That Light at the End of the Tunnel is a Train!: My Politics Written Comps

Chickens can be taught that only one specific pitch [of a ringing bell] is a food-signal. . . . If one rings the bell next time, not to feed the chickens, but to assemble them for chopping off their heads, they come faithfully running, on the strength of the character which a ringing bell possesses for them. Chickens not so educated would have acted more wisely. Thus it will be seen that the devices by which we arrived at a correct orientation may be quite the same as those involved in an incorrect one.

Kenneth Burke, Permanence and Change

Did you hear about the guy in NYC who was so closely following his car’s navigation system that he drove straight down a set of railroad tracks . . . right into an oncoming train? No kidding! He and the passenger barely escaped by jumping out of the car.

Piety can be a bad thing.

Burke called it the difference between motion and action. Breathing is motion; sighing is action. The former is involuntary. The latter is intentional and meaningful. Burke explained further that while evolution described the evolving force as simply moving, creation centered on active, intentional God.

You get the picture.

Burke wanted us to act like humans, not move like chickens. Don’t follow the talking box in your car to your certain demise!

And when it all comes down to it, I’m pretty positive that that’s why Republicans, specifically those on Christian Right, are so ticked right now. We had been going along, following what our pastors, Christian radio personalities, family, teachers were telling us: “Vote Republican. Don’t mess this up. Just vote Republican. They get us. They understand. They are fighting for us. Just do it.”

Don’t act. Just move.

And now we’re face-to-face with the realization that we got PWNED.

John Whitehead from the Rutherford Institute is as blunt and accurate as you can be:

Like moths flickering about a hot flame, the leaders of the Christian Right are eager to get close to political power. But as anyone who has played the game knows, politics is corrupt and manipulative. And the Christian Right was manipulated by the Bush Administration.

And we’re processing the grief. Deep down, nearly every reaction I’ve got to my recent and public less-than-loyal-to-the-GOP comments can be described as denial pure and simple. And to this participant in and student of American religious rhetoric, the reactions cluster around certain topoi, all variations on the red herring fallacy. So I give you:

The Top Ten Campaign 2008 Fallacies from the Religious Right

(Dog Latin gratis)

“What about them?” Formal Name: Tu Quoque.

  • Let’s get this one out of the way. Because after my friends on the Religious Right read that header, they’re already muttering “You gonna give equal time to them, aren’t you?” under their breath. Let’s face it: I don’t know “them.” I haven’t spent my life with “them.” I don’t get vituperative reactions from “them” when I disagree with the standard GOP line. So this is all in the family right now.
  • Potential Retort: “That’s not my project.” It worked in grad school. Might work here.

“They are all liars!” “They both do it!” Formal Name: also Tu Quoque.

  • This is usually the first line of defense, and what it really reveals is severe undertow of cynicism. It’s the Republican version of “Yo Mama!” As an attempt to put the opponent on the defensive, it’s usually general and imprecise so an effective defense is impossible.
  • Retort: You can’t respond with some Zen-like “Aren’t we all liars deep down?” No, you have to reflect feelings. “It is easier to be mad than sad.”

“What about Jeremiah Wright?” Formal Name: Religio est Freakium. It’s a combination of Ad Hominem and Guilt by Association with an extra dash of freak-out over weird religions.

  • This is the response I get the most. And it irks me. Because it’s like asking a doctor on the sidewalk, “Hey, I’ve got a pain right here. What could that be?” Your doc isn’t gonna tell you without research and observation. And neither am I! I’m trained in studying religious discourse, and a clip shown ad nauseum on Fox News doesn’t cut it. I know enough about American-grown religion in the black community a la the Nation of Islam to know that we white people just don’t get it. And this white woman is not going to attempt to get it quickly.
  • Secondly, HELLO? I spent 20 years within what was for all intents and purposes a pretty racist place. And I don’t buy their defense of racism. There was good there. A lot of good. And, like all human institutions, there was a lot of foolishness, even dangerous and hurtful foolishness. People in glass houses . . . .[/rant]
  • The Left is doing it about Sarah Palin too. Everybody’s up in arms that she’s a Pentecostal. And yeah, she is. That doesn’t make her evil. It may reveal a part of her, but it doesn’t reveal all of her.
  • Retort: “Can we get back to the issues?”

“How could you?” Formal Name: Argumentum ad Betrayalium. It’s the opposite of Argumentum ad Verecundiam. And it’s related Bandwagon.

  • This response is more emotionally weighty than the flabbergasted and understandable “Can you explain this one to me?” It communicates that feeling of (unjustified) betrayal that you’re not voting for the Republican candidate instead of the justified betrayal that the GOP has delivered a real loser candidate. It’s a diversion because it’s easier to be mad at an unemployed goof like me than to get mad at someone powerful or out-of-reach. The real problem here is a lack of personal boundaries.
  • Retort: “Thanks for your concern. Would you like some bean dip?”

“Terrorist!” Formal Name: Reductio ad Terroristum.

  • There’s nothing you can say after that.
  • It’s just like Reductio ad Hitlerum with a 21st-century twist. Or Reductio ad Arabium: “He’s an Arab!” Or Reductio ad Abortum: “He kills babies with a hammer!”
  • Retort: We need to update Godwin’s Law with Camille’s Corollary: “As the Religious Right’s candidate falls in the polls, the number of accusations that the opposing candidate is not a Christian will demonstrate an inversely proportional rise.”

“Polemic!” Formal Name: Reductio ad Spinum

  • I believe this response is intended to mean “Quit stalling. Get to my point.” But in the grand scheme of things, it is expressing frustration at argumentative creativity. It means, “Quit dancing and stick to the talking points.” Personally, I don’t stick to the talking points. That’s not what I do. If you don’t like it, talk to someone who’ll respond like you want them to.
  • Retort: “Huh?”

“How could you fall for all that celebrity/eloquence/schmaltz/rhetoric?” Formal Name: Reductio ad Gorgias

  • Okay. I’ll ignore that slam on my academic discipline for now. . . . There has been a ton of schmaltz. No doubt. On all sides. And it is tiring. But who says I am falling for it? Do I buy Dr. Pepper because I like the jingle – even if it is a great jingle? Nope. I like the taste.
  • Retort: “I’m not.”

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“At least, vote for third party!” “Whatever you do — don’t vote for third party!” Formal Name: Reductio ad Authoritum est Rubberium et Tu est Glueium

  • Talk about an argumentative tennis match. “Third party is the least of all evils;” “The third party is the biggest waste of your civic energy.” “At least be consistent with my values and vote for Bob Barr;” “You think Ralph Nader could actually win?” Whatever it is you’re planning to do is wrong and you must do the opposite. Which is also wrong so you must just vote for the GOP: it’s the only possible choice.
  • Retort: “Vote your conscience. I’m voting mine. That’s all you have left after this campaign.”

“If you think you’re offended, well, I’m offended more.” Formal Name: Reductio ad Colbertum

  • It is an attempt to pirate the usually left-wing trope of “political correctness.” It falls flat. It’s like when a rich friend complains that his boat needs a new whatever-it-is-that-boats-need while your dishwasher is broken, your credit cards are maxed out, and your goofy, incontinent dog is bald from all the obsessive licking.
  • Retort: The only way to respond is to imagine the person is channeling Stephen Colbert. Then, with comic irony fully intact, you may move on. WristStrong!

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“Either you’re for us or you’re against us.” Formal Name: Reductio ad Absurdum

  • This is the most sacrilegious of the fallacies because it takes a Scriptural phrase and imposes that formal either-or bifurcation on anything and everything. “You’re either for McCain or you’re a communist.” “You either love America or you’re voting for Obama.” “You either are smart and agree with me or you’re an argula-eating, Huffington-reading loser.”
  • Retort: “Says who?”

The Christian Right has been so painfully loyal to the GOP since the 1980s, and now we’re hearing the warning whistles and seeing the light coming closer and closer. And we’re bickering amongst ourselves about who jumped off the tracks first. Just ACT!

Be pious to the Gospel! Don’t be pious to the Party.

Comments & Responses

29 Responses so far.

  1. gordo says:

    Jesus said that the world would know his followers because of the love they show to each other and to the world. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places but I don’t see any love coming out of the Chistian right.

    Just my observation.

  2. justin says:

    gordo–that’s because the the “christian right” aren’t Christian. that is to say that their “objective” isn’t the same as what Christ’s was. they’re a political movement. political movements don’t have to show love; they just have to gain power. what i have always wondered though is what on earth would happen if they actually got what they wanted. i don’t think they’ve ever thought that far ahead…

  3. gordo says:

    Justin – have you ever read “The Handmaid’s Tale?”

    • The movie based on the book “Handmaid’s Tale” is so AWFUL, that you practically need to spray Vallium all over the house after you watch it! My advice is ‘don’t’ watch it at all! It’s a nightmare on celluloid! And the book ‘s author is a real man hater! Publishers publish books to make money. They don’t care what kind of garbage ‘stinks’ between a book’s covers. But it ‘is’ a wierd story about what America might be like if American Religious Right Freaks got elected ‘political’ power and total control of the country and turned it into a fundamentalist theocracy! Theonomy and dominionism is a heresy! Did Paul not warn all believers, to, ‘not return’ to the Law? Religious Right leaders, misled many good christians into trusting them. These ‘false leaders’ became obsessed with ‘power’,and they completely ‘lost’ all focus on the Gospel, on Christ, on respect for people’s different opinions, and common sense! The goody good mask of the Religious Right, fell off long before 2008! After the mask feel off, people saw what these people were ‘really’ all about. Power, power, and more power. Not really about ‘srvig anybody’ but their own selfish agenda! And they really didn’t care ‘who’ they ran over,or hurt, figuratively speaking, as they tried to ‘bull doze’ their arrogant way through the culture and society of Evangelical America, with the intent to ‘control’ whoever got in their way. Sorry for the rant. I just get intense when I see such injustice, such manipulation, such deceit!

  4. Dan Keller says:

    “The Religious Right Is Neither,” said the old bumper sticker. Yes, this is a lame attempt at wit, but the underlying truth is there. And it’s scary. Politics is dirty and gritty. It makes cowards cower and empowers the bold. People like to be heard. People don’t like to be pawns in a giant chess game. I think that’s what people are experiencing. Decades of political action have gotten the religious right nothing. Abortion is still legal and gays are still out of the closet.

    I think part of life is knowing when one is working for ultimate good. So many good, wonderful people, who love God, have forsaken so many of their Master’s teachings. Christ set us on a mission of disciple making and we have been busy building human coalitions that have nothing to do with conversion of souls and transformation of people. That’s why God sent Christ.

    To quote Shakespeare from AS YOU LIKE IT:

    “All the world’s a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players:
    They have their exits and their entrances… .”

    I choose to be in the business of changing lives. It’s rewards are much greater.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Interesting. I’ve been a Republican, and a Christian who was a Republican, and now the Republicans have left me but it doesn’t make sense for me, in terms of where *I* stand on the issues, to vote Democratic this year. I’ve probably done some of what you’ve written, I will cop to the concerns about “terrorist” but for me that is an actual concern about the life experiences that have shaped Obama and how he will govern.

  6. cklewis says:

    Actually, Elizabeth, you haven’t. At least not in conversations with me. :) Valid concerns are valid concerns. And from my perspective, you’ve been pretty even, logical, and thoughtful.

  7. cklewis says:

    IOW, nothing you’ve said shuts down conversation. Most of these reactions that I’ve described stifle discussion and circumvent thought.

  8. Dan Keller says:

    The problem with a black and white world is that it does shut down communication. We’ve never been told to understand. We’ve been told to love God and our neighbor as ourself. The words “understand” and “agree” don’t appear in that teaching.

  9. gordo says:

    Elizabeth – I’m puzzled about your comment that the Republicans have left you. From where I watch, it doesn’t appear that there is a Republican party apart from the Christian right.

  10. cklewis says:

    I’m not Elizabeth, but I imagine that she means that the neocons have taken over and the Christian Right has become just a pawn.

    But Elizabeth’s not your standard “Christian Right” person, if I do say so myself. ;) She’s more crunchy con, I guess. Yes?

  11. stacy says:

    Although I am still leaning Republican in this election, I have to agree with some of what you are saying. I have been bothered recently by some things I have observed. Something very recently that I observed – and don’t really want to relay- but what I saw, though not terrible, revealed an underlying attitude that really bothered me. We- as in the conservative crowd -have to quit blindly following tradition and what has always been. The Republican party is not our Savior- Jesus Christ is! Our hope must be in Him. There is no political party that can give us peace and all we want. We can only find complete satisfaction in Christ. Anyway this has hit a nerve with me. Like I said there are enough things that keep me voting Republican this time around but I am not falling apart with the thought of a Democrat in office. It will be fine and the sky will not fall- at least not for that reason.

  12. gordo says:

    Was there a time when the Christian right wasn’t a pawn?

  13. Bruce C. says:

    “Vote your conscience. I’m voting mine. That’s all you have left after this campaign.”

    I’m not happy with the GOP either Camille but my conscience would be destroyed if I voted for Obama who is actually “okay” with a post birth abortion. To stand in that voting booth and vote for a man who in his conscience, can justify letting a child whose life was a botched murder attempt just lay there and die is repulsive.

  14. Camille says:

    I’m not happy with the GOP either Camille but my conscience would be destroyed if I voted for Obama who is actually “okay” with a post birth abortion. To stand in that voting booth and vote for a man who in his conscience, can justify letting a child whose life was a botched murder attempt just lay there and die is repulsive.

    There’s third party! If you read that retort in the entire context of that point, that’s what I was saying. Don’t settle for McCain!

    And secondly, you’re resorting to Reductio ad Abortum. :) Which, in this case, has been decisively proven untrue by outside sources.

  15. Grant says:

    I’m perplexed that a candidate’s view on abortion has become THE single issue on which people base their vote. We quickly glance to see which column a candidate’s X is in, and that’s it: the decision’s made. Since when has a president’s stance on the issue made one whit of difference in its practice? How, for instance, has availability to abortions changed during George Bush’s 8 years in office?

    The answer is that absolutely nothing’s changed. He’s accomplished diddly divided by squat on this issue. Why is that? Was it that he didn’t have enough time to make the change? (Yes, he had the time to at least make SOMETHING happen.) Did he introduce or encourage legislation to make substantive change? (No, he did not introduce or encourage any such legislation.) Was the problem that he didn’t have the support of Congress? (Well, Republicans led Congress from 2000-2006…)

    Voting Republicans often consider this issue to be of absolutely paramount importance. If any of us had been the president or a Republican member of Congress, we wouldn’t have slept or eaten until SOMETHING was done to stem the tide of abortions… or at least that’s how we’ve talked. So why is it that nothing — NOTHING — has changed during Bush’s tenure? And why is it that NOTHING will change during the next President’s tenure?

    It’s because the President’s views on the issue have virtually no impact on its practice. But based on what we’ve seen happen time and again since the enactment Roe v. Wade, it’s turned voters into mindless, partisan zombie pawns. A candidate knows that voicing a certain position on that one hot-button issue will sway a sea of voters. And so we mindlessly shamble off to the polls and pull the lever based on that one issue alone while our candidate’s stance on other issues goes largely unexamined. We give ourselves a congratulatory pat on the back when our “save the babies” candidate is voted into office, and then turn a blind eye for the next 8 years to the fact that he’s accomplished NOTHING on that all-important issue while basic issues of liberty (wiretapping, unjust war, due process of law) erode right out from under us.

    It’s just as Camille has put it: we’re conditioned to move rather than act. Our choices are made out of habit rather than thought. And that kind of a fat and happy citizenry is just what overly ambitious, power-grabbing government wants.

  16. Bruce C. says:

    Before “your” conditioned response causes you to blow a gasket Grant, let me inform you that I am personally conditioned to react the way that I did because I have been inside the back door of an abortion clinic when I was with UPS. I did that one time and soon after informed my supervisor that it would never happen again. Mostly because as I set the parcel down on the floor, a lady with a chopped up baby in a pan passed right in front of me. I walked out, sat in my truck, cried for a few minutes and YES, decided that I would vehemntly oppose anyone in politics who caters to the pro-choice politics.

    And no, I won’t vote party line because of this issue. And your right, Bush did nothing. But there is no way in light of what I’ve heard and read that I could even begin to consider Obama as my choice for president.

    I agree with you and Camille that we are conditioned to move rather than act. I’ll say what I’ve said since the beginning of the year. Obama will win not because he is the right choice. He will win because he is a very persuasive speaker. He will win becasue “fat and happy citizenry” will is easily persuaded.

    Neither of the big party candidates are true reformers, but “fat and happy citizenry” will never vote for true reform.

    I have nothing but love for you two and my rant here is nothing more than my personal rant and opinion!

  17. gordo says:

    ” And that kind of a fat and happy citizenry is just what overly ambitious, power-grabbing government wants.”

    I highly recommend the Tracey/Hepburn movie “State of the Union.” Besides being great entertainment (and co-staring the wonderful Van Johnson and Angela Landsbury), it is spot on about politics – little has changed since it was made.

    My favorite line is Tracey’s – “We need professional politicians because the voters are amateurs.”

  18. Grant says:

    Bruce,

    I think my response above was taken in a more personal way than it was intended. Such are the limitations of written communication. I really wasn’t (or didn’t think I was) on the verge of blowing a gasket, and I apologize if you felt belitted.

    Ask Camille and she’ll tell you that this is something that I’ve been “rehearsing” with her over the last couple of weeks — long before this interaction. If my comments seem intense, it’s intensity that I feel toward the Republican party at large. Not so very long ago, I was one of those “zombie pawns” I was referring to. I’m one of the many who has been used and abused by the Republican party, who believed their spin, and who gave them my vote. Now I believe I see them for what they are: nothing more than political opportunists who will say pretty much whatever needs to be said in order to align the constituency.

    The currency of my pro-life voting dollar is evidently worthless to the Republican party. Regardless of whether that’s the one ideological stock that’s the most valuable to me, they’re going to give me exactly zero return on my investment. So what WILL my dollar buy? Right now I find myself more attracted to what Obama is offering, and so that’s where I’m going to put my money. The Republicans have lost my trust, and my vote with it.

    I certainly would not minimize your experience, and frankly, I’m not trying to sway your vote. All I’m trying to express, as I stated earlier, is my consternation that this one issue is a deal-maker or a deal-breaker when a candidate’s ideology has little to no bearing on the real-world situation. That’s all.

  19. Dan Keller says:

    At the risk of sounding too cynical, I don’t think most of us have enough dollars to buy anything political, which is why we have to get money out of the political system.

  20. Bruce C. says:

    as I stated earlier, is my consternation that this one issue is a deal-maker or a deal-breaker when a candidate’s ideology has little to no bearing on the real-world situation

    Grant, politicians in general have no great bearing on this issue. Reformers do. Neither Obama or McCain are true reformers. They are true politicians and only true to their own agendas. Obama is so far in the hellhole on this issue that it is offensive to my very core. No need to apologize either. I’m simply passionate about about the issue and understand your rehearsed view as well. I’m so sick of the big party system that I’ve become cynical and fully agree with Dan Keller’s last post. Considering all that we’ve been through as recovering fundamentalists, I struggle with the same cynicism with corporate church as well. There is a constant political wave in our churches that is enough to make me want to call certain preachers, church leaders, and seminary leaders on the same carpet as government officials.

    Well I’m rabbit trailing and need to figure out dinner plans with my most important ministry. My family.

  21. cklewis says:

    You know, I just don’t think politics will ever mesh well with faith. It’s not supposed to. It’ll always be a disaster. Of COURSE, our beliefs will influence our decisions — all our decisions. No doubt.

    • Well said. I personally believe that mixing religion ( or faith ) with politics, can only produce, figuratively speaking, ‘a monster’! And once the ‘monster’ gets created, by this toxic mixture,and it escapes from the lab, it comes out of the labratory of ‘maybe this will work’!!! , looking like something FRANKENSTEIN’S DOCTOR ‘SUTURED TOGETHER’! I MEAN IT’S UGLY, SCARY, AND DANGEROUS! Sorry about the caps. But this toxic product of mixing religion and politics cannot possibly produce ‘anything’ that believers or unbelievers could ‘ever’ call attractive, not in the wilds of anyone’s wildest imagination. I just wish we could all rediscover the true meaning of leadership, and vote for those who show good character qualites, such as honesty and trustworthiness, and people with a backbone, who won’t flip-flop under pressure, instead of voting for those who are really mostly good at wearing atractive labels, and spinning webs around people’s minds,with all their smart sounding rhetoric, jargon, and buzz words. Afer researching and studying the RELIGIOUS right, a few years ago, I came to the conclusion that, the RELIGIOUS RIGHT has ruined the Republican Party, and has given American Evangelical Christianity as bad a name or possibly worse,as the fundamentalists have been giving American Christanity for the past sixty years!

  22. Bruce C. says:

    I just don’t think politics will ever mesh well with faith

    Has it ever? But you gotta admit, there will always be the same power hungry people from the pulpit as well as the stump.

  23. […] hard on the heels of a similar story that my wife capitalized on earlier this month, here’s another one about another man in the UK whose inordinate trust in his GPS landed him […]

  24. Cynical agnostics and atheists like to call ‘religion a drug.’ Maybe American politics has become ‘the new drug’! LOOK HOW IT GETS PEOPLE ALL PUMPED UP INTO BELIEVING IN THE WILDEST PROMISES THAT NO SANE LOGICAL OBJECTIVE THINKING PERSON, COULD EVER POSSIBLY BELIEVE A CANDIDATE COULD FULFIL! Sorry for the caps again! But as long as we ‘want’ saviors’ to ‘rescue us from the social / cultural choas, created by sinners, including the religious right, we will keep on ‘falling for the party-promise line’ over and over again! We do need to get money out of the political campaign machinery. Then, candidates can stand on a platform unsupported by corporations and political money lenders. I am really upset that this upcoming presidential election campaign, is going to be a road show circus freak show, that will make Sarah Palin almost look like a good idea for America’s future!

  25. Camille, this particular post, has to be ‘one of your best’! I really must give the reading of it more time to do it justice,by digging into all your simply brilliant descriptions of ‘all this stuff’! No wonder some people in previous culture didn’t want you there anylonger. I think some of them were actually ‘afraid of you!’ There’s just something about a bright mind and intellect in a person, that certain ‘other’ species of the human race, do not understand, and do not want to. And, instead of reaching out in normal social behaviour and professional friendship, they ‘react’ as if special people like you, were from a different planet, possily ‘an alien’, and needing to be removed from their ‘culture’ as soon as possible. My husband once said that he was attracted to my ‘unorthodox view of the world.’ I would just come out with these things I said, because I felt safe, happy and comfortable with him, when we first met. Isn’t it wonderful to be free to be ourselves, and know that, God did not create us to ‘have to be’ like other people. This really is one of the best posts on your web. Hope your day is a great one.

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