As anyone who reads my blogs knows, Bill Maher is a particular hero of mine. He's a social and cultural agent provocateur, who forces me to think and re-think some of the posits he presents on his weekly Real Time programme. I think he does a good job of saying a lot of things many political pundits, from both sides of the political divide, either don't risk saying or simply don't have common sense enough to realise.
Bill also maintains a forum of his own, which encourages like-minded people who watch Real Time or who are fans of his to exchange ideas. That's good too. It's sort of like Real Time for ordinary people. It's interesting, illuminating and fun.
But it can also be a bit disconcerting.
Several weeks ago, Bill was interviewed on CNN by Howard Kurz, and he made an observation, which I found very perspicacious and disarmingly to the point. It was also disturbingly true.
Howard and Bill were discussing that most basic of Constitutional precepts, freedom of speech, in light of some of the things various right-wing commentators had been saying about the Obama Administration and the proposed Democratic agenda; and the discussion was made in the light of certain remarks Sean Hannity had made with regard to Bill, himself.
Bill said, quite rightly, that he had no problem with people expressing their opinions, political or otherwise. That, basically, was what the concept 'freedom of speech', after all, was all about; but what he did find a bit troubling, was that there seemed to be a strident strain of thought running through the left of the political spectrum - and particularly amongst the younger members of that body - against allowing certain right-wing commentators to expound their opinions, that - basically - their freedom of speech should be curtailed, restricted. Bill seemed concerned about this, as well he should be, as well any of us should be.
This season, in particular, I've found his programme to be scrupulously fair in giving both sides of the political coin ample time to defend their ideas and their actions. Sometimes, admittedly, it hasn't worked; but most times, it has, and Bill has always shown immense respect for the oppostion's ideas and viewpoints - far more so, than the Fox News' talking heads allow anyone of the liberal persuasion.
About a week or so after that interview, The Guardian, a British broadsheet daily, produced in its online edition, an op-ed by an American writer, opining on the latest pronouncements made by Rush Limbaugh and his ilk. The article, more or less, was a rehashed lambast, most of which I agreed with, until I read her closing statement - which was something to the effect that America couldn't begin to move forward until people like Rush were, effectively, silenced.
Suffice it to say, that when I read that sentence, I was, effectively, silenced.
To say something such as this, and, specifically, to have someone of the Progressive persuasion advocating a denial of the rights encompassed in the First Amendment of the Constitution, was and is a patent disgrace. It puts anyone on the left believing that on the same substandard level as the Bush-fed deficenti, graduates of the Bible School masquerading as a law school, who populated the Department of Justice, during the second Bush Administration. It almost makes one a disciple of Gonzales, of Bybee, of Yoo.
Needless to say, the online commentators - 90% of whom were British - pounced on her case like the proverbial duck on a June bug. They certainly knew a thing or two about curtailment of civil liberties, and in particular, freedom of speech. They've certainly had enough of their basic rights eroded under the Blair-Brown regime of the past 12 years, with the enactment of religious hate laws, the censoring of the Muhammed cartoons, and other enactments made in the interest and 'safety' of the British people.
She only proved to reinforce Bill's observation.
A similar sort of observation, recently, was made by a commentator in Bill's own forum, regarding the brouhaha surrounding the infamous C Street abode in Washington, de facto home away from home for the Congressional Christian Brotherhood.
The commentator, rhetorically, ponders the purpose of this house, the reason for its existence - wondering if it were, indeed, established for rehabilitation purposes or even as a house of discrete, hypocritical, sexual release - before revealing that it was, in fact, owned by a group known as Youth With a Mission, a fundamentalist Christian organisation, whose aim is to infiltrate their core religious principles into every aspect of Christian life. They want, in short, to rule the world, according to Alternet.org, the Huffington Post, and Rachel Maddow. Furthermore, because of this, we should be very afraid of them - this warning issued after further wondering why an organisation which used the word 'youth' in its title should offer a home to anyone who was anything but ... young.
Now I'm a pretty leftist kind of gal, but I'm no conspiracy theorist, and - without sounding too much like Sarah Palin - I was kinda-sorta-you-know educated to look at both sides of an argument before, ultimately, making a decision about something; and - with due respect to the commentator - I somehow don't think she's either done that or that she's even willing to do so. So that would indicate to me, that maybe some minds on the left of the political spectrum are as closed as those on the right.
I'm a regular - in fact, a daily - reader of The Huffington Post, and I read the articles it published about the C Street house. One of the articles directed me to another aggregate, Politico, which ran a lengthy expose of the C Street house, its inhabitants and its activities.
Throughout the article, the secret nature of activities surrounding the house's inhabitants and visitors was constantly emphasised, but not in a particularly pejorative way. On the surface of things, it appears to be a house, owned by a Christian organisation specialising in international youth ministries and missions. It was probably bought as an investment and rented out on a boarding house basis, to earn some capital. That the owner happens to be an organisation specialising in 'youth' no more means that its inhabitants should adhere to a specific age demographic any more than the International Youth Hosteling organisation caters only for young people wanting cheap accommodation whilst traveling. It's tautological.
On the face of it, the house appears to offer accommodation to practicing and openly Christian members of Congress, and most of its inhabitants appear to be or to have been male, and most of them were married. That's not unusual, really. Here in the UK, many Members of Parliament leave wives and families at home in their respective constituencies, whilst the government is in session; it's reasonable to think that these particular honourable gentlemen might, for whatever reason, do the same. Of course, the seasoned cynic in me knows very well that absence, all too often, doesn't make the heart grow fonder and that if someone's not with the one he loves, he's all too apt to love the one he's with; and even the most milquetoasted variety of man is capable of doing that. After all, it was John Major, himself, who romped the beds of Number 10 Downing Street, with one of his (married) female Cabinet ministers, whilst Mrs Major remained in the family home in Cambridgeshire.
The house also served as a base for Christian prayer breakfasts and Bible study groups, consisting of Congressional members; and the Politico article provided statements, not only from Republican Christians, male and female, as to the veracity of this, but also from a few participating Democrats, as well. In fact, the highest profile Democrat in attendance at these functions was none other than Hillary Clinton, herself, whilst a serving U S Senator.
On the basis of the HuffPo article, the place really doesn't seem to have been anything more than an upmarket boarding house and meeting place where practicing Christians came to gather; and it probably would have remained a non-descript entity, in and of itself, had it not been proven to have a curious coincidence of having given shelter to three fervent Christian Republican politicians who literally got caught with their pants down around their ankles and their asses up against the wall of blatant hypocrisy. And they weren't being serviced by their wives either!
All of us are human, and all of us have the innate capacity for sinning, especially when we think we're not going to get caught. According to the testimonies of these remorseful miscreants, some of them even received counselling of a sort from various other inhabitants and regular guests at the abode. Senator Coburn counselled John Ensign in his hour of adulterous need. Lindsey Graham was on hand to support Mark Sanford (albeit Sanford's sin came after he left off being a 'fraternity brother', both he and Graham have C Street connections). Those revelations are particularly astounding, considering that Senator Coburn, a doctor, is an obstetrics-gynaecologist, which leads to all sorts of speculation as to how he exactly 'counselled' John Ensign. One has visions of Eric Idle, in full Monty Python mode doing a 'nudge-nudge-wink-wink.' Equally astounding is the fact that that noted expert on marriage (not), Lindsey Graham, should offer a shoulder for Mark Sanford.
The absolute truth is, we don't know what occurred in the C Street house - maybe something salacious, probably nothing. (The mind boggles at the thought of Hillary Clinton getting her own back for Bill's fabled 'Monica Moment' with the likes of Lindsey Graham! I'd best stop thinking that, considering I've just eaten lunch.) It was just coincidence. Sheer unadulterated (emphasis on the 'un' part) coincidence.
But the assertion that the landlord group owning the house, Youth With a Mission, was seeking to rule the world by infiltrating every aspect of life with its fundamentalist Christian message, intrigued me; so I did what any self-respecting person would do, who wanted to know more about them.
I Googled them.
And here's their website:-
Basically, it appears to be a Christian outreach group, which specialises in worldwide youth ministries, specifically in developing countries. Its financing is dependent on contributions and donations, and such donations are tax-deductible. That's not unusual. Most donations to organisations like this, worldwide, are tax-deductible in many countries.
It's a charity, in other words.
Does it have a sinister purpose? Well, it wants to spread the Christian word, and Christianity is a proselytising religion. It exhorts its members to go forth and witness for the Lord. But so does Islam. In fact, these two religions spent the better part of the Middle Ages, right up until 1492, battling for the collective, politcal and geographical soul of Western Europe; and both religions gained a lot of converts by the sword as well and killed those who wouldn't conform. It appears to be doing a lot of work in sub-Saharan Africa - in Darfur, in particular, amongst the refugees there. Even Bill Maher, who's a virulent opponent of any organised religion, acknowledges and recognises that religious organisations do a certain amount of good and charitable works. I agree. I also agree that most practicing Christians, especially the 'born-agains' want to promote their religion and 'bring people to the Lord.'
I respect that. Just don't try to bring me to your altar.
I wouldn't expect this oganisation to be any more sinister than the Freemasons or the couple of secret societies with whom I maintain membership left over from my time at university.
Look. Allow me a Thomas Jefferson moment here.
Like it or not, we are a secular nation. Our written Constitution specifies a distinct separation of Church from state. We have no established church, per se, no recognised religion as the national norm. In fact, the Constitution is written specifically to allow freedom to follow whatever faith you wish or to follow no faith at all - after all, many of the original colonists came to the New World as victims of religious oppression, and it's mete to remember that our nation was founded by people who, themselves, were educated products of the Age of Reason and Enlightenment.
Of course, we know that there are religious fundamentalists in this country. We know that a great many of them make up the base of the Republican Party. We know that they believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, they believe the world was created by a faceless, inanimate 'being' in the space of seven days and that dinosaurs and cavemen roamed the earth together, probably much like a cross between Roy Rogers and Trigger and Fred Flintstone and his faithful Dino. We know that this lot are poorly educated, live in rural areas or small towns in the South and sparsely populated West, and distrust anyone who's attended any university other than the ones founded by Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell. We know they are pro-Life, yet in favour of the death penalty and unlimited war in the Middle East, that they support Israel because when Jesus comes again, the Jews are gonna cop it, so we gotta keep them alive and safe so they can be condemned to hell, goddammit! They're homophobic, until someone opens the closet door, and every father's daughter is a virgin, who isn't averse to sucking cock or taking a stiff one up her posterior portion.
In the words of the late Wise Uncle Walter, 'That's the way it is.'
The commentator's admonition that we should fear these people distinctly bothers me. Fear them? Why?
This is a free country. They have their right to a belief I take to be patently absurd, just as I have my right not to believe in a benevolent, paternalistic God and his only begotten Son, or even to doubt. I can tolerate their ignorance, as long as they can tolerate what they perceive to be my elitism. That's called freedom. It's when they encroach upon my beliefs, in thought, word, or violent deed, is when the line is crossed and my rights violated. It's when they seek to impose a god or a religion that distinctly isn't specified, into the body of Constitutional law or even to impose, via amendment, an article of law specifying a governmental association with a particular religious faith, that I take exception. That the previous Administration sought to do such a thing and actually allocated government funding to various religious organisations (and I don't know if Youth With a Mission was one of these) isn't just naughty, it's unconstitutional and illegal!
In fact, given my druthers, I'd go as far as abandoning the office of Senate or Congressional chaplain and ensure any elected or appointed government official take an oath of office, not on a book of faith, but on the Constitution, itself - because such people swear to preserve, protect and defent that document, which should be the ONLY document we hold sacred.
Fear this lot? No. Why? Two reasons.
First, you never let your opposition smell your fear. It makes them stronger. It emboldens them. They then have the upper hand. How do you think the neocons were able to hold onto power, especially since 9/11? They instilled a fear in the citizens of this country that we were under attack from an unseen enemy, and anyone who questioned their subsequent tactics (i.e., the Democratic opposition) held questionable patriotism. If you're going to give these people this much ammunition, you may as well hand them the shotgun, itself. Hell, give'em a cannon!
Secondly, another manifestation of fear is oppression. One of the unsaid, subtle warnings of this commentator's admonition to fear the fundamentalists is, like the woman who wrote The Guardian op-ed, that perhaps they and their ilk should be oppressed. And that would be wrong too. Even moreso. Oppression breeds a type of 'freedom fighter' commonly known as a terrorist, and haven't we seen enough domestic terrorism of various sorts since the Democrats gained ascendancy? Besides, if we oppress through fear, we then risk becoming the poachers who turned into gamekeepers. And the Republicans, themselves, seem to be doing an ample job, when not fucking other men's wives or South American women and getting caught, or trying to recapture that lost allure of the white male-oriented pseudo-Confederacy, or throwing quasi-fascist teaparties, of scaring their own base regarding proposed evil Democratic socialists and the havoc they'll reap on them by giving them, at least, an affordable universal healthcare plan.
Simply leave them to it.
We've bigger fish to fry.
Fear these people? Pity them, maybe. Disdain them. But recognise that they're entitled to the freedoms accorded citizens by the very document they and their leaders don't really know and should: the Constitution. And they got that right because of people who thought the liberated, enlightened way the Founding Fathers thought. People like Bill Maher.
People like us.