In “Reactions From the Other Side,” (June 2019) I described having resumed correspondence with the long lost high school friend who inspired my character, “Percy,” in “The Brief Long-Term Therapy of A. Lester Lord.” Back in our school days, even after he sent a couple of bible toting ladies in turquoise dresses and pink hats to my house to save my heathen soul, I never imagined evangelicals would eventually spearhead a “culture gap” in the nation that might herald the end of democracy.
Thanks in large part to Percy and his ilk, we just had an attempted coup in DC where the Confederate flag and Jesus themed banners shared top billing with nazi symbols. It happened because between the evangelicals and the Q-anon faithful, a huge number of voters are immune to logic. They are not just racists, though many are. They are not just ignorant, though many are. They are delusional. That’s why the culture gap is unbridgeable.
Definition: Delusion: a belief or set of beliefs without factual basis that are rigidly adhered to as “reality” and cannot be changed by reason.
Like those of my psychotic delusional patients, Percy’s beliefs, both religious and political, fit that definition. Religious delusions are especially resistant to critical examination because they are societally endorsed and criticism of them is a social taboo. We treat even the most extreme religious believers with kid gloves and, in doing so, grant them an undeserved aura of credibility. The same applies to many secular beliefs. Blind patriotism, for example on the moderate end of the spectrum and Q-anon radicalization at the far end. It would be nice if we could just put an anti-psychotic drug in the water supply of these folks, but, unfortunately, unlike those of my psychotic patients, such delusions, nutty as they are, would be as impervious to meds as they are to logic.
I’ve often speculated that the gullibility of evangelicals to Trump’s lies and conspiracy theories is facilitated by a physiologic alteration of their brains acquired from religious indoctrination. In my novels I call the indoctrination into Christian dogma “brainwashed in the blood of the lamb.” The brain is a highly plastic organ. Its neuronal wiring is not set at birth. It develops from experiences and education. When a lie is repeated over and over on TV and in the echo chamber of the internet, lots of people believe it. This is nothing compared with religious indoctrination that, from birth incessantly inculcates illogical, empirically disproven concepts into the highly plastic brains of children. I’d suspect the final product of this process is people who are physiologically conditioned to believe myth over facts in general. People like Percy.
Percy and I lost touch after graduation. I later found out he went off to Viet Nam and made a career in the military. When I hunted him down after the book was published, Percy was thrilled with “his” chapter, “The Jury is Out,” but not so much with my biblical “expertise,” political views or dim view of his style of religion. After a few email jousts, we agreed to disagree. Occasional emails, pleasant but devoid of any meaty topics, ensued. My June blog about Percy left off on a hopeful note that, perhaps, the great cultural divide can yet be bridged.
This past summer, Percy started sending me ultra-right wing propaganda and conspiracy theory videos. Telling him he should be too intelligent to swallow them brought more of the same, so I suggested we should just “drop it.”
Percy fell off the radar for a while. Had he interpreted “drop it” as” drop dead?” (Dr.Freud would likely have made such an interpretation.) Just when it appeared the coast was clear, a long email full of ultra-conservative hogwash arrived. Rather than engage in useless argument, I sent him a link to a Michael Gerson op-ed from the Washington Post. Gerson urged his fellow Christians to look at the treasonous behavior of Trump when voting and forget, for now, about their cherished social-political goals. If they were real Christians, he said, they’d vote to preserve democracy. To this, Percy, sounding like a parrot whose perch was placed next to a TV permanently tuned to Fox, returned a right-wing broadside.
I responded he’d missed the whole point of the article. There are two sides to the issues, I said. They can be litigated through a democratic process, but there has to be a democratic process for that to happen. Thanks to a treasonous president, cabinet, and Senate majority, and a Court packed with extreme conservatives and religious fanatics, that process was in deep trouble. Knowing full well how it would hit Colonel Percy, I added for good measure anyone who supported the Republican agenda and Trump were also traitors.
Don’t call Percy a conservative. Call him the lunatic fringe. I have genuinely conservative friends with whom I’ve spent many a pleasant hour debating politics. We can disagree and still be friends because we agree on the same facts. We disagree mainly on how they should be interpreted and what solutions are best based on how they are interpreted. Such a relationship with Percy is impossible because he is not dealing with facts, just beliefs that are mostly false. Delusions.
Percy is so sure his delusions are “the truth” he’s convinced he’s doing good by forcing them on the rest of us. His predecessors, throughout history, similarly acted on this pretext to justify laying waste to many a nation and persecuting many people. Today religious and political zealots are fully engaged in doing that here, only through politics rather than physical force. Well, at least until some of them attacked the Capitol. I’m sure Percy didn’t participate in the January 6 travesty, but his support of Trumpian republicanism and that of tens of millions like him poses even more of a threat to democracy than did that heinous mob.
After several months of silence it appeared the “traitor” label had finally driven Percy away. I was relieved to think our failed experiment in rapprochement had ended. Well, guess whose xmas greeting card arrived, with a big, insensitive ending about the blessings of Jesus, blah, blah, blah? He followed up with a little on-line cartoon of the “1” in 2021 sticking vaccine into a Covid virus that had replaced the final “0” in 2020 and the caption “Thank you Mr. President.” I’d like to respond by sending him a photo of the Capitol defiled by the mob with the same caption. But why kick the hornets’ nest?
And guess who still is talking about visiting? In the middle of the pandemic no less. I vacillated on whether to send him our holiday card and decided to refrain. If Percy doesn’t get the message and persists in continuing to try to stay in touch, I’ll tell him he would be welcome to visit—-provided he becomes a registered Democrat and switches to a mainstream church for his religious observance. Or maybe I’ll send him a link to this blog.
I thought I was done with Percy, but Percy and company, immersed in their delusional world, apparently aren’t done with me— with us. Clueless as to how absurd and dangerous they appear to those on this side of the chasm, they blithely go about the business of destroying the very democracy that, ironically, Percy believes he spent his life defending.
Can the two sides find common ground? My experience with Percy says, as long as his minions persist in believing in their delusions, they cannot. And they will persist. The best hope is that Percy and company can be marginalized and their genie pushed back into its bottle. The only solution is at the ballot boxes, that, interestingly, were somehow untainted when they reflected the victories of legislators who insist the elections were rigged.
It’s been a slow process, but a better educated, more diverse America is rising along with disgust at the abuses and crimes the Republicans have committed to further their reactionary agenda. The attempted coup may finally snap some Republicans out of their trance and precipitate a crackdown on domestic terrorists. It has already, better late than never, triggered limits on social media content and motivated businesses to re-evaluate where they send their campaign contributions.
The Percys will be with us for some time to come, but there are signs that a new, multi-colored, more liberal America is on the rise, bringing pressure to bear at the voting booths and in our cultural narrative. Perhaps there’s yet hope that these forces may eventually neutralize the Percys of the nation and bring about a nation not built on delusions, but, as our founders, children of The Enlightenment, imagined, on Reason.
As my grumpy uncle Al who liked to spin the handle on a cheese grater he called “my bullshit grinder” might say, “Bye, bye Percy, all the Percys, and don’t let the door hit you in the butt on your way out.”