Enforced conformity is the lynch pin of totalitarian regimes. We have just had yet another example of how religions try to enforce their narrow world views on others when a Christian radio station got its panties in a bunch over some schoolkids dressing up.
The Associated Press report, ‘Kids’ Dress-Up Day Draws Christian Ire’, explains how children at Pineview Elementary in Reedsburg, Wisconsin were enjoying ‘Wacky Week’, where they could choose to dress as either senior citizens or as members of the opposite sex. Note the word ‘choose’. The kids themselves chose this event and were, by all accounts, having fun.
Until, that is, word got to the right-wing Christian radio station Voice of Christian Youth America (VCY America). It seems that Jim Schneider, one of the hosts of the station’s Crosstalk programme, was so incensed by children enjoying themselves that he felt compelled to interrupt regular programming to condemn it. This resulted in the inevitable deluge of complaints to the school from his flock.
What was it that upset Schneider?
“We believe it’s the wrong message to send to elementary students,” said Jim Schneider, the network’s program director. “Our station is one that promotes traditional family values. It concerns us when a school district strikes at the heart and core of the Biblical values. To promote this to elementary-school students is a great error.”
Those are very revealing comments. First, he has assumed that there is any kind of ‘message’ being sent. Schneider seems incapable of understanding that people, even kids, sometimes just have fun. But then religious extremists are often of a profoundly paranoid bent, seeing secret agenda everywhere.
We move on to ‘traditional family values’. Would this be where Jesus told would-be disciples to ditch their families to follow him? No, must be some other kind of values. It’s interesting that when traditional values are invoked, they are so rarely explained. Who gets to decide what constitutes ‘traditional’. We used to send children up chimneys as sweeps – is that traditional? We used to keep slaves (the Bible even tells us how to go about it). Is that traditional?
This is another facet of the argument about who decides what is ‘Christian’ (see: The wrong religion). Each group, each sect, gets to decide what it considers ‘traditional’. Rationality, intellect, common sense and logic need play no part in this. A tradition is whatever each group decides matches its core values or ideas. Thus, one wacko offshoot of Mormonism might decide that polygamy – and possibly child abuse – is still a traditional value, while the rest of the church has somehow decided that there are some traditions that are no longer traditional.
The point of this is that these values are not in any way inherent – they are chosen. Schneider is invoking vague ‘traditional family values’ as if these are fixed, beyond debate and shared by all. And then he is condemning others for not complying with these values.
This is profoundly dishonest language and arrogant behaviour. Schneider is attempting to impose his ideas on the rest of us – effectively condemning anyone who does not share his narrow world view.
This is how totalitarianism operates. You must conform to its way of thinking. It is not about external rules – though there are always plenty of those in any repressive regime (religion included). It is about how you think, that matters. Why? Because totalitarian regimes – and especially religions – are intrinsically absurd. You must swallow the entire mindset otherwise there is a danger that, by rejecting one aspect, you come to perceive the stupidity of the whole system. It’s important, then, that everyone is brought around to the same way of thinking, that no dissent is permitted at any level.
And that’s the nub of what’s going on here. For what this kind of religion cannot abide is difference. The right-wing end of the religious spectrum, which is what we see at work here, constantly attacks ‘alternative’ lifestyles. They are dangerous. Thinking or behaving differently puts people outside the constrictive mindset on which this fascist form of religion depends.
This particular controversy illustrates just how intolerant these religious fanatics are when it comes to non-conformance. For heaven’s sake, this was a bunch of kids playing dress-up. That’s it. No agenda, no attempt to coerce children into depraved lifestyles. It’s the sort of thing kids do naturally, with a wonderful and admirable lack of self-consciousness. But the religious extremists cannot allow this to happen. These children must be controlled.
And then there’s that striking ‘at the heart of Biblical values’. Oh come on. Get a grip, Schneider. I would have thought the heart of biblical values would be more along the lines of ‘thou shalt not kill’ rather than ‘thou shalt not cross-dress’.
There is also the not so small point that schools are under no obligation to uphold what Schneider might decide are biblical values. And there’s the matter of the separation of church and state. Schneider probably thinks this separation is invalid. But that’s tough, because that separation is something that does happen to be a shared value – the Constitution and the law make it so.
The sad thing is that the bullying by Schneider and the sheep who obeyed him – his radio-listening flock – has succeeded in forcing the submission of the school into not having this event in future. These children have certainly learned a lesson: Thou shalt not be different.