The Fall

‘While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened — there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind — the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight — my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder — there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters — and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the “HOUSE OF USHER.” ‘
Edgar Allan Poe

“How Low Can You Go?”
Chubby Checker 1963 ( Jan Sheldon)

“Samuel Alito seems to believe that the only Americans who deserve rights are those who had them in the 1600’s.”
Beth Levin in Vanity Fair.

Actually, Beth Levin is bending over backwards to be fair to Injustice Alito; in his repugnant opinion on Roe, he went back several centuries beyond the 17th in his hunt for precedents to his misogyny.

What is the real argument here? Trish Harrison Warren, a priest who writes occasional Op-Eds in the Times, puts the case for theocracy in what she thinks of as a “compromise” formulation:

“ G.B.T.Q. rights versus religious freedom threatens then to become a war of all against all. But it need not be. We must find ways to preserve and protect the civil rights of gay people while also allowing religious people who adhere to historic teachings on sex and marriage to freely practice their faith.”

This intellectual side-step is like a version of the stolen election theory, whose protagonists refer off-handedly to a “fraud” of which they cannot find a single example. Name exactly one case where a “Christian” has been forbidden from acting as a Christian. Lori Smith, the web designer who is asking that Colorado be forbidden to enforce its public accommodations law against her, is as free as you or I. (The fact that she hasn’t opened her web practice as yet, nor been threatened with prosecution if she does that, so that there actually is no case in existence for the Court’s right-wingers to be hearing , suggests strongly that the whole incident is a put-up job.)

As David Cole, national legal director for the ACLU, put it according to the Times, “the state’s anti-discrimination law merely requires businesses offer their services to everyone and does not curtail speech. Smith would be within her right to include a statement on her websites saying that she disagrees with same sex marriage, Cole said, but she cannot refuse to serve customers based on their sexual orientation.”

And amid a flood of letters to the Times about Warren’s nonsenical comparison of anti-discrimination legislation to a rumble in the jungle, two letter writers pointed out the logical outcome, or not, of her obfuscation:

“Certainly, if she were asked to create one for a white supremacist group or to support some kind of questionable political stance, most of us liberals would have no problem saying she should not have to do so”.

Exactly, because those are indeed matters of opinion; web designers, as I understand them, are not in the business of bolstering anyone’s opinions; for that you hire a pr firm.

However, “both the Old and New Testaments promote and countenance slavery, including allowing the rape, beating and torture of slaves. Such passages were touted incessantly to sanctify chattel slavery in this nation.”

In Dobbs, the Catholics on the Court simply obfuscated about the Constitution in order to impose their bigotry on others–mostly women.

That is to say, the Founding Fathers, whom they parade in their “originalism,” had no use for their version of religion: it’s no accident that they put religious freedom in the 1st Amendment, along with “speech” and “assembly.” They didn’t get their version of Christianity from Savonarola. They got it from Milton, and Locke; it was about the right to worship as you chose, and above all to dissent.; that’s all. It was not about the right to discriminate against or mistreat others. They were not evangelicals, and definitely not immanentists, who thought that as channels for an active “God” they could tell other people what to do; they would have been horrified by Antonin Scalia’s version of their thought. Worse yet, that version of “original” is totally false, since it drops the 14th Amendment–as much a part of that document as anything else–totally out of sight.

As it happens, a version of a non-discriminatory religion equally based on “faith,” is shown to us in the film, now playing in theaters (though not for long) She Said. For those unfamiliar with the story, it narrates the work of Jodie Kantor and Meghan Twohy, who wrote the Times piece that pulled back the curtain on the serial abuser and rapist Harvey Weinstein..

With only an hour to go before the publishing deadline, none of the victims was willing to go on the record, thus effectively killing the story. Then the phone rang (this all really happened), Jodie Kantor answered it and a voice said, “This is Ashley Judd. I’ve thought it over, and as a woman and a Christian I cannot remain silent…” (My emphasis, and I can’t swear to the exact wording of the call, but those very words were the main content of it.) So crucial was that call that Kantor broke out in tears, other women then allowed themselves to be named, the story ran and he, as we know, was ruined and brought to book.

Judd’s Christianity, in other words, potentially put her in danger; but was not a weapon against others, it was a duty to herself, or her own version of herself–and to other victims. Samuel Alito’s version, by way of contrast, is more like that of the Ayotollah Khomeini, scaled down for living and ruling in a constitutional Republic rather than a theocratic autocracy; just as his and his far-Right colleagues’ version of the 2nd Amendment is more appropriate for a Hobbesian war of all against all than for a civil society we might hope to live in. They are enemies of Justice. They are also corrupt, gentlemen having private dinners with other gentlemen who will appear, or have appeared, before them. (Is Amy Barrett at those dinners? I wonder.)

To conclude, though, I think that this kind of critique does not in the end reach the truly profound issue here: an issue that most public discussion seems to avoid.

To wit: religious opinion is just another opinion. You, Lori Smith, call it your “faith,” but that’s just a word. I have no faith, but I have beliefs: just as you do, worth neither more nor less. Faith is nothing but a stronger belief. You believe in the divinity of Christ; I don’t. So what? I’m a socialist. So what?

I have permission to criticize capitalists, but not to steal from them.
You have permission to scorn same-sex partners, but not to discriminate against them. You’re a bigot, OK. You think your Bible requires you to be a bigot, be my guest. Bigotry in action, however, is not the presentation of an opinion; it’s what I just called it: an action. A harmful action, which the law proscribes. You don’t like that kind of law: Go live in Iran. Or Afghanistan. Theocracy is what you desire to live under, apparently. Colorado isn’t one, it’s a democracy. Move.



Emeritus Professor of Gov’t, Smith College, 40 years Editorial Board, The Nation,

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