When I worked in risk management at UC Berkeley, we’d get lawsuits from individuals alleging the campus had conspired to ruin their lives. Anyone who disagreed, including judges, would be deemed part of the conspiracy and often added to the roster of defendants. In one case, the plaintiff named so many Alameda County Superior Court judges as defendants that the court as a whole recused itself and transferred the suit to San Joaquin County, whose closest Superior Court branch is in Stockton, some 80 miles (and hours in traffic) away.
What I wanted to tell those plaintiffs is that the truth is much worse than they imagined. It’s not that the university was out to get them. It’s that the university didn’t care about them at all. But had I told them that, they’d have taken it to mean I was in on the conspiracy and trying to throw them off track — and they’d have added me as a defendant.
Just one more reason my mantra at work was “don’t say it.”
This came to mind while I read a short article in the Atlantic by Emma Green about the residents of northwest Iowa, the corner of the state that sends the bigoted Steve King to the House of Representatives. Green says the area’s denizens, who voted over 80% for Trump in 2016, have nuanced opinions about Trump’s impeachment. Fair enough. What got my attention, though, was the basic premise of an interviewee who was troubled by Trump but voted for him anyway because “at some point in my kids’ lives, in America, they’re going to have to choose between denouncing their faith” and getting “locked up in a prison somewhere,” and Trump will delay that inevitability.
What??? Where in the world is that coming from? (Besides northwest Iowa.)
Three things. First, I don’t know anyone on the left who wants to outlaw religion. The closest sentiment I can find is Beto O’Rourke’s call for revoking churches’ tax-exempt status if they don’t perform gay marriages, a Hail Mary pass (if you’ll excuse the pun) that thudded to earth untouched and hastened the collapse of his presidential bid.
Second, tolerance for abortion, same-sex marriage, and other concepts considered anathema to many religious people is different from forcing religious people to denounce their faith. When asked by a man how she would respond to someone who believes marriage is between one man and one woman, Elizabeth Warren said “then just marry one woman. I’m cool with that.” Precisely. You do you, and let others do themselves. (Although Warren’s snarky “assuming you can find one [woman],” was disrespectful.)
Third, the left is at long last learning to speak comfortably about religion. Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg regularly invoke their religious faith while campaigning for president. Minneapolis pastor Doug Pagitt is teaching Congressional Democrats how to better connect with evangelical voters. And on a micro (sub-atomic?) level, even a skeptic like me writes frequently about religion in tones respectful (or so I intend) to believers.
So the left isn’t plotting to destroy religious faith and consign stubborn adherents to re-education camps. Instead, it’s becoming more solicitous of Christian evangelicals than UC Berkeley is of paranoid litigants.
But when you’re convinced there’s a conspiracy against you, no amount of contrary evidence will persuade you otherwise. Which is sad, because as much harm as that may cause others, it harms you far more. I’ve seen it too many times.