Saturday, February 12, 2011

No Small Amount of Irony

ITEM ONE: Dueling Fundamentalisms

Isn’t it ironic that the very people who so vehemently oppose Islamic fundamentalism and seek to punish anyone who has ever had any connection to any madrassas teaching Islamic fundamentalism - no matter how remote or indirect that connection - are the very same people who are happy to defund public schools in America to fund the Christian versions of those same madrassas - fundamentalist Christian private schools? Same thought process, different content, but the same results – poorly educated but heavily indoctrinated students who would readily impose repressive, anti-democratic regimes upon the population, and use any means to accomplish such ends, all in the name of their angry, bloodthirsty god.

The difference between these fundamentalisms is ultimately only one of degree, not content. And the hypocrisy revealed by American fundamentalists actively seeking to root out their Islamic counterparts while engaging in essentially the same activities suggests a recognition that both parties ultimately seek the same goal – a repressive control of a world they find fearful – and thus by definition see the other as competition if not the devil incarnate.

Fundamentalisms stop a working mind. And fundamentalisms strangle a loving heart. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whose deity is invoked in that process.

ITEM TWO: Africa, Colonialism, Respectability

Africans in places like Uganda often vehemently and vociferously oppose what they see as any remote evidence of western colonialism, insisting upon their right to self-determination and demanding that the world respect their efforts at self-governance. Given the history of western colonialism and the succeeding global corporate neo-colonialism, their concerns are, at some level, well founded. And at a very basic level, they are entitled to have their efforts at self-determination respected, just like any other nation-state and people.

But isn’t it ironic that in their efforts to assert that self-determination, their leaders – both religious and political – seem obsessed with the issue of homosexuality and compelled to make unsupportable statements regarding that subject. To hear Ugandans tell it, homosexuality is completely foreign to the African experience, a pathological import from the colonizing west. Never mind that homosexual behaviors have been observable in all human cultures from virtually the beginning of humanity’s history - which was, after all, in Africa - to the present.

Clearly these African voices stretch credulity beyond the breaking point. With even a cursory examination, they reveal themselves as self-serving religious distinctions (never underestimate the perceived needs of religious people to distinguish themselves as the elect from everyone else, by definition the damned, using socially constructed purity codes). They also are poorly concealed means of making political hay (if one cannot or is unwilling to deal with the very real problems of Africa from the atrocities of war to the starvation of its refugees, any distraction will do).

But isn’t it ironic that at the very moment Ugandans are making such unsupportable claims they are entertaining homophobic fundamentalist representatives of the “Family,” fundamentalist politicians and lobbyists from C Street in Washington who come to Africa with their money and their proposed bills to make homosexuality a capital crime?

And isn’t it sheer coincidence that within weeks of such visits, these very bills are proposed in the Ugandan Congress while moral panic stories run on the front page of Ugandan newspapers urging their countrymen to kill homosexuals? And isn’t it even further coincidence that in the name of that bloodthirsty tribal deity that Ugandans would dutifully break into the house of their countryman, David Cato, a leader in Uganda’s apparently western imported LBGT movement, and beat him in the head with hammers until he died?

What is apparent here to anyone with even a half an eye for irony – not to mention truthfulness - is that Africa’s willingness to accept western imports is, on a good day, selective and self-serving. The willingness to host western Protestant fundamentalists and to accept the funding these ambassadors of misanthropy bear is a choice. While homosexuality is ultimately a way of being human that either exists in a given human being or it doesn’t, homophobia is a socially constructed understanding that – unlike one’s sexual orientation – is always a choice.

People who choose to engage in such deadly forms of fundamentalism and the malevolent homophobia which almost inevitably flows from them do not have the right to demand respectability for these misanthropic choices. And they are disbarred from making such demands under the rubric of cultural imperialism in any semblance of good faith. Social prejudices are never respectable regardless of who their misanthropy targets. Indeed, no small amount of psychic energy must be required to maintain this obvious irony – that while homosexuality is not and cannot be a product of western colonialism, an aggressive homophobia based in western Christian fundamentalism by definition always is.

Sexual orientation – whatever that might be to whomever is considering the question - is never really a choice even as attitudes and behaviors in response to one’s orientation often are. But social prejudices are always a matter of choice. And their lack of respectability is never exonerated by attempts to legitimate them whether by supernatural agency (I have no choice – the gods command it), appeals to nature (this is against the laws of nature as we have constructed them) or tradition (people have always thought like this, it must be right). Indeed, in the light of candor – not to mention good faith - such attempts must always be seen for what they are - little more than an attempt to avoid responsibility for one’s choices, adding disingenuity to misanthropy.

Of course, the ability to recognize irony is the mark of a fairly mature mind. Why is it not surprising that the black and white dualisms of fundamentalist ideology (reflecting the lowest level of Perry’s cognitive stages) resolutely refuse to recognize it? And why is it that the adherents of fundamentalism resent having their thinking being seen for what it is – rigid, simplistic, unnuanced and ultimately primitive? There is no small irony in the fact that Africans demanding respect from their western counterparts engage in the very behaviors and attitudes which those same western counterparts do not find respectable in their own culture.

One last thought. Why would it necessarily make someone an elitist who is simply willing to recognize the obvious here and report the elephant in the room? The willingness to confront colonialism requires candor and honesty with self. Why would the assessment of misanthropy in all of its pathological forms and deadly results require anything less? Finally, why should those who refuse to engage in such critical reflection be seen with anything less than disdain, NOT because they are African but simply because they are disingenuous? No small amount of irony, no?


The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

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