Indians," or even how grizzly bears should be shot and killed because they "are a sign that the land is under a curse."

Yes, one could indeed go on and on. But I think all the fish in this barrel are dead.

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