Well, I got my window shield so filled
With flags I couldn't see.
So, I ran the car upside a curb
And right into a tree.
By the time they got the doctor down
I was already dead.
And I’ll never understand why the man
Standing in the Pearly Gates said …
But your flag decal won’t get you
Into Heaven any more …
John Prine, Lyrics: “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Any More”
A super-patriot in my community plasters his car with American flags and right wing bumper stickers. His latest reads: “Liberalism = Socialism = Communism = Treason!” I’ll bet most liberals don’t even know that they are socialists, much less communists and traitors.
By fanatically embracing the black and white world of dogmatic ideology, this fellow escapes the irksome burdens of freedom. He knows all the answers and keeps his mind as tightly closed as a bear trap.
Imagine him showing up at a school board meeting, accompanied by a coterie of like-minded fanatics, and fueled by righteous indignation about, say, the “un-American” content of a history text. His dogmatism would make reasonable discussion impossible. Conversation would inevitably become confrontation because his blind embrace of the politics of the end-time forbids the give and take required for democratic living.
It is the nature of true believers to allow no room for compromise. In their world one can chose only from false dichotomies: white or black, God or Satan, true Americanism or treason. They will not grant that their opponents might even be a little right. Anyone who disagrees with them is not only wrong; they are either a fool or a scoundrel. And if the true believers are of the religious variety, those who disagree with them can only be dupes or agents of Satan.
America’s diversity makes it difficult to establish in-depth consensus about much of any thing. That’s why school policy is debated, then re-debated. In a diverse democracy this is to be expected. But that is not what happens when true believers hijack these debates. Then things quickly turn ugly. Insisting that they, and only they, have been entrusted with absolute truth, these dogmatists quickly destroy all thoughtful deliberation and attempts at compromise. And their arrival is typically accompanied by anonymous hate mail, harassing phone calls, character assassination, deliberate lies and non-negotiable demands. When it comes to end-time conflicts, the end justifies the means.
Public schooling is a favorite target of true believers — probably because locally elected school boards are relatively easy to pressure. Reelection concerns and an understandable desire to avoid ugly confrontation can encourage board members to try appeasement. If religious zealots charge that including the Harry Potter series in the district’s libraries serves Beelzebub, for example, board members are tempted to quietly remove them.
If they do so, however, they soon will discover that true believers are never satisfied. With Harry Potter gone their attention will turn to other books, then to more vital matters.
When school leaders cave in to these coteries of true believing fanatics, it disembowels public education. Board members must take a stand against these zealots wherever and whenever they appear. Should they lack the guts to do so, or should they actually be one of these zealots, toss them out on their ear. Today’s educators have more than enough problems. They don’t need the school board abandoning them when extremists attack.