08 July 2012

Whitewashing Racism, or the Inerrancy of the Founding Fathers Is Crap

Tea Party Groups In Tennessee Demand Textbooks Overlook U.S. Founder's Slave-Owning History

Yes, that's for real.  One quote (emphasis mine):  "No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership."

Want more?  Hal Rounds, the spokesperson for the group said they want to address "an awful lot of made-up criticism about, for instance, the founders intruding on the Indians or having slaves or being hypocrites in one way or another."

What.  The.  Frak.

But I think it's not directly due to racism.  Understanding why this racism is a symptom instead of the prime cause is key in actually making a lasting difference.  So stick with me here, folks.

While there's racism in the actions (and I'd be willing to guess that the inherent racism of the action isn't disturbing the members of those groups), I don't think that's why this is being proposed and pushed.  Again, I don't think that reflects well on the proponents of making slavery seem nicer.

This particular case of whitewashing of racism is a symptom.   It's a symptom of the inability to admit wrongdoing on the part of the Founding Fathers.  That's why I bolded that bit from the quote above.

Think of it as a doctrine of Constitutional Inerrancy1 instead of Biblical Inerrancy.  I've long argued that Biblical Inerrancy is laughable due to the obvious contradictions, but it's also a great way to ruin someone's faith life. (We'll come back to that.)

Biblical inerrancy means that you accept the entire book as being true (and divinely inspired).  Since it's all true, all you have to do in order to win a debate is point at the Bible and say "God says you're wrong."

Honest About Cherry Tree - Demotivational Poster

And that's what the right wing in the US has been doing with the "Founding Fathers" (and Reagan). If the Founding Fathers (or Reagan) said it, they claim it must be so2.  And that's a completely bullshit appeal to authority.  It's actively evil in three ways:

  1. It leads to wilful ignorance and the perpetration of evil acts in order to preserve the mythology of inerrancy.
  2. It robs our citizens of actual, complex role models that we can identify with (warts and all) realistically aspire to emulate.
  3. It destroys people's faith and hope in the actual ideals our country is founded on.

It's bullshit because if either the Bible or the Founding Fathers were wrong in the slightest, then you can't just invoke the magic names and claim your argument is invalid.  Not only is that crappy logic, but it leads to completely evil things like arguing that slavery wasn't so horrible so that they can preserve that inerrancy.  (Which is why it's actually worse, IMHO - the racism isn't even intentional; they simply were that bloody inconsiderate about it.)

It's bullshit because cardboard cutout heroes and role models are crap.  For example, George Washington was more than a bit of a badass in his own right.  But he was fallible, and therefore still something we could aspire to.  Lincoln's views on racism actually changed (for the better) throughout his life -which means that we can forgive our own screwups and improve as well.  (As W.E.B Du Bois put it, "I love him not because he was perfect but because he was not and yet triumphed.")

Saints are not born, they're made as people grow up.  This goes for religion as well - the closest I feel to Christianity isn't through Jesus' resurrection, but through his doubt and questioning at Gethsemane (particularly as portrayed in "I Only Want to Say" from Jesus Christ Superstar).



Because denying that we all have our doubts, our moments when our faith is weak, when our FILDI is low, our moments when we feel like imposters means that we're all comparing ourselves to a standard that has never been possible.

And that brings us to the final reason why inerrancy is so much bullshit.  When true believers finally realize that their beliefs are based on a lie, it's a horrible shattering experience.  I've personally seen Christians lose their belief forever because of this doctrine.  I've seen them swing entirely in the opposite direction:  "If one part isn't true, none of it is true."  And that's just as much bullshit.

So this kind of Constitutional Inerrancy (or Infallibility of the Founding Fathers) is actively evil and damaging to our country in three ways:

  1. It leads to wilful ignorance and the perpetration of evil acts in order to preserve the mythology of inerrancy.
  2. It robs our citizens of actual, complex role models that we can identify with (warts and all) realistically aspire to emulate.
  3. It destroys people's faith and hope in the actual ideals our country is founded on.
The Founding Fathers (along with Reagan) did some really good stuff.  And some really crap stuff.  As has everyone else, ever.  Sometimes the bad outweighs the good (Nixon, G.W. Bush), but even then, there's still goodness and wisdom in their lives.3

That black-and-white, saints-and-sinners approach isn't merely wrong.  It's actively working against the very ideals our country stands for.


1I originally started this with a comment on Facebook and used the term "Infallibility" instead;  since infallibility is more associated with papal ex cathedra decrees instead of the literal text of the Bible, I've switched the term here.
2Unless you point out those things like "feed the poor" or "don't kill people" or other stuff that they don't agree with. Jesus was a lot more like a socialist than a capitalist, after all.

3Except maybe for Dick Cheney. Not really joking there.

No comments: