Chalcedon & Clarkson, Cont.
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 04:00:11 PM EST
Chris Ortiz, communications director of the Chalcedon Foundation would like to have it both ways. He acknowledges that he went too far in posting what I characterized as "eliminationist rhetoric" against liberal Christians in a recent blog post, and he graciously changed some of his more inflammatory rhetoric.  Much less graciously, however, he characterizes my concerns as "deceptive."

Chris says that if he had intended to call for elimination, he would have done so. I'll take him at his word on that. By the same standard, I hope he will accept that if I had intended to deceive anyone I would not have quoted his text in its entirety, linked to it, explained my concerns in some detail and then emailed a note to him about what I had written. I believed that he probably did not mean his words to be as inflammatory -- as they most certainly were.

As a journalist, I work hard to make sure I have the facts to support my argument, and I did not undertake the airing of my concerns lightly, gratuitously, or with any hidden agenda. Suffice to say that I not only stand by my original characterization, but while we are on the subject, I'll add one further point. Chris' language was also eliminationist in that having stated that liberalism and Christianity are mutually exclusive, he offered a malign and powerful metaphor describing liberal Christians as "wolves."  Well now.  What are wolves, but animals who have been hunted to near extinction in part because they sometimes prey on, sheep? To raise fair concerns about Chris' use of language and what he meant in his piece, taken as a whole, is not, as Chris suggests, to "misconstrue."

David Neiwert, in his influential discussions of eliminationist rhetoric in fascism and in the increasingly coarse and demagogic style of contemporary conservative commentators, notes the fascist method of describing opponents, especially Jews as "vermin."  Dehumanizing metaphors that compare one's opponents to animals that are commonly understood to be feared, despised and hunted is certainly part of the eliminationist rhetorical arsenal.  That said, I am glad that Chris' intentions were not in line with his unfortunately reckless use of language.  And I am pleased that he recognized that the language was problematic and I would like to publicly thank him for modifying it.

How we all conduct ourselves in public, matters. We are a religious and politically diverse society, and as I mentioned in my original post, thanks to Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, and Pat Robertson, among others, eliminationist rhetoric has become a problem that is contributing to the deep, volatile and dangerous divisions that may very well turn Americans against one another.  Those of us who enter the arena of the hottest issues of our time have a special responsibility to hold oursevles to very high standards consistent with the outcomes of a more peaceful, just and harmonious society -- to which almost everyone says that they aspire.

I am glad Chris is on board with this. Just today he denounced the eliminationist rhetoric of Pat Robertson,   (although he did not call it that).

But I want to note that Chris takes particular exception to my statement: "His words sound a great deal more like a call for theocratic vigilantism than the patience he elsewhere claims to counsel."

He writes: "Fred is more than deceptive here. I honestly don't know how he can refer to my comments as a "call for theocratic vigilantism." He's not telling the truth and intentionally exaggerating my comments beyond proportion."

Well, fortunately the plain meaning of the English language is on my side on this. I said in conclusion that his words "sound" more like a call for theocratic vigilantism, for the reasons I gave, and contrasted that with his usual statements. If I felt Chris had called for vigilante violence, I certainly would have said so.  

To summarize:  I think Chris's harsh rhetoric was unintentionally eliminationist. He does not agree with my characterization, but he withdrew most of the objectionable language anyway. Chris says he did not intend a call for vigilante violence, and I believe him.

Clarkson writes that Chalcedon's Chris Ortiz's "language was also eliminationist in that having stated that liberalism and Christianity are mutually exclusive, he offered a malign and powerful metaphor describing liberal Christians as 'wolves.'" "Well now," Clarkson continues. "What are wolves, but animals who have been hunted to near extinction in part because they sometimes prey on sheep?"

Significantly, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony of the 17th Century, the legislature wanted to encourage the elimination of wolves, so they passed a bounty on dead ones. To collect the bounty, hunters had to produce the wolf's pelt. Then the legislature decided to encourage the elimination of American Indians, whom the political leaders and the preachers of the day called "savages," "devils," and "wolves." To collect the bounty, hunters had to produce the Indians' scalps. The legislature set a lower price for the scalps of women and children, and the highest price for the scalps of men. Yes, that's right: Europeans scalped American Indians, and the Massachusetts legislature paid a bounty for the scalps of American Indian men, women, and children.

How did the scalping of American Indians become culturally acceptable, even encouraged, in the European culture of the Bay Colony? It began with demonizing people based on their differences -- American Indians looked different, thought differently, and behaved differently. Many of these differences were demonized. American Indians were viewed as not fully human, but more like wolves or demons. From such a perspective, it is a short step to genocide.

Scalps of male Indians fetched 100 pounds sterling silver in Massachusetts in 1723; scalps of women and children fetched half that amount. And this was done by the government with the support of the clergy. For example, the Rev. Thomas Smith of Falmouth, Maine, jotted in his diary, "Along with pious thoughts, I receive 165 pounds 3-3 . . . my part of scalp money." The minister had supplied provisions and ammunition to a scalping party comprised of his parishioners.

by jhutson on Wed Dec 21, 2005 at 01:21:30 PM EST

One of the most famous examples of a scalp bounty is the tale of Hannah Duston, of Haverhill, Massachusetts, about whom I am writing a book. But her tale, which centers largely around events from the time of the Salem witch trials until her capture and escape from Indians in 1697, is just one of many examples of Europeans scalping American Indians. The practice continued into the 18th Century, even to the time of the Revolutionary War.

by jhutson on Wed Dec 21, 2005 at 01:29:52 PM EST

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