The Anatomy of a Kool-Aid Drinker
When I began this blog over eight years ago, the name I chose was not “The No Kool-Aid Zone”; rather, that title was my “byline” of sorts, a la Bill O’Reilly using “The No Spin Zone” as his byline. The full truth of the matter is that I never actually changed the name from “A Ticking Time Blog” (other byline: “Ticking people off one blog at a time”). The name was actually changed one day when I logged in and found that my webbiedude Paul had improved the look and oh, by the way, decided to change the name. Fact is that I liked it better that way and never changed it back, but I bet that somewhere on the internet, there is a remnant of the old name. In fact, think I’ll Google it right now…I’ll get back to you in a second. All right, I checked, and I noted one link back here, so somewhere, there is a vestigial remain of that title (though there is no explanation to be found for why it links back here, it just does). At any rate…
I stuck with the name “The No Kool-Aid Zone” because it expressed what I wanted to be, and what I wanted my blog to become: a place where I could share what I honestly thought, and not be a person who for anyone or any entity “drank the Kool-Aid”, held blindly to a belief or allegiance to a person to such a degree that I would excuse or overlook evidence to the contrary. I’ve tried to do this all these years, and I will continue to. I do this because no one is beyond scrutiny; we all put on the britches a leg at a time.
“Drinking the Kool-Aid” is not the same thing as having a bias. I have ’em, you have ’em, all God’s children got ’em. Complete objectivity is a sham; none of us have it, but there are a few entities which like to pretend that they are neutral and objective (certain media-types exude this proposition, and they are due derision in relation to the gusto with which they press this bogus claim). My biases stem from my identity: I am a 51-year-old white American male, an evangelical Christian who self-identifies politically as a “libertarian conservative”, “libertarian” being the adjective and “conservative” being the noun. I have a deep bias in favor of the Pittsburgh Steelers and against the designated hitter (these two biases come as close to objective truth as about anything I think).
Occasionally, folks who comment suggest that I am, on a given issue, not living up to my profession. I acknowledge the possibility of this, of course, but I don’t define holding consistently to a bias to necessarily be drinking Kool-Aid. Though I can envision a scenario, for instance, when I would be in favor of increasing the scope of government (if, say, America were to be run by anarchists), it is fair to say that my biases will 99.97% of the time cause me to come down on the side of less government. A friend suggested recently that I was drinking Kool-Aid with regard to my firm belief that Obamacare was bad for our country. I suppose this is open for interpretation, but not from where I sit: I believe that the increase in governmental bureaucracy and red tape, not to mention the “Law of Unintended Consequences”, doom Obamacare to being a bad idea, despite the fact that, on balance, it’s nice that a pre-existing condition won’t disqualify a person from receiving insurance, say. Heck, there’s a part of me that would like government-supplied cotton candy every day, but that doesn’t mean I think that it’s a good idea.
I said all of that to say this: Kool-Aid drinking is a widespread phenomenon which knows neither political nor national nor ecclesiastical boundaries. We on the right like to make fun of the Obamazombies, for whom Barack Hussein Obama can do no wrong, it would seem. And yep, there are plenty of those folks. But you know what, ladies and gentlemen? There are plenty of Kool-Aid drinkers on the right, plenty of folks in “my camp”–be that political, spiritual, what-have-you–who blindly accept arguments and follow “leaders” even in the face of evidence to the contrary. The recent kerfuffle regarding David Barton is a case in point. For those who don’t know Barton, he is a right-wing historian who has been featured on shows like Glenn Beck, and he has written extensively on “our moral, religious, and constitutional heritage.” And the truth of the matter is that I agree with David Barton, undoubtedly, on a lot of important things. I believe he is on to something when he suggests that liberal secularists have attempted to skew history for their advantage. I don’t doubt that he’s a Christian, and he’s certainly a conservative, and those two things alone put him “in my camp”.
Further, so are, likely, most of his followers. But that said, Barton has feet of clay (yep, like all of us). Two years ago, I wrote this piece on his astonishingly-bad apologetic for Glenn Beck’s faith. If you read about the “kerfuffle”, you understand that Barton wrote a book about Thomas Jefferson, and that the publisher, Thomas Nelson, decided last week to pull it from publication because of some legitimate concerns about its veracity (full disclosure: two of Barton’s leading critics vis a vis the book are personal friends of mine). Barton, predictably, is doubling-down on the matter; one of his attack dogs has issued a laughable defense (“Hitler! Saul Alinsky!” Please.). We’ll call this man the “Lead Kool-Aid Drinker”, but the discouraging thing is that if one goes to the Wallbuilders (Barton’s ministry) Facebook page, you can read lots of folks who blindly stand by their man, turning up the music, ramming their digits into their ears, and gulping the Kool-Aid by the bucketload. Again, these are people who are “on my team”, “in my camp”, many of whose company I’d reasonably enjoy (so long, one supposes, as the subject of Mr. Barton did not come up) and yet they believe the propaganda–and in some case, downright lies–being told them by Barton, Mr. Green, Bryan Fischer of American Family Association, et al. And the response of so many of them is to cast the critics as “liberals” (ummm…no, not even close), or last-times-evidencing godless so-and-sos, or…well, you can read all their nonsense for yourself if you’re inclined to visit the page.
And so it occurs to me that giving a brief description of a “Kool-Aid drinker” would serve us well. When I began to think about what such an animal might look like, there were several thoughts that came to mind, and you can feel free to compare these thoughts to, for instance, the Facebook defenders of Mr. Barton. And thus without further ado, I present “The Anatomy of a Kool-Aid Drinker”:
Kool-Aid Drinkers worship their heroes to such a degree that they are blinded to their flaws.
I believe that it starts right here. When we set up a person as an idol, or an authority, to this degree, we forget some key truths, such as the fact that we all have feet of clay, all “see through a glass darkly”, all have our foibles and inconsistencies and blind spots. Put another way, the best of men are men at best. Here in Atlanta, we’ve had two scandals in the past 18 months involving nationally-known “Christian” leaders (I wouldn’t have ever called them such, but they command large followings and pastor large “churches”). One was accused of molesting several teenage boys (settling out of court so that details–and truth–would not be disclosed), and the other was accused of domestic violence against his teenage daughter. The response of their Kool-Aid-drinking followers? Blind devotion to these men (and a concomitant lack of apparent concern for the alleged victims). The reason seems simple enough: these men were seen as more than pastors/spiritual leaders, but as heroes worthy of something approaching worship. Obamaniacs do the same, as do some of Barton’s followers–and there are many, many others.
Kool-Aid Drinkers see disagreement as attack.
This assertion needs little explaining; suffice it to say that when one worships a hero, and something about that hero is questioned, the reaction will be over-the-top.
Kool-Aid Drinkers find no place for nuance.
I’ve said this before, but one thing that John Kerry was derided for–and I’ll admit, on a point or two, it was well-deserved–was his penchant for nuance. Frankly, I found that among the man’s few redeeming qualities. It’s not that there is nothing black-and-white–as an evangelical Christian, I believe that there are quite a few–but that there are also a lot of shades of grey (likely, more than fifty!). To Kool-Aid Drinkers, who see disagreement as attack, there is black (the critics, I guess) and white (their hero), and never the twain shall meet. You’re either for us (and our boy) or against us (and our boy), and doggone it, you’d better decide who to saddle up and ride with, because the middle of the road is for dead possums.
And yet the truth is not always quite so easy. Tony Campolo–back before he went largely off his rocker–often had some good things to say, and he wrote a book, the title of which captures well the point I’m trying to make. “We have met the enemy”, he wrote, “and he is partly right.” Indeed. And we need different perspectives in order to sharpen our own. And we need to think–and speak–and live–in such a way that instead of broadbrushing, we seek to speak the truth in all ways and at all times and about all things–even if the truth doesn’t lend itself to cheap slogans. To name one contemporary hot topic, we could mention homosexuality. If you can speak about the subject, including its ramifications for contemporary life and policy, without speaking in a nuanced way, well, I daresay you aren’t thinking deeply about it.
And so I can say of, for instance, Barack Obama, that I believe he is a terrible president, way out of his league, committed to the wrong things, by and large–and that he deserves real credit for getting Osama bin Laden. Because none of us are a great big package of totally wonderful…
Kool-Aid Drinkers change the subject when presented with contradictory evidence.
Barton surrogate Rick Green has made some asinine assertions relative to the evidence presented refuting Barton. He’s made the bald-faced assertion that “not a single article can point to a single factual error, quote out of context, or misleading claim.” This is silliness bordering on the preposterous and unquestionably crossing the line into downright deception. But the evidence is out there, and Green would rather not deal with it, so he changes the subject–as does Barton in this silly video with Bryan Fischer.
Kool-Aid Drinkers–at least those on the “evangelical right wing”–tend to envision Armageddon scenarios and have an “us against the world” mentality. This tends to lead to ad hominem attacks.
The lies–and there is no other way to word it–that have been spread about David Barton’s critics, by Barton himself, his surrogates, his enablers, and his supporters, have attributed to the critics all sorts of nefarious motives. Dubious assertions have been made about qualifications, allegiances, and personal beliefs. To question David Barton is to the Kool-Aid sippers nearly akin to questioning God Himself. And thus the ad hominem attacks abound. My friend Warren Throckmorton, one of Barton’s critics, has been ridiculed because he’s “not a historian” like David Barton, that he and his cohorts are “elitist professors” and “liberals” to boot (take it from me; I’ve known Throckmorton quite well for 15+ years, and Michael Coulter–though not nearly as well–for nearly the same amount of time. It would never in a million years occur to me to use that term to describe either of them–but of course, for the “don’t confuse me with the facts” crowd, that’s irrelevant). This fact is as irrelevant as it is true, and frankly, nothing but a dodge (but an oft-repeated one). Here’s the truth, boys and girls: 2+2=4 for a mathematician, but 2+2=4 for a beauty queen, a mechanic, and a convicted felon. I can actually see such an argument holding some water if we were dealing with one of the sciences–I don’t know how much I trust Throckmorton (or Barton) on the details of quantum theory, but history is a different animal: any person can read what has been written, in this case by Thomas Jefferson, and interpret what is being said. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist–or a “signature historian”–to do this. And yet the ad hominems come issuing forth from the Kool-Aid crowd.
Kool-Aid Drinkers tend toward the prideful belief that their heroes are infallible–and that by identifying with those infallible heroes, they themselves achieve some measure of that infallibility.
We all want to believe that we are right–shoot, I believe that I’m right, else I wouldn’t waste my time writing a blog! But honest people, humble people, understand that as much as their desire might be to think, live, and speak right, they don’t always achieve that desired result. Obviously, if I knew where I was wrong, I’d hopefully have the guts to change (and I’ve certainly changed my mind plenty of times through the years). I’m quite sure I’m wrong about some stuff (and some of my readers are undoubtedly sure they know just where!), but we all have blind spots…it’s just that Kool-Aid Drinkers, at least with regard to their heroes, don’t seem willing to examine those blind spots.
That’s enough for now. If you’ve got a glass of Kool-Aid in your paws, put it down–now.