Sean Hannity, I’m almost embarrassed to admit, is not all bad. Just after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, he conducted an honest, hard-hitting (merciless even) interrogation of Amjem Choudary, a British imam whom the media have labeled “radical.” This is a misnomer. Though he does not enjoy majority support in the U.K.’s Muslim community, his positions are not only not radical, they are widely shared across the Islamic world, as a well-known Pew Research Center survey demonstrates.
For 10 glorious minutes, Hannity hammers away at Choudary, extracting canonically accurate declarations about Islam that far too many progressives, their thinking beclouded by the PC jargon of “Islamophobia,” are uncomfortable hearing. Should Shariah be imposed worldwide? Yes. Do those who insult the Prophet Muhammad deserve to die? That is what Shariah mandates. What about those who abandon Islam? Death to them! Should all women, everywhere, be made to cover themselves? Yes. Do adulterers and gays deserve stoning? Certainly.
When Choudary details his objections to the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and why they caused Muslims such offense, Hannity slams him down: “You’re going to have to get over it.” (Hannity might have also used the moment to suggest that the price for living in a free and civilized society is learning to control one’s emotions and behavior, rather than exploding into violence over perceived insults.) He then asks Choudary if a faith requiring the visitation of so much death on so many people deserves to be called the “religion of peace.” Mutual unpleasantries ensue, and Hannity concludes the interview.
As odious as the views Choudary expresses are, by no means should we conclude that Islamists have a monopoly on hateful dogma. I stumbled upon Hannity’s talk with Choudary on YouTube while I was searching for his interviews with the subject of my essay this week, Phil Robertson, the Methuselah-bearded, collard-grits-and-corn-pone Evangelical patriarch of A&E’s wildly popular red-state reality show "Duck Dynasty," set in the swamplands of Louisiana. His hick headband and shaggy beard, along with his sermonizing manners, make him seem both ignorant and arrogant – the last individual a reasonable person would take an interest in. But given his popularity, it behooves us to examine what he says. Known to the wider public for his nasty, biblically inspired obiter dicta about gays, bestiality and hellfire, Robertson possesses particular cred among the stolidly faith-deranged masses, who apparently comprise enough “regular” Republicans that the organizers of the Vero Beach Prayer Breakfast invited him to address their crowd in Florida at the end of March.
In a sickly jocular-yet-menacing tone, Robertson asked his audience to imagine atheists breaking into the home of a husband and wife, raping their young daughters in front of them, decapitating the woman and castrating the man. They then ask him, “Isn't it great that I don't have to worry about being judged? Isn't it great that there's nothing wrong with this? There's no right or wrong, now is it dude? . . . you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun.”
Is it really, dude Robertson, that our concepts of right and wrong hinge on the existence of a deity? One hardly expects erudition or even rational argument from an Evangelical, but premising morality on God and the Bible poses its own urgent questions, not the least of which is, has said Evangelical actually read what the Bible says about the doings of God and his motley dramatis personae? And if he has, what prevents him from reaching the only logical conclusion, which roundly refutes the “no morality without God and the Bible” postulate?
To wit: How moral is it of God to visit the sins of the fathers upon their children? Thomas Paine rightly called this “contrary to every principle of moral justice.” How moral is it that female victims of rape deserve to be stoned to death (as ordained in Deuteronomy 22:23-24)? How moral was Lot, who (in Genesis 19:4-8) offered a crowd his two daughters for gang rape? How moral was it that he later (Genesis 19:30-36), in a drunken stupor, slept with them himself and impregnated them? How moral was God to reward this incestuous monster with salvation and the preservation of his “seed?” How moral was the lawgiver Moses, who commanded (in Numbers 31:7-18) the Israelites, who had just vanquished the Midianites and killed all their men, to also murder all their boys and women with a sexual past, but keep the virgins for themselves?
These instances of unadulterated evil occur in the Old Testament. What about the New Testament, founded as it is on the obscenity, as Paine pointed out, of the Lord deflowering Mary and cuckolding Joseph? And then subjecting his own son to a gory act of human sacrifice? How moral is any of that? And how moral is it of Jesus (in Matthew 25:41) to threaten sinners with eternal hellfire, and for relatively trivial offenses? Can everlasting punishments be moral?
So is it, dude Robertson, that God and his book, chock-full of so many rotten, macabre fables, are moral?
Dude Robertson, open "The Age of Reason" and gaze upon Paine’s damning pronouncements: the Bible is “the word of a demon” and “a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind,” an “ocean of improbable, irrational, indecent, and contradictory tales.” It bristles with vile characters – not the least of which is tyrannical God himself – who, were they to appear in the flesh now, would probably be shunned, more likely imprisoned, and certainly not emulated. Our morality derives not from the bizarre chronicling of their misdeeds known as the Bible, but from Darwin’s natural selection, from the way socially beneficial behavior furthered the propagation of our species. We would not have survived had we not learned, and fast, to cooperate, to observe the Golden Rule avant la lettre. And very much avant la lettre; the human race has been around, in recognizable form, for about 200 thousand years, long before Moses allegedly vouchsafed us his Decalogue, or Jesus is said to have trod the olive orchards and arid hills of Judea and Samaria.
Nevertheless, Hannity, who is Catholic, esteems the Bible and has several times turned to the Evangelical Phil Robertson for what amounts to extemporaneous Biblical commentary on news events. He even sought his perspective on ISIS.
In a segment taped after ISIS beheaded the American journalist Steven Sotloff last September, Hannity asks Robertson how he accounts for such evil decapitations. Robertson responds by launching into a discourse of pious bombast about the Children of God being held captive by the Evil One, by those enamored of death – that is, by ISIS. Says he, quoting Proverbs 8:38, “All who hate me” – God, that is – “looove death!” Feigning reluctance to have to be so forthright, Robertson suggests we either “convert them or kill them,” though he’d “much rather have a Bible study with all of them . . . and point ’em to Jesus Christ.” An aficionado of one magic book disputing with aficionados of another hardly offers much promise, which Robertson recognizes. Then follows prattle about coughing up sin, the discomforts of seeking redemption, and sundry other pieties, with ISIS, by the talk’s end, all but forgotten. But the gist of it is clear: Robertson is advocating an eye for an eye, with the acolytes of Jesus lining up against the votaries of Islam to do faith-based battle. Such conflict is just what Europeans suffered for long, dark, brutal centuries.
Robertson’s meandering off-message then didn’t stop Hannity from turning to him for more such “wisdom” a few months later, after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. Hannity starts by asking why we’re “walking around on eggshells, dealing with radical Islam,” when at Duke, pro-life meetings are cancelled and the Muslim call to prayer now rings out. What gives? A dearth of Jesus, Robertson announces, has led to the twentieth century’s notorious atrocities and their fruit – Islamism and “political correctism [sic], atheism basically.” The godless ones, including those at Duke and the folks who “now fill the White House and Hollywood,” have “killed about 55 million [sic!] of their own children over the last 30 [sic!] years.” It all boils down to “these materialists, these hedonists, these atheists, agnostics . . . idealism, determinism. There’s always an ism, or a theory, that people expound on, Sean, when there is no Jesus.”
Not fazed by this slew of numerical boners, illiterate assertions and absurd generalizations, Hannity turns to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and declares that Muslims have established no-gone zones in France and that France allows Shariah courts (both claims are wrong), and that in the United States, founded on “Judeo-Christian principles,” Duke University is ceding vital terrain to Muslims by allowing the call to Prayer (true, but not without controversy). As we might expect, Robertson attributes all this to a state of “no Jesus,” which means “your morality disappears” as well as “your freedom.” Moreover, we have “lost Jesus as a nation . . . we’ve walled him off, we’ve walled him off out of our schools, we’ve walled him off out of our government.” (His repeated, self-unconscious use of "wall" in reference to religion causes one to wonder if he has even heard of Thomas Jefferson and the Constitution’s separation of church and state.) Without God, “there’s no moral compass.”
On and on he goes in this vein, before mischaracterizing Islam’s credo as “Submit to Muhammad or we will kill you.” But the Sage of the Swamps is on a roll. He paraphrases a demonstrably fake Patrick Henry quote ascribing the foundation of the United States to Gospel-bearers before issuing a monumental falsification of history only an audience with no understanding of America’s past could accept without outraged gasps of incredulity: “Our country was founded on the death of Jesus, God becoming flesh, dying on a cross, being buried and raised from the dead, and going back to the Father, where he’s seated at His right hand.” In subsequent blather, Robertson addresses the Biblical banalities of sin and redemption, and Hannity ends the interview.
Robertson’s rousing, wrong rodomontade encompasses all the right wing’s grievous “Christian revisionist” misrepresentations about Christianity’s influence on the birth of our republic. Google “God” or “Jesus” or “Bible” in the Constitution – the law of the land – and you will come up with not a single reference. (“Lord” appears, but in the stock phrase “in the Year of our Lord.”) God pops up a bit more (though, still, neither Jesus nor the Bible do) in the Declaration of Independence. But government takes its “just powers from the consent of the governed,” not from an alliance between God and Monarch, as in England, and certainly not from Jesus or the Bible.
“Creator” does appear once, of course, and it reflects the authors’ deism, not Christian faith – that is, the Founding Fathers held that a god set the universe in motion, but then sat back and bothered with it no more, and certainly not with us.
The Founding Fathers issued from Europe’s horrid history of religious warfare. They wanted to start anew in America and keep the affairs of state totally free of faith and all the divisiveness and strife that inevitably accompany it. This they managed to do, with our Constitution. Yet their secular legacy is increasingly under threat, and not only because, as a new poll shows, six out of ten Republicans want to rescind the First Amendment and establish Christianity as the official religion of the United States. The “religious freedom law” just passed in Indiana (and proposed in bills in 19 other states) may legalize (faith-motivated) discrimination and undo our constitutionally guaranteed equal rights. And, it goes without saying, theocratic malfeasants continue to strive to usurp women’s ownership of their bodies, with more and more laws enacted to restrict access to abortions and contraceptives. And, pathetically, the ridiculous fairy tale involving God and his magic wand and the origins of our cosmos – Genesis, that is – still threatens to infect schools and warp the minds of our young with its nefarious nonsense.
Would that the Founding Fathers could see the obscurantist, walking, (unfortunately) talking personification of their nightmares that is Phil Robertson! Would that Thomas Jefferson could behold this living apotheosis of unwisdom and listen to his sermonizing diatribes against the secularism he bequeathed to us!
The Swamp Sage might someday have a change of heart and mind. If he does, he might help change the hearts and minds of millions of believing Americans who favor, wittingly or not, a return to a Medieval religious worldview increasingly rejected by the younger generations, yet which threatens our rights and liberties still.
But I doubt it. Too bad for him. And worse for the masses (and the talk-show host) floundering about in his murky thrall.