Certain Of What We Do Not See

fakecert.jpgThe fake birth certificate pictured above is at the heart of what's come to be called the "birther" movement, peopled by a loose collection of extremists who dispute President Obama's citizenship and, thus, the credence of his presidency. It doesn't matter how many times the idea is proven to be a pointless controversy; adherents of the movement refuse to budge on their claims that Obama is not a natural-born citizen. From a political standpoint, it's bewildering; from a human standpoint, it's inane; but viewed as an outgrowth of fundamentalist Christianity, it makes perfect sense. Fundamentalists have a strong respect for standing your ground and for placing your hope and reasoning in a higher and often unseen calling; that's the essence of faith, and left unsullied by the world, it can be a very good thing. This is why so many evangelicals flocked to George W. Bush and stood by him through the sub-Nixonian end; political orientation aside, when a guy says the most influential figure in his life has been Jesus Christ and speaks loftily of a return to forgotten family values, these people will stick by him out of respect for his faith and out of the belief that he's a good man regardless of demonstrable successes. More than that: Faith calls followers to trust in the unseen, meaning Bush could be a public failure but still be considered a spiritual success because of the immeasurable and unmeasurable ways in which he has adhered to the cause. It doesn't matter that a man who campaigned on his submission to Christ's teachings would eventually organize and sanction the torture and execution of other souls that messiah died to save, or even that Bush's followers never called him on the dichotomy. In a sick twist on the writings of James, these people demanded only faith, not its attendant works. That's why the existence of the birthers, especially among more extreme-right groups that tend to be more fundamentalist or evangelical, makes perfect sense. They don't want evidence of Obama's citizenship, which is why they've ignored it every time it's given to them. They are committed to a cause not out of politics — at least, that's what they'll tell themselves — but out of a slavish devotion to a cause whose persecution by the unwashed and reliance on things not seen becomes a dark parallel of their Christian faith. They have created what they believe to be the truth, and nothing will dissuade them from it. That makes them deluded, yes, but also the worst kind of dangerous. They cannot be talked down, and they will not be reasoned out of their position. They wouldn't even see it as reason, but misleading propaganda. For a more pointed political perspective on the birthers, here's Bill Maher. He's usually way too smug for his own good — he seems to have forgotten that reason and intellect are better suited to a balanced tone than condescending scorn — but he blasts the birthers in this clip and discusses the dangers of letting such groups get away with too much. I agree with him: