How Weird Christian Right Beliefs Impact America
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The Bush administration in particular provided some strong examples of how Christian right folk beliefs and conspiracy theories can percolate up to the highest levels of government without ever putting those ideas out in the general public. The Bush administration appointed Eric Keroack to the deputy assistant secretary of population affairs within the Department of Health and Human Services despite, and probably because of, Keroack’s strong anti-choice beliefs. Keroack became famous for his presentation, prior to appointment, of his belief that women’s brains get flooded with oxytocin when they have premarital sex, which makes them less capable of falling in love. Prior to Keroack’s appointment, this bizarre theory, which has no scientific basis and is pure Christian right babble, wasn’t something you could find through Google, much less the mainstream media. But it not only was a guiding belief of Keroack’s, it has been a mainstay of the kind of abstinence-only programs that Bush administration policy mandated in so many schools across the country. It was a classic example of how a right-wing myth can become widely influential through PowerPoint presentations and pamphlets without ever touching the Internet, where prying eyes might see it.
A more recent example came to light with Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments. If you jumped on Google and started looking for where he got that idea in the moments after he uttered it, you would have come up short. After a great deal of digging, it turns out that it likely went back to a book published in 1972, exactly the sort of thing that gets Xeroxed and handed out at anti-choice seminars or passed along by email or simply regurgitated by word of mouth from one believer to another. This man did not win the Senate seat, but only because his beliefs made it to the mainstream media by the slip of a tongue at an inopportune moment; the fact that he had a long career as a congressman prior to this demonstrates how well the system generally works.
Sadly, Akin is hardly an atypical Republican. Most of them are slightly better at keeping their weird ideas from going viral, but channeling bizarre ideas that percolate up through the conservative ranks is just the way Republicans do business these days.
Indeed, right-wing politicians are so confident that their audiences are educated in the conspiracy theories and rumors that they will often casually allude to these ideas in speeches in a way that causes outsiders to wonder what the hell they’re talking about. Such was the situation with Rick Santorum making the indecipherable claim that anti-choicers can’t shower at the YMCA. A little digging finally revealed that there’s a legend spreading rapidly in Christian conservative circles that Students for Life got run out of the YMCA for merely existing, though the YMCA claims it was because they were harassing people in the showers. But it was a pitch-perfect right-wing moment: The audience he wanted to reach understood exactly what he was talking about, having heard it through their relatively underground channels, but the mainstream media reporting on it had no clue whatsoever.
What you see on Breitbart or the Blaze or the 700 Club is almost always just the tip of a massive iceberg of what’s really going on in conservative Christian circles. While it may seem like the explosion in searchable online media encompasses the entire world of what people believe they know, the ugly truth is that for millions of Americans—and in plenty of red states, enough Americans to control the elections—their worldview is still being shaped by communication systems that are largely invisible to the larger public. By the time the tip of the iceberg is big enough for outsiders to see it—such as when a weird theory is published on the Blaze—that usually means so many millions of people have passed it along in church and on Facebook that Blaze writers feel confident enough to share it more publicly. By then, it’s already done its damage and determined how those millions of voting Americans feel about the issue of the day.