Columnists > Voices

Two-way paranoia

Liberals aren't the only ones who can be careless with the facts

Issue: "2006 Daniels of the Year," Dec. 16, 2006

The response has been unanimous and almost raucous. I tell people about the brief item in Gene Edward Veith's column in WORLD ("Anti-Christian paranoia," Dec. 2)-and they break first into dismayed bewilderment and then quickly into gales of laughter.

"That has to be a spoof," one woman told me.

"No," I told her. "James Rudin really did write a supposedly serious book warning Americans that the most immediate and profound threat to their republic is a possible takeover by the extreme Christian right." "All government employees," Mr. Rudin wrote, "federal, state, and local-would be required to participate in weekly Bible classes in the workplace, as well as compulsory daily prayer sessions."

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"We don't even impose behavior like that on people who are members of our own churches," one friend said. "How can they imagine that we'd ever want to impose it on society at large?"

The reason for the laughter, of course, is that so many evangelical Christians are fearful they are the ones who are being threatened. If a "takeover" is imminent, the Christians I know would tell you, it's certainly not likely they are the ones engineering it-at least not anytime soon. The takeover, they fear, will come from the secularists. And the Christians' laughter about the matter is nervous laughter.

They are thinking about the Christian campus groups that have just been told they can no longer meet at a variety of colleges and universities. They are thinking about second-graders being told by their public-school teachers that if the favorite summer experience they were assigned to write about had anything to do with religion, they need to change the subject. They are thinking about big department stores carefully excluding all reference to "Christmas" in their holiday advertising. They are thinking about the American Bar Association's refusal now to endorse any nominee for any judiciary assignment if that person is a member of an organization that "discriminates" against women or homosexuals.

So how is it that Mr. Rudin (and a half dozen of his silly book-writing cohorts who have sounded similar alarms) can be so alarmed? Do they really think we Christians are right on the edge of such a scary takeover? The evidence they offer is pitiful indeed, and by no means worth the cover prices of the sensational and tawdry books they've concocted.

But seeing how foolish such paranoia looks in someone else might still serve as a good reminder how goofy we ourselves sometimes look when we exercise the same kind of fear-mongering. I am reminded of this every single day when my mailman drops off another collection of bizarre warnings from an unending variety of supposedly Christian and patriotic organizations. And just to make sure I don't let down my guard between mail deliveries, my email server cranks out at least another dozen or two cautions and caveats-all reminding me how terribly close Armageddon really is.

I don't mean to diminish the real threats that are out there. These are terribly sober times. But diminishing the real threat is precisely what happens when we start acting like James Rudin, encouraging gullible people to imagine things that just couldn't possibly be true.

Here at WORLD, we get suggestions almost every week for colorful stories that, if we published them, would startle and titillate our readers. During the recent election, a fellow I knew sought me out, ready to swear on a stack of Bibles that the Democratic candidate for governor in his big and important state was a sexual deviant who had taken his top male aide to Europe on a pleasure trip. Trouble was, my acquaintance had a story-but no evidence. And it's been my experience now in 40 years of journalism that nothing spoils a good story like a little research.

The real world out there is scary enough. We don't have to dress up reality to tell a riveting tale. We don't have to enhance the facts to make a convincing argument.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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