Bespoke Dissidence

An essay by Gregory Thompson intelligently and compassionately rejects the lie of far-right manufactured victimization.

One of the best things I’ve read in recent memory is “Return of the Cold Warrior,” an essay/book review written by Gregory Thompson on Comment, an online magazine “rooted in 2000 years of Christian social thought.”

The essay is structured as a review of a book called Live Not By Lies, but I won’t link to it, both because it sounds dreadful, and because the essay is really not so much a review as a foil for Thompson to forcefully repudiate the culture of false victimization that’s become more vocal — and simultaneously more dangerous and more ridiculous — over the past decade or so.

If I’m being honest, the first thing that occurred to me while reading Thompson’s essay is that I need to start reading more grown-up books. I’m still a firm believer in the idea that there’s no such thing as a “guilty pleasure,” that audiences can have unpredictably profound reactions to any work, and I’ve rejected the idea that “challenging” material is inherently more valuable.

But still, after years spent mostly reading social media and watching YouTube videos, my stumbling into such a literate, thoughtful, and compassionate essay as Thompson’s felt like I’d discovered a doorway into Narnia. Are there really parts of the internet where people can freely reference political, social, and theological movements of the past two centuries as freely as references to the 1984 movie Red Dawn? Is it possible to read someone putting the excesses of the last decade of American society into a larger context, with no sense of bland, moral relativist detachment, and also no talk of getting “owned?”

Well, kind of. The intelligence and compassion is completely one-sided here. The person who wrote the book that Thompson is eviscerating is just the absolute worst. A MAGA bumper sticker made flesh, a grown man actually ranting about Social Justice Warriors with no apparent sense of irony, who capitalizes “Deplorables” in an attempt to capitalize on the kind of people who would wear the term as a badge of honor. This is a person who acts as if calling someone “Woke” is a devastating burn that proves they’re not a true Christian, who’s smugly selling books whose informed philosophical and theological premise is nothing more than “Suck it, Libs!”

I would love to see Thompson’s essay become the definitive rejection of the modern cult of Faux Christian Victimization. It’s a scam that’s been going on in America for longer than I’ve been alive, perpetuated by con artists every bit as hypocritically deceitful as the millionaire TV preachers demanding tithes from miserable people to pay for their own mansions and private jets, giving them nothing in return but a pathetically false display of “faith healing” and instructions as to who among their neighbors they should hate and be afraid of this year.

These are the frauds like Mike Huckabee, telling people to go buy chicken sandwiches for “religious freedom,” staging press conferences to glorify a soon-to-be-forgotten bigot as if she were a Christian Warrior, instead of a hypocrite persecuting a couple of strangers by refusing to do her job. These are the frauds now hard at work manipulating the Supreme Court to set a precedent for establishing a blatantly un-American theocracy as an example of “religious freedom.”

We’ve spent decades being expected to respond to this fraud as if it were reasoned and valid political opinion that we should respect. And worse than that, we’ve let their blatant tribalism go unchallenged. We let the worst, most un-Christian people imaginable put themselves forward as the representatives of Christianity. Meanwhile, the genuinely kind and intelligent people who’ve managed to keep their faith have remained humble and silent.

So instead of working together, we’re encouraged to assume bad faith and mistrust from each other. After decades of this public image manipulation, I’m now conditioned to assume that people who are open about their faith are going to be at best uncomfortable with me as an LGBT person. That’s despite the fact that over the years, I’ve encountered a lot more gay-friendly (or at least -neutral) Christians than otherwise. And that’s despite the fact that movements for social equality and churches both share a focus on community.

We’ve been sold a false dichotomy that we can be religious or progressive, but not both, even though that’s never actually been true.

It’s absurd. Thompson’s essay makes it clear that this isn’t simply a matter of differing opinions and different interpretations of religion. The claims he’s responding to aren’t just morally bankrupt, they’re false. They pick and choose from the work of genuine political dissidents and people actually persecuted for their beliefs, and then misinterpret, misrepresent, or completely fail to understand what was actually being said, in an effort to lend legitimacy to a dishonest, selfish, un-Christian, and insultingly stupid philosophy.