America's Swedes and Indians

That big dumb book The Da Vinci Code is being turned into a film.

Nobody is fretting that it's a falsehood-ridden piece of trash full of as many lies about Christians as The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion is about Jews. Hollywood hopes they've found a cash cow, and calumny against Christians isn't going to slow down the milkers.

Meanwhile, John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces is not faring so well. A version starring Will Farrell was scheduled to be released in 2005, but was stopped in the midst of production. Word has it that Confederacy's sin consists of being a story crammed with characters who are stereotypes.

What's wrong with that you may ask? After all, isn't the Vatican assassin and all the sinister clerics who ply their trades in Da Vinci stereotypes straight out of the most ham-fisted 19th-century Know-Nothing literature?

Well, yes. But those are religious stereotypes, like the psycho Bible thumpers, big-haired hypocrites, evil repressed nuns and bloodthirsty Crusaders who inhabit the screens of so many cinemas and TVs.

More to the point, they are Christian stereotypes. Those are okay. But ethnic and gender stereotypes are a whole ’nother thing entirely. In that case, not just sensitivity but even insane hyper-sensitivity is barely enough to contain the raging lion of bigotry that threatens the soul of the republic.

Cases in point from the headlines over the past few years:

— A picnic to honor baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson at the State University of New York-Albany was protested by some 40 students who insisted that the word “picnic” originally referred to the lynchings of blacks.

Actually, “picnic” comes from a 17th-century French word for a social gathering in which each person brings a different food. Nonetheless, campus affirmative action director Zaheer Mustafa ordered all student leaders to refrain from using the word “picnic” with this astounding rationale: “Whether the claims are true or not, the point is the word offended.”

Students docilely agreed and the word “picnic” was changed to “outing.” This offended gay students, so the event formerly known as a picnic was publicized without a noun describing what was going on.

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts:

West Side Story, the 1950s Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents musical, was banned as racist at Amherst-Pelham Regional High School. Protesters charged that the show — which is about the folly of ethnic hatred — promoted stereotypes of Puerto Ricans. A few years ago, sensitivity vigilantes also forced a production of Peter Pan to remake the Indians of Never-Never Land into woodland sprites.

And, last but not least,

— Susan McClary, a feminist musicologist, announced that Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was an expression of rape. Now another scholar, Rebecca Moore Howard of Syracuse University, says that the common idea of plagiarism also is a kind of rape. She believes the current concept of plagiarism relies on “gendered metaphors of authorship” that suggest originality is masculine, while collaborative writing is feminine.

So what drives this insanity? And why the double standard when it comes to religious stereotypes?

I think G.K. Chesterton was onto something 80 years ago when he visited America and noted that the great swaths of non-urbanized America “do not, like some peasantries, create other kinds of culture besides the kind called agriculture. Their culture comes from the great cities: and that is where all the evil comes from.”

Of course, Chesterton did not foresee the rise of the suburb, but he still grasped something about America as contemporary as a Red State/Blue State map. Namely, he saw, as Peter Berger puts it: “If India is the most religious nation in the world and Sweden the most secular, then America is best described as a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes.”

Our manufacturers of culture worship equality (and its twin, grieved feelings). That's because they are a small cadre of very rich and very vain people who are acutely aware of status. So they fret over the nano-sensitivities of various approved victim groups because they flatter themselves that they care for the downtrodden and see their own sense of grievance at inequality reflected in the approved victim.

But for exactly the same reason, the manufacturers of culture hold a transcendent God — the God worshiped in Red State America — in contempt. “Transcendence,” they snort! “How unfair is that? Why don't I get to be transcendent? I feel aggrieved feelings coming on at this shocking assault on my sense of I'm Just as Good as You!”

As Chesterton says, you can tell what is sacred to a culture by what it regards as blasphemy. Our manufacturers of culture don't regard insults to the Judeo-Christian God as blasphemy, because the don't hold him sacred. They do, however, hold equality and grievance sacred — because they hold themselves and their sense of status sacred.

Mark Shea is senior content editor