Can I Get an “Amen” to That? No, But Here’s Some Fairy Dust

I am wondering if anybody can help me understand something. I am having trouble understanding why, if it is wrong to discipline or punish people for not adhering to religious beliefs others hold, for failing or refusing to take up a given religion’s doctrinal language, how can it be okay to discipline or punish people for not adhering to doctrinal language of critical race and gender theories? If I cannot be forced to believe in angels (or to not believe in angels), how can I be forced to believe that all whites enjoy racial privilege or that sex is not a biological reality or that 2+2=5 or that there are only four lights no matter how many lights they want me to see? Why is it not immediately grasped as the nightmare par excellence the act of forcing somebody to deny what they see before their eyes or know to be true or to believe something they neither see nor know? Or is the greater nightmare that some people find comfort and safety there?

When an employer requires an employee to attend a diversity workshop where he will be instructed to speak in a particular way and accept as true and good (or at least pretend that he has accepted some thing as true and good) things based on one theory among many about race or gender, why is that any different than requiring that employee to attend Bible studies and expect him to accept Jesus into his life? Doesn’t the Constitution protect individuals from having to accept the beliefs other people think are good and proper? Are we not as citizens of a constitutional republic based on Enlightenment principles of free thought and conscience with a bill of rights securing these protected from forced association and assembly and compelled speech around religion and political ideology? Critical race and gender theories are at least political (I argue they’re religious given references to impossible or at least supernatural things, but the status political is good enough).

A society that punishes people for words is a society that compels people to exist in bad faith. I am all for persuading people to take up or leave behind positions based on evidence and reason. I would be an unethical person if I were satisfied that others agreed with me because they didn’t want to hurt my feelings or because they were scared of what would happen to them if they didn’t. Imagine we live in a fascist society (we’re on our way). I am sure many of those reading this would be compelled by fear to participate in the indoctrination sessions necessary to bring the population around to the fascist point of view. Winston and Picard were stubborn men. Then again, they were fictional men. Can we regard those who live under fascism a free people? Can we regard any man who must believe and speak an ideology free? Wouldn’t an objective condition of freedom necessarily be that a man is never forced into the delusions of others?

If you want to understand why it is so important to religious or, more broadly, ideological zealots that you believe as they do, you must grasp this—that many of the things the zealot believes (or pretends he believes) exist only because he believes they exist. If too many people stop believing in them, the phantoms of his beliefs lose light and power. Skeptics are trouble. Apostates, heretics, and infidels. If the phantoms dim or evaporate, then that means the zealot loses you. But he wants you to live in his world so he can control you. He wants this so bad that he feels he needs it. If he didn’t want to control you, if he didn’t need to control you, then he would leave you alone. However, if he commands societal power, then he can make you live in his world. What’s wrong with him?

Remember Tinker Bell from Peter Pan? Remember how when her light is going out Peter Pan turns to the audience and in a dramatic display of emotional blackmail exhorts them to chant, “I do believe in fairies! I do! I do!” Millions of children have over the century been coerced by parents and peers to chant along with him, “I do believe in fairies! I do! I do!” Doesn’t that give the away the game? Isn’t Pan telling us that Tinker Bell only exists because you believe in her? How horrible it would be to let her light go out. What’s wrong with you?

Margaret Kerry in a scene from Disney’s Peter Pan (1953)

Pan (actually playwright J. M. Barrie) is telling us something essential. He is telling us that the fantasies of other people depend on our assisting them in upholding their voracity. When people tell us to affirm with them that some thing they believe is true, they are telling us that they aren’t sure it is, or that other people have doubted it, and they need us to help convince them and others that their delusions are not delusions, but that they are real. They need an “Amen.” Can I hear an “Amen”? The desire to compel other people to uphold one’s delusions is often unthinking, habitual, reflexive, sometimes even required. But sometimes it indicates a psychiatric disorder. And sometimes people who are mentally ill don’t want therapy. They want the rest of the world to join them in their madness.

In a revision to Barrie’s play, the invention of “fairy dust” was introduced. The fairy dust was necessary for the Wendy and her siblings to fly. Before, they could just fly without any special sauce. They could fly because they believed they could fly. But too many real-world children were jumping from beds and windows in an attempt to get to Neverland and its never-ending adventures. Some were badly injured. Without fairy dust, they were grounded. Sadly, it took a fiction to negate a fiction. Of course, they were children. What did they know?

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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