How the Religious Right Wins Debates

in Politics by

Like all of you, I’m obsessed with the Lisbon earthquake of 1755.

I’m constantly rushing up to strangers and saying, “Can you believe that motherfucking earthquake that leveled Portugal over 267 years ago?”

“I know!” they say. “Damn!”

Yes, this massive temblor was 32,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima. But it did even more than demolish Lisbon and kill 50,000 people. It also ushered in a new world. 

You see, when those crafty Portuguese rebuilt the city, they “used Lisbon’s destruction to force the religious country into the modern era,” with the result that “the Lisbon that arose after the earthquake displayed modern thinking about seismology, architecture, and disaster planning.” 

This is the ultimate example of making lemonade from lemons. OK, they made it from lemons, charred rubble, and bloated corpses, but you get the picture.

Besides creating Europe’s first modern city, the earthquake also provoked scholars of the 1700s to question the omnipotence of God. As many philosophers of the time pointed out, a deity that sanctioned such a catastrophe was either incompetent, malicious, or nonexistent.

Strangely, these same European scholars didn’t offer similar arguments when their nations were committing genocide in America or instigating plagues that killed millions of Indigenous people. But they considered those people savages, so it didn’t really matter. When fair-skinned Europeans were getting smoted for no apparent reason, however, the disconnect forced the religious to adopt a new tactic. 

Sure, they could still insist that all the terrible shit that went down was God’s will. But the theocrats needed more than that to persuade an increasingly skeptical populace, many of whom were finally aware of a crazy idea called the “scientific method.”

Because political leaders could “no longer interpret the big events of the day solely in terms of what a deity willed,” they had to “couch arguments in terms of economic, civil, and social good.”

That shit worked, and even today, religious zealots have to at least offer secular rationalizations to gain support beyond their hardcore followers.

For example, in the 1990s, virulent homophobes didn’t just quote the Bible for their opposition to gay marriage. They also said that “traditional” marriage was under attack, that families would suffer, and that messing with societal institutions would shatter the country. They got a lot more support by focusing on real-world issues—even if those fears were made-up absurdities—than if they had simply shouted, “Do it for Leviticus!”

More recently, many Christians didn’t wear masks during the pandemic because, they claimed, God wanted to see their faces. But the more common argument was that masks infringed on personal freedom. 

And true believers say they don’t need vaccines because they are washed in the blood of the lamb. But the more persuasive tactic is to assert that the vaccine is dangerous. 

In essence, when “issues in the public sphere overlap with religious belief,” political leaders have to offer a rationale—no matter how strained or disingenuous—for forcing their opinions on society. This is because “we no longer accept God’s wrath as a sufficient reason.”

With such a history of tortured logic, it is no wonder that religious conservatives go to increasingly bizarre lengths to offer supposedly logical reasons for their arbitrary, hypocritical, and bigoted worldview. But it’s all a smokescreen, of course. The religious right doesn’t care what type of argument convinces Americans, or whether people are looking for flimsy cover stories when they vote for xenophobes. All they care about is eking out enough support to keep their religious mania smothering America for another day. 

At some point, however, perhaps the more rational minds in our current world will come to the same conclusion that the Portuguese of 1775 came to:

“You guys are just making all of this up, aren’t you?”


Featured image by quinn.anya/CC BY-SA 2.0

So who is Daniel Cubias, a.k.a. the 'Hispanic Fanatic'? Simply put, he has an IQ of 380, the strength of 12 men, and can change the seasons just by waving his hand. Despite these powers, however, he remains a struggling writer. For the demographically interested, the Hispanic Fanatic is a Latino male who lives in California, where he works as a business writer. He was raised in the Midwest, but he has also lived in New York. He is the author of the novels 'Barrio Imbroglio' and 'Zombie President.' He blogs because he must.

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