For those of us who classify ourselves as Nones—about 27 percent of the population, a broadminded, semi-coalition of nonreligious people—we must often remind the God-fearing that our goal is to live free from the fake martyrdom of those who say their right to worship and proselytize their faith is being denied. The allegation of censorship that many religions promulgate against the nonreligious has been a reliable untruth since the nation’s founding. But it seems never as hyped as it has been recently.
We know the tired, recycled charges. The “radical left” has started a war on Christmas, downgrading Christ’s birth to a “holiday.” College liberals so detest Christians that they try and denigrate their campus organizations or muzzle their speakers. Houses of worship and their arm-swaying congregants have been forbidden under COVID-19 lockdowns to gather. Christian film and music stars, especially country singers, have a tougher time getting gigs than their secular counterparts since the entertainment industry is biased against the faithful.
This is mumbo-jumbo. Just look at the cultural and historical force of Christianity in America where 70 percent are looped in: the massive voting blocs of Catholics and Evangelicals, the millions of crosses on church steeples seen everywhere, the two-dozen Christian channels that proliferate on my DirectTV, the solicitation of God on our money and in our pledge of allegiance, the Christ-adoring superstars from Reba McEntire to Chris Pratt, and the testimonials after COVID scourges or West Coast firestorms by those who survived, apparently, due to divine intervention.
Seems to me the “free exercise” is rampant and, thus, is hardly in peril. Nevertheless, since too few of us will call out their hypocrisy, Christian zealots continue to claim they are victims, I’ve heard it said, of “weaponized secularism.” How are they victims? If they say they are discriminated against loud and long enough, then they are; if they act in the public sphere on what they believe, then they face ridicule and dismissal. (Born-agains wield their authority by ranting incessantly, sometimes softly, that their belief is the only true belief. Thus, unbelievers, you’ve been warned.)
I call most religious prerogatives, foisted on the unwashed masses, disinformation. We label disinformation purposefully false while its cousin, misinformation, is inadvertently so. Today, the former is gaining traction in political discourse by recasting “information” as disinformation, a social media maelstrom no one can escape. This discourse argues that you are entitled to share or spread whatever myth or exaggeration or lie you like because you have decided it’s valid and newsworthy. (Watch ten minutes of Lou Dobbs.)
Disinformation by definition is fatly packed with unverified allegations. Indeed, the “right” to allege is thought of as protected speech, that our societal conversations consist equally of fact, opinion, and belief. For example, consider the “actual existence” of these belief-blessed allegations: Hillary Clinton’s command-and-control pedophile rings, China’s deep-state surveillance and control of our government (China has replaced the alleged Jewish cabal), Hunter Biden’s financial corruption of his father, and the sickest distortion of 2020-2021, ex-President Trump’s lie (“it was stolen and everybody knows it”) that the election was an orchestrated fraud.
Just as I assert my right to live free from religion, I’m also asserting the right to live free from disinformation. I see little difference between the disinformation of religious claims of victimhood and those of right-wing crybabies who want “our country” back because it’s been taken. I also assert my right to live free from the baselessness of conspiratorial thinking. Baselessness is not a position that has any right or reason to exist except as manipulation. Note the failed “causes” mounted by Holocaust and Genocide deniers.
What’s more, I assert that we have a right to be free from—to remove and to remove ourselves from—the most heinous voice of disinformation, propaganda. Labeling or censoring propaganda should be a Constitutional right we secure for the common good and for ourselves, those of us who love peace and abide by just laws.
In the spirit of cancellation, I called AT&T and asked if it’s possible to free my cable TV lineup of disinformation. Can I remove Fox News (the organization doubted the election results nearly 800 times in a recent two-week period), Fox Business, OANN, Newsmax, and all religious stations? If I can filter violent or pornographic content, I’d like to filter religious and right-wing extremist content. If I can’t remove those channels, would the good corporate citizen, AT&T, issue a warning that these shows and networks peddle propaganda: Viewer discretion is advised. (The last, tongue-in-cheek.)
Eureka! I was shown (thank you, nice lady) how to “hide” these channels, that is, block them on my set. A first step in stopping their access to me: cutting off hate speech, white supremacy, and the magical thinking of the Resurrection and the Virgin Birth. Suddenly I felt my home was less polluted not because I watched these broadcasts but because I felt the blocking shut them up. One giant visual/mute button. I felt proud standing up to those who pander to the seediest traits in human beings—sycophancy, group-think, stupidity, tyranny, flag-humping, and the echo chamber of the far-right horde.
(Just so we’re clear, I want freedom from government or media tyranny as much as any American. But, please, to give contrived accusations against a fair election the same oxygen as the abuses of Big Tech, abuses which are real and need regulation, ends in more theory masquerading as fact. Facebook is not a theory like the Democratic party’s pizza-serving child rapists. News flash: According to the Washington Post, after Twitter dumped Trump, “misinformation dropped dramatically,” 73 percent. It’s comforting to know that “misinformation,” alas, the inadvertent sort, is not only a real thing but its percentages are trackable.)
Now we arrive at the nexus where religion and far-right extremism in our culture cross and become, for me, nearly indistinguishable. To robustly counter the Big Lie of “stop the steal” is not far from countering the ruse that with Jesus one is saved and without Him one is Hell-bound. Put differently, the ease with which Judeo-Christian fables have a place at the table because people believe such stories sincerely (do any of us possess insincere beliefs?) shares a similar carte blanche with which Trump’s diehards deploy violence and sedition. Another news flash: A YouGov survey finds that 45 percent of Republicans approve of the attack on the Capitol, meaning either they would have taken part or they were happy to outsource it to the Proud Boys.
I want to be left unhounded from a lot of things but most of all from the new American doublespeak, the “culture of lies.” Banning the biggest liars from media platforms for good is a good start. But for every banned voice there’s another dozen in the weeds fabricating falsehoods, plotting attacks. The con man, from P.T. Barnum to Donald Trump, is deep in the American grain. Now these mini-Trumps have a similar power from the ground up. It’s time the rest of us aggressively challenge, label, and, where appropriate, ban these insurrectional madmen before they rise up as One.
Thomas Larson is a San Diego-based freelance writer.