After all, fearful people do two things that are very useful. They double down on their beliefs -- and they are easy for the unscrupulous to manipulate.
That's a lesson that evangelical preacher Jim Bakker and his pal Rick Wiles, host of the ultra-Christian radio show TruNews, have learned all too well. Despite the fact that 83% of the citizens of the United States self-identify as Christian, Bakker and Wiles have taken it on as their mission to convince that overwhelming majority that they are a desperately embattled minority who faces persecution and eventual extinction if they don't, for god's sake, do something.
Lying For Jesus, is how I see it.
Jim Bakker [image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]
Be ready. Be ready. Are you ready to serve God if they're gonna cut your head off? Years ago, God spoke to me, and I was supposed to start preaching it, but nobody would accept it. How are you gonna tell people that the church needs to be ready to have their heads cut off, to say, "I'm willing to die for the gospel of Jesus Christ?" There is such fear in the church... I mean, fear. Not just fear of ISIS, not just fear of one thing, but fear of not being politically correct. I tell you, you will be murdered if you preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.Wiles, of course, agreed, instead of doing what I would have done, which is to point out that not only has no one been murdered in the United States for preaching the bible, but church attendance seems to be as strong as ever, and just last week the Religious Right successfully sledgehammered their views into law in North Carolina, making it legal for Christians to discriminate against LGBT individuals in the name of "religious freedom."
But people like Bakker and Wiles never let a little thing like reality interfere with their message. Bakker goes on:
It's over, people! The gospel is over in the United States of America! We have turned our back on the Bible. We can't preach the Bible anymore. I could tell you stories that would curl your hair... If I told you what I have been through and what I go through and what I am facing, because of what we would call the old-fashioned gospel, which is simply the Bible. Anyone who wants to stand on the absolute word of God -- you don't have much... Everyone's talking about Donald Trump. Who would have thought that we would have a man running for president who needed to say, "Next Christmas, we're going to say 'Merry Christmas' again?"Well, that got lots of applause from the studio audience, given how evidently in their pretend world the 17% of us who aren't Christian are winning a war on the 83% of the United States who are. The only possible response, of course, is to fight tooth and nail to maintain the hegemony they have had for over two hundred years, and which is showing no sign of going away any time soon.
And speaking of lying, Wiles then suggests that whenever you go to a store and have to give your name to be called for an order, you should say your name is "Merry Christmas" so the clerk has to say it over the microphone. Because, apparently, lying outright to a clerk is exactly what Jesus wants you to do.
This idea also got lots of applause.
Seeing the support he got from that point, Bakker decided to pursue it:
How can this be a point on which to run for president? How can it be? How can it be almost illegal to say "Merry Christmas?""Almost illegal?" Sort of like "almost pregnant?"
Rick Wiles then asks a question:
Going back to the spiritual uprising; who is telling us that we can't say "Merry Christmas?"Exactly, Rick. Good question.
But Bakker, of course, has a response:
[If you prayed or said "Merry Christmas" in public] they would threaten to arrest you. They would threaten to mow you down with a machine gun.Even Wiles seems to realize that they're on shaky ground at that point. He asks:
They're gonna come in with guns, into a high school graduation, and shoot you for saying the Lord's Prayer?But Bakker hasn't gotten where he is by backing down:
Not right now, but they will. They will if we don't stop them.Ah, yes. "They." By whom he means, apparently, atheists like me. Who, by the way, could not care less how much time Bakker, Wiles, or anyone else spends in church, how many times they thump the bible, or what they preach on the street corner. We honestly don't give a rat's ass if they stand on their roofs in July, stark naked, shrieking "Merry Christmas!" at passersby all day long. All we want is for Bakker and his ilk to keep their beliefs out of our schools, laws, and public buildings. Beyond that, they can believe any damn fool thing they want to.
The frustrating thing about all of this is that Lying For Jesus works. If you tell people often enough that they're embattled and besieged, they'll believe it. Even if the messenger is a guy who resigned from his first ministerial post because of a sex scandal (in which he offered to pay $279,000 to the victim to keep silent), and in a separate incident was imprisoned for five years on fraud and conspiracy charges.
But don't let that dissuade you from believing everything he says. Especially if what he says is "be afraid."
There's a part of this fear, though, that is very real. And that is the fear of rational people that the rest of the citizenry is going to make decisions based in irrational fears like the ones Bakker and Wiles are peddling. We've got an election coming up, and more than one of the candidates is capitalizing on that sense of being constantly at risk. So ask yourself: do you want the voice of reason to be swamped by people who are accepting the fact-free scare-talk of a huckster who somehow, bafflingly, still gets people to listen to him?
Because if that comes to pass, maybe there's a reason to be afraid, after all.