“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
— Matthew 6:5, from the New International Version of the Bible.
When state and local governments include churches, mosques, and synagogues in their lockdown orders due to coronavirus, it might at first glance seem to be an infringement on religious freedom, but such is not the case. It would be an infringement if government singled out particular institutions which were in almost every way like other institutions except for their religious character. In this public health emergency, however, the only concern government officials have with religious institutions is the one characteristic they share with some other institutions, which is how they typically gather together large groups of people, a characteristic more conducive to spreading coronavirus than to tamping it down.
Congregating for the purpose of religious worship is no more under attack in these coronavirus lockdown orders than assembly for the political purpose of voting. This hasn’t stopped some religious leaders from loudly claiming they and their congregants are being persecuted by government in general and by the Democratic Party in particular. It hasn’t taken long for the coronavirus to become politically as polarized as everything else in our society. The virus itself has not expressed a political preference and, like past viruses, attacks everyone equally.
No one is denying religious freedom to churchgoers, only the freedom to go to church in large numbers at one time. Congregating has always been an important element of religious ritual for many people in many religions, but a public health emergency supersedes the wish of some to carry on as always at the expense and to the detriment of the many. People can still pray, and in most places they can still gather to pray in groups of less than ten or thereabouts.
Replica of Jesus Christ’s tomb at Easter 2017 in the church of Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis, in Paris, France. Photo by Tangopaso.
Some pastorsdon’t see it that way. They are pastors of Southern Baptist churches, by and large. They are led in their right wing political views and gullible belief in hoaxes concocted by their devilish foes in the center and left of American politics by people like Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. For these people, churchgoing is perhaps even more a social bond than it is a religious experience. They go to see and be seen.
Church is also a place where they reaffirm to each other their political bond, which is conservative at least, and right wing more often with each passing year. Taking away their church gatherings of dozens or hundreds of people in close proximity to each other is seen by them as prying apart the social and political bonds which are more important to them than the religious bonds affirmed in regular churchgoing. Their pastors can grandstand about supposed government and leftist persecution of their religious institutions, but their real worry is loosening the social and political bonds cemented regularly in seeing and being seen by their fellow congregants.
There are some people who are so afraid of change that they would rather curse the darkness of their current situation than light a candle to change it. Such people curse an onerously expensive Comcast or Charter cable television and internet bill and the infamously poor customer service of those companies, and yet when they are presented with alternatives they hem and haw and drag their feet about contacting a competitor to the large cable television and internet providers. Part of the problem is fear of change, and part of it is the desire to continue having all of everything, all at once.
People living in or near cities have choices of providers for their television and internet services, while choices for people living in the countryside are far more limited. Nevertheless, while choices may be limited, they are available to people everywhere in the United States who are willing to forego having daily access to obscure specialty channels on cable television or to hundreds of GigaBytes (GB) of data each month for streaming content over the internet. People have to be willing to give up the passivity of slouching on their couches and letting Comcast do everything for them. If that’s what they want, then fine, but don’t expect everyone else to be sympathetic to complaints about high monthly bills for lousy service. Curse the darkness to yourself if you’re unwilling to light a candle to help yourself.
A waitress lighting candles in a bar in Paris, France, in 2008. Photo by Jorge Royan.
For everyone else, there is research to be done, most likely over the internet, a job for which it is very well suited. Research options for internet service providers other than the large companies. You may have to make sacrifices in one way or another when changing to a local, small scale provider, but that is part of cutting the cord. It’s like changing from buying most of your groceries at a national or regional chain grocer to buying them from a local farmers’ market or independent grocer. City dwellers will of course have more options when it comes to technology than country folks, but the important thing to realize is that there are options, as long as people ditch the idea of having all of everything done for them all at once.
The same thing applies to television service, which starts with cutting the cord without bothering to find a new cord provider. Get an antenna! Local television stations are adding digital subchannels every year, and receiving them with an antenna costs nothing. The two key things to remember in buying an antenna are that there is no such thing as a digital or high definition television antenna (an antenna is an antenna, built to receive electromagnetic frequencies regardless of whether the content of those signals is analog or digital), and that resolving digital television content requires a slightly more powerful antenna than in the old days of resolving analog content. Where a rabbit ears antenna may have done the job before, today an outdoor antenna may be necessary for adequate reception.
A nice story from the actor, Jamie Farr, about his early days struggling to make a living in Hollywood. Documentaries like this are much easier to find now on the internet than on cable television.
Some folks who are fortunate enough to have hundreds of GigaBytes of internet data available each month at a reasonable price can do away with cable or antenna television service altogether, and instead use their internet service for viewing television. Do your research! Ask questions of yourself first about what it is you watch most and can’t do without. How many different ways are there to receive that programming? Chances are there are multiple ways of receiving your favorite content, and continuing to rely solely on companies like Comcast and Charter is a disservice to yourself and a way of continuing to curse the darkness. To take documentaries – serious documentaries, that is, not Shark Week documentaries or anything involving Guy Fieri – as one example, it is obvious that cable television offerings have been replaced in the past ten years by what’s available for free on YouTube and by subscription on services such as Netflix. Don’t keep sitting in the dark – light a candle, just don’t expect it to vanquish all the shadows in your life.
The recent controversy over Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent, and Kid Rock goofing in front of a portrait of Hillary Clinton at the White House tells us nothing new really about who these people are. Their immature actions were about what we would expect from a tour group of seventh-graders left unsupervised for a time, and were mild compared to the antics of two gay activists at a White House event in 2012 who flipped the bird at Ronald Reagan’s portrait. Joy Behar on The View accurately characterized the Palin trio as “sore winners”.
Behar’s phrase reveals the authoritarian character of many Trump supporters, and it tells us something about why they would goof in front of the portrait of a defeated political rival rather than merely tell us that they are childishly vindictive. The term “authoritarian” as used here refers to a personality type instead of only a political inclination. More authoritarian personalities are typically drawn to right-wing politics than to the left, but nonetheless there are authoritarians of the left. The Canadian psychologist Bob Altemeyer has studied and written about the authoritarian personality type, and developed a short test for the type, though he humorously suggests in his notes on the test that you not take the result too much to heart. His book on the subject, The Authoritarians, is available as a free download, and is well worth reading.
We are accustomed to hearing about sore losers, and certainly the Clinton camp has come across as such with their eagerness to cast blame for their election loss on everything and everyone but their own miscalculations and hubris, but Behar’s clever turn of phrase shines an unusual light on the election winners. What do they have to be sore about? Because an examination of the authoritarian character shows they are perpetually aggrieved people who feel put upon by the larger society no matter how powerful and numerous they are within it. An authoritarian always needs a scapegoat, The Other, a straw man (or in the case of the Hillary Clinton portrait, a straw woman), to push against and to externalize their hostility and anger. Anger makes up a large part of the authoritarian character, and for their own well-being they need to turn it outward.
Hitler in Paris, 23 June 1940; photo from the Heinrich Hoffman Collection. Albert Speer, architect, on the left, and Arno Breker, sculptor, on the right.
So we have a trio of winners who take time from their White House tour to gloat over the portrait of a loser; we have a president who continually dredges up his victory over that loser in a childish attempt to validate himself; we have the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who had been licking his chops in anticipation of a Clinton presidency because of the joy and headlines it would have given him in continuously investigating her, and who now appears to have been so deflated by her loss and the no-win prospect for him of investigating the new president that it could have affected his decision to not run for re-election in 2018.
Why then with all this winning are they not happy? True winners, after all, can be happy and generous in their victory. Because as authoritarians they cannot be happy for themselves with winning, but they can be happy with beating someone they have made into The Other. They will prop up a straw man or woman again and again in order to beat that straw person down again and again; they will repeatedly, with hollow enjoyment, revive the memory of The Other’s loss; and they will be disappointed and without purpose when they are deprived of the opportunity to badger a scapegoat and to build up their own esteem at the scapegoat’s expense.
Cheering crowds greet British troops in Paris on Liberation Day, 26 August 1944; photo from the British Imperial War Museum.
Such are the actions of the authoritarians on the right in Washington, D.C., while over on the Left Coast, in Berkeley, California, the authoritarians on the left are not helping the cause of an open society, but are instead hurting it when they make martyrs of right-wing opportunists Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter. The old saying “sunshine is the best disinfectant” is beyond their ken. They don’t trust others to make their own adult decisions about what to hear and believe. What is within their ken is that they fervently believe they know what’s best for everybody. That they enlist the words and ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr., to validate their tactics is perverse. That the By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) and Antifa groups are authoritarian in nature is without doubt. They are certainly not sore winners, and don’t fit the profile of sore losers. They are nothing other than soreheads.