I’m not going to lie; I didn’t go into reading Sarah Palin’s new book, Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas , with an open mind.
To be fair, though, with the barrage of suffocating media coverage during Palin’s 2008 vice presidential run, it’s almost impossible to take an unbiased look at her. Whether it be her infamous comment on being able to see Russia from her backyard or a more startling one about her inability to name a single newspaper she has ever read, it’s difficult not to already have a strong opinion on the self-proclaimed maverick from Alaska with the lilting accent.
Though it seems like there was a general bipartisan disapproval of Palin, my dislike of her certainly wasn’t helped by the fact that I’m a “flaming liberal” and tend towards atheism, or, as I suppose Palin would call me, an “angry, godless, militant hater.” But my feelings toward her have, throughout the years, surpassed the point of intense dislike, and her antics are now a source of mild amusement.
Accordingly, it’s hard to take Palin’s book seriously; the writing is a thoroughly mediocre patchwork of outlandish cliches and “Alaskan quirks.” At one point, she inexplicably refers to the media as the “Lamestream Media” and continues to do so for the rest of the book. But then in the midst of harmless irritants like that, she suddenly does things like compare atheism to Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China. And, in the frame of mind that this woman was almost the vice president of our nation, things get very real, very suddenly.
Indeed, there is an exhausting surfeit of problems with Palin’s book — like Palin herself, the book often times does the work of parodying itself. By far the most upsetting problem, however, lies in Palin’s fondness for pigeonholing people into wildly exaggerated stereotypes.
As a liberal and an atheist, I guess I just have to accept that I am an “NPR-listening, Birkenstock-wearing, religion and family hating, aggressive, elitist, jaded scrooge crusading against Christianity” – to hear Palin tell it, at least. I hand “very young teens abortion pills,” “try to change the definition of marriage to elevate adult desires over the societal cornerstone that’s built the family since the beginning of time” and “kill children for any reason or no reason at all,” all while in the “state of moral decay” inevitably brought on by atheism.
I’m generally used to these accusations. The reality of our culture first reached me when I mentioned to a girl in my sixth grade science class that of course I believed in evolution. I didn’t think anything of the comment, but she did. She gasped, leaned in and whispered urgently, quietly: “so you don’t believe in God?”
The question gave me pause. I hadn’t really thought about it before; belief in evolution and belief in God had never seemed conflicting, and I wasn’t really sure what I believed anyway. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wasn’t sure I believed in a higher power, but I was sure of my belief in science. I didn’t think my choice of convictions was a problem, but one look at the girl’s pursed grimace and I knew I’d picked “wrong.” During the next couple weeks, vicious remarks about “weird, godless atheists” flooded school hallways.
It’s been years since I had my early-life crisis, but not much has changed — not my convictions, and not those of the people who are angered by my views. From family, classmates, teachers, the comments about the incapability of “aggressive atheists” to be human beings capable of morality have been a constant murmuring in the edges of my ears. Add being a leftist to that, and you get the added pleasure of being called a Communist in a pseudo-kidding fashion, free of charge!
This isn’t to say the religious right isn’t targeted just as much. I’ve heard them called every possible variation on the words uncompassionate, stupid, intolerant and greedy. I would be lying if I said, in a fit of flaming liberal anger, I haven’t used a few choice words myself. But, this is the nature of our politics; we generalize for ease of overzealous attack.
I’m acclimated to this political climate, so it is saying something that Sarah Palin somehow still manages to continually profoundly offend me. I don’t particularly enjoy the comments on secular leftists I described earlier, but at the very least, they’re nothing new. If she had left it at that, this book would be just another compilation of “classic Palin” drivel: a little ludicrous, a little irritating, but nothing to get up in arms about. But Palin goes so far as to say that “the world’s most murderous regimes – from Nazi Germany, to Stalin’s Russia, to Mao’s China – share either a ruthless atheism or an explicit rejection of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs (or both),” implying that atheism, or any faith but her preferred Christianity, is somehow the common factor compelling despotic rulers to tragic, cruel actions.
Furthermore, she later mentions a book she read about a suicidal person about to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge. As first responders tried to talk him down, causing a traffic jam, impatient onlookers began to angrily shout “Just jump!” Palin has the blackened heart and enough lack of class to somehow continue to interpret the situation by assuming the awful people shouting “Just jump!” were atheists, simply by virtue of the fact that this was happening in “the most liberal city in America.” Instead of backing up her outrageously offensive claim that atheists “care more about the convenience of their commute than a desperate man’s life,” as she should, Palin simply moves on.
She then takes her pigeonholed depictions of all atheists as immoral scrooges and all Judeo-Christians as honest, kind, hard-working people and uses those to construct elaborate, exaggerated dystopian “Visions of Christmases Yet to Come … if the Militant Atheists and Secular Liberal Have Their Way” where things have degregated to the point where universities have the audacity to accommodate Muslim students by installing foot-washing stations and Joe McScrooges scathingly mutter “Namaste” at nativity scenes.
If her book is so wholeheartedly devoted to anything but the attack on atheists, it is the promotion of the Christian faith and a plea to end the attack on the faith, advocating for a painfully ironic return of “true, religious freedom” to this (predominantly Christian?) nation. But she bases all her arguments in the assumption that her faith is undeniably true and that all others are unfortunately incorrect. She then uses this “truth” to justify allowing Christianity to pervade every aspect of life, including school. But fear not, it’s for the greater good of everyone and to prevent societal moral decay. Palin is only mad at you because she wants to help you.
Palin fails to understand two very important things: one, that she can’t broadly generalize people and she especially can’t try to base her arguments off of fictitious and exaggerated people and situations she has made up in her head.
I am a liberal and an atheist, but I don’t hate religion; on the contrary, I believe religion can be powerful and transformative, teeming with stunning silver linings. A member of school choir since fourth grade, I’ve been singing religious songs for as long as I can remember, but I haven’t gone on a rampage to end the practice. I’m not aggressive or an elitist, and I most definitely don’t wear Birkenstocks. Every person in the secular leftist and religious right groups she generalizes in her book, along with every person in between, is riddled with no end of nuances.
Second, Palin doesn’t realize the confusingly obvious fact that she can’t construct a patronizing argument on the basis of her faith being unequivocally true and still expect anyone but the people who agree with her in the first place to listen to her argument. This book is not for anyone who has any diversity of opinion; it is for the people who already agree with Palin and are looking for an easy reaffirmation of those beliefs. If anyone still feels the urge to read it, let me know; I have a copy I’m looking to get rid of.
By Urmila Kutikkad