If you’re not familiar with the “Peanuts” football gag, well, shame on you, you culturally illiterate buffoon. But, as a gesture of goodwill, let me describe it for you: Lucy van Pelt grabs a football and urges Charlie Brown to kick it. Charlie Brown desperately wants to kick the football, so despite his reservations over Lucy’s intentions, he sprints towards the ball and swings his leg in the air.
But, just as she’s done every time, Lucy yanks the ball away at the last second and Charlie Brown falls flat on his back. Just as he suspected, she didn’t actually want him to kick the football. She just wanted to use the football as a ruse to humiliate him.
I’m certain Charles M. Schulz didn’t intend this, but the classic “Peanuts” football gag is a perfect analogy for understanding why it’s often hard for people in religious squabbles to condemn things they believe to be sinful. Why, for example, does Charlie Evangelical hesitate to condemn Westboro Baptist Church when Lucy von Episcopalian urges him to? Because he’s afraid that, as soon as he condemns Westboro’s hatred and cruelty, she’s going to shout, “Well, you still oppose same-sex marriage, so I guess you don’t really reject them after all.”
Come Here, Heretic, Kick this Football
This is how things often work in debates between religious groups who see each other as perverters of the faith. Group A says “You’re a heretic if you don’t condemn this sin I’ve got here.” Group B hesitates to publicly condemn something they agree is sinful because they’re afraid Group A will yank the sin out of the way at the last second and say, “You missed, heretic.”
“Man is a religious animal,” Mark Twain once said, and while some claim that America is becoming a more secular nation, we never become less religious. We just trade formal religions for informal ones, politics being chief among the faiths in the latter category.
When we view our presidents as either messiahs or anti-Christs, and when we believe that election results will yield either utopia or Armageddon, politics has become our religion, our preferred parties have become our creed, and those of differing persuasions have become the heretics whose blasphemy must not be tolerated. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when political sectarians sidestep actual discourse and pull the “Peanuts” football trick to score some cheap points against their rival zealots. It also shouldn’t come as a surprise when those who are invited to partake in the supposed interfaith dialogue refuse to play a game they know is rigged against them.
As violence and death erupted in the streets of Charlottesville this past weekend, many devout practitioners of leftism demanded that conservatives speak out and denounce white supremacy. Conservatives such as senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were quick to do just that. But the moment they did, leftist zealots followed Schulz’s script and quickly yanked the neo-Nazi football out of their way.
New York Times reporter Eric Lipton had this to say:
Likewise, CNN contributor Dan Pfeiffer offered this analogy:
In other words, “Those who belong to the True Church of Political Orthodoxy condemn white supremacy, but Republicans don’t belong to the True Church of Political Orthodoxy. Therefore, despite their words, Republicans don’t really condemn white supremacy.”
Translated: “Come, Republicans! Come prove that you’re not heretics by condemning white supremacy.” Then, as soon as Republicans did precisely that, they stroked their beards, clucked their tongues, and lamented, “Oh, do you still hold to those blasphemous Republican beliefs? Then I guess you didn’t disavow white supremacy after all.”
President Trump Fell for It, Too
Likewise, on Monday, President Trump spoke quite specifically against white supremacy. “Racism is evil,” he said. “And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
One might think this would have mollified all those who condemned him for initially offering a rather vague condemnation of violence on the day of the terror in Charlottesville. But the response from some was rather predictable:
In other words, “Those who belong to the True Church of Political Orthodoxy condemn white supremacy, but President Trump doesn’t belong to the True Church of Political Orthodoxy. Therefore, despite his words, President Trump did not really condemn white supremacy.”
Given the Breitbart baggage surrounding his administration, it’s not hard to understand why people have a hard time taking the president at his word on this issue. Likewise, it’s hard to argue that their skepticism was unwarranted when President Trump vaporized whatever goodwill he’d built up on Monday by doubling down on the “both sides” talking point on Tuesday.
With Friends Like These
But just as some Catholics perceive fair criticism of popes through the lens of the unfair treatment they’ve received, conservatives who’ve made a religion of politics often do the same when liberals fairly criticize President Trump. Critics say to President Trump, “When the main outburst of violence in Charlottesville came when a Hitler-loving white supremacist allegedly killed a woman with his car, why can’t you just focus on, you know, Hitler-loving white supremacists?” But what many conservatives hear is Lucy van Liberal saying to them, “I get to ignore Antifa, Charlie Brown, but you have to own white supremacy. You’re a bigot until you renounce them. And, no matter what you say, I’ll never let you renounce them.”
When leftist zealots are convinced that conservatives are tied at the hip with Satan while they dwell on the side of the angels, is it any wonder that conservatives refuse their invitation to kick the football? When the rules leftists have set up require conservatives to accept the premise that neo-Nazism is the logical end of conservatism, why should conservatives allow a game they’re destined to lose to damage the cause they hold dear? It seems conservatives’ choices are either to remain a heretic to their opponents or to become one in their own eyes. Much like War Games, it seems the only winning move is not to play.
You Don’t Have to Play the Game Or Stay Silent
You avoid playing the game not by refraining from speaking out, but by refraining from caring when leftist zealots condemn you for a supposedly insufficient repudiation. No matter how hard those who call you an enemy may try to twist your words, if your neighbor still needs to hear the truth, you still have an obligation to speak up. And our neighbor does need to hear the truth, over-hyped as the white supremacist “movement” is.
Our white sons need to hear that the way they can find self-worth amidst a PC culture that degrades them is not by embracing hedonistic, racist trolls, but by embracing conservative principles like “stop living for yourself, get a job, find a wife, and have some children.” Likewise, our church members need to hear that our response to anti-white identity politics is not to embrace white identity politics but to find our identity in Christ rather than our race.
The world hardly needs more tweets or Facebook posts, so I don’t begrudge private citizens who stay silent on social media. As long as conservatives are telling their children, friends, and neighbors that they oppose hatred and violence in all their forms, they’re doing exactly what they need to do.
Public figures, on the other hand, do have a greater obligation to speak publicly, which gives Republican politicians two options in response to the white supremacy in Charlottesville. Either they can sidestep the football game by ignoring the leftist zealots who will condemn them either way, or they can speak in a manner that essentially takes the ball out of their opponents’ hands and lets them frame the discussion in a less combative fashion.
Here’s What That Might Have Looked Like
President Trump is perhaps incapable of choosing the former option. If he wants to clean up the mess he’s made, however, he could choose the latter option, schedule one more press conference on the matter, and say something along these lines:
“White supremacy is not an ideology that falls on the extreme right end of the American political spectrum. Just like violence in the name of leftism, white supremacy is nothing other than hatred and idiocy masquerading as ideology and conviction. Those who espouse these views have not taken the principles of one political party and corrupted them. They have simply embraced the doctrine of demons—the belief that man can build utopia by aiming violence and hatred at his neighbor.
“Therefore there is no need for whataboutism today. I don’t need the media or Democrats to rebuke the terror of self-identified leftists before I can speak against the violence of those who claim to be members of the Right. White supremacists already stand condemned according to the law of God, and that’s all I need to condemn them as well.
“In conclusion, I’d like to say something to those who approve of the hatred that we saw in Charlottesville last weekend. And I will speak loudly and clearly, so that they can hear me above the rumbling of the washing machine in their mothers’ basements: I am not your friend, and I oppose your agenda. If you want to air your diseased doctrines before the world in a peaceful manner, you have that right and I trust that the marketplace of ideas will leave you irrelevant.
“If, however, you want to pair those hateful thoughts with hateful deeds, you should trust that my administration will leave you in prison as we continue to Make America Great Again for all her citizens.”