Every few weeks or less, conservative pundits freak out over some silly, irrelevant nonsense involving President Obama, who can’t scratch his nose without sending the right into a tizzy of offense. The latest faux scandal is even sillier than some previous ones, such as trying to blame Obama for ebola or whatever the hell “Benghazi” is supposed to be about. Now the right is in a full-blown tantrum because President Obama said some things that happen to be completely true at the National Prayer Breakfast.
After noting that faith can be “used both as an instrument of great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil,” Obama went on to list sectarian war and Islamic terrorism. He then went on to emphasize that Western Christians are not immune to using religion to justify violence and oppression: “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
These statements are 100% true. But the right has reacted as if Obama burned the American flag in the Oval Office. Perhaps it’s because the National Prayer Breakfast was designed to strong-arm national politicians into paying fealty to the religious right on pain of being accused of being anti-Christian. Or perhaps it was just because they’re bored. Here are five more ridiculously over-the-top conservative reactions to the President saying something that is objectively, demonstrably true about Western history.
1. Raping conservatives with his words.
On Fox News, frequent guest Star Parker seems to have decided that if she was going to melt down over nonsense, she should just go all the way: “Because I was in that room. And it was, frankly, verbal rape. Oh yeah. We were not expecting it. Nobody wanted it. It was horrible to sit through. And after it was over we all felt like crap.”
It’s hard to tell what’s more offensive, comparing hearing a basic fact to rape or implying that rape is little more than an irritating experience to sit through instead of a violent crime.
2. How dare you say Christians were anything but angels when it came to slavery?
Tucker Carlson’s full-blown whine required him taking credit for the hard work of people he probably would have opposed if he lived in their time: "Who's 'us' anyway? And by the way, who ended slavery and Jim Crow? Christians. The Rev. Martin Luther King. Christians."
Yes, it’s true that many abolitionists and civil rights activists were Christians. But so were the slaveholders and segregationists. Slave-owning Christians were quick to point to Bible passages telling slaves to obey their masters. Jerry Falwell made his name by preaching that Christianity required segregating the races. Many Christian churches in the South were established to keep white kids from attending classes with black students. And, as Jamelle Bouie writes, lynching was understood by its defenders “as a Christian duty, consecrated as God’s will against racial transgression.”
Obama’s point was that religion can be used to justify good and to justify evil. The fact that religious arguments were made on both sides of the racism debate throughout history is proof of this.
3. Obama was defending ISIS!
That’s the conclusion drawn by Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana. His tortured logic appears to be that comparing Islamic terrorism to past Christian terrorism somehow casts Islamic terrorism in a good light: “Yeah, I mean he’s really creating a propaganda bonanza for terrorists, because what he’s really saying is ‘Well look, these are freedom fighters, just like the patriots of the Revolutionary War. And they’re no different, their service is just as honorable.”
In reality, the President’s point was that it’s bad for people to do bad things in the name of religion, regardless of what that specific religion is.
4. Wah, no Christian has ever done violence because I say so!
Eric Bolling of Fox News took the childish temper tantrum to another level, accusing Islam of being the only religion capable of justifying violence: “Reports say radical Muslim jihadists killed thousands of people in the past few months alone. And yet when you take Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, whatever, their combined killings in the name of religion—well, that would be zero.”
As David Ferguson wrote for AlterNet, the claim that no killing has ever been done in the name of Christianity is neatly disproved by the KKK, the Holocaust and the Crusades. Even in recent years, it’s arguable that Americans have more to fear from Christian terrorism than Muslim terrorism.
The fact is that right-wing terrorists in the United States, most of whom align themselves with some form of Christianity, have killed more people in the United States than Muslim terrorists have. Indeed, for those who work at abortion clinics, the threat of Christian terrorism is a daily terror, as threats and intimidation from Christian anti-choice militants are on the rise. In the past two decades, there have been eight murders and 17 attempted murders of abortion clinic workers. That's a much bigger number than “zero.”
5. Show me the birth certificate!
Mike Huckabee used Obama’s comments as an excuse to wallow in some birther rhetoric. While not outright accusing the President of being born in another country, Huckabee invoked a favorite birther accusation, that the President is secretly a Muslim. “Everything he does is against what Christians stand for, and he's against the Jews in Israel," he screeched on "Fox and Friends." "The one group of people that can know they have his undying, unfailing support would be the Muslim community. It doesn't matter whether it's the radical Muslim community or the more moderate Muslim community."
Needless to say, a quick perusal of the transcript shows that Obama criticized Muslim violence alongside Christian violence. For example: “We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism—terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.” And: “From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but in fact, are betraying it.”
The irony is that the conservative reaction to Obama’s speech proves his point, that Christians are capable of “terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” We are seeing this happening before our eyes as one Christian after another commits the terrible deeds of lying and slander, all in supposed defense of their religion. One after another, they openly and aggressively say untrue things and level false accusations, even though their faith supposedly forbids bearing false witness. And they do it, as Obama says wrong-headed people often do, by invoking religion as justification. If they really want to show that Christians are good and honorable people, they should start by choosing to act like it, instead rushing to tell lies to smear a man who was simply telling the truth.