February 23, 2004
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
To call that "nonsense" would be a severe understatement. Christians in general control almost all of the levers of power in America today — cultural, political, social, and economic. Conservative, evangelical Christians hold important positions of power throughout the nation. There is exactly one admitted atheist in the U.S. Congress and not too many believers who are not Christians. They enjoy extensive privileges simply because they are Christians and which are denied to other religious groups as well as to nonbelievers.
So why does Lou Dobbs now say that Christians are discriminated against and need to be heard? It may have something to do with his rabid anti-immigrant rhetoric because both are tied to defending traditional, unjust social privileges against encroachment by minorities.
Dobbs told the 2008 Values Voter Summit in Washington that as recently as two years ago he believed that people who live according to the dictates of their religious faith should not have a voice in the public square.
Source: One News Now
If Lou Dobbs says that he believed this, then I'll accept that at face value. I have no reason to claim that he never "really" believed it (unless someone can find quotes from him expressing the opposite). What I have to say, though, is that this is a ridiculous, false belief which no rational or sensible person should hold. Lou Dobbs is the first person I've ever seen actually expressing such a view — I assume that others have held it, but I've never heard of them and I doubt that their numbers are very large.
Why would anyone insist that believers should be silenced? It has nothing whatsoever to do with keeping church and state separate because that's about ensuring that state actions — laws, policies, regulations — are secular and neutral, not motivated by any sectarian or religious goals, principles, doctrines, etc. This can't and shouldn't prevent believers from expressing their opinions. It also can't and shouldn't prevent them from recommending state actions which would violate church/state separation. So why on earth would Lou Dobbs develop and hold such a silly notion?
How many listeners may have been misled by his personal authoritarianism into thinking that many others are similarly authoritarian? Probably quite a few, because Lou Dobbs made a bad situation worse by insisting that others now are just like he was then:
"There is such a resistance to that idea that it has become an orthodoxy in the liberal media, in our political system -- to the point that it is to me outright censorship," said Dobbs. "And whether one is religious, whether one is Christian, Catholic, Jewish or Buddhist, I don't really care. From those religions and that religiosity springs a sense of morality and a philosophy that frankly I think that our public arena desperately, desperately needs."
Lou Dobbs here implies very strongly that there is insufficient morality and philosophy in the secular sphere — that politics desperately needs religion because religion is the only adequate source of the needed morality and philosophy. Isn't it interesting that Dobbs would with one breath condemn alleged discrimination against religious believers and then engage in rank bigotry by suggesting that secular citizens lack sufficient morality and philosophy to run a government? It's not surprising, though, because those views frequently go together: it's difficult for people to promote an alleged "need" for religion unless they can establish problems with secular philosophies.
Dobbs also suggests that he is one of those who "believes in believing" — he doesn't care what religion you have, just so long as you have some religion; the specifics of your religious dogmas don't matter, just so long as you have some set of religious dogmas. This has become common these days as more and more people are reluctant to defend particular dogmas, but remain convinced that some set of dogmas is necessary. It's a weak form of ecumenicism which, once again, depends upon demonizing or at least disparaging secular philosophy. People who "believe in believing" are unwilling to privilege or promote one religion over all others, but they are convinced that religion and theism need to be privileged over secularism and atheism.
He also argued that the greatest challenge to the country is not the Iraq war or economic troubles, but rather the "violation of the rule of the majority."
This idea that the majority should "rule" in every case is a popular myth among those devoted to defending traditional privileges. Majority rule is of course important, but there is much more to democracy that that; in fact, there are a number of ways in which preserving democracy requires denying majorities the power to exercise their will on minorities. The Constitution was written with this in mind: by specifically delineating the scope of power and authority of the government, the framers prevent a majority from doing absolutely anything it wants. A majority can only exercise its will insofar as that's consistent with the proper authority of the government and doesn't violate the rights of minorities.
For some reason, people like Lou Dobbs never whine about "majority rule" when it comes to situations where those conditions are true. It's only when "majority rule" is challenged as being outside the scope of government authority or violates basic rights that people insist that "majority rule" is being violated. Once again, what we are seeing is how the most powerful and privileged in society — the majority — is being portrayed as "victims" in cases where they are simply being prevented from running roughshod over the rights of others. They are "victims" because they are being denied the power to victimize others.
Privileges, as noted at the beginning, are I believe critical to understanding what's going on here with Lou Dobbs. Christians aren't being silenced or discriminated against, but they aren't the only voice in the public square anymore and they are not permitted to completely dominate public discussions. Christian voices were once privileged, but today they are simply treated as one among equals. This is perceived as a loss of rights because many Christians had gotten used to being privileged and regard those privileges as their birthright.
The same is true of whites: white people are becoming less of a majority and losing ever more of their racial privileges. Immigration of brown people reinforces and accelerates this trend, making some whites afraid for the future. Much of the anti-immigration movement — and certainly the most rabid wing — is motivated by resentment against minorities and the loss of white privileges. America is regarded as a land created by and for white Christians and to preserve this immigration must be stopped at all costs.
Is it a coincidence that Lou Dobbs can be counted as a member of two different movements involved with defending traditional privileges against encroachment by minorities? No, I don't think so, especially since the defense of both white privileges and Christian privileges commonly go hand-in-hand along with defense of traditional male and heterosexual privileges. They have all historically reinforced each other in a variety of ways, with the same people being privileged in different ways by each system. It would in fact be very difficult to defend one system while even remaining neutral on the others.