Gaslighting: a form of psychological manipulation that occurs when an abuser makes a victim doubt their own perceptions, memories, and sanity.
The 1938 stage play Gas Light, known as Angel Street in the United States, and the film adaptations released in 1940 and 1944 motivated the origin of the term because of the systematic psychological manipulation used by the main character on a victim. The plot concerns a husband who attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment, and subsequently, insisting that she is mistaken or remembering things incorrectly when she points out these changes. The original title stems from the dimming of the gas lights in the house that happened when the husband was using the gas lights in the attic while searching for hidden treasure. The wife accurately notices the dimming lights and discusses the phenomenon, but the husband insists she is imagining a change in the level of illumination.
This is what Peter Beinart writing in the Atlantic does in his essay The Myth of a ‘War on Religion.’
Why does this matter? Because it’s more evidence that the claim that liberals are waging a “war on religion” is absurd. You can hardly listen to a GOP presidential hopeful or flip on Fox News without hearing the charge. In 2012, Rick Perry promised that if elected he’d “end Obama’s war on religion.” Bobby Jindal recently warned that “the American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war” against “a group of like-minded [liberal] elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith into a land where faith is silenced, privatized, and circumscribed.” Ann Coulterexplains, “Liberals hate religion because politics is a religion substitute for liberals and they can’t stand the competition.”
Notice the claim. It’s not merely that liberals are not religious themselves. It’s that they disdain people who are, and this disdain creates a cultural stigma (and a legal barrier) to religious observance. “Bigotry against evangelical Christians is the last acceptable form of bigotry in the country,” Ralph Reed said recently.
What Beinart proceeds to do is offer a series of logical non-sequiturs that serve to prove liberals are duplicitious but he doesn’t address the actual merits of whether or not religion is under attack.
- Liberals lie about going to church.
- Liberals have turned away from church but respect religion as a social norm.
- Atheists are stigmatized and the real victims.
- Liberals respect religion as a social practice.
All of these may be true but they do not mean that there is not a war on religion. Beinart is advocating what Barack Obama does, and FDR did before him, when the Constitutional right to freedom of religion is glibly described as freedom of worship. It is a way of saying that religion is a personal matter and has no place in the public square. When this happens, you no longer have freedom of religion.
One has to go no further than Obama’s egregious imposition of a requirement that employers provide birth control despite their religious beliefs. Just a note here, this matters because the employer is paying for the benefit. We saw the administration press a case to force a religious institution to be subject to EEOC jurisdiction. Abortion is covered by insurance under Obamacare. Landlords are generally prohibited from discriminating against unmarried couples despite the fact that renting to them requires the landlord to be knowingly complicit in their illicit relationship. Homosexual couples have successfully forced bakers and photographers to help them celebrate their desecration of the institute of marriage. Students are told they can’t thank God at graduation. Prayer is forbidden at public events. The Supreme Court only narrowly approved a city council opening a meeting with a prayer.
Beinart points to the odious John Kerry as an example of a religious liberal who was embraced by other liberals. He could have added Nancy Pelosi to the list. Or Joe Biden. Or any number of the Kennedy spawn. All publicly proclaim themselves to be Catholics while at the same time disdaining the teaching of the Church or abortion or adultery or calumny or scandal. That is why they are accepted. They are the house-Catholics of the liberal movement. They are the ones liberals can point to and say “some of my best friends are religious.”
The fact that atheists are, rightfully, disdained by most Americans is of no import. There is no requirement that they attend church or pray or observe religious holidays. They are never forced by the government to profess belief in order to run a business or hold a meeting.
There is a simple reason for this. The agenda of today’s liberal is at odds with religion. Abortion is forbidden by a majority of churches. Homosexual marriage is forbidden by a majority of churches. Liberals see churches as a competitor to government in the delivery of social services. They don’t want children inculcated with religious values because every child that is brought up in a religious home is one that is lost to liberalism.
The reason liberals want others to believe they are religious themselves when, in fact, they aren’t is simple. Religion is important to most Americans. If you proclaim yourself to be irreligious and attack religious beliefs you will encounter a wall of opposition. On the other hand, if you proclaim yourself religious you are able to attack religious beliefs with a degree of impunity. And over time religion is rendered a curious custom more akin to Morris dancing than a means by which your life and relationships is offered.
Beinart is engaging is a very amateurish attempt at gaslighting us. The court dockets are filled with cases of religious practices being attacked by the government. On the other hand there is not a single instance of a religious group going to court to limit the rights of atheists in the public square. It is silly on its face.