How to Demonize Those Who Disagree: A Lesson from Tony Jones

The lesson isn’t so much taught by Tony Jones, but rather he acts as a good example. Jones apparently has closed shop for on the idea of having an emergent conversation and would now rather only discuss Christianity with people he agrees with. This is based on the fact that now anyone who supports the Tea Party is considered a “teabagger” to Jones. Now of course this is a very derogatory and grotesque term to use (especially considering the origin of the term), but that doesn’t prevent Jones from using it. Why? Because he’s no different than a Jerry Falwell or a Pat Robertson; he must demonize the opposition in order to defeat and silence the opposition.

Jones goes on to link to an article that accuses people who believe that America was founded upon an evangelical past – such as David Barton – for wanting an era or, “white, middle-class, pre-Civil Rights, pre-Vietnam, pre-Watergate past. An imagined day when men were men, women were women, African Americans knew their place, and Mexicans lived south of the border.” In other words, those who see vestiges of evangelicalism in the past, such as Barton, are also racists and don’t like having a black man in office. Instead, they want to go back to the days when blacks were slaves or at least knew they were lesser than the white man. What does the article offer up as proof for these allegations? Nothing, it’s simply a motive that’s ascribed to an entire movement.

I am not a part of the Tea Party movement (as I don’t place my hope in politics and I find the movement to be reactionary, wrong on many points, and uncivil) and I certainly don’t believe that evangelicals founded America (they were involved, but there were many mainline Protestants and Deists involved), but that doesn’t mean I’m going to go around calling people “teabaggers” or attempting to ascribe racist motives to an entire movement. The reason I won’t is because I try to give people the benefit of the doubt rather than demonize them.

But Jones, both in what he said and what he linked, is trying to poison the well. “Don’t listen to the Tea Party or evangelicals because they’re racist!” The sad reality is that “racist” has become the new “Nazi.” It used to be that if you could link someone to Nazi ideology, you win. That person is then ascribed as a Nazi and no one would ever listen to what the person said. Being labeled a Nazi delegitimized any point you wanted to make and stopped any hope of discourse on the issue. Now we use the term “racist” and simply try to call people racists. “Oh, they’re not against President Obama’s policies, they’re against him as a black man.” What proof is offered up to prove the biggest problem is a black man is in office? The same amount of proof offered up that a movement is akin to the Nazi Party – none.

Rather, people like Jones would rather demonize the opposition than fight to find common ground, even if he’s doing a majority of the push towards a middle ground. He’s given up hope of finding a civil discourse and joined the opposition. In short, Jones is adopting a nihilistic approach to politics, the idea that he can never win over the other side or at least get them to calm down, so if you can’t beat them, join them. He’s becoming violent in his rhetoric and abusive in his ideology. But sadly enough, Jones doesn’t appear to understand what happens when you demonize people.

By demonizing people you leave open the ability to limit a person’s rights; after all, the average person deserves rights, but this person doesn’t because this person can harm others with his rights. Perceived racists don’t deserve rights because they hurt minorities. So if we perceive someone as a racist, we should limit that person’s freedom of speech. When we demonize people we limit their freedoms to what we think are acceptable (meaning our rights are no longer endowed by our Creator, but rather endowed by the majority) and we also lump people into a lowered category even if they don’t deserve it.

David Barton is a perfect example of how demonizing someone can often miss the point. Though Barton is a historical revisionist and paints an unfounded evangelical picture on American history, he’s certainly no racist. One of the biggest things he’s done recently is to show how African-Americans helped in aiding our nation and how without them America would still be colonies. He has done his best to give equal representation to Africa-Americans in American history. While at times he’s a little off and we should do our best to correct him on his view of an evangelical history of America (or his idea of America as a Christian Nation), to label him a racist or say that he pines for a whiter period of history is beyond the pale. It’s a claim that is completely unfounded. But what is more likely to get people to stop listening to him; pointing out that at times he’s historically inaccurate, or saying he’s a racist? If he’s historically inaccurate at times, people will still read him and listen to some of what he has to say. If you say he’s a racist, people will flee from him. The problem is that the racist claim is completely unfounded.

That Tony Jones, champion of tolerance, would stoop to such a level is sad. He ought to be ashamed of himself, but sadly enough I don’t think he is and I don’t think he ever will feel shame. Rather, he’ll justify his actions by pointing to Jesus and saying, “Jesus was tough on the Pharisees!” while completely ignoring how arrogant that claim is. To place himself in the role of Jesus and automatically assume that he isn’t a Pharisee is quite arrogant (conservatives do the same thing). But maybe he wouldn’t offer a justification. Maybe he would simply turn around and call me (or any other critics) names and shove us into a category, that way no one will ever listen to us, no one will ever pay any attention to us, and no one would begin to think about what we say. He would demonize us as to silence us. He would make us look evil so as to ruin any hope of a conversation. He would do all this to preserve his one-sided conversation amongst his followers. He would tell his followers not to read his critics, he would demonize his critics as dishonest and not worthy of a read. He would say there isn’t an ounce of truth in them and so we should click on any links to his critics, we shouldn’t read his critics, and we shouldn’t link to his critics. The conversation would become more of a “I talk and you listen” lecture.

Certainly Tony Jones would never do that