Defining Dimwittery Down
August 2, 2007
Back in the 1990s, New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the phrase “defining deviancy down” to decry what he saw as the tendency to redefine behavior that was previously considered deviant or criminal into something more acceptable. Speaking as someone who grew up watching Moynihan’s gallant speeches in the United Nations on behalf of Israel, I must report that this bit of wingerish wordplay was disllusioning, to say the least. Not long afterward, Moynihan lent his support to the notion of partially privatizing Social Security, joined the winger jihad against Clinton’s healthcare proposal and argued against abortion rights. Right up to his death in 2003, Moynihan had become the star of his own movie: Honey, I Shrunk My Stature.
So here we have a religion writer arguing that it’s time to stop dismissing Scientology as a “cult” rather than a “religion,” and Moynihan’s cute phrase immediately springs to mind while reading it. The irony is that the phrase has been borne out not by those fuzzy headed liberals, but by Moynihan’s fellow travelers among the conservatives.
Because even though I find Scientology’s doctrines to be goofy and its practices disturbing, these days I really can’t argue that it doesn’t deserve the status of a “true” religion. Not when we’ve had Pat Robertson on television ordering God to redirect hurricanes and bump off Supreme Court justices. Not when U.S. foreign policy is being influenced by people who think they can bring on the Apocalypse by manipulating the Middle East (and expect to escape the consequences by having the deity Rapture them out of their clothes before the last round of shooting starts).
So if some rich Hollywood types are willing to be swindled out of their movie money, what does that matter when Jesus whoopers are running amok in the halls of government? So, echoing Moynihan, I have to point out yet another unexpected consequence of the long reign of conservatives in Washington D.C. — we have been forced to define dimwittery down.